Harrowing Of Hell
January 6, 2020

The Feast of Epiphany

The Rev, Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

This evening we mark the point of departure from Jesus, incarnation, present in the world; to humanities picking up the mantel of incarnation, to continue Jesus’ presence in the world. 

The church is the institution that takes on the character of Christ to fulfill Jesus’ mission of articulating the reality of the Kingdom of God, and all of its benefits. We are what makes up the church, so, we are collectively Jesus presence in the world. It may seem a tall order, but God is with us, so, our competence and capacity toward fulfilling Jesus’ mission is assured.

Over and over again the church has brought to bear a Kingdom of God perspective that has compelled society to return to its better self…net / net the church is on the side of impact and transformation. We have school and medicine and hospice care and childcare and the understanding of genetics, thanks to a monk, because of people who have carried on Jesus’ work in the world.

And these good works have blossomed because Christians like you and me were in the conversation, whatever the conversation was at the time; and we brought to bear in the conversation the perspective of the Kingdom of God. 

And at many important decision points, more than we might imagine, the church has been a broker of truth who sets standards for moral judgement, self-restraint, courage, and justice.

With that in mind, given that this is our namesake feast, the feast of Epiphany, and we have gathered together as a family…it is sort of the opposite liturgical (and preaching) experience to the one we had here on Christmas Eve.

I want to talk to you plainly about Epiphany, and when I say Epiphany, I mean you and me; and who we are and what our role is in the world right now. I want to set out three points I have vision around for this coming year, if not decade.

They are:
Adoration of God;
Care for the soul;
Ambassadorship in the land of tech on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

Adoration, soul care, kingdom ambassadorship. I can talk about these three categories for hours, so settle in. Actually, this evening I just want to touch on them, sort of wet our appetite for a banquet of action that God will set before us in the coming years. It is, I believe, our destiny.

Adoration, soul care, and ambassadorship, I believe, encompass the sum total of our duty as Christians as we enter more deeply into the Age of the Holy Spirit. I have talked about this new age often, in sermons and writings and as the core of our EP-3 (Epiphany phase III) conversations last year.

Friends, as Seattle Christians, we are invited to take on, with seriousness and yet joy, the role God birthed you and I into, for if you are here tonight you have been called to be clear-eyed champions of Jesus Christ in the Age of the Holy Spirit. This is no mean feat. While, I pray, we will not be martyred, we may be scorned; we may be ridiculed; quite likely we will be ignored; but know this, what we have to share with the world is critical to the very health of the world itself. Our actions as a little church set in a sea of secularism matters. Do not underestimate our capacity…your capacity and my capacity together.

At the core of adoration and care for souls and ambassadorship in the land of techie secularism; at the core is evangelism. Evangelism. Why? Well, if you had a friend that was ill, and you had a remedy, you would share it. You would share it because you love them. They might not hear it the first time; and so, you would bide your time, and when the occasion opened again, you’d suggest it again.  They might not hear it again; so, you would bide your time; and again, when the moment arose, you would make the suggestion again? 

Why? Because you love them, and, as importantly, because you were given the knowledge to heal what ails them; so, you would share it- So too, in this age of instantaneous connection, and limitless information, and finger-tip acquisition, and unlimited distraction, in this age where the internet is the new Roman road, and people are traveling as they have never traveled before, so too, is it the age of lost community, and isolation, and gorging consumption, and meaninglessness plied with existential angst; in this age of tectonic technological shift what we have to offer the world is what it means to be human, and loved, and in relationship with God.

The prescriptions we have for what ails the world are: adoration, soul Care, and kingdom Ambassadorship. Let me say what these three things means, briefly. We begin with adoration of God. This is worship. It is core, for those who believe in God; for adoration is an eminently reasonable response to God. If God is God, and God made all things, including us; and if our relationship with God is permanent and eternal, then adoration to the Being that is greater than we are, is eminently reasonable, normal, healthy and good…and I might add a high, if not the highest, priority. It makes sense. If God is God, then what could take greater priority?

