First Congregational Church
January 31 2021
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Council Commissioning
“On the Way to a Little Normal”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Considering the fact that my grandfathers barely knew who I was, I think it’s rather wonderful that some grandfathers impart great information and wisdom to their grand pups. We don’t know the name of the person, but since the internet posted it, we know that these things are true: the things grandpa taught me.
1. Life is simpler when you plow around the stump. 2. A yellow jacket is faster than a John Deere tractor. 3. Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled. 4. Meanness doesn't happen overnight. 5. Don't sell your mule to buy a plow. 6. Don't corner something meaner than you.
Picking up right from where we left off in Mark last week, Peter, Andrew, James and John had dropped all their duties and obligations to family and friends to follow Jesus, because he called them to do so. This morning’s passage begins by saying that they went to Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing village of about 1,500 on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. It would take about nine hours to travel on foot from little, unincorporated Nazareth to flourishing Capernaum.
I think it would be a little interesting, knowing if Jesus and the guys stopped for lunch, if they brought it with them, if they ate while they walked, saw anyone else going to Capernaum, and other trivial stuff like that. Was their walking leisurely or determined? Those things might make a difference in how they would need to rest before going on to the synagogue.
Mark 1:21-28 (The Message)
21-22 Then they entered Capernaum. When the Sabbath arrived, Jesus lost no time in getting to the meeting place. He spent the day there teaching. They were surprised at his teaching—so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars.
23-24 Suddenly, while still in the meeting place, he was interrupted by a man who was deeply disturbed and yelling out, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You’re the Holy One of God, and you’ve come to destroy us!”
25-26 Jesus shut him up: “Quiet! Get out of him!” The afflicting spirit threw the man into spasms, protesting loudly—and got out.
27-28 Everyone there was spellbound, buzzing with curiosity. “What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and tells them to get lost!” News of this traveled fast and was soon all over Galilee.
Thank you, Myra. I wanted us to hear this passage from Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation, The Message, because there’s so much more energy in it. It can become a little more alive in one’s mind, than the New International Version. And one of the very specific reasons for this change of versions lies around verse 22. The NIV says that Jesus taught with authority. The Message says he taught so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars.” Those “versions” definitely don’t have same color.
I was delighted when this week's ministerial association meeting began with this passage, because I think it’s good to see what various folks are thinking, when we have the opportunity. Have to say, I wasn’t expecting the first question to be, “What is our authority?” It was a rhetorical question, because of course, any authority we get comes from God. Even so, it got a fair bit of discussion around words like power and truth and ideas like internal and external places of authority.
I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box, and this topic of authority hadn’t even come up in my mind. If Jesus is who he claims to be, then who of us have the right to question that? Maybe in our current, politically hot world we are caught up in who has authority over what. But frankly, I don’t see a discussion about authority as one that is where a lot of us are at these days - at least in our heart of hearts. In fact, I think what we need is something that is more helpful and needful than that. And it was Scott Hoezee, from Calvin Theological Seminary that got me thinking in that direction.
In his exposition of this passage, he repeated this phrase: a few different times: “It was the Sabbath and so, naturally, the Jews of Capernaum went to the synagogue.” He described what has perhaps happened for millennia on Sabbath or Sunday mornings: tired people helping their children - being children - struggle to get to the place they always attended on those mornings. Not all, but some may have been out-of-sorts because they were out of milk for the morning cereal. But it was expected that you would show up, and so you made it.
And perhaps you were looking forward to heading home to Sunday brunch, after a little reading of the Torah, some singing of a few Psalms. But then this guy stands up and starts preaching, and “while he was no “John the Baptist full of theatrics and arm-waving fire-and-brimstone rhetoric,” there was something different about this Jesus.
It wasn’t just that his ideas and vocabulary were fresh and innovative and it wasn’t simply that he was a better orator than they at first guessed. Rather, there was something in the very presence of the man that made you want to sit up straighter. Even the teenagers, who had worked so hard at perfecting a bored-stiff look on their faces, couldn’t help perking up, slouching a bit less and listening more closely than they’d care to admit. This man had authority. He had a moral gravity, a weightiness and substance to him that people found difficult to explain.”
