The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 14 January 2017

January 14, 2018 | by Bruce Epperly

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Samuel 3:1-10 Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-52

Process theology affirms that “God is still speaking.”  Revelation is ongoing and ubiquitous in nature.  Each creature and each moment of experience is influenced by God.  Philosophically speaking, each emerging moment of experience (actual entity) receives its “initial aim” toward self-creation from God in the context of its environment and past historical context.  Beyond this philosophical description, we can say that God provides each moment of life with a vision and the energy to seek the highest good for itself and its environment.  God touches each life with possibility, energy, and vision.  Since each moment of experience reflects a dynamic process of call and response between God and us, mystical experiences and God-sightingscan  emerge when we pause to listen for God’s call. More than most weeks, this week’s lectionary passages easily lend themselves to a process-relational understanding of the divine-human relationship.

God calls young and old alike – visions and dreams come to persons regardless of gender, age, and ethnicity. Young Samuel receives a divine call to become a spiritual leader.  This call is not ex nihilo but emerges from his mother’s prayers to bear a child and her willingness to dedicate Samuel to God’s work.  Samuel grows up in the divine milieu and although revelations are scarce and the environment hostile to divine manifestations, growing up in the Temple precincts encourages Samuel to reflect on the Holy One.  Perhaps, the confluence of his mother’s prayers, the environment, Eli’s mentoring, and Samuel’s attentiveness intensified the divine vision for this young boy.  

God “speaks” and despite his initial confusion, Samuel pauses long enough to listen and then respond.  Our attentiveness to God heightens God’s presence in our lives, the intensity of divine energies, and the depth of divine possibilities.  Samuel’s encounter with God reminds us that each moment can be an epiphany, a revealing of God’s vision, often hidden by the busyness of our lives.  We need simply to pause and notice, and open the door to God’s vision.  Still, we also need the mentoring of others: uncertain of the voice’s origin, Samuel receives guidance from Eli that points him in the right direction.  We need our congregations to be mentoring communities of faithful women and men, who unambiguously seek our spiritual well-being.

Psalm 139 speaks of the revelatory power of being known and loved.  When we are truly known, in loving ways, we are transformed spiritually and relationally. The Psalmist’s affirmation of God’s intimate knowledge opens a world of possibility for him and for his relationship with God.  God searches and knows us.  Each moment is lovingly embraced by God’s awareness of us.  God embraces our lives moment by moment, taking them into God’s own life in their joy and sorrow. God’s vision for us is not abstract but concretely related to our lives in their complexity – our existence as awesomely and wonderfully made.  In fact, in the divine-human connection, sometimes we call and God responds.  God’s vision shapes our lives, but by our commitments and values, we may call upon God to be more present and active than God previously anticipated in a particular situation.

Paul’s words to the Corinthian community proclaim God’s revelation in our cells as well as our spirits. The body is inspired and the spirit embodied.  The body is the temple of God, a sacrament and place of divine presence, and this has ethical implications.  As a shrine of the Living God, our bodies should be treated with love and respect.  They need to be honored and nurtured as divine handiwork. We also should honor the sacramental character of others’ bodies. Glorifying God in our bodies means bringing forth the awesomeness of our mind, body, spirit, and relationships, and seeking to support the bodies of others.  We glorify God’s awesome embodiment in the world by insuring economic well-being, just living and working conditions, adequate education, healthy diets, and safe environments for all God’s children.  We glorify others’ bodies by our respect for their self-determination and personal integrity.   Our own self-care is joined with our care for others and leads to a commitment to social transformation.  We honor our bodies by promoting the well-being of others’ bodies.

The body is not inert and unfeeling, but filled with life.  Divine energy enlivens embodiment as mind, body, and spirit constantly interpenetrate each other.  The body is mind-full; the mind is incarnate, inspiring us to love God in the world of the flesh (T.S. Eliot, “For the Time Being), our own flesh and the flesh of others.

The words of John 1 describe a call story.  Jesus astounds Nathanael by his intimate knowledge of him.  Both Philip and Nathanael decide to leave their comfort zones and “follow” Jesus.  The very act of following ushers them into a new and amazing world. God can call us anywhere, and attending to God’s vision enhances God’s movements in our lives and makes it possible for Nathanael and Philip to see “heaven opened up and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Today’s lectionary readings remind us to affirm the universality of divine revelation. Faith is local and intimate as well as global and universal.  Divine “universality” invites us to experience God in expected and unexpected places and be prepared to bring our experiences to the world in life-changing ways.  The global is personal, the universal is concrete. God who speaks to everyone speaks intimately to each one.  Today’s passages invite us to consider spiritual practices that awaken us to God’s graceful callings and inspire empathy in our relationships with others’ personal journeys.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA, on Cape Cod.  He also serves as a professor in the D.Min. program at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is the author of 45 books, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with GodProcess Spirituality: Practicing Holy AdventureAngels, Miracles, and Mysteries: A Progressive Vision, and Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job. He may be reached for conversation and engagements at