Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Good morning. Nice to see you. I’m glad God showed up today as well. I guess God always shows up because God is God, and God is always present. Church is just that time we show up for God; like a God play-date arranged by our ancestors. This is the time set aside to talk to God both individually and as a community. That is what I do on Sundays…I’m in the remedial class. We meet 4 times, and each time I talk to God in silent prayer, and I talk to God in corporate worship, and sometimes I even talk to God from this pulpit, like I’m doing today. Because today I’m inspired by the Gospel to ask God…“Why, Lord, did you choose these people?”
Look around. Maybe you’re wondering the same thing: “Lord, why did you choose these people?” You are chosen by God. That is a sentence that ends with a period, not a question mark. You are vital. You are spiritual. You are capable, and beautiful, and breathing…you are chosen by God to be here right now.
Before you were born God thought you into being. You were given to your parents for this generation, in this time. This was not your choice. Nor was it your parent’s choice… to have you in particular. You were brought forth in a way that led you to this city, and to this church, on this particular Sunday; to hear this preacher wonder out loud: “Lord, why did you choose these people?”
I suspect there are some in this room that get the willies when I say… you are chosen by God. These words don’t sound too Episcopalian, do they? If we were chosen, it could imply that others were not; and that seems to strike against our sense of theological fairness. But just because we are chosen, it doesn’t mean others are not. If a person is born they are chosen by God. God loves every soul.
But let me say this as well; the circumstances into which each person was born are not the same, they are not equal, and they are not fair. You know this as well as I do. While we are equally loved by God, our missions are different, and so our circumstances must be different as well. You did not choose to be here, you were chosen to be here today by God.
The question is: “Why? For what?” Reflecting on our context might help.
We live in Seattle. It is on the water, and that is where evolution happens. We are a port city church. We are also a portal city church. We are on the edge the water, and we are at the edge of the virtual realm.
We live in a high-tech city where things are done that have never been done before; and I wonder if where we are tells us something about who we are called to be. I wonder if it isn’t our role to be the lighthouse that guides people from the vapid expanse of the virtual realm to the grounded reality of incarnational relationship.
We are providentially poised, I sense, to evolve into a church that reaches into the virtual realm to invite people to the shores of the incarnational. We live in a rapidly changing time, and this can be disorienting. We live in a time of massive disruption.
Just as the Roman roads disrupted the world 2,000 years ago, so too is the Internet disrupting the world today. Just as the Roman roads changed governance and commerce 2,000 years ago, so too is the Internet changing governance and commerce today.
Paul walked those Roman roads from Damascus to Corinth to Jerusalem to Rome, sharing Christianity in a way that changed the spiritual landscape of the human soul. Our opportunity is to follow in his footsteps. But that doesn’t mean going to Damascus and Corinth to Jerusalem and Rome. It means going to the vapid expanse of the Internet and inviting people into real relationship. This is what is required of a portal church. We are called to go and invite and then welcome to real relationship.
Our purpose as a portal church has been unfolding over the last ten years or so. It began in November 2008. The stock market had crashed, Amazon was only a $20 billion company, and Epiphany was a rather sleepy neighborhood church. In a few short years this parish was re-energized around the practices of Christianity, and many moved along on their spiritual journey, myself included. This was Phase 1, the return to our Christian pattern of life.
Then we asked ourselves: “Who handed us this parish, and who do we hope to pass it on to?” Renovating this little corner of the Kingdom of God, this spiritual center of gravity, became Phase 2. 317 parish families chipped in to raise $9.2 million, and with that the Chapel, Church, Great Hall, and grounds were made ready for another 100 years of service.
Some of you were here for Phase 1. More of you were here for Phase 2. And all of you are here for Phase 3. You were chosen for this time.
So here is my current visual for where we are and where we are going. Imagine a drinking straw and imagine a funnel. Do you have that? OK.