I got to wondering, is there anyone with such authority in our modern world, even if they would be 100% human. The closest I got was Billy Graham.
So imagine you’re on your way here, looking forward to yet another stellar sermon of keen insight and theological creativity, and Billy Graham is covering that day. And of all days, there’s a visitor in the back, and at some point in the service, there is a shriek, followed by a “What do you want to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to wipe us out already!? I know who you are, you are the Holy One of God!”
Let me tell you, while that scenario is not one of my nightmares, I do wonder about how I - or any of us would handle such a thing. I’ve wondered about such scenarios for years, actually. How do we handle the unexpected, the unpredictable, maybe even a little dangerous sounding or looking? Jesus tells the spirit to come out of the man, but hey - he’s Jesus. We certainly aren’t.
It was the Sabbath and so, naturally, they went to the Synagogue. We may anticipate the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we may even experience that Spirit - in a moment or two that touches our hearts. But we surely don’t expect something so crazed!
Jesus gave the man his life back. I sometimes wonder, of any of the people who come to worship with us - even from all the far away places on the internets - those who come who need their life given back to them - and how that life-return begins with simple acknowledgment of that other person and their need for Christ’s healing - as much as our own. It was Sunday and so, naturally, we go to Church. It was a day like today, and an epiphany happened on our way to a little normalcy.
That Grandpa who had those great lessons, earlier in the message? He also said “Always drink upstream from the herd and never miss a good chance to shut up.
And don't squat with your spurs on and don't judge people by their relatives.
In one of William H Willimon’s earliest sermons at seminary as a youth pastor in Anderson, South Carolina in 1968, he attacked Lyndon Johnson (maybe Lady Bird too), and denounced the then-current Vietnam War.
After the service, an enraged man shouted at the church door, “Punks like you are the shame of America,” and “You are a cowardly little "jerk” who doesn’t support our boys fighting in Southeast Asia.”
William was unsure whether to protect his face, his stomach, or his groin, he said. But he staggered back into the church, as far as the altar area. A member of the altar guild, an older woman in a small pink hat, was removing flowers from the brass vases.
“That was awful!” ha gasped. “Did you hear what he said to me?”
“Everyone heard,” she said, smiling. “I do wish people wouldn’t use such language when children are present. Could you hand me that container?” “He was going to hit me! How could that jerk be that upset by a first-year seminarian trying to preach?”
She looked up from fussing with flowers and said, “Dear, it’s not you who upset him. I’m sure you remind him of his son. Both of you have long hair, though you appear to have no tattoos or ear piercing. Tommy is gay, living in California or some such. He’s lost the son to whom he gave his life. Tom kept his promise to God to be a good father, but it seems that God failed to keep his promise to Tom.” She laughed to herself. “Now, who would be upset with a nice boy like you? No, Tom hates God.”
There’s a lot of anger “out there,” and it’s not all about who’s right and who’s wrong. In fact, I would be willing to lay down a little money - if’n I was a bettin’ woman - that maybe even a majority of the anger we encounter - even through computer screens and tv sets - is about what feels like God not keeping promises and other such perceptions.
And maybe, when we take a few minutes to really think about it, there may be a bit of anger in each of us, for not doing what we know we should have, or doing what we know we shouldn’t have. What I have learned is that when we don’t take the time to deal with our would-as, could-as and should-as, regret can fester into anger quicker than a deeply disturbed person can upset a worship service on their way to a little normal. So let us draw back the curtains of our hearts this morning, just for a bit, to take out a little trash, so it doesn’t combust or leak out in ways we would least suspect.
All knowing and all loving God, you know how much we love to have things under control, how we sometimes wiggle and squirm to look and seem “normal.” You also know that which we carry in our hearts, that which is heavy, crazed or painful - even dead. This morning, we lay those things down, at your feet, before your holy throne of grace —- and ask that you reform them, remake them and transform them into healing that makes a difference - even on our way to a little normal. —- Thank you, too, for the healing you have done in our past days and times, for the grace that has transformed us into message bearers of that same grace. For your grace and your deep, unmatched love for each of your beloveds, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
January 24, 2021
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In honor of our own Church Family Annual Meeting, I give you this. “There will be a meeting of the Church Board immediately after the service,” announced the pastor. After the close of the service, the Church Board gathered at the back of the sanctuary for the announced meeting. But there was a stranger in their midst — a visitor who had never attended their church before.
