I've been reminded lately how much of a need there is in congregations today - well, at least in ours - to return to basics. New Christians, new Episcopalians, returned Episcopalians seeking to be faithful, all fill the pews or catch online mass. It would be foolish to think that many of the things previous generations of church goers would have taken for granted as background knowledge are so universally known or understood today.
For example, we are currently in the time of the Church calendar after the Epiphany. Even the Epiphany itself, let alone the themes of that calendar time, may not be known by many people reading this or coming to church on a Sunday morning today. The feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. There are several stories from the Bible that we use to commemorate and remember this, including the Magi following the star to the baby Jesus, the Baptism of Jesus by John when God announces that this is his Son, and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem as an infant to be circumcised. (The last commemoration is also called Candlemas. Traditionally, candles are brought to church to be blessed and sometimes Christmas decorations are finally taken down. Candlemas marks the halfway point to Spring, another way that the Church calendar may coincide with the rhythms of life and nature.)
The Epiphany season, much like the name implies, is about revelation. The revelation of who Jesus was and is, and continues to be for all of us. It may seem odd then that the readings this year in the lectionary have not been so much about revelation lately as they have been about calling.
We've now heard Jesus proclaim his calling using words from the prophet Isaiah. We heard Jeremiah's call story from the Hebrew Scripture. This coming Sunday we will hear Isaiah's call story, some of Paul's own account of his calling to ministry, and Jesus calling the disciples to be fishers of people.
Dramatic call stories can sometimes be intimidating. Not everyone trying to faithfully follow Jesus has had some divine revelation of who God is. Not everyone baptized into Christ's Body the Church has seen the heavens open and God seated at the throne with cherubim and seraphim, or had the resurrected Jesus appear on the road and blind them, or heard the voice of Jesus call their name and give them a mission. Sometimes, in telling stories of "calling" to ministry, we lift up those who feel called to some sort of ordained ministry, elevate those who have experienced some sort of dramatic calling, and therefore downplay the very real calling to all Christians that Jesus makes to us, a calling to simply obey and follow him every day.
All of us who have been baptized are called. In our baptism, and every time we reaffirm it, we are called to renounce Satan, the evil powers of the world, and sin. We are called to turn to Jesus as our Savior, put our trust in his faith and love, and to follow and obey him as our Lord. We are called to proclaim the faith of the Church using our creedal words, and we are sent out to continue living a sacramental life filled with reconciliation, proclamation, loving service, justice, and peace. Then, after all of the call and response of the Baptismal Covenant, each one of us baptized is called to die to our old selves, and is raised to new life in Jesus.
So perhaps it is fitting that we hear this story from St. Paul of his call story, which is truly a story of resurrection. Born Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of Christians, died to his old self on the road to Damascus, was blinded, then baptized, and resurrected into new life as Paul. As one commentator has written, if God could perform this kind of resurrection in Paul's own life, how much more powerful is the true resurrection of Christ?
You may not have some grand vision or "mountain top" call story to a life of ministry. But I would wager that you do have examples in your own life of the resurrection of Jesus at work in you, leading you into something more than you ever imagined you could be on your own. If you follow the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love, then you have known how that love transforms your own heart to make you more loving to others, more forgiving, more compassionate, and gracious.
Perhaps this year, your own Epiphany is less like Isaiah's, and more like, well, maybe your own. Perhaps that's the Epiphany, realizing the way God's been working in your life and heart to transform you into the image of his love, on a daily basis. Perhaps it is a calling to devote yourself to even deeper loving service and obedience. Perhaps it is looking to learn how you can proclaim Jesus' resurrection in your daily life in all that you do.
There is a potential pattern here: revelation, to resurrection, to calling, and to proclamation. This in some ways fits the pattern of the Way of Love that we follow in the Episcopal Church. I invite you to review the Way of Love in our What's Next session of our website, and prayerfully, carefully discern where you are on the Way of Love in your own journey of faith.
Do you have a revelation to share? Do you have a story of resurrection in your own life? Do you have a story or feeling of calling? How about questions about proclamation? Leave them in the comments below. We would love to be built up by your thoughts and stories!