Epiphany is like a drinking straw. People are walking along like ants at a picnic, and every once in a while, one of them falls down through the straw. When they come out the other end they find the peanut butter and jelly of meaningful spiritual exercises, inspired worship, and authentic community, and some of them stick around.
But that is not a great system for inviting people to a place of spiritual transformation. A straw might have worked fifty years ago when people moved to a neighborhood and went to their church because everyone went to church. And some were transformed in their spirit, and some just went to church because everyone went to church.
Not so today. We need to turn that straw into a funnel because now-a-days when people have a spiritual itch they, more often than not, wander into the vapid expanse of the Internet. This is where we must go to meet them, but with a funnel, not a straw.
Now if you are like me, and not a computer genius, you might be wondering; “What role do I play in this straw to funnel metaphor?”
Well, the funnel of Phase 3 we are creating at Epiphany has two openings: One is the big end of invitation that opens to the virtual realm, and the other end is where we stand ready to welcome those who arrive at Epiphany.
Phase 3 is about virtual invitation and incarnational welcome. You are chosen to be part of this funnel; to be part of this portal church in this high-tech port city of Seattle.
Phase 3 has two components: Invitation and Welcome.
- Invitation engages spiritual seekers in the virtual world;
- And welcome is what they encounter when they arrive at Epiphany.
We have started to work on invitation. We have gathered and continue to gather with our tech congregants to cull their wisdom, If you fit in this tech category and haven’t heard from me, please contact me by email. (If you don’t know what this is you don’t fit into this category.) All the rest of us are part of the welcome team.
Over the next few months we are going to gather at people’s homes and down in the Fireside Room and maybe out in the St. Francis garden to talk about how we invite and how we welcome. It will be very much like we gathered to talk about this campus during the building campaign. If you’d like to host one of these conversations please let me know.
And the questions that we’ll wonder about begin with the inviting:
- What skills do we have to help turn our straw into a funnel?
- What resources do we have to employ to make this happen?
Then we’ll ask: What are we inviting people into? And how do we welcome them? Now this conversation about welcoming will require some self-reflection.
We’ll ask ourselves:
- Am I willing to be an active, intentional welcoming presence that proves the value of face-to-face relationship?
- Am I willing to be vulnerable enough to assess what we are currently doing and change so to be more welcoming to others?
- Am I willing to step more fully into my own spiritual growth as a means of meeting and modeling for people what the disciplined spiritual life looks like?
These are the questions we’ll be asking in Phase 3; and you were chosen for this conversation.
I am fully aware, as you are, that there are tons of Christian stuff on the Internet. Every church, including Epiphany, has a website with sermons and the like. Some are better than others. But when I’m talking about meeting people in the vast expanse of the Internet I am not talking about a better website, or more awesome content. I’m talking about engagement and invitation in a way that is highly particular to the needs and curiosities and interests of our neighbors, and then drawing them out of the anti-incarnational, vapid, intangible, virtual realm to the substantive world of face-to-face relationship, to incarnation, to the goodness and beauty of this material world, to old-fashioned neighborliness, and an old-fashioned neighborhood church.
This world is an increasingly crowded and lonely place. Studies show that, through the presence of these phones, people are becoming more and more isolated. Our children are becoming more and more isolated. We are atrophying spiritually for lack of incarnational engagement. We are becoming a depressed people, not knowing who we are or whose we are. We have forgotten that we are chosen by God.
Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church said: “The neighborhood church is the hope of the world.” I believe that to the core of my being, and our job at Epiphany is to prove the model: To go meet people where they are, and to welcome them when they arrive, and to walk with them on their journey, even as we share with them our own spiritual way of life.
You were chosen for this task. You were born for this time. This little neighborhood church is your church, and God has set you here.
As we roll into Phase 3, the Phase of invitation and welcome, I encourage you to step into the conversation; to own your place in it; to be part of it, to invite others to join you in it. It may be your legacy in a way you’ve never imagined, to be part of a portal church in high tech Seattle.
I believe you were chosen for this, and your reward will be the still small voice of God whispering in your soul, “Well done my chosen one.”