Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Here is what I’ve been wondering lately: If Jesus lived in Seattle would he go to church at Epiphany? If he walked in here would he stay? Would he come back? Who would he meet? What would he experience?
I suppose if you believe the Gospel you heard today, you’d say he’d stay. I mean we don’t have many tax collectors, but sinners? Seems Jesus liked hanging out with sinners. Seriously, is this the kind of church Jesus would go to? It might depend on if he likes fabulous choral music. Or has a preference for cozy parish halls, gothic architecture and stain glass windows. It could have something to do with his compassion for the homeless, or people in transition, or kids who need school supplies. That is all Epiphany, all the time.
But here is the thing: there are many ways to serve the needy; there are tons of beautiful places to worship; there is even more than one type of music by which to praise God, seriously. We could spend all day sorting the types of music the world over used to glorify God. Yet sorting music wouldn’t give us any insight into whether or not Jesus would go to church at Epiphany. Because church isn’t about sorting things, it’s about seeing things. Church isn’t about type, it’s about process. Church isn’t about feelings evoked; it’s about knowledge gained, retained, and acted upon. Church is not about what we hear, but how we hear. Do we have ears to hear?
I imagine that is what Jesus would be wondering were he to walk into Epiphany this morning: “How do they see? How do they hear?” Do we at Epiphany use our ears and eyes to sort things, or to hear and see deeply into and behind the things in front of us?
Let me give you an example of what I’m trying to get at today, by using dogs to draw a distinction between seeing and sorting. In my younger days I loved to memorize dog books. I could name every dog I saw, still can. I could tell you their lineage, and what they were bred for. I was a dog-sorting machine, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s super interesting.
Sorting the natural world was a habit given to us by our Enlightenment mentors. In the 18th century some pretty smart guys—Christian men, in fact—when looking for God, started to notice some interesting connections and patterns in the world around them. Their insights gave birth to the philosophy of Naturalism, which believes that only natural (by their definition, as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws operated in the world.
These men joined their colonialist patrons sailing the seven seas to discover new flora, fauna, and fowl. They even sorted the people. Guess who was on the top? To sort something isn’t to see something. It is to sort it; to put it in some order which may or may not be helpful. To see something is to experience love revealed through a relationships that stand. To see a grey hound and a bichon is to sort two dogs.
But to see a grey hound run is a thing of beauty, and even more so when it is running to the person it loves. To see a bichon sit on someone lap, while maybe not be as awe inspiring, is to still see love revealed. People who have dogs usually don’t care what sort of dog it is when it is standing there wagging its tail to greet you at the end of the day. They aren’t sorting us, they are seeing us.
Seeing and sorting are not the same things. The work together in the world as God made it, but they are different. Seeing is about love. And, as I say all of the time, love isn’t a feeling it is an action. And that is the point of the church, to learn and then turn into habit the actions of love. But know this: knowledge is required.
I think one of the questions Jesus would ask if he came to Epiphany is: “Do they have knowledge about God?” You would think so. I mean if God is everywhere like I always say then you’d think we’d know something about God. But think about that for a second. What if we could see all of God all of the time? Imagine. That would leave me either catatonic or an automaton. So God hides from us. If God didn’t hide from us, we couldn’t be free, because we couldn’t escape God. And if we weren’t free we couldn’t see the love behind the things in front of us; and if we couldn’t see love, we couldn’t comprehend love; and if we couldn’t comprehend love we couldn’t receive love; and if we couldn’t receive love, then we couldn’t know God, because God is love, and God loves us.
So God hides, and Jesus uses parable about hidden things to give us the knowledge needed to see God. That is what we have today, a coin and a sheep, and since I know more about coins than sheep we’re going to stick with that parable. There is a woman sitting at her table sorting her coins, when she realizes she has lost one. And that missing coin causes her dis-ease. She is up at night. She can’t sleep. Something isn’t right, something is missing.
In this parable the coin is God. God is missing. She doesn’t have the knowledge needed to see God. Maybe sometimes you feel like that? Jesus, in this parable, gives instructions on how to see the hidden God.
- Pursue the dis-ease. Don’t try to bury it with more coins, with more sorting, even if it means getting up in the middle of the night. Get up. Go into the darkness. Go to the dis-ease.
- Next, seek light. The woman, we are told, lights a lamp. For us it might be opening a book, maybe the Bible, or stepping into a spiritual practice, or taking a class, or watching a lecture. Light your lamp.
- Then, work it. The woman grabs the broom and sweeps the room. We study, practice, converse. Put in the hours. Set aside the time. Make it a priority. The acquisition of knowledge about God takes work. Did you know that?
- And then, when you find the coin, share the story. When you see God in the world go tell someone about it. Tell your God story. This will encourage others to pursue their dis-ease; to light their lamp; to pick up their broom; so they too might see through the things they sort to the love on the other side.
- And experience the joy. And we rejoice, and they rejoice, and the angel’s rejoice, and our hidden God rejoices.
Knowledge about God increases our joy. And that, I suppose, is what Jesus will be looking for when he drops by Epiphany for church on Sunday. Does he see the joy? Are we people who see or are we people who sort? That is the question I think he would ask. And if we are the kind of people who sort, I suppose Jesus would stick around to turn us around, to better see God.
But my hope is that Jesus would be a onetime visitor. That he would see a community seeking knowledge about God. That he would see a people who have ears to hear, and eyes to see. That is what I hope for you because I want your life to be full of joy. I want that hidden God to be apparent to you most of the time, so you are at all times and in all place and in all circumstances, full of the knowledge of the love of God.
Sermon Reflection Questions
- If Jesus lived in Seattle would he make Epiphany his home parish? Why or why not?
- Do you think you can know something about God? If so, how do you acquire that knowledge? If not, why not?
- If you studied God as much as you studied math in school, do you think you would have a different relationship with God now?