“My friend,” said the pastor, “Didn’t you understand that this is a meeting of the Board?” “Yes,” said the visitor, “and after today’s sermon, I suppose I’m just about as bored as anyone else who came to this meeting.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s taken a long time to sort out the differences of the four gospels in this brain. I so understand that it’s hard to remember that Matthew and Luke were written by genealogists, that John was written by the poet-minded one, and that Mark was the bare-bones, just the facts ma'am, outline sort of writer.
Because Mark’s version was written to Roman Christians, maybe he skipped over the genealogies because that was more important to Jewish people than the Roman emphasis of leadership. Those observations certainly seem validated from today’s passage - in which Mark begins his whole book with grown-up cousin John baptizing Jesus - to John being imprisoned - all in just thirteen verses.
Jesus Announces the Good News
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Thank you, __. Anyone who has persevered through, I mean listened to even a few of the sermons I’ve delivered over the past year or two, knows that I have a great affection for a now retired Methodist pastor, Steven Garnaas Holmes. That he writes mostly in poetry is interesting, since I not overly passionate about that style of writing. What catches me, usually, is what he says, or how he says it. This week he was waxing eloquent about Jonah, and then mentioned some of those things that he seemed to think that a lot of folks learned in their youth - or even Sunday School.
Things like, “Ever watch somebody on slippery ice trying hard not to fall down? God is gravity. It's almost always funny when we try to resist it,” he said. I was trying like crazy to pick a different scripture passage for this morning, but that God and gravity thing won out - especially when I started looking at.
I mean, it’s so - nothing much. The passage basically describes Jesus calling the first four disciples. And the kingdom of God thing. Always the kingdom of God thing. What does all that - almost nothing - have to do with us and where we are on this January 24 in the year of our Lord 2021?
1. Putting up the first piece, like they do on crime shows, with actual paper thumbtacked to a bulletin board, would be something by Argentinian Osvaldo Vena, professor emeritus at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL wrote. The title of this piece that we are looking at would be “The Call” He said something I didn’t know, if you can imagine that.
He said, “This ‘fishers of people’ metaphor was used by missionaries all over the world to justify and legitimize the allegedly life-giving ministry of the Christian evangelist. And yet, it really is a metaphor of death: fish, when taken out of the water, die! But that has been interpreted as dying to the world, which results in life unto God, something the author of the Gospel clearly affirms later in Mark. The metaphor can also be explained by saying that since in the Bible the sea represents the place of the primordial chaos, inhabited by God’s mythical enemies, the fishing of people can have the connotation of rescuing them from the snares of the devil.”
Okay, impressive because of all the highfalutin theology. But the idea of the sea and chaos and dying and rescuing are interesting pieces. That’s especially so, when Rev. Vena ended his commentary with this. “The purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising them a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead, his purpose is to change the world in such a way that it will cease to be the hostile place it is, so that God’s reign can be established on earth.”
2. The Call to the fishermen was personal and relevant. Jesus used their names and spoke to what resonated with them. If they’d have been construction workers, maybe Jesus would have asked them to become builders of human hearts. Or if they’d have been real estate agents, he might have invited them to become sellers of kingdom turf.
3. The next note isn’t very big in size, but is huge in importance, and it would have the title “Kingdom of God.” (Back to that again.) God’s reign - in the ancient Greek - is not so much a place but more of a dominion or power with which to reign. This note is important because it makes more sense when Jesus says that “the kingdom is near.” God, Son, Spirit, all present then and now. Huge power all around. Ginormous power.
4. The next informational piece we tack onto the sermon scene bulletin board would be titled “Galilee.” We hear that name so much, but maybe we don’t remember so much that Galilee is a mountainous area on the west side of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel and southern Lebanon. It was home to 1.2 million residents in 2006, mainly Jewish, but also Muslims and Arab Christians. Even in Jesus’ day, the area was largely multicultural, including a large Greek population, with a little over 200 towns lying within 1,341 square miles - roughly two times the area of Benzie County.