That said, I would also argue that belief in God is not necessary for the action of adoration in worship. In fact, I would make the strong argument that even if you don’t believe in God, adoration is critical for the health of a community. Here is why: adoration is an impulse deeply woven into our human nature. It is called forth at some point in every life.  A moment will set upon us when awe for an event is stirred with love, and our soul yearns towards this event in a way that is compelling and moving and memorable. Moments of adoration as spontaneous events and few and far between, and yet, we yearn for them, seeking them on majestic hikes or equatorial sunsets.

Adoration will find an outlet, to be sure, but often it lands on subjects not capable of carrying its weight. Adoration when self-directed becomes narcissism. Adoration for ones we love, like a spouse or a child, can set them in a pressure cooker that can singe if not scald their souls. Adoration for a hero, in sport or song or entertainment or politics can unhinge the hero, and indeed, the fan from reality. Only God can shoulder the adoration that spills forth from humanity.

Healthy communities need an outlet for adoration, and a Being bigger than ourselves, is necessary and fundamental, even if the person giving adoration is only pretending, as if an actor in a play. A recent Harvard Study of 5000 people found the frequency with which a child/teen attended religious services with their parents correlated with their health and mental health as they grew into their 20s, including lower risk of substance abuse and depression.”

It turned out that those who attended religious services at least once a week as children or teens were about 18% more likely to report being happier in their 20s than those who never attended services. They were also almost 30% more likely to do volunteer work and 33% less likely to use drugs in their 20s as well.” Adoration builds healthy communities. (American Journal of Epidemiology Nurses’ Health Study II and its next generation Growing Up Today Study [GUTS])

Which leads to our second focal point care of the soul.  We are body, and we are soul…and yet, it seems, as a culture, we have forgotten that we are both body and soul. If you look at the actions of our society from our educational system, to our healthcare system, we seem to have overcorrected around issues of the body, and forgotten about care for the soul…and in some cases, have even forgotten there is a soul or how to define it, let alone how to care for it. The outcome of this forgetting is what we are seeing in our communities today; broken relationships, isolation, over work, depression. and the like.

As the Harvard study showed, there is a direct correlation between the increase of depression and suicides in this country and the reduction in church attendance. And that, to my mind, has happened because we have forgotten to know and care for our souls. The soul is an immaterial essence, an animating agent, and the actuating cause of our individual lives. Like gravity or a black hole, we know the soul, not by observing it, or touching it, but by how it directs the body to act in community.

The health of a soul is measured, and indeed strengthened, as it is given away. For example: When we pray, we give away our souls. When we worship, we give away our souls. When we sit with people in the hospital, we give away our souls. When we study the life of Jesus, we give away our souls.

At Epiphany, we intentionally give away our souls by caring for the community. That is what Christians do, not to be do-gooders, but for the very health of our souls themselves.

Finally, the third focus of our evangelistic mission at Epiphany: Ambassadorship of the Kingdom of God in this land of techie secularism. What this means is that we are constantly in conversation with the trends and distractions and new revelations of this age and we need to bring them to a Kingdom of God perspective. Now this does not mean we act as Luddites, nor see the innovations around us as wrong or evil or bad?  No!  What we say points to how these new ways of communicating to align with the world as God is intending it to evolve. What we do is point to how these new technologies give us cause to consider our own humanity, and how we are human’s together. We with courage always enters into conversations bringing to bear a Jesus perspective, whether we acknowledge it as such or not. What this requires from us, however, is knowing Jesus’ life and teachings, and then contemplating the translation from his days to these days.

And so, here we sit tonight, together, in common mission, as providentially put upon us by the God that brought us into this sacred place with intention and purpose. Through adoration and care of the soul and Kingdom of God ambassadorship we, Epiphany, a little neighborhood church, an island in the sea of techie secularism, is meant to go out, entering into the conversations of our time, confidentially, knowing we are called to do so by God in the name of Jesus.  

This the age of Holy Spirit. Here we are, together; heeding the call on this our patristic feast day. Be brave, have courage, persevere…what we know to be true and good must be heard and shared with this city right now. This mission is our very reason for being.