January 26, 2020
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 1 Alt||Reading 2 Alt|
|Isaiah 9:1-4||Psalm 27:1, 4-9||1 Corinthians 1:10-18||Matthew 4:12-23|
by Bruce Epperly
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany speaks of a new era, nationally and spiritually, grounded in divine providence. The moral and spiritual arc of history is moving through Israel and through the initiation of Jesus’ ministry, embodying a provocative possibility of human and social creative transformation. Life and light are coming to us, God’s realm is being conceived among us. Will we be midwives of God’s new realm of Shalom?
In the passage from Isaiah, the prophet proclaims a national time in which darkness becomes light. After a time of national loss, recovery is emerging that involves the people, individually, but also the nation. In a dark time, we may begin to see clearly. Over the past few years, we can see the parallels with our national crisis: incivility, polarization, a president under fire for possible impeachable offenses, the breakdown of alliances, not to mention intentional national complicity in denying climate change, traumatizing of infants and children on our borderlands, and leaders fanning the flames of racism. We need to ask ourselves, as Isaiah’s fellow citizens did: Can we find the light in this time? Can we have the wisdom to navigate our personal and civil lives? Can we let go of our self-interest to trust God’s vision and follow it without knowing the destination?
Israel lost its way and so has the USA and other nations on the national level. Can we reclaim some semblance of a moral or spiritual GPS to guide us toward a better future?
The Psalmist also describes God’s life-transforming light. “God is my light and salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” God’s light is not optional or an add on but is essential for our well-being. God is our shield and protection. The relational God of process theology surrounds us with love and energy. Though God is not all-determining, God is all-companioning. God will never abandon us. God’s irresistible grace can never be debated or thwarted over the long haul; it will endure, sustain, and transform.
Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians addresses a faith community in crisis, dividing on the lines of leadership. Personality, style, and doctrine have trumped the experience of life-changing experiences of grace that gave birth to the Christian community. Paul is calling the Corinthians back to their essential unity in Christ. Let us look for God’s vision not our own limited perspective. At the end of the Week of Christian Unity, we can consider how we can affirm diversity without division. Christian Unity does not require uniformity or institutional/ecclesiastical control but a creative and contrasting approach to the many faces of Christianity, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus now enters center stage. John is arrested and off the scene. Now is the Kairos moment. Jesus goes public. Repent, turn around, for God’s realm is here right on the horizon and coming to us. The realm of Shalom, God’s justice, is a present reality that God is bringing about in our lives. God’s realm calls us to become part of a new community, beginning first with a small team of fisherfolk and extending to the whole earth.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus calls these simple working men and us to follow. But, how do we follow? Few of us will leave our jobs – though some may feel called to vocational transformation – but we can see ourselves and values from a new perspective. They didn’t fully know what they were getting into, but they trusted Jesus’ promise. As I reflect on the call of the disciples, I was reminded of the words of Dag Hammarskjold:
I don’t know Who – or what – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and, that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal. From that moment I have known what it means “not to look back” and “to take no thought for the morrow.
Where do we need to say “yes” and take a chance on God? Where do we need to launch out into the deep? Where do our congregations need to say “yes” to God’s provocative possibilities?
But when we, in the spirit of the Northeastern Indian hymn, affirm “I have decided to follow Jesus,” we awaken to the Great Work God imagines for us. We are always a work in process as God’s vision unfolds in our lives. In the words of Albert Schweitzer:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
With his new team of followers, Jesus goes on the road. He is growing into his work as God’s Beloved One, teaching, preaching, welcoming, and healing. We are part of God’s realm today. We are the ones God is waiting for? How will we follow Jesus? How will we open to God’s vision of Shalom, opening the creative transformation of Christ in our congregations and communities?
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.