Harrowing Of Hell
April 23, 2023

Founding Church Members in the Age of the Holy Spirit

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

In 2070 I will be 103 years old, and most likely in the columbarium here at Epiphany. And as you stroll by, that is, as some of you stroll by, I hope you say, “Oh, remember Doyt? He was Rector here for a long time.” Hopefully you won’t say, “too long.” Others of you will be with me in eternity, which may seem an eternity to you. The good news is we’ll be in the glorious company of the Saints.

Maybe in 2070 I’ll still be Rector… haunting halls, or spooking you through Chat-gpt. 2070 is on my mind because of the conversation we had during Holy Week in which we thought about “Who is this God? Who is this man, Jesus?” And the answers that rolled forth from this very pulpit pointed to the God of love; the God who makes, moves, purposes, and renews; the God who teachers; and the God who came down from the cross to stand at its foot, as the body resurrected in the lives of each one of us, and all of us together.

That insight was preached by Kelli on Good Friday; and it provokes the next logical question: “Who we are, because of who this God is?” Through the month of May, I’m going to preach 4 consecutive sermons about how we are to be Christians, and more specifically how we are to be Epiphany Christians in the city of Seattle over the next fifty years.

Now I am no Cassandra, but as an observer of trends, and a student of culture, and a recipient of your wisdom gathered during the 10 Epiphany community conversations with over 130 of you, I know there are some things on our collective minds that we are going to have to contend with between now and 2070.

The first to appear in this sermon series is Artificial Intelligence, coupled with the capacity of robots, and how this will completely change the world. Ambiguity will arise at the intersection of humanity and technology and quite likely will provoke anxiety about what it means to be human, and what our role is to be. I’m going to talk about that on May 7.

Now as a result of this anxiety there may be strong tendencies to migrate toward forceful fundamentalism, or to abject nihilism. Extreme, single solution thinking will continue to creep into every aspect of our society from capitalism, to immigration, to science, to nationalism, to Christianity itself. Epiphany must be prepared to speak clearly into these conversations. This will be the topic of my sermon on May 14.

On May 21 I’m going to consider global warming and its impact on this region. In fifty years, the Pacific Northwest, rich in water and blessed by latitude will be one of the “winning” cities in a warmer world, and as a result, a lot around here will change. How we think about this, and act upon this as Epiphany Christians, will make a difference.

Finally, on the feast of Pentecost, May 28, the question I will pose at the end of this sermon series is: “How are we listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit? How are we training today, as a learning church, to prepare some of us, and some who are yet to be born for 2070?” At the center of this question will be the foundational trinitarian principle of unity over and against the demonic desire for division as a tool to accumulate power.

Now many of us will never see 2070 in this mortal flesh, and so, we may wonder: “Why does this matter to me?” And the answer to that question reveals itself as we wrestle with the question provoked by Holy Week… “Who are we, because of who this God is?” If our God is the God of love, who makes and moves and purposes and renews; if our God decided to be known to us as a particular person, from a particular place, with a particular gender and family and gene pool; if our God sought to influence us today by doing something specific 2000 years ago that was destined to be passed down over the generations then how we think and act right now is providentially ordained to impact future generations; and when I am talking about “we” that is a specific “we,“ that “we” is you and me. We are not here by accident. We are here to be the church right now, AND we are here to build the church that will meet the purposes of God in 2070. This duty is our reality, and it is what marks us as people of hope.

And still, we have no idea what 2070 holds, really, there are earthquakes and asteroids and bad actors, but hope drives us to be active and alive right here right now, knowing, believing, trusting that our purpose as a neighborhood church is to give hope to the world. We believe this because of who God is.

The Book of Acts written 2000 years ago gives us a playbook for keeping hope alive. It was written at a time of seismic shift, from one era to the next, as so clearly the noted through the prophetic insight of Joachim of Fiore, a 12th c. Italian monk. It was a shift from the Age of the Father, that began with Abraham in 4000 BC (or so), to the Age of the Son, marked by the incarnation of Jesus. Now, 2000 years later, we pass again into a new era called the Age of the Holy Spirit.

The lessons from the Book of Acts are instructive. There are two I will call our attention to. First, the early Christian community considered how their actions in the moment would impact and influence their children and their children’s children. In the same way, how we act as Epiphany Christians now should be with an eye on what is helpful to future generations. And we know how to do this. It was the kind of thinking that enabled us to do such a thorough and high-quality restoration of the Epiphany buildings and grounds in 2016.

Secondly, we find in the Book of Acts repentance and baptism. The people came to Peter with broken hearts over the murder of Jesus, asking what they should do. To which he responded “Stop, repent, turn around, take a look, account for your life, and then baptize everyone in the name of Jesus!”

Do I see the world of 2070 full of baptized followers of Jesus? Well, that may happen, but volume is not the point of baptism in the Age of the Holy Spirit, the point is the sacramental blessing of unity, represented by the waters of baptism. Water is a symbol of unity. It is a substance of unity. We are made of water; we are mostly water; and more than that, the water that we drink today is exactly the same water drunk by Neanderthals 50,000 years ago, and it will be the same water that will be drunk by our children and their children and their children’s children in 2070.

Because of who our God is, because of the relational reality of our God, God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in the Age of the Holy Spirit, baptism will not be about affiliation, baptism will be about the recognition that we are inextricably connected to one another and to all things.  

Does that mean everyone should be baptized? Not necessarily. But it does means that those who are baptized approach the issues and anxieties and divisions and difficulties that we are going to be talking about in the sermon series, with the disposition of sacramental blessing.

It is sacramental blessing that allows us to live with the ambiguity of AI and robots; it is sacramental blessing that allows us to hold the center against the idolatry of single solution thinking. It is sacramental blessing that allows us to encounter a world that is warming; and it is sacramental blessing that allows to stand in the breach and re-knit together a world that divides and excludes. Sacramental blessing puts hope into action.

We are made to be people who bless, because of who our God is, and who Jesus is. As citizens providentially born at the dawn of the Age of the Holy Spirit, we are richly endowed by our capacity and resources to prepare our people for the world of 2070. Epiphany is well-positioned to be a place that sacramentally blesses this world.

That is not hubris. That is hope. The neighborhood church is the hope of the world. It is this hope, practiced at Epiphany, which answers the world’s greatest anxieties and fears and predispositions towards acting badly. We have Jesus. We have the power of the Holy Spirit. And we have the body of Christ, which is you, which is us, sent here by previous generations, with the capacity to care for future generations if we so choose. We must choose to do so.

I believe this is our common journey. This is our providential placement. This is why we are here. It is who we are because of who our God is. It is our purpose. So, join me in May to more deeply consider our common calling and where we are being led.