|Reading 1:||Reading 2:||Reading 3:||Reading 4:|
|Isaiah 49:1-7||Psalm 40:1-11||1 Corinthians 1:1-9||John 1:29-42|
By Bruce G. Epperly
Today’s scriptures provide words of encouragement for those who seek to be faithful in challenging times, especially when the pathway ahead is obscure. Take heart, God has been with you from the very beginning, God was moving in your conception, and God will guide you through every season of life.
The prophet Isaiah provides his listeners with words of vocation and blessing, grounded in his own experience of God’s affirmation despite his insecurity about his calling. Like many spiritual leaders, and preachers, throughout history, Isaiah asks, “Who am I to speak for God?” Yet, in asking the question, the prophet discovers that God’s call began with his conception. In the intricate interdependence of life, divine guidance and energy have inspired the prophet’s journey. The call of God, personal and intimate, evolves from womb through childhood and into adulthood. The shape of God’s call constantly changes – indeed, we have as many calls as moments or relationships. Yet, certain calls persist over a lifetime, evolving as we grow older and have new experiences. These calls are not coercive or all-determining; God does not, as Rick Warren suggests, determine every important event in our lives without our input. Rather, God’s call through the many events of our lives seeks our input and creativity. Along with God, our priorities and decisions shape our call(s) over a lifetime. Our creativity and freedom, rightly used, enables God to be more creative in our lives. (See Bruce Epperly, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living)
Ironically, in the midst of confessing the futility of his work, the prophet discovers that God has greater things in mind for him. God’s call always pushes to the next step and then the next, inviting us to be more than we can imagine.
Psalm 29 joins gratitude with witness. The Psalmist proclaims God’s rescue in a difficult time. While we don’t know the nature of this distress, the Psalmist proclaims that discovering God in the darkness gave him new life and a new song. From now on, he will sing God’s praises, witnessing by his life and testimony.
In Corinthians, Paul encourages a small community through the affirmation that they have everything that they need to be faithful and flourish in their mission. This passage can be read in light of the gifts of the body of Christ, cited in I Corinthians 12: “for in every way you have been enriched in [Christ]….you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” In our work helping small congregations discover their gifts in vital worship, church musician Daryl Hollinger and I have discovered that although small congregations can be challenging, they can also be beautiful. Once they get beyond feelings of inferiority, they can discover abundant talent, enough to transform worship. (see Bruce Epperly and Daryl Hollinger, From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the SmallChurch) Within each of our lives, there are five loaves and two fish that can feed a multitude!
The encounter of the Jesus with his future followers speaks to the nature of good news sharing in our time. Jesus asks John’s followers, “What are you looking for?” Sharing good news begins with a question, with awareness of the other’s deepest needs and values. It assumes that God is already here and does not need to be imported from the outside. It is not coercive but invitational and relational. “Come and see.” What will people see when they come to our worship or share in our congregation’s life? Will they see vitality and spiritual depth, or half-heartedness? Today’s seekers are looking for experiences of God, authentic faith, and commitment; they are looking for a church with imagination, creativity, and love.
Teaching and preaching – indeed, even relationships without an agenda – can be transformational. Jesus’ new friends proclaim “We have found the Messiah.” We have found what we’re looking for, and we want to share it with you. Of course, we don’t know the nature of the conversation that led to their transformation, just as we don’t know the adversity the Psalmist faced, but we can assume that in both cases God’s vision was personal and situational, grounded in the deepest needs of all concerned. Epiphany calls us to let our light shine – size, age, health condition, or previous experience does not disqualify us from being good news bringers. In fact, our witness is the reality of our lives in their complexity – the reality of God’s blessing bringing us to a new place, giving us a new song, and providing a way where there was no way.
Perhaps, today, the preacher might ask her or his congregation to reflect on those places where God’s presence in our lives, or our faith in God, has gotten them out of a difficult place and where they have found meaning and purpose. The congregation might extend its reflections to consider questions such as: Where is God currently at work in the congregation? Where God is seeking transformation in the congregation? In what ways, does this challenge us to share good news with seekers and refugees from oppressive religion?
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements.