Harrowing Of Hell
January 6, 2019

What Time is It?

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen, click here.

Happy Feast of the Epiphany. I am so glad to see all of you here this evening. This is the time each year when we gather to celebrate our church, and to take time to consider where we are as a church family. 

Toward that ends, I’d like to put forth four questions for our reflection:

  1. Who are we?
  2. Where are we?
  3. What is wrong in the world?
  4. What time is it?  What time is it for us, here at Epiphany, in 2019?

You can find these questions on the back of the bulletin to help track what I’m up here talking about. Who are we? Where are we? What is wrong? What time is it?

We begin with the first question: Who are we? I want to start by looking backward at the path we have traveled as a parish. In 1907 Bishop Keator, from a boat in Lake Washington, pointed to the new construction popping up on the west bank of the lake, and asked a group of men from St. Mark’s to begin a mission up there.

A few months later Epiphany was founded in a storefront on Union and 34th.  It quickly was filled with young families concerned about the spiritual health and well-being of their children.

Property was given; lumber donated; and money raised. By 1911 ground was broken here on the corner of 38th and Denny, and what we know to be the Chapel was built.

The Rev. Woods Stewart, in 1909, became the 2nd Rector of Epiphany, and under his leadership, in a few years this place swelled; as the city grew, so too did Epiphany, and in short order we became a spiritual center of gravity  for this part of Seattle. And so it went, through the Great War, and the roaring 20’s, and the Great Depression, and the rise of Nazi Germany.

As men came back from the 2nd World War, they met a new Rector, The Rev. Dr. Elmer Christie, and Epiphany entered a second time of significant growth. The Great Hall was added, a school was formed, and a bigger sanctuary was built. Epiphany’s growth once again matched the growth of the city around it. Today, fifty years later, we again find our selves growing as the city around us grows. 

I came to Epiphany in 2008, as the stock market was crashing, and Amazon had yet to hit its stride. There were a 100 people in the pews, a small choir, and a smaller children’s program.

It was my goal when I arrived that this church would be one of the surviving Episcopal churches. The Episcopal Church, as you know, has a great tradition; we have a solid, open way of understanding God, and we have an ancient pattern of worship with a five-hundred-year track record of healing and magnifying souls.  And yet, as a denomination we have been limping along for a while. 

Fortunately, what I found when I arrived at Epiphany was a faithful community committed to this parish, and this city, and our tradition, and the power of our God. Many of you were here when I arrived.  (Raise your hands.) So we focused on Sunday school and smoothing out worship and building a choir. We muscled up our outreach: adding an overnight men’s shelter, among other things. We started to take pilgrimages together and have shared our choral arts to the neighborhood as a gift. We fixed up the buildings; even as we continued to care for one another and prayed for each other.

Today Epiphany is 4 x’s as big as we were ten years ago. We are a growing church; we are a thriving church; full of faithful people, who have capacity and capability.  And this little neighbor church has reached back to the center of our Anglican identity and made some new friends: The Bishop of Durham England, Michael Turnbull has preached here. The Dean of Westminster Abby, John Hall, has preached here. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has preached here. And they have all said the same thing…”Well done Epiphany. The Holy Spirit is alive in this place! Hold the ground.”

We are a surviving Episcopal Church, and that is good for us, but only if it is also good for the Episcopal church writ large. For those to whom much is given much is expected. Those words come to us from Jesus, and as we learn, and grow, and adjust, we take note, collecting our stories of success and failure to share with other churches. This is who we are: We a thriving Episcopal Church in the city of Seattle.

Which is the answer to the second question I want us to consider this evening: Where are we? We are not in Dayton Ohio or Jackson Mississippi. We are not in St. Paul Minnesota or Sacramento California. We are here in Seattle, and right now this is one of the most dynamic cities in the entire world. 

This city is growing. It is full of cutting-edge thinkers. It is rich in resources, and it is innovative and international in scope…and it is a city that is fiercely secular.  Which is good news for us; because if we can make it here we can make it anywhere. And maybe it is here, more than anywhere, that we can prove the value of the Way of Jesus and what it means to be a holy people. Because, as we see, even when you have everything: money and technology and brilliant minds, so well educated in solving problems…there is still isolation and division, angst and uncertainty. Ours is a culture in crisis, but the crisis we are facing is not a material one, it is a spiritual one.It is a crisis of the human spirit.

Which is the answer to the third question I have posed this evening: What is wrong with the world that we live in? There is a spiritual crisis in the heart of much of humanity. And some of that has to do with not attending to our spiritual life; and some of that has to with denying the reality of God. And the impact of an atrophied spirit, languishing without God, is that the void left gets stuffed with distraction, and overwork, and senseless achievement, running hither and yon, seeking mindless entertainment as the answer to a longing felt deep down inside.

And those of us who do believe there is a God, well, sometimes we lose courage to make the case as to why God matters; and how God has impact on our lives. We have ceded to the lesser logic, drilled into our minds by the curriculums that ignore or deny God. So we hold our tongue.

Which brings me to the fourth question this evening: What time is it? What time is it for us here at Epiphany? And here is what I see our providence to be: It is time for us to learn the ways of Jesus by heart. It is time for us to more fully soak in the holiness of God. It is time for us to secure Epiphany’s place as a center of spiritual gravity for the next 50 years. These are the three things…a Jesus heart; a holiness of spirit; and a legacy to last another 50 years.

I believe it is time for us to memorize and graft to our soul the ways of Jesus. My hope for us is when we read a book by some fierce atheist claiming a unique truth about evolution or brain function or quantum connection, we can say, “Yes”, AND “This is how that is a reflection of the Kingdom of God.”

My hope for us is when we find ourselves in a conversation with some antagonistic agnostic, we can stand secure in the conversation.  We can talk of the real value of the Jesus Way, and share why this way of life works for us.

I am committed to creating venues for studying the Jesus Way. There are the classes Steve Clemons puts on every Sunday in the Great Hall.  Diane Carlisle leads the four-year course called EfM (Education for Ministry.) Jon Roberts and Ben Bradstreet both have rich classes on the Christian lifestyle. And I have my Friday Bible study.

We will continue to create opportunities for study, the invitation is for you to become as well acquainted with Christianity as you are mathematics, or evolution, or football.

It is also time for us to soak in the holiness of God. This church is designed to evoke a sense of mystery and divine beauty. Come hear sacred music; bend your knees; close your eyes; turn your hearts towards God. 

I don’t care what you believe at any given moment (the mind is a fickle friend), because I am convinced that to bend a knee, or say a prayer in concert with hundreds of others, or to hold out your hands to take the bread and sip from the cup; these are holy acts that sooth the soul and settle the human spirit. 

Worship is the most powerful response there is to the broken and divided culture in which we live.

Which is why, finally, it is time we secure this parish for the next 50 years of worship and teaching the ways of Jesus. That will mean increasing the capacity of our endowment to keep this parish going during lean times that we might encounter in the future.  We were entrusted with an endowment from past generations, and we will do our part to ensure future generations are cared for as we have been cared for by our predecessors.

Being a surviving Episcopal church puts upon us responsibility. It requires we know who we are and where we came from. It necessitates that we own the providence set upon us as a thriving church, in a growing city, capable of reaching beyond our selves, and sharing what we have experienced and learned. It means understanding how the deepest needs of the world can be met by the Ways of Jesus and the worship of God.

This is our time, and this is our duty…I invite you to step fully into the providence of Epiphany and own the possibility God has presented to us. This is the gift we can offer the world.  It is our time.