Good evening and welcome to the Feast of Epiphany.
I would like to begin this evening by calling your attention to the round window above the high altar. It was given to us by our soul ancestors over 70 years ago as a focal point for worship in this room. Some might think of it as the Mary window, but it is actually the Epiphany window marked as such by the presence of the three Magi surrounding Jesus and Mary.
They are hard to see, but they are up there. Their presence at the birth of Jesus is important because it foreshadows the radically inclusive nature of Jesus’ ministry. But how they got there (not in the window, but to the manger 2000 years ago) had to do with their capacity to read the signs of the times. They saw a new era opening before them, symbolized by a bright new star in the sky; a new light that enlightened their perspective.
They were outsiders who had wandered into the culture of Judaism. They were beyond the influence of Rome. They were seekers committed to reading the signs of the times as a way of moving along on their spiritual journey, as they sought to understand what God was doing in the world. The Magi, in this way, became a symbol for seeking the signs of the times; embossed as an insignia in that window bequeathed to us by our parish ancestors.
Let me share with you some of the things that I am seeing as signs of these times that God has put us in the midst of. It is a list that is completely incomplete, that is for sure, but, one that nods toward our mission at Epiphany, as followers of Jesus, in the city of Seattle, at the front edge of a new Millennium…which is known (by us) as the Age of the Holy Spirit.
Our mission is increasingly clear to me: that we, as a community, are called to be attentive to, and understanding of, the human soul. The next thousand years are going to be about the human soul.
Here are some signs: Work is changing. We now have anywhere employees, that is people that can work from anywhere and who have great agency over when and how they work; verses people bound to place and time. They are workers who must be at a place to do the job they have. And it’s often the case that these different work forces get paid and treated very differently.
Place is becoming less the connective tissue that it once was, and this has shifted people’s relationship with institutions. You no longer need to go to the gym to have a directed workout. You no longer need to go to the symphony to hear inspired music. You no longer need to go to church to listen to an insightful sermon. You no longer need to go to school to get a superb education. You no longer need to belong to a club to be with your people. And so, the promise of institutions as places for relationship and transformation, both physically and spiritually, is being shaken up.
And this isn’t only true for non-profits; it is also true for businesses as well, like drugstores, grocery stores, bookstores, and shopping malls. What we want now comes to us, where we are, when we want it.
One reason for these changes is the rapid rise of machines that do more and more human work. What machines are learning to do so well is impart information and facilitate transaction. Institutions that existed to impart information or facilitate transactions are either rapidly shifting to machine dependence or going out of business; which means a significant change in the kind of work people do if people are even needed to work at all.
This shift to machines may lead to a shift in people needing to trade their time for money; which, seriously, may lead (and I hope it does) to a significant blossoming of the artisan class; that is people who make things and do things for the sake of beauty and art, like blacksmiths, musicians, and poets.
But it may also give rise to a class I call soul sensates. They are people who tend to gardens, and care for animals, and care for children, and care for the elderly. They are people who play games with one another for their own enjoyment and the entertainment of others. They are those who lead worship and prayer to engender reverence and inspire awe. They are those who guide people to places for the experience and transformation, like sailing the ocean, or climbing a mountain, or experiencing a fast, or even moving into a meaningful death.
The Age of the Holy Spirit will give rise to artisans and soul sensates as the preferred way of expressing one’s humanity, and adding value to community.
The culture of hoarding and hierarchy, as expressions of power in pursuit of ill-conceived privilege, will come to be seen for what it is… a destination for isolation and desolation.
None of these signs of the times were originally perceived by me. And some of them are completely arguable, if you are in the mood to argue. But they are relevant to us this evening, not because of their specific validity, but because of the cumulative mass change that presses against us as a neighborhood church in the city of Seattle.
There is a lot here, so, if you want to remember one specific idea from tonight, remember this: the soul is going to be the answer to the question that these significant changes force upon our society. Changes that inspire people to ask: What does it mean to be human? What do I do and why does it matter? What does it mean to have the good life? What is the point and the purpose of my existence? What do I need to know, and how do I learn it?
There is a thrashing about caused by these questions of late -Debates are fierce and are amplified by the Internet. Art is one topic being addressed. The question debated is about art and artificial intelligence. Is art that is made by AI really art? Is programming AI to make art an art form? Does that count?
A popular defense for the supremacy of human art made by human hands is that AI art has no soul. It is an interesting argument, not because it resolves the question, but because it reveals the true answer, whether the artists arguing it know it or not – the soul. When art moves from relational to transactional, irrespective of how it was made, it loses its soul. We know this not because we are art aficionados, but because we understand the human soul.
We understand that what transpires when art is made for another or given as a gift to someone, is that love is expressed. And love is the substance of the soul, and it is what connects us to the substance of God, our relational, Trinitarian God, because God is love.
And so, what the world is going to come to understand over the next thousand years is that there is really no way to understand and unleash the power of love as the most powerful force there is, without attending to and understanding the soul. And there really isn’t any way to come to terms with the soul without accepting and coming to terms with a relational, Trinitarian God… who is love.
Love is the singular superpower of the soul, and we are love spreading difference makers. That is the point of humanity. That is our destiny. It is love that connects us to one another, to creation, and, most importantly, to God. Which is why I am so fond of saying: “It is love and only love that will save the world.” To understand and propagate love means having a deep understanding of the point and purpose of being human; and to understand the point and purpose of being human requires knowing something of the soul and how to attend to it.
Which returns us to the window over the high altar; which returns us to the inheritance passed down to us by those that came before us, and built this crucible in which to attend to and understand the soul. The window was their premonition that soul sensates would accumulate in this place to be a steady spiritual center of gravity for the city of Seattle.
You are those people.You are soul sensates, the New Magi, the ones deeply committed to Epiphany, here tonight, in person and online, to celebrate our eponymous feast soul to soul to soul.
I’m so grateful to be in this conversation with you. I hope it has piqued your curiosity about who we are called to be as a neighborhood church in a rapidly changing world. I hope it opens your mind to see the signs of the times and to consider how to respond in a way that adds understanding and attentiveness to your soul.
That is the purpose bequeathed to us by our spiritual ancestors, the ones who made that window and gave us the name Epiphany.