The Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 23, 2011

Reading 1: Reading 2: Reading 3: Reading 4: 
Isaiah 9:1-4Psalm 27:1, 4-91 Corinthians 1:10-18Matthew 4:12-23

By Bruce G. Epperly

Today’s lectionary readings circle around the theme of light – the light that guides, reveals, heals, and unites. Isaiah and Matthew both assert that “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” and a bright light has illuminated those “who have walked – or sat – in darkness.” God’s vision is to bring healing and wholeness, especially in life’s most difficult circumstances.

Isaiah envisions new and unexpected possibilities for those who have been in anguish – first, those who were exiled to Babylon, but implicitly all who suffer from the traumas and tragedies of life. A time will come when light overcomes darkness, grief is lifted and wounds healed. A new day brings celebration both for persons and communities.

Psalm 27 proclaims that “God is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? God is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The Psalmist sees God’s power defined by love and protection. God is also defined by beauty. With theologian Patricia Adams Farmer, the Psalmist invites us to “embrace a beautiful God.” As philosopher Alfred North Whitehead asserts, God’s aim in the universe is to bring forth beauty and invite us to appreciate and co-create beauty along with God. For the Psalmist, salvation is not restricted to life after death, but involves experiencing God’s beauty in the world. The Psalm challenges today’s churches to be places of beauty, encouraging the appreciation of beauty through worship, relationships, and experiences that transform the totality of congregants’ lives.

While the passage from I Corinthians does not address the issue of divine light, the metaphor of God’s light reflected through a prism, thus creating a whole spectrum of colors, describes Paul’s comments about diversity in the early church. While diversity can lead to division and schism, it can also be seen in terms of contrasts between many colors and theological positions. While Paul’s passage is Christocentric in nature, Paul also recognizes the value of differing theological positions, provided no position is absolutized to the exclusion of others. A balanced theological diet is diverse and many faceted, whether in Corinth or in postmodern North America. The passage from I Corinthians challenges congregations to see diversity in terms of contrast rather than opposition. If God is beyond any theological description, yet present in all things, then many visions of God are possible. We can “bring many names” to worship and many visions to our preaching, looking for common ground in diverse positions.

The Matthew passage describes the aim of Jesus’ ministry in terms of the light piercing the darkness. God’s light calls us to repentance, to change our ways and values. Peter and the Zebedee brothers hear God’s call and then follow the pathway of God’s coming realm, transforming their lives and vocations. The coming realm of God leads to the infusion of divine power in the lives of vulnerable people – good news leads to the healing – and curing – of mind, body, spirit, and relationships. The God proclaims that God is at work in the world; and at times, God may move in surprising ways, bringing quantum leaps in healing energy. These leaps are not supernatural but burst forth from the interdependent nature of life, including the divine call and human responsiveness.

Today’s passage invites congregations to consider themes such as beauty, healing, and transformation. They also see beauty as a theological issue, emerging from the creative transformation of diversity into aesthetic contrast. More than that, beauty is an ethical issue; justice and healing promote beauty of experience in groups as well as persons.

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.