Harrowing Of Hell
November 10, 2013

Stewardship Witness

Preacher: Wellesley Chapman, Epiphany parishioner

Genesis 4:17-26

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. Lamech took two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

Lamech said to his wives: ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’

Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.’ To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord.

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Wellesley Chapman. This month marks two years that Brooke and I, with our daughters, have been part of the Epiphany community.

And in the spirit of transparency, this is the stewardship sermon. So, the message will be predictable and I will end with an appeal for your financial support, but I’d like for us to enjoy the trip from here to there.

I want to talk a little about our autumn journey through Genesis, about creation and creativity, and how we support one another’s spiritual development here at Epiphany.

In the last several weeks we have been reading the creation story and the current Minyan has taken up a rather deep discussion of the book. Re-reading the first four chapters of Genesis this past week I noted a pattern: first God, then us. In the beginning, God creates all of the heavens and the earth, breathes life into man, pushes up “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,” and creates the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then God offers man his first creative impulse with a warning: whatever you do, don’t eat of the tree of knowledge. And so we move from God’s turn at creation to ours.

You know what happened next, and whichever character you might hold accountable, the result is a real flurry of creative action. Adam and Eve create loincloths. They create offspring. Their offspring create vocations, and then drama; jealousy, murder, lies. Human lineages begin to appear: of tent dwellers, musicians, and metal-smiths. It’s an explosion of creation and differentiation. If you’ve not read into chapter 5, I won’t ruin it, but there’s an awful lot of creating ahead. Our turn at creation is not quite as tidy as God’s.

So here in Genesis humankind finds itself in the earliest struggle between good and evil, understanding both and not consistently able to choose good. This struggle continues. Why is it not easier to live fully in the Kingdom of God? Why do we hold on to fear when choosing love is what we desire? Exploring this tension is fundamental to what we do here at Epiphany.

But the struggle brings some beauty into our lives. Without it, I  think there would not much of a role for art. Think about it: what would literature be about? Theater would be boring. So would opera. And poetry. Even painting would suffer. Art helps show us a path.

Consider our sanctuary. Each week when invited to communion, I notice some new artistic detail. Usually, I have no idea what I’m looking at, a shield, a shape. But it is not there randomly. The shield or shape is there signaling this place as being of the Kingdom of God, a declaration of our faith. It is good. Or even very good. These artistic celebrations support pull us in the direction of God.

One Sunday morning last summer I sat down in my usual place for the 10:30 service and found that the light was different. It was brighter. It took a little time for me to figure out that one of the stained glass windows was gone, having been removed for repairs. In its place was opaque white glass. Plain. A neutral party in the theological struggle and a little disappointing. The absence of the window, art that literally creates the light in this space, was mildly upsetting to me. Art matters, its disappearance showed me how much I need it.

Where there is a canvas, I want for there to be art. Where there tension and uncertainty, I look for a helpful narrative.

Look around and you can see the product of creative impulse here at Epiphany. In addition to the visual art you see everywhere, we have music: two organs, pianos, a harpsichord, a talented choir and a superb musical direction. Everywhere you look, you will find some one or some group expressing their faith and their struggle. We gather in groups to study, to pray, meditate, share a meal and to and serve others. We gather around the ornate The Saint John’s Bible and ask hard questions of one another.

It matters to me that we have art, music, formation, a beautiful space for worship, to study, eat, and talk.

What makes it possible for all this creativity to thrive? A blank canvas. Great leadership. And a lot of brute force heavy lifting. It doesn’t happen without Doyt and Kate, nor without Peter, Tom, Emily, Ben, Chinn, Kathea, Diane, and countless others.

So it also also matters to me that we as a congregation take care of the people who work in this parish so they can turn their full energy toward our spiritual journey.

Imagine if it was not so? No music. No art. No St. John’s Bible. No support for you to bring your creative voice. I don’t like to imagine that. I would rather we continue to invest our skills, love, and our money here so the beauty and joy might continue to increase.

I was going to close today with a clever proof. The refrigerator in my kitchen at home is a gathering place for art, notes, and various communications. Working from my premise that where there is a blank canvas, we will create art, I removed everything from the fridge to force a blank space. The plan: a child would leap at the opportunity to fill the canvas with art and I would come tell you about it, thus proving some point about human nature. I waited a day, then two, and on day three the most wonderful thing happened. Nothing. No art. No poetry. No one put anything on the fridge! This turned out to be an important lesson. My family taught me that I can’t trick them into doing anything they don’t want to do. If they want to do art or anything else, they’ll do it.

I can’t trick you either. Next Sunday is Ingathering. You will pledge what you can based on what you believe and what you wish for Epiphany, not because I stood here and asked. The best I can do is to thank you for making Epiphany a wonderful place. As you consider your pledge, please take a look around and appreciate all that you have done already. Thank you.