Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Good Evening. I’m glad to see you here on this feast of Epiphany. It is a blessing to have the family gather on a Friday night in celebration of 110 years of worship as a church. Tonight, we’ll have a different kind of conversation than we had with the 1100 or so people here on Christmas.
Tonight, I want to talk about the core purpose of worship and how this sustains the competing impulses that exists between the outward push of service, and the inward pull of hospitality. In other words, we’ll talk practically tonight about what it means to be church. So, that is where we are going this evening, toward service and hospitality as fueled by worship.
The metaphor I am going to use is a star. It seems appropriate given the Gospel. It is a metaphor found in the Bible, in the book of Revelation, where churches are identified as stars. I like this star metaphor because it captures the tension between the outward energy and the inward gravity of a star; just like with a church.
Here is how a star works, for those of you who aren’t astrophysicists. What causes a star to burn brightly in the night sky is this dynamic interplay between an inward pull of gravity, and an outward explosion of nuclear fusion. If the inward pull is too strong, the star collapses and dies. If the outward push is too strong, the star pulls apart and dies. It is a delicate dance that keeps the light of the star burning in the night sky.
It is the same with a church. There is a dynamic tension between being a spiritual center of gravity for the parishioners, and a source of transformational energy for the world. That is the delicate dance of any church seeking to retain the radiance of purpose.
And that purpose, that radiance, that reason for being is worship. Just as neutrinos are the fuel that fires stars; so is worship the fuel that fires churches. Without neutrinos, there are no stars; without worship there is no church.
For 110 years Epiphany, has worshipped God, so let’s talk about worship for a minute. We call it liturgy, which is a patterned action that relationally orients us
to God, to humanity, and to creation. Liturgy is a patterned action, like a dance maybe, that relationally orients us to God, to humanity, and to creation. So let’s look at all three of these relationships and how they are known in worship.
First God: if we don’t believe in God at all, then worship makes no sense. But if we believe in God, even just a little bit, if we believe that God had a hand in creation in some way, if we believe that God is even just a bit more powerful, or thoughtful, or insightful than we are, then nothing makes more sense than to set aside a little time to orient our lives toward God. After all, if God is the superior and we are the inferior, then showing up for God at a time and place outside our own convenience just makes sense; particularly considering that if there was no God there would be no relationships.
Worship is a patterned action that honors God, but it also honors the relationships God has set us in. When we worship, we step into relationship with people from the past, including Epiphany’s past, and past Christians, all the way back to the person of Jesus, and further to David, Moses, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, Isaac, Rebecca, Abraham, Sarah; and further still to Noah, then to Adam and Eve. Through worship we intentionally connect with all of humanity that has gone before us.
Worship also connects us to people in this present age. Some of you have gone to Anglican churches around the world, and stepped into a pattern of liturgy that, irrespective of the language spoken, connected us with a community. It is through liturgy also that we seek relationship with people yet to come. Worship is organized to transcend time; to pass itself into the future as a means of honoring and acknowledging humanities connectedness. That is an important thing. How we worship expresses a communal value that we bequeath to future generations: through education, and tradition, through buildings and endowments. We do this because we know by our experience that worship is an action beyond ourselves, made to orient ourselves to something bigger than ourselves. It breaks us free from our little, limited lives we live. But worship does more than just link humanity; past, present and future, it also orients us to the living, breathing, dynamic nature of creation. God set us in the world to be stewards of creation; to love it, to honor it, to care for it, not as our possession, but as God’s possession.
Worship rejects the myth that humanity is the center of all things, and the world only a cold lump of matter to be used, and used up, in order to make our lives more comfortable. We reject that! Worship says God is the center.
God made us to care for the world as a collaborative friend, not a domineering despot. Worship sets us in rhythm with creation, imposing upon us a structure of celebration and deprivation; of hard work and self-reflection; of crucifixion and resurrection; of life and death. Worship invites us to pay attention to season and cycles. So, worship is about our relationship with God; and our relationship with humanity, past, present and future; and our relationship with creation.
For 110 years thousands have worshipped here; which is why tonight we gather to say thank you to our predecessors, to this corner of creation, and of course to God.
We are a star, a church; worship is our fuel given to ignite within us the dynamic tension between being a spiritual center of gravity and a source of energetic transformation; a church invites, and a church serves. Invitation and hospitality: service and outreach, this is the dynamic tension that keeps us a bright light in a dark world, and it is what I’d like to focus on now.
We’ll start with invitation and hospitality. We are a welcoming church, and we could be a more welcoming church. I hear all sorts of newcomer stories. Some tell of being swept up by our hospitality. But an equal number tell of no one talking to them for weeks… and these are the ones that stayed.
I want to put forth a challenge to us: Meet one person each Sunday. I don’t care if they are new or not, just meet someone you don’t know. Make it intentional. Make it a goal. Do it with a partner or the person sitting next to you in the pew. If each one of us meets one new person every Sunday, hospitality will be the spinning core that makes Epiphany a compelling spiritual center of gravity. If each one meets one that will happen. If each one meets one…Can we do that? Each one meets one.
And if you see them again the next Sunday and forget their name, ask. If you forget it yet again and are embarrassed, still ask. Never let your embarrassment get in the way of someone else’s experience of Epiphany. Because if you avoid them because you forgot their name, they won’t necessarily know that. They may think you don’t like them.
Invitation and hospitality is what keeps us a spiritual center of gravity. Now the necessary counterweight to this gravity is service and outreach. We do this well, and yet as we grow we need to increase this work to make sure the dynamic tension is in balance to keep us a radiant church.
Service is doing good. There are tons of ways to do this from staying overnight here at the church with homeless men, to cleaning apartments at the Y, to delivering magazines with me to neighborhood shelters.
I’ve personally stepped into partnership with Alex Polson in the magazine ministry. He collects the magazines and prepares them for delivery, and I deliver them… with one of you. You know what I love about this ministry? It’s how relationships are strengthened by doing work together. Another area of service I’m participating in with other parishioners is tutoring up at the Madrona Elementary School.
But there are tons of ways to serve through the church, and I’d encourage you to seek one out or start one. And keep in mind, too, that just getting out and being known in the neighborhood is outreach. Eat at local restaurants. Buy at local stores. Introduce yourself. Be a presence in the community. Service and outreach is what makes us source of energetic transformation in the world.
And so I leave you tonight with invitation and hospitality: outreach and service-the gravity and the nuclear fusion of church. We are a star, fueled by worship, to be in relationship, with creation, and people; past, present and future, and God. because God is God.
For 110 years Epiphany has been a burning star. We still are. Tonight we celebrate the radiance of this brightness.