One gets a greater appreciation for Galilee when realizing that it’s great renown is for Nazareth and Cana (of wine and wedding fame). From last week’s message, Nazareth was comparable to unincorporated Nessen City or Bendon. No citadels of power or bright lights of notoriety. Not where one would expect to find Ginormous power with which one would reign.
5. Living in Harmony: It is, however, a place where people would live out the value of living in harmony, which can mean learning to agree to disagree. This little sub-note on our sermon scene board comes from a fair bit ago, when I wrote down this quote from a politician whom shall be named if you ask me. It must have been in a press conference or something like that because this was his response before moving on to another reporter. “Let me just extend appreciation for your effort to get my response and I respectfully defer to the next question.” Nice. Respectful. Classy.
6. Maybe as nice, but definitely not as classy would be the note entitled “The Brothers.” Fishermen, and by association, stretchers of truth. (I just made that last bit up.) Maybe a tad on the smelly side. Calloused and muscular and natives because of their dialect. A tangent note by Stephen Garnaas Holmes. “The storms in our life are not a test. But they might be a question.” So I wonder if father Zebedee and any other partners in these fishing enterprises asked any questions about being left in the lurch when The Brothers dropped their obligations and work to follow some guy that told them to.
7. “The Cost” of the passage is not cheap or always easy. But we like cheap and easy. We settle for cheap and easy - so easily. We’re not always keen on putting down our nets of familiarity and fear and pain to rise and follow one who knows there is a better way of hope and justice, raising lights of love and possibility that can be seen in us, to help others see the way in what may seem like a grim world.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, we are far too easily satisfied. We’re like a child who turns down an invitation for a day at the beach and chooses instead to stay sitting in a slum alley making mud pies just because the child really can’t imagine how much better a day at the shore can be. “What could be better than making these slimy mud pies?” the child might think. Oh, if only he knew!
Missouri born philosopher and university instructor, Dallas Willard, gives similar imagery from his growing up. When he was a boy, rural electrification was just happening and power lines were being strung throughout the countryside. But suppose even after the lines were up and running you ran across a house where the weary family still used only candles and kerosene lanterns for light, used scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters. A better life was waiting for them right outside their door if only they would let themselves be hooked into the power lines. “My friends,” you could proclaim, “electricity is at hand!” But suppose they just didn’t trust it, thought it was too much of a hassle, and anyway didn’t believe the promises that things might be easier with this newfangled juice running into their house. “If it’s all the same to you, we’ll stick with the old ways.”
When we add on the other points of Epiphany being the season of revelation, today being our church family’s annual meeting, i.e., looking back and forward, and it being January, the time for sorting through files and cabinets and drawers, and we stand back, we get this retrospective review and view.
Stephen Garnaas Holmes: In the middle of a raucous slapstick tale, Jonah, at the bottom of the sea, prays a beautiful prayer. Turns out the belly of a whale is a great place for contemplation. Seriously. One thing that makes it hard for people to repent is that we expect them not to. When saints judge people they trade places with the sinners. Ever notice how often we're mad because God isn’t? Life is more of a comedy than a tragedy. Lighten up.
When we step back, to look at this whole review, perhaps we can see - in retrospect, what Scott Hoezee adds: “the kingdom is - here, it’s real, it’s right outside our door. The kingdom of God is at hand! Don’t be so easily satisfied with the temporary pleasures. We can live knowing that this is true! We can live to help others believe it, too, because just look at what Jesus did with four guys not so unlike us. And so we should pray.
Faithful and Unchanging God, how well you know our propensity to do good is the other side of the coin that hosts our propensity to do nothing. How well you know that one laugh can conquer gloom, one smile can begin a friendship - even behind a mask, one tree can start a forest, one hope can raise spirits. Inspire us into tomorrow - and each tomorrow - to rise up from the nets that entangle us to the path of a new day into what we don’t know - because we trust you - not only because of a loved and/or respected encouragement, but also because of your fulfilled promises. Thank you, for you, your Son and your Holy Spirit for our call to a life lived in the divine and extraordinary. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
January 17, 2021
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It was sometime last month that I set aside these Analogies Written by High School Students. “Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.” “He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.” Our scripture passage for this morning doesn’t belong on any analogy list, just so we are all clear.
