Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost - August 27, 2023

Who We Welcome at Church

Last Sunday I preached about God inviting in outcasts in Isaiah 56.  It is a profoundly hopeful, but also profoundly disturbing chapter in the Bible.  The hopeful part is clear.  God says very, very, directly in Isaiah 56 that he wants everyone, no exceptions, to be incorporated into his worshipping congregation.  He then backs it up by doing something that can feel very disturbing.  He loosens portions of his own purity law from Deuteronomy 23.  

Two groups who in Deuteronomy 23 have been totally fenced out of God’s people - foreigners and eunuchs - are invited in.  At the end of it all God says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56 v. 7).

This is not a free-for-all.  Isaiah’s 56’s welcome is balanced with a repeated assumption that those who come into God’s house of prayer are not only worshipping and believing like God’s people but also living like God’s people.  “Everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it and holds fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy Mountain [the Temple]” (v. 6-7).

At the same time, these verses raise questions for us as a church that I think are good to name. Mainly, who is welcome to be part of “us” should they want to be part of us?  This is how I think about that considering Isaiah 56.  Simply and clearly, anyone who wants to worship at Epiphany on Sunday morning or be part of other gatherings of our church is welcome to do so.  As a church, we should not focus on what people look like, what we think about what going on in their lives, or what sub-culture they signal membership in (within the bounds of safety for everyone else in the congregation, and never even appearing to bless sins of one person against another).  Second, when it comes to questions about whether someone is living like part of God’s people, my own commitment is to extend the same charitable assumption to others I hope they extend to me.  That is on any given Sunday at Epiphany all of us at church are trying to the best of our ability to live like we are part of God’s people, or at the very least, “trying to try.”  My job and our church’s job is to consistently and faithfully give people a picture of what that life looks like from the Bible.  But when any one of us fails to meet that image, or when we have more growing to do, it need not be fatal for our faith, but simply another stage in our journey that has Jesus’ own sacrifice for all our sins at the end.

So, how do we maintain discipline and doctrinal purity alongside that sort of open-ended welcome and charitable assumption?  This is the path we follow at Epiphany.  All are welcome to worship and engagement - to be part of “us” - if they want to be.  To be a leader, or a teacher, or a priest or deacon requires more.  Priest and deacons make several vows when we are ordained. One goes like this “Will you be diligent to frame and fashion your own life and the life of your family according to the doctrine of Christ…”  Do we ordained folk keep this and our other vows perfectly?  Speaking for myself, no, I do not (you may have caught me not keeping this vow perfectly before – there can sadly be a lot of daylight between me and Jesus' way at times).  But I made this vow, and I do my best to keep it.  I also know that I have a diocese and bishop whose responsibility is to hold me to this and the other vows I have made.  

While it is not quite so direct, all those who run for vestry at Epiphany also make commitments not only to believe in a general sense, but also to “uphold and affirm the authority of Holy Scripture as “summarized in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, taught by the Fathers, and defined in the General Counsels of the Church.” In fact, they must sign their name to it and take an oath to do so in front of the congregation. Finally, everyone who is formally baptized, confirmed or received into Epiphany vows or has sponsors vow on their behalf to follow Jesus.

Is this way of balancing welcome and the biblical vision of the Christian life always successful?  Well, no, but my experience is that no way is - the church is and always has been made up of people who desperately need Jesus - but we knew that.  What I love about our way at Epiphany is that it captures a bit of the spirit of God’s words in Isaiah 56 and what we see of Jesus’ own practice in the Gospel.  That works for me, and I hope it works for you as well.

"The Lord God who gathers the outcast so Israel, declares, 'I will gather yet others to him [to my people] besides those already gathered'" (Isaiah 56.8).

God bless,

"A House, a Monument and a Name"

Fr. Peter preaches on Isaiah 56 and God's clear word of welcome to even those His own law placed outside of God's people.

Let's Go Camping!

Epiphany families will be going tent camping on Sept. 22-23 at Sky Meadows State Park.  While it will be possible to drive vehicles to the group campsite, this will be a tent camping adventure with limited program.  Instead, we are just going to enjoy being together. All ages of campers are welcome, but space is limited. If you are interested in participating, please talk with Fr. Peter.

Prayer Line Hours Change

Epiphany's prayer line is changing its hours. Instead of being answered 24 hours each day, the line will be staffed from 7am to 10pm daily. Please leave a message on the prayer line if you have a request outside of daily hours to be picked up by the volunteer staff when they begin their shift. The prayer line is available to all at (703) 389-7292. Epiphany is also happy to receive online prayer requests through our website.

Stand in the Gap Prayer Sign-Up

Where has the time gone?  Once again it is time to sign up for Stand in the Gap (September – December) to pray for our Vestry and Staff.  You must sign up for each four month period.  You will be assigned one of our Staff or Vestry to pray for during this 4th quarter.  You will be given their name and contact information and they will receive yours.  You pray whenever and wherever you are – no special times or meetings or places to be.  They need our prayers as they deal with the many challenges and seek our Lord’s direction for our church.

Will you join our Stand in the Gap program and agree to pray for one of our leaders?  They are giving of their time and talents.  Will you stand beside them in Prayer? If you have any questions or wish to sign up Please contact: Jan Reiter at [email protected] or 703-620-1118.

This Week At Epiphany

Epiphany Calendar

Aug 25 - Sep 03

Friday, August 25

9:00am Morning Prayer

Saturday, August 26

Band of Brothers Men's Group

Sunday, August 27

8:00am Worship

10:15am Worship (livestream)

1:15 and 2pm Worship at Chantilly Heights

Monday, August 28

9:00am Morning Prayer

Tuesday, August 29

9:00am Morning Prayer

Wednesday, August 30

12:00 noon Simple Eucharist

6:00pm Crossover Rehearsal

Thursday, August 31

9:00am Morning Prayer

Friday, September 1

9:00am Morning Prayer

10:00am Journaling at the Millers

Saturday, September 2

9:00am Band of Brothers Men's Group

Sunday, September 3

8:00am Worship

10:15am Worship (livestream)

If you have an Epiphany event to add to the calendar, please contact Jimmy Crawford at [email protected]

Church of the Epiphany | 3863 Centerview Drive | 703-481-8601


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