The Great Timeout

March 22nd, 2020

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

To listen to the sermon click here.

As I wrote this sermon, more than usual, I was thinking of you. Not to say that isn’t always the case, but often the text is my first source of consideration and everything else falls in place from there. 

But today, maybe the last couple of Sundays, I’ve had you on my heart in a new way. It could be because we are not together here in the sanctuary.  It is strange not dancing the liturgy with you. What we do in worship is not a performance, it is the community gathered together to praise God. I have a role, as preacher, Ruth Anne as the presider, the choir does their bit, including laughing at my jokes…tough work, real suffering servants.  Then there are the acolytes, which I must say do such an excellent job, and the Gospel bearer, and the thurifers, and the crucifer,and the readers, and readers, and vergers, even the organists…but, none of these roles is more important than any other, including yours, the worshipper. 

And so, while I know it isn’t the same, I encourage you to open the pdf bulletin and participate in the service, word for word for word. Wherever you are sitting at this very moment, lift your hearts with me in praise and thanksgiving to God. “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, come let us adore him” (Ps 96:6).

I also invite you to consider this weird way of virtual worship as preparation for something new that God is doing in the world. Let me explain. As you know, I am a fan of Joachim of Foire, the 12th c. Italian monk who prophesied the three great eras of the Trinity.

There was two thousand years of God the Father, that began with Abraham and his personal relationship with God. Then two thousand years later, we have Jesus, the actual Son of God, who came to codify human freedom, by stamping his imprimatur upon the human soul through the action of resurrection. And now, two thousand years later we arrive at the age of the Holy Spirit. 

It is interesting how these three ages loosely affiliate with the advent of new technologies. 4000 years ago it was the invention of the first alphabet developed in Egypt (Wisegeek.com) 2000 years ago it was the crisscrossing roads of the Roman Empire. And today, well, it is what is connecting you and me right now, the Internet. And so, with this as our framework, I’d like to wonder with you how this time of the coronavirus may be more deeply moving us into the Age of the Holy Spirit.

As I sat in prayer on Monday morning, I had a vision of this coronavirus as one big, worldwide timeout placed upon us by God. You know, like the timeouts we give our kids; go sit in the corner and think about what you have done; and don’t come out until you are ready to apologize and make an amendment of life. 

Now, no one likes sitting in timeout… God is such a meanie. But maybe we weren’t listening? Maybe we were ignoring God? It was usually the “not listening” part that landed my kids in timeout. Some of us may not like this analogy, it makes God seem so punitive and petty…just like my kids thought I was so punitive and petty.

But my perspective was different than their perspective; just as God’s perspective is different than our perspective. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us: “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways,’ says the Lord” (Isa 55:8-9). Suffice it to say, God’s perspective on us is eternal, while our perspective is inhibited by the fog of death.

And so, indulge me with this time-out analogy (even if it rankles you a bit), because it sort of works: we can’t jump on a plane and chase the distractions of our next vacation. We can’t go to tennis lessons, or the theater, or school, or a concert, or even a hockey game, heck we can’t even watch a hockey game on TV. There is Netflix, and we still can buy stuff on Amazon, as long as it’s not Purell or toilet paper. We can’t even come to church!

And crazy things are happening like suddenly CEO’s are suggesting that they give themselves a 50% pay cut. There is serious talk about paying a Federally supported income to every adult. And companies, if they can, are paying employees even if they can’t do their jobs…like we are doing here at Epiphany…because of your generosity incidentally: thank you.

And so, in this time of the great timeout stuff is being considered that was once thought to be wildly controversial if not verboten. During this time of timeout when the distractions of entertainment and work and school and maybe even church are taken off the table there are deeper, non-partisan conversations, human to human conversations, about what it means to be a community.

In a refreshing way it is less about the “me”, right now, and more about the “we”…and that, I think, is what God is calling us to consider in this great timeout. “We” is the watchword of the Age of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit includes everybody, and connects everyone. The coronavirus makes that perfectly clear.

(Now let me shift.)

Like many of you, we at the church, has been conducting our meetings on Zoom; and we are getting tons and tons done. And I think this new way of working through platforms like Zoom is going to stick; it is pretty slick.  The Internet is so perfectly designed to manage transactional encounters.

But here is what doesn’t happen as well in the efficiency of these meetings; we don’t have the mingle time before hand, we don’t have the water cooler time afterwards.  When the meeting is done, the line goes dead, and there you are sitting in your home office (aka: the kitchen) with your slippers on, and your dog needing to go outside…

I think work will never be the same. While we have been trending this way, this great timeout may be the tipping point; with a new sense that we need less office space, less face to face meetings, less travel, less customer visits, fewer conferences…

But what this also means is that the secondary benefit, and maybe the more life-giving benefit, of the face to face encounters diminish, and we suffer in an unanticipated way. Don’t some of you just long to put your arm around a friend; or laugh with a friend over something spontaneous that you both just saw happen; or have the neighbor kids just dropping by to play; or go out on a date with some friends for dinner and a movie; or even come to church?

As we connect for worship in the virtual realm, it gives us cause to consider the necessity of a place, bricks and mortar, as mission critical for the health and wholeness and holiness of the soul.

How much do you miss the rumble of the organ vibrating through your seat in the sanctuary; how about the smell of incense (maybe or maybe not); how much do you miss that person sitting behind you singing with all their heart; and the shake of a hand at the Peace; how about the taste of the crispy wafer and the sweet wine? 

Do you miss the clunking of the kneelers, and the rustle of the bulletins as everyone turns the page in unison; and then there are the same old faces, sitting in the same old places, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. We can’t dance, soul to soul to soul, over fiber optics. Worship is incarnational, relational; it is about the “we.” And yet, here we are, making the effort, to be together still.

I hope this time of timeout, being home alone, quarantined, calls to our attention the core human need for soul connection, and not just with another person, on a hike, or having a drink, or playing bridge; but more importantly, intentionally, with other people who acknowledge our common connection with God.

For as the prophet Ezekiel reminds us: “’Know that all souls are mine; the soul of the parent, as well as the soul of the children,’ says God” (Eze 18:4a). The church diminishes in times of “me,” and the church thrives in times of “we;” because the church is relational, incarnational, person to person, handshake to handshake, soul to soul. The church is relational because we have a relational God; God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In this time of the great timeout I invite you to consider how the Holy Spirit is calling us back to the “we”. I invite you to examine what is missing in your life in this time of quarantine and reflect on church, and faith, and how souls are enlivened when we dance incarnationally together in worship; that all happens here in this old fashioned bricks and mortar place when we, you and I, stand in each other’s presence acknowledging that we belong to God.

I leave you with this to consider: Take a look around. What do you see? A comforter you are snuggling under? Slippers on your feet? A mug of coffee that has now gone cold? See these things, or whatever you are seeing, and say “Thank you” to God for this chance to do church like this for a little while.

As you know, worship is a spiritual exercise that, right now, is requiring a little less from us, at least logistically. And that is okay because it is part of the great timeout God has set us in. But I also invite you to consider what the Holy Spirit will be calling us to when this time of the coronavirus has passed. 

What will we return to at Epiphany? How will it be the same, and how will it be different both in our hearts, and as a community? How will our “me” have been reoriented to the greater “we”, and how will our “we” be the church that the Holy Spirit is calling us to be?

This is the Age of the Holy Spirit. God is doing a new thing with us…this time of the great timeout is part of it; so, let’s not miss the opportunity to wonder at what God is doing and seek to understand how we are being called to respond.