Last Sunday we read about Jesus being baptized by his wild and crazy cousin, John the Baptist, as is told in Luke 3. Today we continue with Jesus’ path, two days after his baptism, but as revealed in the book of John, still at the Jordan River. The day before, Jesus had “called” Andrew and Simon Peter to follow him.
The context of today’s passage feels like the warning some shows screen before they start: For Mature Audiences only. Or like the background before the Star Wars movies: Long ago, in a galaxy far away, was a town called Bethsaida, the place Andrew, Peter and Philip called home. It was also just outside Bethsaida where Jesus fed 5,000 men and their families, as well as the place where he healed a blind man. Although not all scholars agree on the precise location, the name Bethsaida means “house of fishing” or “home of hunting,” so it’s location at the north end of the Dead Sea would make sense, except that one wouldn’t expect fish to be found in the Dead Sea. So there’s that little bit of consternation. Our passage will mention Nazareth, where we associate Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to grow up, to avoid the execution of baby boys ordered by Herod. It probably didn’t even dawn on Herod’s henchmen to look for a baby Messiah in Nazareth, because it was like a place we would call in this country, ‘unincorporated.’ Even Elberta has a classification of being a village! The guesses are that there were maybe a couple hundred people in Nazareth who lived in housing more like caves and sod houses. On top of its tininess, Nazareth inhabitants didn’t particularly like paying exorbitant taxes, so the Roman tax collectors would come in every so often and rattle the slats of those who hadn’t abided by “the law.” So let that understanding assist your listening.
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe[a] because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[b] you[c] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[d] the Son of Man.”
Thank you, Jim. I don’t remember who sent it along, but since I can actually vouch for it, Age 60 may be the new 40, bu 9:00 p.m. is the new midnight. When I say, “The other day,” I could be referring to any time between yesterday and 15 years ago. I remember being able to get up without any sound effects, and these days, the start of a brand new day sends me off like a herd of turtles. And now, when someone asks me what I did over the weekend, I squint and ask, “Why, what did you hear?”
In this film-esque lens through which we are catching this morning’s scripture, one could almost think that Jesus was a gaff operator, prompt person or make-up artist behind the line of the movie camera. There was Nathanael, sitting under a fig tree, probably minding his own business, and his brother comes along and tells him he’s got to see this guy from Bendon or Nessen City - for those who live in these here parts. Not knowing he was “being filmed” in Jesus’ mind, Nathanael must have thought that Jesus’ knowledge about him was nigh unto magical.
And then came the epiphany, the light bulb going off above his head, not so unlike Wylie E. Coyote. “You’re the Son of God! You’re the King of Israel!” I wonder if Jesus took Nathanael’s revelation like any really tall person when they go out in public. “Hey! You’re tall! You must play basketball! How tall are ya?”
But it’s not just a lightbulb going off in Nathanael’s mind, because Jesus sees more. Jesus said, “You believe - because I told you I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael didn’t just recognize Jesus, there was a movement of heart in that moment.
Maybe that movement of heart, that epiphany glimpse, was like hearing a piece of music that moves you to tears. Or watching an athlete do the smoothest, most beautiful move imaginable. Or the moment when all the columns of a spreadsheet come together and match a profit and loss statement. (You can tell where my head was this last week!)
There were some other epiphany glimpses this week, and one was The New Culinary Classics series of books. There is War and Peas. (Catch) Quiche 22, and Lord of the Pies. There is Animal Flan, Of Mice and Menudo (soup), Oliver Twix and Crimini and Punishment. I thought the most hilarious was Pride and Prune Juice, although The Lion, the Witch and the Waldorf Salad was quite clever, too.
So where have you seen some Epiphany Glimpses this past week? Now don’t get all worked up, because you weren’t given an assignment last week to look for Epiphany Glimpses, so no one needs to feel guilty or lost. But if you think back on it, I’m sure there is something that came together for you that stretched your brain a little bit. And no, I’m not talking about anything political or mind-tearing, either. Maybe it was remembering to take the mask with you before you went into the store. Or an insight of how utterly giving some people are in the caring of those who are ill these days - covid or not.
