2nd Sunday after Epiphany

January 20, 2002
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 49:1-7
Reading 2: 
Psalm 40:1-11
Reading 3: 
I Corinthians 1:1-9
Reading 4: 
John 1: 29-42
By Bruce G. Epperly

Contributed by Bruce G. Epperly & Anna Rollins

What does it mean to be called by God? In the Isaiah passage, the prophet speaks of a divine vocation that began with his conception. Within the matrix of possibilities, God envisaged a broad plan for the prophet even before he emerged from his mother’s womb.

Yet, following our calling is always a challenge. Indeed, the challenge initially involves discerning our deepest gifts and passions and then following their growth from day to day and year to year. Clearly, our vocation is contextual and relational. It embraces our own spiritual journey, but also our marriages, children, grandchildren, vocation, and political involvements. God calls to us in immediate the moment of experience, but also in the succession of moments that make up the long-term adventures of our lives.

Yet, every call has its cost. The prophet feels inadequate to the task that lies before him. In Isaiah 40, we hear the echoes of Isaiah’s encounter with God in the temple. (Isaiah 6:1-8) Yet, despite his feelings of inadequacy, God envisages deeper possibilities than the prophet can imagine. The call of Isaiah challenges us with the affirmation: you are more than you imagine yourself to be. Go forth into new territories of spirit and service, for God will be with you. You have been called to be a light to the nations, a beacon for lost and struggling pilgrims. In the words of a spiritual, "this little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine."

"God drew me from a desolate pit." The spiritual adventure embraces darkness as well as light. The Psalmist experiences God’s steadfast love in a time of conflict and despair. This is a word we all need to hear. Too often, following God’s call is identified only with moments of joy and success. Such an optimistic identification provides little comfort for those who are struggling with issues of depression, marital conflict, bereavement, doubt, guilt, and uncertainty. One of my teachers at Claremont, Ronald Osborn, asserted that every sermon must be preached with a subtext of comfort: even a prophetic sermon must contain a word of grace and guidance since in each congregation there are persons in need of hope and consolation.

In speaking of the African American slaves, Howard Thurman states that "when the slaves were without any excuse for hope and they could see nothing before them but long interminable cotton rows and fierce sun and the lash of the overseer, what did they do? They declared that God was not through. They said, ‘we cannot be prisoners of this event. We must not scale down the horizons of our hopes and our dreams and our meanings to the event of our lives.’ So they lived through their tragic moment until at last they came out on the other side, saluting the fulfillment of their hope and their faith, which had never been imprisoned by the event itself."

Where do you need a second wind? Where is your growing edge – the place where God pushes you beyond your limits toward healing and adventure?

"You are not lacking in any spiritual gift." God is constantly working in our lives, giving us what we need to experience joy, creativity, and love. God’s faithfulness is incarnate in the dynamic vision that lures us forward to new expression of partnership and adventure. But, as in the case of Isaiah, God not only provides the vision, but nurtures the intuitions, encounters, and events that will enable the vision to reach its fruition for the joy and healing of others and ourselves. Our gifts are meant for the edification of others as well as the healing of our deepest personal and relational needs.

The Gospel highlights the nature of God’s call in our lives. To the fisherman, Jesus asks "what are you looking for?" A friend of mine has on his answering machine, the question, "who are you? And what do you want? Be careful, how you answer this question." Jesus asks the fishermen, "what is the deepest desire of your heart? What do you really want out of life?" Jesus is inviting them to ponder what Paul Tillich called their "ultimate concern." The fishermen’s reply is equally provocative, "where are staying?" Where will we find our deepest joy? Where is God revealed in our lives? While God is present in all things, for each of us, there are unique persons and encounters that awaken us to our vocation and deepest desire. But, we miss these occasions if we do not constantly seek their presence in our lives. God is constantly calling us, but we are often too harried and self-absorbed to hear God’s voice inviting us to "come and see."

In seeing God in the face of another or in an encounter pregnant with possibility, we discover that we are more than we imagined ourselves to be. Peter finds himself to be "the rock." To paraphrase feminist theologian Nelle Morton, Jesus listened Peter into becoming his deepest self. Who is listening to you? Whose voice enables you to hear your voice? Who unveils the holiness that has been long hidden beneath by your fears and self-limitations? The church is called to be community of spiritual mentoring, inviting each person to discover and discern the place her or his passion meets the world’s needs.

Jesus challenged these fishermen to launch out into the deep waters of spiritual transformation. God pushes us beyond the boundaries of our imagination and invites us to seek what Thurman calls "the growing edge."

All around us worlds are dying and new worlds being born;

All around us life is dying and life is being born.

The fruit ripens on the tree;

The roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth

Against the time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit.

Such is the growing edge!

It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung,

The one more thing to try when all else has failed,

The upward reach of life when weariness closes in on all endeavor.

This is the basis of hope in moments of despair,

The incentive to carry on when times are out of joint

And men have lost their reason; the source of confidence

When worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.

The birth of a child – life’s most dramatic answer to death –

This is the growing edge incarnate.

Look well to the growing edge.

An Adventure in Affirmative Faith
In your sermon preparation and sharing of the good news, ponder the nature of God’s call in your life and the reality of God’s faithfulness even amid life’s challenges. What gifts do you bring to the world? What are the deepest desires of your heart? What is your "growing edge?" What sustains you when all else fails? Where do find God in your life?

To ground these insights, take time to reflect and affirm variations of the following affirmative statements: "God is constantly calling me to a creative vocation,"

"God is helping me discover and share my gifts," "God is faithful even in difficult times," "I am growing in my experience and manifestation of God’s gifts."

Affirm God’s growing edge, God’s dream for you, with the birth of each new day!

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements.