January 19, 2020
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 1 Alt||Reading 2 Alt|
|Isaiah 49:1-7||Psalm 40:1-11||1 Corinthians 1:1-9||John 1:29-42|
by Bruce Epperly
The Second Sunday of Epiphany highlights vocation and providence. God is ceaselessly at work in everything aiming at wholeness, beauty, and justice in the present moment, the larger environment, and long term arc of history. God calls prophets, sages, ordinary people, and nations to God’s way. God’s call can be compelling but it is not coercive. Responding to God’s vision expands our creativity, freedom, and agency and gives us a role in uniquely embodying God’s vision.
The words of the prophet Isaiah may poetically refer to prophet and nation alike. Examples of divine call in the womb suggest a personal call to the prophet himself and to the leaders of the nation, but the nature of the call appears to national. God has raised up a prophet providentially working in his life from the very beginning and God has also raised up a nation out of chaos in Egypt, creating a people where there was no people, and rescuing the nation in its waywardness. God still has a vision of the nation’s future as a light to the nations.
The words of Isaiah contrast with weakness with God’s imagination. The prophet recognizes his own finitude and the nation’s place among the nations as a weak, postage stamp country, whose survival depends on the actions of greater powers, not unlike nations of the former Soviet Union. Still, God’s vision is greater than our own. God’s possibilities dwarf our sense of weakness. God creates larger circles of loving impact when we would think small. What larger circle of loving impact does God have for you? What larger circle of impact and witness does God plan for your congregation?
The Psalmist speaks of divine providence lifting him from the pit of despair and placing him on higher ground. Lost in the darkness, uncertain of the future, now he is called to proclaim God’s ways to the community at worship. His homily is his autobiography. God has brought him forth from pain and lostness and now he has a story to tell the world, a story joining his life with God’s faithfulness. Our lives are our witnesses. Where has God been in our lives, creating a way where there is no way? Where has God brought us to wholeness? Where have we found hope in times of despair, personally and in terms of church and nation? Where is God working in the challenges of our congregations to give us a new witness?
Paul speaks of God’s call in his life. God called him from darkness to light, and lostness to new direction, and now he is telling the Corinthian church, in all its challenges and conflicts, that they are gifted. His own story witnesses to God’s power to transform our lives and the Corinthian church. God has given the church – and our churches and us – gifts beyond measure, to do what is necessary for our personal wholeness and the wholeness of the planet. We have everything we need to flourish and serve God, right there in your life and in your congregation.
The reading from John’s Gospel reveals John the Baptist’s vocation, Jesus’ vocation, and the pathway to wisdom. John the Baptist speaks of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” and as the “Son of God.” John gives evidence to his own and Jesus’ mystical experience of the descending dove of the Holy Spirit not only filling Jesus with divine power but also giving witness to that power to the world.
Astounded by John’s words, a group of John’s followers seek Jesus out. Jesus notices them and asks, “What are you looking for?” Why are seeking me? What is the deepest desire of your heart? That is a question asked of all of us! They are truly interested in Jesus’ way as they ask, “where are you staying?” This is both a geographical and spiritual question. They want to align their Spiritual GPS with Jesus’ way. “Where are you staying?” That is, where will we will find Jesus? What practices bring us closer to God’s way? The conversation continues with Jesus inviting them to join him, “Come and see.” Jesus is inviting them and us to dig deeper, to go beyond superficiality to the real thing. That is our calling too: to invite people to encounter Jesus in their own lives, to come to places where strangers become friends and God is alive. The story doesn’t end here. Transformed by his encounter with Jesus, Andrew becomes a witness, seeking his brother out and in the encounter of Cephas-Peter with Jesus, Peter discovers a new name and vocation.
Filled with images of divine encounter and vocation, we are inspired to explore our own vocations and the vocations of our congregations. We are finite and, if we are honest, recognize our limitations. But God sees us differently. Within the concrete limitations of life emerge unexpected possibilities. The source of novelty and possibility, God looks beyond us to see our possibilities and in opening to God’s vision, our energy and vision become greater. We discover our own greatness in living out God’s vision for us and the world. What is the greatest ready to come forth in your life? What great work does God call all our church toward? Come and see!
Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author. A Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ pastor, he is the author of over fifty books including Piglet’s Process: Process Theology for All God’s Children; Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles: a Progressive Vision; and Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.