The Adventurous Lectionary -The Second Sunday of Epiphany – January 20, 2019
I Corinthians 12:1-11
Epiphany is the season of illumination and vocation. Revelation leads to gift-giving and the discovery of our gifts as God’s companions in healing the earth. The season of Epiphany begins with celebrating the gifts of the magi, continues with God’s gift of grace, affirmed through Jesus’ baptism, and focuses this Sunday on God’s vocational gifts bestowed on each person for the sake of the community and their own personal fulfillment.
The words of Isaiah 62 speak of the gift of a new name. God tells those who had been in exile, you shall be called by a new name. Once forsaken, now you shall have a new identity. New possibilities will emerge for you and with them will come new vocations for God’s Shalom. These words are amazing in light of Israel’s past. Those called abandoned will be known as God’s beloved. Those who experienced divine absence, for whatever reason, will now experience God’s joy. With a new name comes an array of vocational possibilities and with new possibilities will come new responsibilities. What are our responsibilities and the responsibilities of our congregations as we claim the name of Jesus’ companions?
Psalm 35 affirms God’s steadfast love. God’s care for us – and Israel – is not sporadic but everlasting. There are no gaps in God’s quest for salvation, no one is outside the circle of love. God’s covenant never wavers despite our own wavering. God is reliable even when God appears to be absent. In God’s light, we see light. God’s light will guide us from an ambiguous past to a hopeful future. A hopeful future opens the door to new possibilities and the energy to embody them. The light of salvation leads to uprightness. What does it mean to be upright personally and politically? How do we stand for righteousness when leaders – even Christian leaders – justify violence and exclusion and the dehumanization of God’s beloved children? Loved by God, we must live by courage and not fear, welcome and not alienation.
I Corinthians 12 witnesses to the ubiquity of divine giftedness. God is a generous gift-giver. The omnipresent God ensures that every person is gifted. No one say “I have nothing to add to the community,” nor can anyone claim to be useless in the church, home, or nation. Even the least of these makes a difference. The humblest member – perhaps, even those we might wish to exclude for political or ideological reasons – is essential to the well-being of the whole. God’s giftedness and our vocational identities can be understood in terms of a number of spiritual affirmations that can be claimed by every member of Christ’s body, everyone in the community of faith, and if we wish to speak of divine creativity as universal, each person:
• Everyone is given a manifestation of God’s Spirit.
• Our gifts are for the common good, not individual aggrandizement.
• Emerging from divine wisdom, each gift is to be prized, and none is inferior or superfluous.
• Our gifts are vocational in nature. Our gifts define our calling.
The church is intended to be a laboratory for vocation and giftedness. In non-coercive ways, the congregation is called to help people discover God’s vision – or visions – for their lives and embody them in service to the world.
The story of Jesus’ transformation of water into wine continues the theme of divine giftedness. We have callings for our lifetime – I have been a pastor and professor, writer and speaker – for forty years. We also have calls for every situation. God’s vision is ambient and long-term and local and momentary. On that particular day, Jesus’ calling was to bring joy to a couple and their family. There was no need that day for preaching, admonition, prophetic challenge, or healing touch; the need was for good wine and plenty of it! There was a need to party! Our gifts and vocations are contextual in nature. They emerge and flourish in real time, oriented toward real people, and real situations. Indeed, the miracle of the wedding feast suggests that we have many vocations and callings, each appropriate to our particular setting. This is good news that challenges us to stay awake to God’s particular vocational vision for us. Life is exciting when we realize that each moment is filled with possibilities and that God is at work inviting us to be partners in divine creativity and wholeness each moment of the day.
Today’s readings inspire preacher and congregant alike to explore her or his gifts over the course of a lifetime as well as moment by moment. We need preachers, prophets, and healers, not to mention a myriad of other gifts. We also need people attuned to the gift of the moment. In the course of the day, we may move from teaching to care giving, from preaching to grandparenting, reflecting not only the priesthood of all believers but the salvation of every moment. Perhaps, beyond individual giftedness, we need to explore the particular gifts of a congregation in its community setting as well as God’s call to congregation on a week to week basis.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 45 books, including “Becoming Fire: Guideposts for Inter-spiritual Pilgrims,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” and “Process Theology and Celtic Wisdom.”