January 21, 2024 – Epiphany III & Annual Meeting Sunday – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

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Too often it seems like we are living in the “in between” times.  We can’t go back to the way things were, yet we live in both hope and fear for what will be.  If change is constant, then we are always living in transition, between the already and the not yet

I have experienced this many times at the bedside of someone who is actively dying.  There is a desire to hold onto all that has been.  We try to recover memories, sing songs, to spark a response that brings back the connection we are losing.  We know they are moving on and we want to be able to let them go gracefully but the uncertainty of the future is in conflict with the past that we are hanging onto. 

Other times we are waiting for something to hurry up and happen, a new job, a move, retirement, an election, or the beginning of construction!  We are anxious to see the fulfillment of our dreams and plans, but the time is not yet ripe.  Not yet.  Not yet.

Or maybe we simply need this difficult time to pass.  We need the treatment to be successful so that there will be a full recovery.  We’re desperate for the cease fire to take effect and the killing and death to cease.  We’re riding out the storm, enduring the turbulence, praying for deliverance. 

One Southern Black preacher heard an elder in Georgia say it this way.  When he asked her, “How are you doing, Mother?” she said, “I’m living between Oh Lord! and Thank you, Jesus!”  (Otis Moss at cac.org)

A major transition marks the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.  John the Baptizer has been drawing crowds, preaching the message of repentance, and riling up the authorities.  Then he is arrested and will no longer be on the scene except for the account of his beheading.  He baptized Jesus at the Jordan River, outside of Jerusalem but as yet, Jesus has performed no miracle nor offered any teaching.  The Spirit has descended upon Jesus but it’s not clear if anyone else is even aware of this. 

Instead of capitalizing on the crowds, the voice of God and the Spirit descending like a dove, Jesus travels north to Galilee, away from the center of religious and political power and influence.  It is here that he makes an incredible proclamation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”  Before he has his first follower, before the changing of water into wine, before he stands up to speak in the synagogue, he announces that God’s Kingdom is near, at hand, present in a way that will turn the world upside down.

It begins with simple fishermen.  At his invitation they leave all that is familiar to follow him.  The habits of generations are broken in an instant as they take up a new calling.  They are the beginning of a new community that transcends blood, tradition, social status and affiliation.  The world is about to turn. 

This calling is not just for Simon, Andrew, James and John.  They are the first of generations of those who will follow the One in whom God has come near.  Just 50 years later, the siblings in Christ at Corinth were convinced that the present form of their world was passing away.  Paul advises them to live for what is ultimate and to maintain a healthy detachment from what is temporal.  Just as the first disciples broke free from all that was expected of them, these followers of Jesus are to live in a way that frees them up for their calling. 

Transition comes to everyone.  Sometimes we have the option of choice.  Other times, transition is out of our control.  Either way, what has seemed stable and familiar is suddenly no longer firm or secure.  We are in transition.

Some of you may be aware that our Chapel, which turns 100 years old this year, has recently experienced some challenges.  First the drains backed up and flooded the Undercroft in December.  This past week, a pipe froze and leaked water into our food storage room and back hallway.    Our sturdy little chapel that has stood for decades is now falling apart. 

In my more fanciful moments, I imagine her saying, “I’m done.”  “I’ve served my purpose faithfully, sheltering generations of worshippers, providing safe, warm space for those on the margins, shining God’s light in this neighborhood.”  “But my time is up and I’m ready to go.”  And I want to tell her, hang on just a little while longer.  We still need you.  Your time is near, but it’s not yet!

Today is St. Luke’s Annual Meeting, and is my custom, I am using this sermon as the Vicar’s Report.  St. Luke’s is in a time of transition, a time of already and not yet.  With these recent disasters, we are in between “Oh Lord and thank you, Jesus!”  We are called to remain faithful in worship and service in this place until we receive notice to move off site.  We have a responsibility to care for not only our buildings and property but all who come to us for physical and spiritual sustenance.  After all our mission is to “feed people in body, mind and spirit with the love of God, in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit.” 

Yes, we look forward to eventually having a new church space that is beautiful, functional and sustainable.  We are anxious to begin the ground lease that will provide necessary financial resources to cover us through construction and repayment of our loan.   The Edible Hope Kitchen is excited about the possibility of a newly renovated kitchen in a location where our guests can be welcomed for years to come.  There’s so much more we can do once we no longer have this huge piece of property and these 10 buildings to maintain.  Plus, I want to retire someday before I turn 70 and am committed to see this project through.

But, not yet.  For now we are to continue to be faithful in this place.  We are to participate in communal worship where we hear God’s word, confess our sins, share the peace and join in Holy Communion.  We are to welcome the stranger and care for one another in Christian love.  There will be births and baptisms.  It is our responsibility to support those who are bringing up their children in the Christian faith.  The crises of homelessness, hunger, addiction and despair are not going away and we will not escape responsibility when we move off site.  Our calling to care for those on life’s margins will not be suspended in our transition.

In 2023 we not only maintained but grew our congregation.  We emerged from the darkest days of COVID.  Attendance increased.  The Spiritual Pilgrimage connected newer members with the community.  We had our first official Bishop’s Visitation with Bishop Melissa and our first Easter Vigil since 2019.  Daniel Wolff became the Edible Hope Program Director and led a very successful Fall Fundraiser at Bickerson’s Brewery.  Our Annual Giving and Capital Campaign, “Building a Place Where Love Dwells” exceeded expectation.  New people stepped into leadership, including Bill Hoey and Rebecca Daves who took on the Treasurer challenge.

We also said some farewells.  After 8 plus years, our musician Ivar Hillesland has moved on, but not before a final, fabulous Advent service of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve morning.  In order to prepare for moving off site, we saw the last season of the SLUG and our final interns from the Seattle School for Theology and Psychology.  The Bridge Care Center moved into a space in their own Quest Church.  Some members of our congregation died or experienced the death of a loved one and a shocking number of our unhoused neighbors died on the streets. 

Through it all God has been our refuge and this place has been our sanctuary.  We have been renewed and strengthened for the work God has given us to do.  We have mourned and celebrated.  We have given and received.  We have prayed and we have danced.  At certain times we have cried out, “Oh Lord!” but more often we have shouted “Thank you, Jesus!” 

As we look into 2024 we can expect more transition.  We anticipate the beginning of construction on the Affordable Housing building in April and on the market rate housing and new church as soon as we get our 6 month notice.  Our Capital Campaign will expand to include the rest of the diocese and our community.  A new bishop will be elected in May.  The triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church will take place in July when a new Presiding Bishop will be elected.  And I will help lead a Civil Rights Pilgrimage beginning September 30.

There will be opportunity to go deeper in the faith through the Spiritual Pilgrimage, the Prayer group and other formation opportunities.  Our worship will be inspired by the music and preaching of gifted leaders.  We will seek and serve Christ in all our neighbors by caring for one another in good times and bad. 

In all of this we hear Jesus say “The time is fulfilled.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.”  Amen.  Thank you Jesus!