Harrowing Of Hell
January 27, 2013

Pattern Matching Life in the Kingdom of God

Preacher: The Reverend Doyt Conn

Philippians 4:10-20

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the annual meeting and I’d like to take some time to consider our common life at Epiphany.

Since September I have had the privilege of meeting with over 250 parishioners at 28 different gatherings with the purpose of reflecting on where we have come from, and where we are going. I will talk more about the specifics of these conversations after brunch today and I encourage you to stay to be part of that conversation.

What I’d like to do now is share some kingdom of God patterns that I have seen emerge at Epiphany over the past few years and reflect on how these patterns give us a road map for how church is meant to work.

The three examples I’m going to give mirror the three words we used to frame our parish conversations: worship, formation and community.

I’ll start with worship.

Diana Bender came to me earlier this year wondering if Epiphany might be ready to start a weekly mid-week service. It sounded like a reasonable thing to consider, and I thought it might dovetail nicely into the saint day worship services stared by Diane Carlisle and James Cowan.

As we talked, Diana did what must always be done for anything to happen at Epiphany. She said the magic words, “Do you mind if I take this and run with it?”

My response was the response I always give “Yes, how can I help?”

Now for every good idea that comes up, not all of them to get off the ground. Here is why Diana’s did. When she left my office she contacted Diane Carlisle to include her as a partner in the vision. Then she called her church support system, the people who walk with her on her spiritual journey; she shared her excitement and asked them to help. This is the pattern behind how things work at Epiphany. A vision is set forth that fits the vision of our church. Leadership steps up to own it and move it forward. And community gathers to pull it off.

Diana put her energy into this Evening Prayer service. She used her gifts and talents to carry it forward.  She called her friends for support with logistics, to lead worship, and to preach sermons.

And here is the blessing of her efforts, the real reason the Wednesday Evening service is so vital, it pattern matches life in the Kingdom of God.

We know this by its fruits. Diana’s spiritual journey is enhanced; more and more people are given the change to lead worship services; more and more people are invited to preach; more and more people are inspired by sermons heard. And by her efforts there is yet another place on this holy ground to praise God; there is yet another time for weary souls to rest, and spiritual rejuvenation to take place.

And in this way Epiphany becomes more thoroughly the Kingdom of God outpost she was created to be.

Let me give you another example of a Kingdom of God pattern match, this time around formation.

Pieter Drummond came to me a few years back wondering if Epiphany might be willing to have a regular meditation gathering on campus.

It sounded like a reasonable thing to consider. Then Pieter did what must always be done for anything to happen in this parish. He said, “Do you mind if I take this and run with it?”  My response was, “Yes, how can I help?”

Pieter did what Diana did, he gathered his Epiphany friends, and meditation mornings began.

His hope was a bit different than Diana’s. In addition to opening meditation as a formative spiritual practice for the congregation, Pieter also hoped it would become a portal through which people outside the Epiphany community might be invited in.

His efforts have been wildly successful.

There is meditation in the Chapel every Wednesday and Friday morning at 8:30am, populated by all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons.

And in this way Epiphany becomes more thoroughly the Kingdom of God outpost she was created to be.

Finally, there is community and there is Charley Bush.  Now I’m not talking about his daily open houses at 4:30 pm, I’m talking about his advocacy for the homeless.

Charley came to me a while back wondering if Epiphany might be willing to start an overnight shelter for homeless men. He said the idea had been floating around for some time, but there was a bit of resistance.  So we gave it some thought, and we did some poking around even talking to our neighbors at the Preschool and Epiphany School.

My sense was that the problem wasn’t a shelter, particularly if we found the right time slot in the rhythms of our campus life. The problem was who would run it, who would man it, who would supply it?

Charley didn’t come to me with a good idea that he wanted me to implement.

Charley did what Diana did, and what Pieter did. He stepped up to own the program, and then called his friends for help. 30 people said yes, and for the last ten months we’ve had an overnight shelter every Friday night at Epiphany.

Now here is how I know this is a pattern match in the Kingdom of God. Our Epiphany volunteers get to know each other better, and community is enhanced.  The Epiphany volunteers get to hear the stories of our overnight guests and community is enhanced.  The homeless men often say they deeply appreciate staying in a place that is not only safe and quiet, but also beautiful.  We don’t hide them away in the basement; we let them sleep in our living-room. This act of hospitality is not lost on them, and community is enhanced.

In this way Epiphany becomes more thoroughly the Kingdom of God outpost she was created to be.

And so you might ask, “what do you do, Rector?” Good question.  I suppose my work around here falls into three categories.

First, I do my best to teach how our actions can pattern match how life in the kingdom of God is meant to work. I remind us that this is not a club or an educational institution. We don’t hire staff to sculpt us into super Christians or moral characters. We come here to find friends and guides to walk with us on our spiritual journey.

Epiphany is a spiritual home, where growth is directly proportional to our involvement in worship, formation, and community. I am here to remind us that this involvement is about more than our own spiritual enlightenment. It is also about supporting other people’s spiritual journeys as well.   That is what Diana’s friends, and Pieter’s friends, and Charley’s friends did.  They didn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” They asked, “How can I support you?”

That is a pattern match in the kingdom of God.

The second thing I do is a lot easier. I am here to remind us that Epiphany is our practice venue for life with God on an infinitely larger stage. I am here to remind us that God thought of each one of us before the foundation of creation was laid and made a place for us, as God’s children, to be partners in a magnificent, divine mission.

What happens at Epiphany, the purpose of Epiphany, if you will, is to practice using our gifts and talents in worship and formation and community to pattern match life in the Kingdom of God now and prepare for life in the kingdom that is yet to come. We are made to be divine partners to dance on an infinitely larger stage larger than, anything we’ve seen in this temporal reality. I am here to remind us of that.

And finally, the core of my role at Epiphany is that I am here to remind us that “Jesus is Lord.” To use Paul’s words from today’s reading, “We are sustained by him who gives us strength in all things.” Our union and unity is in Christ. “Jesus is Lord,” is the most ancient creed in the church. These are the words that first brought the church into being and the same words that hold her together today.

These are the words that sustain us in plenty and in scarcity, in the good times and the bad times. They are the words that reign over our differences and hold our focus on that infinitely larger stage. “Jesus is Lord” are the words that inspire us to say, “How can I help?” rather than, “What’s in it for me?”

That is the purpose of Epiphany, to be the place that honors this ancient motto and repeats it in a way that forms hearts and refreshes souls.

It is with these words, “Jesus is Lord,” that community is built, that Christians are formed, and that God is praised. And in that way Epiphany becomes more and more what she was created to be – an outpost of the Kingdom of God.