2nd Sunday after Epiphany

January 19, 2003
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Reading 2: 
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Reading 4: 
John 1:43-51
By Bruce G. Epperly

Contributed by Bruce Epperly and Anna Rollins

Loving the Wonder-Full
The passages for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany portray the many dimensions of God’s presence in our lives. In all situations and encounters, God is present as the giver and receiver of the Abundance of life. Despite what is going on in our lives, there are no godless or godforsaken moments. As Isaiah 6:4 proclaims, “the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

Young Samuel hears a call in the night and wonders where it came from. He consults the high priest Eli, who eventually invites him to listen quietly for the Divine voice and then pray for the wisdom to listen when it comes again. Parker Palmer titles one of his books, “Let Your Life Speak.” God speaks through the quotidian nature of all life – in the quiet of the night, tucking a child into bed, driving to work, the casual invitation of an acquaintance, in challenges negotiated in a relationship. God is never without a witness, and the most personal witness for each of us is repeatedly finding the presence of Christ in our own lives.

A traditional doctrine of omnipresence simply proclaims that God is actively present wherever you. “We are being created momently by our God and Lord in all concrete particulars,” writes Joseph Tetlow, in his monologue on becoming more aware of Presence through use of Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.“ We are listening to God’s summons into life,” he writes,“ when we let ourselves hear our most authentic desires, which rise out of God’s passionate, creative love for us.” Such authentic desires speak to our continuing creation and God’s continuing care of us and the world.

Expressed another way, in Whitehead’s language, God’s aim always emerges in the concreteness of our lives, luring us toward the next step in our spiritual journey. Each initial aim, the divine aim at abundance, beauty, and order, is always “the best for the impasse.” As Whitehead notes, the best may, at times, seem “bad,” that is, the situation and our choices may so limit God’s aim that the best that can be attained is avoiding evil rather than doing good in certain situations. Still, the eyes of faith see God’s aim in all things and persons. Even when our possibilities for transformation in a given setting are quite limited, we can, nevertheless, make changes in our lives one moment at a time. God shines in every encounter, God speaks in every voice. Every moment is a potential epiphany for those who senses are awakened.

Samuel’s call in the temple is profoundly relational. It affirms the role of positive mentoring in the spiritual journey. Through his eyes are dim, his own parenting quite modest, and his own faith arid, Eli recognizes that God may be addressing young Samuel. He does not envy or interfere with his young charge’s spiritual journey, but instead gently invites the young man to see God at work in his own life.

Eli’s actions work here in partnership with God’s hopes for Samuel. It is ministry in its finest simplicity… facilitating what Gordon Jackson has aptly termed “Creating Something of Beauty,” which is no more than “…the calling of each of us to be ministers who will hear, listen, pay attention to the persuasive word of God coming in effective love-power to participate with God to create a thing of beauty.” Eli gently helps Samuel to find the Beauty quietly calling in his young soul. “The ministry of all God’s people,” writes Jackson,“ is to participate with God in creating…souls of beauty…” By listening to the boy, Eli lovingly accompanies Samuel in that process.

Samuel, himself, is actively receptive – a challenging task for all of us – as he strains to hear God’s voice and then respond accordingly. “That which oppresses me, is it my soul trying to come out in the open, or the soul of the world knocking at my heart for its entrance?” asks Rabindranath Tagore. Samuel must work at his openness.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart,” writes Rainer Maria Rilke, “and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue…” and we see Samuel patiently waiting, participating in a process of active listening. “The point,” of such a process, adds Rilke, “is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually…live along some distant day into the answer…” writes the poet and mentor.

How hard it can be to accept and love God not as a great once-and-for-all Answer, but as some ongoing Question in life…in the many multiple possibilities that God holds…in the endless surprising Wonder of the Holy…and to continually work to understand our transforming place in all that perpetual and ongoing Goodness…where we, ourselves, are wonder-filled. We are reminded of Dan Schutte’s contemporary hymn, “Here I am Lord,” as we, ourselves, seek to remain open to God’s whispered word:

            Here I am, Lord,

Is it I, Lord?

            I have heard you calling in the night.

            I will go, Lord, if you lead me,

            I will hold your people in my heart.

