Harrowing Of Hell
December 1, 2019

WeWork and the Homeowner not Paying Attention

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Keep awake! Keep awake! That is the goal of my sermon today…not for me so much. I usually stay awake during my sermons. But in all seriousness, today I want to draw our attention to the homeowner we meet in the Gospel, the one whose house would not have been broken into had they been awake when the burglar arrived. 

When I think about that homeowner, I think about all of you. When I think about that house, I think about this church. And I wonder if we have allowed any burglars into our home? To know if we have requires taking inventory, it requires knowing what we have and knowing if there is something missing; because the thief in the night is strategic, he can only carry so much. And what he is looking for is something that has a power that he can repurpose for his own profit.

I wonder if we have allowed any burglars into our church home? And, if so, do we have the courage and competence to track him down and go into his house and take what was stolen back into our guardianship. That is what St. George would have done.

That all sounds a little dramatic, but Advent, which is beginning today, is a dramatic season It is the season where we take stock of the world around us and ask: What will we say to Jesus if he were to come and ask us how we cared for the world we were given to be guardians of?  Have we allowed anything to be taken from our house, and, if so, have we even tried to get it back, or have we been distracted by many other things? Have we kept awake?

My reflections on our guardianship today begins with our Epiphany website. Bear with me…We have recently begun to update it. It is not bad as it is, I mean, it looks pretty good on a computer screen, but it doesn’t translate well to the screen of an iPhone, and if our website isn’t iPhone worthy, we will be left behind.

Much of life is lived on cellphones, isn’t it? But here is the interesting thing the data shows; that as the iPhone became ubiquitous, the rates of self-reported loneliness, and depression, and isolation, and even suicide increased… particularly among young people. And when I hear statistics like this I wonder at the competence of our guardianship. I wonder what has been taken from our house.

I’ll say more about this in a bit, but first, I want tell you about one young person who noticed this trend, and saw a transactional, business opportunity in it. The problem he put his finger on was the lack of community for young people, like himself. It is hard to know why this cohort seems to lack community. Maybe because many spent their youth moving around following their boomer parents’ careers. But even those who seemed to have had a consistent home were on the move, jumping from one school to the next, from one soccer team to the next, from one tutoring session to the next, toward whatever was the best; with the goal being the best college, and then the best job.

The local school, the community team, the neighborhood gang that you ran around with, well these things became secondary…achievement usurped relationship. And then it was off to college, somewhere else, and then after that to the best job, somewhere else, and if it was a really good job, you could do it from your own home, all alone.

It was 2010 and Adam Neuman, then a thirty-year old entrepreneur, saw an opportunity in this lack of community…and so, he declared the end of the “I generation” and proclaimed the advent of the “We generation.” Wework, a company, was born. The concept was simple, they created spaces where people could gather to do their work.

Adam became the prophet and the high priest of the “We generation.” His prophetic message of community building for an isolated generation resounded with all who heard it, and investment money poured in. And with that money Adam built sanctuaries around the world in which young people could gather and work and hang out…and find a place to belong.

Wework bought premier real estate in the best cities, and filled them with bean bag chairs, and coffee bars, and five kinds of herbal tea…sort of like our Youth Group room on steroids. And people gathered, desperate for the community that they didn’t have, or didn’t know how to create, or couldn’t find.

So, they plopped down their credit card, monthly deductions flowed, and off to the promised land they went; settling into fancy office spaces, in fancy buildings, where they sat sipping herbal tea, ear buds firmly in place, doing their work remotely…in the presence of other young people doing the same thing. And there they could sit, all together and still be alone.

Wework soared toward a valuation of $47 billion dollars, and Adam became a god, elevated to such status by TV interviews, books, TED talks, and even the Aspen Ideas Festival…

Then Adam did what the successful do; create liquidity through an Initial Public Offering (IPO). NOW, investors could look under the hood of Wework, if you will, and where they expected to find 5.2L V8 engine, they found a hamster on a spinning wheel. As the valuation of Wework tumbled from $47B to $8B, Adam was sent packing by the board of directors, with a $1.7B buyout. Not bad for Adam. Terrible for the 2400 regular folks who lost their jobs, and for those for whom the promise of community was snatched away.

Now with this Wework story floating in the back of your mind, let me remind you of something today: We believe in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the Trinity… a relational God. The church exists, fundamentally, as an institution, to articulate that there is a God, and God is relational.

Over the door of this church a sign should read: Everyone is welcome-wherever you are on your spiritual journey; because here: relationship is primary; authentically primary, non-transactionally primary, unconditionally primary, because you are God’s, beloved-the best…just the way you are.

I tell the story of Adam and Wework because it is convicting. It is a wake up call.We have left the window ajar for someone to come into our home and steal away our core reason for being; and repurpose relationship is primary for their own profit.

So, I leave you with this challenge, as gallant knights on a white steed…Christmas is around the corner. You are going to be with family and friends. The question of church is going to come up, as it always does this time of year. And I want you to be ready to have a conversation about God and the church and the person of Jesus with those you love, because you love them, and because you love their children, and you love the generations that will follow. And in greater part, you have this love because previous generations have loved you and given the gift of knowing God through the person of Jesus.

I know you might be thinking…“That is getting a little evangelical, preacher. This is Seattle, after all.” Indeed, this is Seattle; and this is the Kingdom of God. So, if you believe this even a little bit, then you have a message for the people around you…our God is a relational God, a God of love, who is present, right here, right now.

In this nation there is a crisis of isolation and depression, loneliness and suicide. We, the church, have a message, that we must urgently share; for if God becomes an assumption, or an echo fading into the past, then the noise of the transactional culture will drown out the still small voice inviting us to our most human, most authentic, most connected, most relational selves.

The Gospel today gives us a stark choice, saying: two will be in the field, or shall I say in the office, and one will be taken, and one will be left. My hope is that you will NOT be snatched away, because as I read this part of the Gospel, this snatched away section, it is not at all clear that being taken is the preferred option. In fact, I’d like to suggest that staying right here with each of you is the better outcome. And I say this because Advent is the season in which we wait for the birth of Jesus, right here, together.

What Adam Neuman and Wework investors missed in their business model was the foundation of an actively present, perpetually loving, personally knowable God. And in this world God has a name…

Here at Epiphany we don’t have an $8B market capitalization, we have something better-just ask any of the nineteen men on the Men’s retreat last weekend. They’ll tell you what it was like to be authentically known and beloved by a community that follows Jesus.

Here at Epiphany, we do have coffee, in a huge silver urn made in 1957, and tea, and sometimes bottles of wine that are a bit better than Two Buck Chuck.

And our youth have bean bag chairs and a brightly painted room to hang out in. They are our next generation and we want the best for them; and we know the best begins with God.

This world is God’s world and given to us to be our home, for a time; to care for as guardians and to pass on in good order. We do it together, from the very youngest to the very oldest, with everyone and every type included in between.  I guess that makes us the guardians of the original and perpetual We-generation…

We are awake to the reality that relationship is primary and built on the foundation of an actively present, perpetually loving, personally knowable God.