The Adventurous Lectionary – Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 19, 2020
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 41:1-11; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
The Second Sunday of Epiphany focuses on the nature of call. Life is a call and response in which God speaks to us in our gifts and in the events of our lives, and we respond, embodying God’s call in our own unique way. Our call is for us and our fulfillment. It is also for the world as God’s call is always contextual taking us from ourselves and this moment in time to the larger world of family, congregation, and society. Ultimately, in an interdependent world, our personal calls are also planetary. Will we contribute to the beauty or ugliness of the world?
Deep down we are all looking for a sense of vocation. Jesus’ question is a powerful entry point for today’s readings, “What are you looking for?” Jesus query is followed by an equally significant invitation, “come and see.” The spiritual journey involves an adventure of self and God discovery, of opening to the deeper dimensions of life, many of which were unknown to us until embraced the question, “What are you looking for?” as the catalyst for our journeys.
Isaiah discovers that divine intimacy leads to prophetic adventure. Presented with a vision of God’s intimate care, the prophet gets cold feet. He is not up to the task. He appropriately experiences a sense of his own finitude and fallibility. Yet, Isaiah never stands alone or isolated. His life has been anonymously God-filled from the very beginning. From his conception, God has been moving in his cells as well as his soul. He is wonderfully made, a reflection of divine wisdom and creativity. God’s witness is to be found in every moment of his life.
While this passage is often cited by the anti-abortion community as an example of “biblical science,” the prophet’s words are poetic and mystical, not scientific in nature, although they do lead us to the affirmation of life – both pre- and post-natal. There is no doubt that God is at work in the processes of conception and fetal growth. While this does not determine public policy, it does remind us that we are on holy ground and that all life from Right Whales and Spotted Owls to human fetuses deserves ethical consideration, even when hard decisions are required. There is life in the womb and this should not be discounted by punitive politician or potential parent. Isaiah’s mystical experience calls us to
whole life ethic, embracing life in every season from conception to death. A culture of life supports every expectant mother and continues in support of the well-being of every newborn child. A culture of life is not either-or, favoring either fetus or mother, but challenges us to affirm life even when we need to make difficult pre-natal life and death decisions.
Isaiah protests his finitude and his protest reflects both his humility and maturity. He is not foolhardy or proud and those virtues are necessary for prophets. God responds by giving him a larger vision of himself and his mission. He is not to be content with small achievements but is to aspire to spiritual greatness. His life matters well beyond himself and even his nation. This young Isaiah – this nation of Israel – unimportant and fallible has a vocation of being a light to the nations.
Later, Jesus was to say to his followers, “you are the light of the world; let you light shine.” God’s vision for us is always larger than our vision for ourselves. What would it be like for you in all humility to claim your vocation as a light of the world?
The Psalmist moves from protection to praise. From a dark place, he has been rescued. God has heard his call, and recognized that in his weakness, the Psalmist has a witness to world. From darkness – whether emotional, personal, professional, ethical, or political – the Psalmist has found light. From now on, his life is a gift. His praise will motivate him toward open-heartedness and justice. The One who saved him is now the object of his devotion, and this devotion is lived out in a life of compassionate and just action. The graces we have received inspire gracefulness toward others. His life is now a witness to what God can do for everyone. Where have you experienced a rescue from the pit? Where have you experienced healing in its many dimensions? What is your calling in responding to the grace you’ve received?Following the passage from Isaiah, Paul experiences his own life as God’s inspiration. He has been called – and so have the Christians in Corinth – to a life of service for the Graceful and Living God. Though the church in Corinth is small and divided, God has given it every good gift. We have what we need not only to survive but to flourish and give glory to God by our lives. I will be preaching the Corinthians passage on the day of our congregation’s Annual Meeting, a time of looking back to the past year and forward to the year ahead. It is good to remind our church that it, despite its fallibilities and limits, lacks no spiritual gift. Deep down we have everything we need for our mission on Cape Cod and in the world. What is your congregation’s challenge? What great spiritual gifts are unnoticed in your congregation?
In John’s gospel, the question and the search it inspires lead to witness. Having found what they are looking for, Jesus’ new followers go out into the world, sharing good news of a new age. In the encounter, they discover gifts beyond belief and adventure beyond their imagination in companionship with God’s Beloved Child. With Jesus’ first followers, what are you looking for? Where is Jesus calling you to come and see?
Preaching is always contextual in space and time. The local is the global and the global impinges on the local. The new year has brought as much apprehension as celebration. Impeaching hearings, tension with Iran, forest fires in Australia, incivility from the highest places, and the presidential election will be consciously or unconsciously on the minds of preacher and congregant alike. Most of us are looking for something more, something better, than what our leaders promise us. Even climate deniers know that earth hangs in the balance and that even if fears of global climate change are exaggerated to some degree, nevertheless, we are on the edge of a precipice as a planet and as a nation. Our values bring life and death to the planet, and at some point, our foolish ways may lead to a point of no return in terms of planetary and national health. We can’t allow messages of doom to disempower us. Nor can we let our institutional waywardness and personal insecurity and imperfection disqualify us from making a difference.
Don’t let business or politics stunt your vision of divine possibility and your role in ushering forth a new earth, despite the machinations of political leaders. God calls Isaiah to be the change he is seeking in the world. Paul challenges the Christians of Corinth to imagine their giftedness and then live it out. Jesus probes our values and invites us on a holy adventure. We are here for “just such a time as this,” promising yet perilous, as God’s companions in healing the world.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, preacher, and writer. He is the author of over fifty books, including “Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles: A Progressive Vision,” “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Seekers,” “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God,” and “Piglet’s Process: Process Theology for All God’s Children.”