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Readings: 2nd Sunday of Epiphany

10 January 2014

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Isaiah 49.1-7; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

THIS week, we pray that God will make his heavenly glory known in the renewal of our lives. If anyone needed his life renewing, it was God's servant in Isaiah, who was so exhausted by his faithfulness to God that he felt he had wasted his time and his life. Was it all over for him? No, because he added, bravely: "Yet . . ." There is always a "yet" with God.

Hilary Mantel ends Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate, 2012) with this tantalising paragraph:

The word, "however" is like an imp coiled beneath your chair. It induces ink to form words you have not yet seen, and lines to march across the page and overshoot the margin. There are no endings. If you think so, you are deceived as to their nature. They are beginnings. Here is one.

Last week, Isaiah reminded us that God is declaring new things, and this week we encounter some of them. This faithful, exhausted servant is to be given as a light, not just to Israel, but to the nations. Paul has a troublesome church to write to, in what he knew when he started writing would be a hard letter for him and for them.

Yet he could see God's renewal among them, and his lines marched across the page, overshooting the margin in praise to God, who has enriched and provided for them, and will strengthen them and make them blameless. Given what was to follow in the letter, it was a leap of faith on Paul's part, in line with the collect's affirmation that God will transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of his grace.

Events in the first chapter of the Gospel take place over four days, perhaps a deliberate echo of the days of creation in Genesis 1. After the high Christology of the prologue, we might expect a powerful revelation of God's glory in Jesus. But no: suddenly things change, and, as with Isaiah and Paul, the revelation of God's glory occurs in a series of ordinary encounters among ordinary people.

There is little attempt at persuasion, as first John leaves people to assess his testimony to what he has seen and heard, letting them decide for themselves what to do about it; and then Jesus, rather than make statements, asks questions that push people into responding. Later, this will change, but he invites his future disciples to make the first move by asking: "What are you looking for?"

They respond with another question: "Where are you staying?" They effectively invite themselves into his company, as the disciples of a rabbi would do. Their calling began with Jesus's offering them hospitality, and, since they remained all day, the conversation obviously flowed, over food, no doubt.

John can be quite deliberate in recording times or timespans, but we can only wonder at the significance of four o'clock; perhaps it was such a significant and life-changing encounter that the time stuck in their memories, in the same way as people remember where they were when they heard of President Kennedy's assassination.

Whatever the reason, this appears to be the moment when Andrew experienced a "Yet . . ." moment, calling him to set out afresh on a new walk with God. His first response was to find his brother, and, with extraordinary certainty (just what had Jesus said, after that first almost-casual question?), to assert that he had found the Messiah. Then, like us when we pray the collect, Andrew and his friends offered their lives for renewal, without knowing the outcome.

What do we learn about calling, vocation, from these scriptures, as we hear them in Epiphany, the season of the revelation of the glory of God? Isaiah reminds us that when we are exhausted, God opens up new vocation and vision, if we dare to pray "Yet . . .". Paul can see beyond the problems eroding the witness of the Corinthians, to grasp that, perverse and annoying as some of them are, they are called to be saints, and were sanctified by God.

Divided they might be, but to the eyes of faith, they are enriched in every way in Christ. And John places the call to be with Jesus, to come and see, at the heart of everything, holding up John the Baptist, who obeyed even without the full picture. God's ink forms words that we have not yet seen. . .

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