While the call of Samuel speaks to divine omnipresence, the first verses of Psalm 139 proclaim the wonder of divine omniscience. The Holy that is everywhere knows our inter-most places:

            O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

            You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

            You discern my thoughts from far away….

            Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

            It is so high, I cannot attain it.

This scripture speaks of the wonder of being known. How we long to be known and accepted. In a world where knowledge is often threatening and intrusive, divine knowledge loves and supports. God is the “fellow sufferer who understands” and “the one to whom all hearts are open and all desires known.” Emmanuel means “God with us,” and Epiphany is a time to celebrate the real presence of Christ among us.

In light of God’s knowledge and presence, the Psalmist rejoices about her own life, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” A prayer that we both sing goes, “I thank you God for the wonder of my being.” We know that we are, as God’s creations, wonder-full. God’s knowledge of our deepest selves and glorious potential invites us to claim our own wonder and bring it forth, even as we experience and support the wonder that we see each day in others.

Divine knowledge is the pattern of human knowledge at its best. One “knows” another intimately in order to bring out the best in each other. In life, there are relationships that are truly holy, where one can be oneself without apology or fear, where being known calls to becoming a greatest self. Such relationships echo the Holy relationship we each have with God, insofar as they mirror and reveal who we are, not to condemn us, but to show us glimpses of our original wholeness, our unique beauty, wonder, and possibility.

Regardless of our circumstances, our awareness of God’s presence in our lives calls each of us to follow in our own unique way. Jesus calls Philip to “follow me.”  And Philip responds by inviting Nathanial to see this unique teacher. Awareness leads to action and then to a new process of awareness. From the encounter with the Holy One comes the inspiration to share the good news with others.

In companionship with God, we will see new greater things than we can imagine. “The aim of life,” writes Bernard Loomer, “at the human level, is to create people of greater stature.” Holy Love expands our stature, allowing us the possibility to discern the heart of God in unexpected places. Like Samuel or Philip, when we commit ourselves to listening and following, a whole new world of wonder opens up to us even amid the overly familiar settings of our lives. “The whole earth is full of God’s glory” – right where we are.

A quiet evangelistic stream runs through these passages. Samuel and Philip experience the contagious character of the divine encounter. Awakened to God’s presence, they want to bring others to that same holy awareness. Many of us, especially in liberal traditions, have nervous or negative feelings about evangelism. We know what we don’t like, but have little idea what an appropriate sharing of the good news might be.

Faith lives not by what it denies, but by what it affirms. These passages invite us to an evangelism grounded in humility and listening, especially in listening to God’s call in our lives and through the lives of others. We cannot know the other’s deepest needs for healing and transformation apart from a sensitive awareness to the complexities of another’s life and God’s subtle presence within that life. Evangelism, in this context, need be no more than a sensitive openness to experiencing God’s voice in others’ lives and sharing ways in which you and your community of faith can respond to their emergent needs.

The Corinthian passages join divine creativity with human responsiveness. “Your body is the temple of God.” As the Psalmist proclaims, you are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The only loving response to the presence of such beauty is to honor a soul of beauty as it authentically lives in the world. “Glorify God with your body,” reads I Corinthians.

While the occasion of the passage involves Paul’s counsel to avoid inappropriate sexual relations, the meaning of the passage goes far beyond sexuality, as significant as sexuality can be in our lives. Ultimately, we glorify God by everything we do or say, by our words and touch, our lifestyle and eating habits, our financial commitments and marital relationships. God speaks in our bodies and calls us, in the words of W.H. Auden to “love God in the world of the world of the flesh” by appropriately loving our companions on this earthly pilgrimage, whether those companions are young, restless children, aging elders, new acquaintances or people we have lived with for years. In this sense, we are also called to appropriately love and care for nature and all other living and created things.

Epiphany’s spirit reminds us of the ubiquitous nature of God’s presence. Whether we seek to share the good news of the gospel, respond to injustice, care for the earth or support a friend, authentic transformation is always grounded in active listening. When creativity and receptivity are joined, our listening enables others to find their own voice (Nelle Morton) and our encouragement brings greater beauty and liberation, as we are free to respond in love to the world as wonder-full.

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.