One of mine was a note from a friend of a friend, who wrote to say how much she appreciates being able to tune in each week and her being able to get used to going to “the other room” when her husband doesn’t feel like listening to her any longer. (I’m guessing that means singing, Mary?) Or maybe it’s akin to Monday morning quarterbacking - sort of like giving a score on a sermon point like an Olympic judge? That actually happened one Sunday. It must have been an Olympic year and two gentlemen held up the sermon ratings after the Amen. I kept the 10 and tossed the 9.5.
James Howell, over there at workingpreacher.org pointed out that Jesus “found” Philip, and that Philip “found” Nathanael, and that God “finds" people through God’s people. I found a layer of meaning in this passage this week that may well be part of an Epiphany Glimpse for you, too.
Verse 47, “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” That word deceit, in the ancient Greek, can also mean guile, being crafty and/or underhanded. As James Howell said, the Old Testament’s Jacob, “always got ahead in life by his own wits. He relied on his own cunning and craftiness to snag life’s goodies. He outsmarted dim-witted (Brother) Esau, did an end-run on his nearly blind father Isaac, and then spent the better part of twenty years finding ever-more creative ways to snooker his Uncle Laban out of just about everything he owned.
For some reason, though, God liked Jacob. Once, when fleeing the wrath of Esau, Jacob had a dream of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. In that dream God assures Jacob that despite all the stunts Jacob had pulled, God was with him. And God would stay with Jacob, finally and quite literally wrestling him into an understanding that the best things in life come by grace alone. It’s not about the power to snag what you want. No, it’s about being humble to receive what only God can give.
“Here comes an Israel who is not Jacob,” Jesus basically said when he first saw Nathanael coming his way.” That’s a right interesting comment, seeing as how Nathanael had just sneered about backwater Nazareth. In fact, we know very little about ol’ Nate, so maybe his question, “How do you know me?” is a little closer to “Why, what did you hear?”
Bringing that epiphany glimpse closer to Nathanael, Jesus basically says, “I see the good in your heart, but there’s much more good waiting for you.” Jesus goes on to say, "you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
So that’s the scriptural surprise. Jacob, some 2,000 years before, had that dream of a stairway to heaven, with God at the top of the stairs. When you see the two scenarios together, it’s quite stunning: both passages describing angels “ascending and descending.” God is at the top of Jacob’s “ladder,” Christ is as the top of the stairway to heaven. Both Jacob and Nathanael had a moment where they were given a divine opportunity and the ability to make their choice. Both made choices that changed their lives. Dimes to dollars, each of us will be given opportunities and abilities this week to make choices that will change lives.
Life-changing choices aren’t the brand of toothpaste to choose or the regular or fat-free Triskets. Those moments of epiphany glimpses will be quick, almost inconsequential. A word in an exchange with the under paid, unacknowledged front-line workers behind the grocery store cash register could be one of those opportunities. There are a lot of people that you will drive past this week, or who will drive past you, who may be on the verge of losing their job, their home, not to mention a loved one to whatever malaise you wish to mention. Maybe your Epiphany Glimpse is to not wish a person bad, but to wish them consciousness.
These days may seem like we either have to bring out our longies and woolies and armor up our hearts and minds in protection, or we may be holding our breath like when fragile butterflies that may or may not fly off our hand at any given moment. Just like Jacob and Nathanael, God gives us new opportunities to make decisions that can help others find the love we are commissioned to share. Every day is a new chance that is not dependent on the day before. May God help each of us to catch the epiphany glimpses that ascend before us each and every day, throughout the day and night as angels bring them to us and as we pray.
Holy God of Grace, thank you for the surprises you give us, surprises that are good and can lead to encouraging others to come and see and follow you in your love and grace. It is no secret that we blow those opportunities more often than we’d like to admit. And for that, we ask your forgiveness. We are grateful that you absolve our miscues in the grace you give us to start each day anew. When life seems overwhelming, send an extra abundance of your presence, peace and patience to those who so desperately need it. For all the glimpses of your light and the revelation of your love, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.