Adventurous Lectionary – Second Sunday of Epiphany 2024

Adventurous Lectionary – Second Sunday of Epiphany 2024 January 8, 2024

The Adventurous Lectionary – Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 14, 2024

Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; I Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Epiphany is the season of revelation and expansion.  The circle of inspiration goes beyond Israel to embrace the whole earth.  The circle of divine encounter embraces all faiths and cultures, and includes friend and foe, kin and stranger. In this season of Epiphany, at a time in which xenophobia is on the rise and epidemic in certain Christian communies, we seek to be attentive divine revelation in its many manifestations. God is present in every quest for truth and healing. God is working for wholeness in every yearning for wholeness and a better life.

There is a good deal of wisdom in congregational humor. There is a bittersweet joke circulated among members of my denomination, the United Church of Christ. When we proclaim in the spirit of one of our key statements that “God is still speaking,” usually someone responds with a bit of irony, “But is anyone listening?” As members of a rationally-oriented denomination, oriented toward social action like many other mainstream denominations, we are suspicious about mystical experiences and spiritual practices, despite the fact that all the great religions began with experiencing God. We are tempted to see mystics as so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good. We often perpetrate a false distinction between mysticism and social concern.

Today’s scriptures focus on listening for the voice of God and God’s varied movements within our lives. God is constantly speaking in our lives through insights, encounters, synchronous events, hunches, dreams, bursts of energy, and inspirational thoughts. Our calling is to listen to the many voices of God, often hidden in everyday experience, and then follow God’s guidance, shaping our encounters with God in our own unique ways.

As a child dedicated to God, young Samuel hears a voice in the night. A little groggy from waking up suddenly, he assumes that it’s the voice of his mentor, the priest Eli. Eli, however, tells Samuel to listen for another’s voice, the voice of the Holy One of Israel. The third time Samuel hears the voice whispering in the darkness, Samuel responds, “Speak, God, your servant is listening.” Samuel’s response serves as a model for our own spiritual formation. In the midst of our busyness and self-interest, our daily prayers should include a plea that we listen God’s whisperings in our lives. Our prayer is answered by our willingness to pause and be still to heighten our awareness of divine wisdom.

The call of Samuel also reminds us of the importance of spiritual mentoring. While many of us seek the services of professional spiritual directors, we also need to equip church members, youth leaders, and pastoral staff to be spiritual mentors.  The church needs to be a laboratory for spiritual formation, and either individual congregations or groups of congregations should offer classes in Christian meditation, prayer, healing touch, and lectio divina.

Because divine providence is profoundly concrete and historical, listening for God’s voice is also profoundly concrete. God’s creative presence in our lives is related to God’s awareness of our lives. This is central to the reading from Psalm 139. “Search me and know me,” the Psalmist prays. We are known completely by God. Everything we do matters to God. God’s knowledge is grounded in love, like a good parent or grandparent and her or his child. God’s awareness and God’s creativity are one graceful movement. God has moved through our lives at the cellular and spiritual levels form the moment of conception. Nothing is too small or large for divine awareness and activity. To be known by God is to discover oneself as loved by God. We discover that in spite of our sin, we are accepted by God and the object of divine inspiration. God’s knowledge of us is not threatening but enlightening and transforming.

The words of I Corinthians 6 combine ethics, anthropology, and theology. In the wake of Christmas, there is an incarnational element in this scripture. The incarnation does not end at Bethlehem. The incarnation proclaims the dignity of the physical world and the goodness of our bodies. God is present in our bodies and we share Christ’s DNA. Wherever God dwells is holy. Accordingly, our bodies are the temple of God’s spirit. They are a shrine of divine creative wisdom. Accordingly, our embodiment has moral implications. The body is inspired, and the spirit embodied. Indeed, our bodies are heavenly, and should be treated with honor and respect. The bodies of others matter, too. Fornication, that is, meaningless or coercive sexual relations, objectifies others as well as us. Sexual immorality fails to see the spiritual wholeness of each person, including us. And Christians must oppose personally and legally, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking.

Today, the ethical implications of the body as God’s temple go beyond sexuality; they include economics and the justice system. We cannot separate cells and souls. Do we care for the bodies of others by ensuring that they have sufficient food, shelter, and safety to fully incarnate the divine image? Do we care for our own bodies by healthy eating, Sabbath keeping, centering meditation, and appropriate exercise? Do we speak out against sexual misconduct or advertising that reduces persons to bodies and consumers? Do we care for the bodies of LGBTQ+ persons, persons of color, and immigrant bodies? As T.S. Eliot counsels in his Advent oratorio, “For the Time Being,” we are to love God in the world of the flesh, our own flesh and the flesh of others.

Do we care for the bodies, the whole persons, of others by welcoming immigrant children, practicing restraint in police responses to black youth, insuring that homeless children find homes and good food, and elders’ bodies are touched lovingly? Do we care for “dreamer” children and their families? Do we care for children still separated from their parents on our borderlands? Do we care for the bodies of others by providing safe working conditions and living wages? Are we willing to say “thank you” to essential workers, working at minimum wage, often undocumented residents? Are we willing to grant a path to citizenship to every undocumented worker working in an essential position, at a nursing home, in the fields, in production and distribution of food?

The Gospel reading joins experience and witness. After encountering Jesus, Philip invites Philip to become part of the Jesus movement. “Come and see,” Philip tells his brother. Sharing good news is about inviting others to share in the joys we have experienced. Philip does not disguise his joy at encountering Jesus; he lets his light shine. His invitation is welcoming, not coercive. He shares experience, not doctrinal orthodoxy. He wants his friend to experience the life-changing truth he has encountered. Nathaniel’s affirmation of faith emerges in his encounter with Jesus. Good news is embodied in the person of Jesus – his words, deeds, and presence. Good news is embodied in us – our words, deeds, and presence. Our hospitality is the greatest testimony to the love of God and the welcoming spirit of our congregation.

God is constantly speaking, and occasionally in words. The church is challenged to be a place of listening, sharing, and supporting, fully committed to a whole person mission. When we experience God’s presence, our calling is to share the good news we’ve received.

Rev. Bruce Epperly Ph.D. has served as a professor, seminary administrator, university chaplain, and congregational pastor at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Lancaster Theological Seminary, and South Congregational Church United Church of Christ on Cape Cod.  “Retired,” he continues to teach in the Doctoral of Ministry program at Wesley Theological Seminary, give seminars, write, and rejoice in grandparenting and marriage with Rev. Dr. Kate Epperly.  An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he is the author of over eighty books, “The Elephant is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theology and Religious Pluralism,” “Jesus: Mystic, Healer, and Prophet,” “Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism,” “Simplicity, Spirituality, and Service: The Eternal Wisdom of Francis, Clare, and Bonaventure,” and “Taking a Walk with Whitehead: Meditations with Process-Relational Theology.”  His books on faith and politics include, “Talking Politics with Jesus: A Process Perspective on the Sermon on the Mount,” “One World: The Lord’s Prayer from a Process Perspective,” and “Process Theology and Politics.





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