3rd Sunday after Epiphany

January 27, 2002
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 9:1-4
Reading 2: 
Psalm 27:1,4-9
Reading 3: 
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Reading 4: 
Matthew 4:12-23
By Bruce G. Epperly

Commentary by Bruce Epperly & Anna Rollins

One hot summer day, young Howard Thurman went berry picking in the woods behind his grandmother’s home. In search of the ripe, juicy berries, young Howard plunged deeper and deeper into the thicket, losing all track of time, and filling his mouth with as many berries as his pail. Howard’s berry picking was suddenly interrupted by the crash of thunder. Howard looked around and discovered that the woods had grown dark in anticipation of the coming storm. Panic rose in his chest as Howard realized that he was lost. Tempted simply to bolt, Howard remembered something his grandmother had once told him: "When you’re lost, take some time simply to collect yourself and get your bearings." And, so Howard stopped in his tracks and waiting. With the first flash of lighting, he looked to the right; with the next to the left; and then to ahead and behind, until he saw something familiar. With each succeeding flash, he turned closer to home and safety. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

Darkness is the tool of the oppressor, the terrorist, the bully, the abuser. For in the darkness, be it social, political, relational, or economic, we cannot find our bearings. In the darkness, we are dominated by the other’s voice, expectations, values, and needs. Yet, even a little light helps us find our way and liberates us to find our personal center and direction in life. This "luminous darkness," as Thurman describes it, is the quiet presence of God that empowers, strengthens, and guides us. Discovering the congruence of God’s light and our own, we see life for what it is, discover our own unique possibilities, and find direction to our true home.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?" writes the Psalmist. In that holy light, we experience the confidence that comes from divine protection. Basic trust in the universe and in our own resources is restored. In that safety, we "behold the beauty of Lord." Seldom do we think of God as beautiful: our images of God often range from judge and law giver, king and deliverer. Yet, as Whitehead says, the teleology of the universe is aimed at the production of beauty. The source of beauty is the Beautiful One whose presence "shines in all that’s fair."

The experience of beauty contributes the zest, freshness, and insight that enables us to challenge, even as we transcend, the personal and corporate injustices with face. Without beauty, a friendship, marriage, church, and civilization soon fade away. God’s light shines forth as the deepest beauty in all things. Today, amid all the challenges of life, the church is challenged to be a place where simple beauty is experienced, shared, and proclaimed.

The divine light shines through the varieties of religious experience as well. The danger to the church in Corinth, and to our churches today, is not the diversity of religious teachings and approaches to following Jesus, but the idolatrous attachment to any particular tradition. The body of Christ has many members, each of which is essential to the well being of the whole. In like manner, the divine light shines through the prism of history and human experience. In God’s own intimacy with creation, God is the source of variety. God has a personal relationship with each person and each tradition. Our faith is nurtured by the quiet prayer of Quakers, the lively music of the Gospel tradition, the personal piety of evangelicals, the social commitment of liberals, the sacramental liturgies of Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, and the iconography of the Orthodox churches. We equally enriched by our encounters with the spiritual traditions of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the new age movement of contemporary America.

The Gospel repeats the Isaiah passage, "the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light" and "in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned." Jesus begins his public ministry, calling the people to repent, to turn from darkness to light and from ugliness to beauty, so that they might become participants in God’s realm of wholeness and justice.

Jesus calls his disciples from darkness to light in the midst of their ordinary occupations. Despite the use of the term "ordinary time" to describe this season of the Christian year, there is no such thing as "ordinary time." Each moment is an epiphany for those who commit themselves to seeing the light. Just think of our your own special moments, a fellow student invites you to share coffee with her roommate and from that meeting, a romance begins; you inadvertently pick up a book and discover a new way of looking at your life; your college roommate introduces you to her or his faith tradition and expands your vision of reality; you look into the face of a child or friend and see the face of God. There are no ordinary times: each moment God presents us with a vision that calls us to transformation, abundance, and reconciliation. A light goes on, the darkness becomes luminous, and you discover that you are on holy ground.

Adventures in Affirmative Faith
"The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?" Where are your dark places? What frightens you? Take time to imagine your dark and God forsaken places. In the quiet, invite God to be with you in these places. Imagine God’s light surrounding you, protecting and guiding you. Remember that wherever you are, the light of God surrounds and guides you.

For both your sermon preparation and faith tradition, live with the phrase, "God is my light and salvation." When you feel anxious or frightened, remind yourself, "God is my light and salvation, I am not afraid."

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.