Today is our annual meeting, when we gather to review what has happened this last year, to elect our leaders for the coming year, and to consider where the Holy Spirit may be leading us.
Some of you know that recently we had a consultant come in to help us wonder how we shift from a startup style operation to an institution better set up to manage our message to the broader Seattle community.
I know… it’s hard to say startup and Epiphany in the same sentence; we’ve been around for a while, but the way we have operated over the last 14 years–small, spry, and nimble, with lots of vision, lots of trial and error, lots of high intensity teamwork, lots of growth… is very much in the Seattle model of a startup.
But now, if we are going to be the kind of church this energetic, entrepreneurial, highly capable, cutting edge city needs us to be, then we need to put in place internal systems and communications strategies, that allow for steady, sustainable growth. Which means we become even better at inviting and integrating spiritual seekers into the transformative patterns of our religious practices while simultaneously sharing across this metro-area the simple message that Epiphany is a spiritual center of gravity worth gravitating to.
At the core of this calling is the invigoration of the Jesus’ brand of Christianity we practice. You see, too many people do not realize that Jesus was inclusive and accepting and loving … Somehow, they have overheard too often words from “Christian” leaders that are mean and divisive. You and I both know what I’m talking about. We have heard these messages vomited out in the name of Jesus. And the fact that we have let those voices resonate in any way is our fault. That’s on us!
I’m not trying to guilt you, I’m just trying to call our attention to the fact that we have something to say when the word Christian is spoken. Our Jesus has solutions to the world’s deepest needs and issues. This is ours to share.
We saw this play out two Sundays ago at the Desmond Tutu memorial service. Our liturgy team put together a great service, aided by Judy Mayotte, close friend of Archbishop Tutu. The choir was phenomenal. And a lot of people came; people I’ve never seen at Epiphany before.
One woman has lived a block away from Epiphany for 53 years and this was the first time she had ever passed through the doors. The banner was her invitation. She goes to another church. It is nice to know there are other church goers around here. And still, there’s no reason she can’t drop in to visit her neighborhood church every once in a while.
The Tutu service opened the doors. It was beautiful. And what made it so vital and vibrant was you; people in the pews bring worship to life. Your presence here matters at every single service. You are as important in the pews as Wyatt is on the organ bench, or the choir in the chancel, or Diane leading the assembly. Make no mistake about it, this is our playing-field and you are a critical part of the team. When you’re not here, we are playing short-handed.
Your presence is palpable. It was palpable at the Tutu service, which is probably why our neighbor stayed afterwards to become better acquainted with this vibrant congregation. She was delightful, and it was a blessing to meet her. And I might note, you were incredibly hospitable. Nice work!
People come to a church when they are invited. So, invite someone. They stay because they are welcomed. So, welcome someone. They come back because they are swayed and swallowed up by the service itself. Which is why your presence here matters so much. People in the pews are as important as a preacher in a pulpit.
And sometimes the presence of our worship pierces the veil, to cast a light upon this secular city, as it did when the Tutu service was featured in the Post Alley blog. It is a great blog. And you know what we’re supposed to do… because of the capacity of social media, we are supposed to take this service and take this Post Alley blog, and amplify them! You are the megaphone. It is yours to amplify the message of Epiphany Christianity.
That is why Jad, our Communication Minister, sent all of you a link to the Post Alley article and the Desmond Tutu service. It is now up to you to send it to a friend. You may need to go to your trash file to retrieve it J Do so, or reach out, and we’ll send you another link. Amplification is mission critical for what we are being called to do as Epiphany Christians.
Let me say something else along this line… something that the 200 or so of you who were at the Tutu service already know: there was nothing comparable in beauty or mystical effervescence going on in the city of Seattle at 5:30 pm that Sunday evening; nothing with as much depth and power, and world changing possibility than what was happening right here at Epiphany Parish. I believe that if people knew, they would come.
It is our mission as practitioners of this brand of Christianity to let people know what IS happening here.
Which brings me to Jeremiah. (Yes, we are going to talk about the Bible.) We hear Jeremiah say to God in response to God’s calling upon his life… “I am only a boy. I am only the boy.” God response to this commentmight have sounded something like: “Look fella, you may be a boy, but you have forgotten that I thought you into being before there was ever anything resembling a boy, before the beginning of matter, before the beginning of stars and moon and sky, before the wind blew over the deep, I thought about you.”
God says to Jeremiah: “I imagined you into being. I created your soul, and you and I danced together before the beginning of time.”
“Let me say something about that,” God continues, “you will dance with me for all time, even after your body wastes away, we will dance! But I need you right now, to be a body in time, at this moment in time. I have given you material heft, in a context, to do a particular thing, and that thing is to articulate my message to the world around you. I do not care if you are a boy! I do not care if you are a girl! I do not care if you are transgender! I do not even care what the world thinks of you! I’m not even sure if I care what you think of yourself. The only thing I ask you to remember is that I am with you. The only thing I’ll ask you to remember is that the words you say are the words I give you. So, do not be afraid. I will deliver you. Do not be afraid. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The words I give you are from me. Be not afraid!”
That is God’s message to a boy from the hills of Judah 2600 years ago. And if it is empowering enough for him to step up and speak truth to power, face to face with the kings of Judah…if a boy with no credibility other than he was made by God does this, then why not you, why not me? Why not us here at Epiphany? Why can’t we share with friends that we know that there is a way of life called the Christian way of life; laid out in beautiful, loving, and inclusive terms by Jesus.
What might it look like if we actively carry this message out beyond these walls? Maybe something like the life Desmond Tutu lived. A fearless life. A nothing to lose life. A God gives me the words life. Tutu did as Christians have done for 2000 years. We continue the tradition, if we choose…it finds its fire in our ownership of the patterns bequeathed to us by our tradition, starting with the way we worship God, faithfully, fearlessly, continuously, as people in the pews. Your presence here matters.
What Tutu knew; what untold thousands of Christians have known, is the power of the one simple truth: that God is with us. And our material heft, our bodies, our context make us God’s hands and feet, arms and legs, heads and heart, with capacities, and charisms, and pocketbooks, enabling us to proclaim that all are included, all belong, all are loved, all are children of God. And we honor this reality, and we learn about this reality, and we celebrate this reality, and we worship the God who created this reality right here at Epiphany Parish.
That is the point of this place, and it is why we do what we do here. God sent us as embodied souls; not as boys, not as girls, not as transgender, but as souls, eternal souls, fearless souls, embodied for a moment to reveal with our words, and by our worship the glory of the Kingdom of God.
God put us in this place, at this time to share, to click, to forward, to chat up, to download, to copy and paste the Good News of Jesus; to share a message capable (maybe uniquely capable) of stitching a world in pain, suffering, and isolation back together with the reconciling thread of love. That is our message. That is the message at the heart of Epiphany’s brand of Christianity.
To conclude, I leave you with imagery given by Jesus himself: That “you are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Do not put your lamp under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand to let it shine before others for the glory of God” (Matt 5:15-16 para).
So, climb up on that lamp stand like Desmond Tutu did. Have impact. Amply. Invite. Welcome. Worship… Your presence puts us at full strength.