Harrowing Of Hell
October 9, 2022

Annual Appeal: L.O.V.E. (Living Our Values at Epiphany)

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Good morning, Epiphany.

Have you seen the L. O. V. E. mural painted on the side of the ocean container in the parking lot? It is becoming iconic in the neighborhood. More than once I’ve seen people posing for photos in front of it. It was even featured in a tick tock video.

The message is compelling. It is simple. It is inclusive. It is beautiful. It is big, and it perfectly captures what we are about at Epiphany. The First Letter to John sums it up: “God is love revealed THROUGH Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 4:9 para).                                           

Is Jesus the only way God is revealed? John’s Gospel has an answer to that: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, he was with God in the beginning  and ALL things came into being through him” (Jn 1:1-3a) ALL THINGS are included in the love of God.

Our theme for this year’s annual appeal is L.O.V.E. It is core Christianity. It is core creation. All things are created through love. Love is what we’re about at the church.

Yes, love is expressed elsewhere. It is revealed in our families, and at work, and within our friendships, and neighborhoods, and sports teams. But love is what the church does, because God is love. And so, at church we talk about God. We think about God. We teach about God. And most importantly, we give thanks to God.

We call it worship; it is our work. In fact, the word for the work-of-worship is liturgy, which means in Greek “the work of the people.” I love that-that we are doing our work right here, right now; that the work of love happens when we are giving thanks to God. Not because God needs our adoration or attention, mind you, but because God is the maker and creator of ALL things.

If you’ve seen it God made it; which means God could unmake it, but God doesn’t because of love. And so, we say thank you, every Sunday. That is what we do here at Epiphany. Not that we couldn’t do it elsewhere, at any time; like when walking our dog, or at a commercial during a Seahawks game; (maybe even during the game itself).

But the church is the place designed to intentionally, in an ordered and discipline way, over time, practice gratitude to God. That is our work. It is the work of worship. It is the work of the people because it is core to how we are made. There has never been a culture or people who have not developed a pattern of worshiping something. It is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. For us the center is Jesus. For us the place is the church.

That said, there have been times over the past 2000 years when the church has forgotten its mission and sided with agents of destruction, participating in genocide and slavery and colonialization, leaving people without hands and limbs and family ties (King Leopold’s Ghost, by Hochschild). The church has forced conversions. The church has done ugly things in support of empires, and in the diminishment of cultures and individuals’ identities. The church, at times, has lost its way. And that is deeply regretful and inexcusable, because it has hurt people and caused people to walk away from the church. I am saddened by that, and on behalf of the church, as one of its representatives, I apologize.

But we have to do more than apologize, we have to evangelize love. L.O.V.E. means Living Our Values at Epiphany. Christianity is at a crossroads. We sit at the edge of a new age, the front edge of the Age of the Holy Spirit, accelerated into, I sense, by the pandemic.          

What is at stake are the value propositions of Christianity. because there are communities who claim to be Christian, but have doubled down on division, homophobia, political agendas, and wars; churches that claim earth care doesn’t matter because the end of time is coming, and they are going to heaven. There are Christians who do not believe in science. There are Christians who do not believe in the natural presence of gay and lesbian and transgender people. There are Christians that are looking to align themselves with power all over the world, power that is seeking to divide, and repress, and diminish; power that tells lies. They’re looking to align themselves with these power sources so, they can maintain their own power.

That is not love. Let me be very clear, that is not the Jesus way, and that is not the Epiphany way. Am I right? And so, we must stand firm for the authentic Jesus, otherwise, we abdicate the Christian name to those who align with power, to hold power, through division, discord, disunity, and quite possibly hate. That is neither Christian, nor good for anybody. Those are not the values we hold at Epiphany.                   

We are a church of L.O.V.E.: That is how we Live Our Values at Epiphany. We are a vital Episcopal church on a landscape where that is becoming less and less common. And so, because we are vigorous, we must remain so. And this dynamism, this Epiphany vitality is because of every single one of you! Because you come here to worship. Because you watch online. Because you participate in classes, and outreach, and retreats, and the care of our young people. Because of you, we are thriving. And your participation in the annual appeal is critical if we are to sustain this.

We ask you to make a pledge. It is a financial commitment to Epiphany for the coming year. Pledges allow us to plan, to budget. That’s a business term, and it is a God term for prudent stewardship.

And yes, the annual appeal is about money, which can be complicated, because money can trigger anxiety, particularly in these tumultuous economic times. And still, we are made for worship. It is our work. It is core to our identity, and maybe called upon more so in times of turmoil. In fact, worship, in partnership with other spiritual practices, trains us to be people of equanimity, of peace and of joy despite the angst in the world around us.

Love is always there, love is the point, and that is the thing we point to at Epiphany, the love of God, known to us through Jesus Christ. And we live this love by following him because of the values he taught and lived out. Jesus is how we Live Our Values at Epiphany.

  • And we know those values, don’t we?
  • Relationship is primary.
  • Belonging before believing.
  • The neighborhood church is the hope of the world.
  • This is a spiritual gym, where we practice the soul first lifestyle.
  • The kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God is right here, right now.

We are certainly not the only Episcopal Church that holds these values; these are Christian values, these are Jesus following values. There are other churches that prescribe to them, but not all of these churches are going to survive the pandemic. We hope they do, but we can’t guarantee it; all we can guarantee is that we are here, ready, as a surviving, thriving, Episcopal church to continue teaching L.O.V.E.

My commitment to Epiphany is to serve, to the best of my ability, in moving us forward as a surviving, thriving Episcopal church. Does it matter that we’re an Episcopal Church? Not to Jesus. But we do have a rich history, with a liturgy designed to care for souls. It is ancient and relevant all at the same time. And, at least, I think it’s beautiful. I hope you do as well.

Ours is a way of being Christian worthy of passing on. It is our duty to teach and model, as a community, our Epiphany values. And I believe our young people are taking it to heart. The feedback loop is pretty apparent in this case, as they are the ones who painted the mural on the ocean container in the parking lot with the letters L. O. V. E.

The values that we teach and share at Epiphany impact the future world our children will live in. It’s as if Jesus came to us from the future to teach us how to act, right now so, the future world can be the very best it can possibly be for those we bequeath it to. That is the Epiphany that was given to you and me, and our young people are asking us for that kind of church, as well. Your pledge allows that to happen.

I know, there are a lot of institutions asking for your money, so be generous to them; in curing disease, in building houses, in feeding families, in underwriting schools, in healing the planet. The church cares about and works towards these things as well. These are good things that I hope our children’s children will only know about through history books that teach them as problems solved. 

The role of the church is different. It is unique. It is meant to thrive in perpetuity, irrespective of the particular issues of a given age; because God is love, and all things come into being by this love. Love is the thing. It is the thing behind all other things.  All things came into being because of love and through love. The church exists as the place that remembers this reality, shares it with those who might not know it, and gives thanks through worship to the God who made it all happen.

Love is the thing behind the thing. Love is our work, and love never ends.

I have been here for 14 years, as the Rector of your church, and it is my commitment that Epiphany remains a place of beautiful worship, significant soul care, helpful teachings, and good service to our neighbors.

And it is my firm conviction that we continue to share our Jesus values:

  • Relationship is primary.
  • Belonging before believing.
  • A soul first lifestyle
  • Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, everyone has a place at Epiphany.

This is the Jesus way. This is what we’ve committed to. This is what we’ve signed up for. This is what our pledge supports. So please be generous, for the neighborhood church is the hope of the world; because it is love, only love, that will reveal the very best of this world, as God designed it to be.