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Sermon for Ephiphany

Article posted on 19 January 2018 Leave a Comment

John 1.43-52

Introduction: Season of Epiphany

Here we are at the beginning of a new year. The whole year lays before us, indeed the whole of the rest of our lives lay before us. There is a saying isn’t there, when contemplating change, about treating each day as the first day of the rest of my life. What do we want that to look like?

Sometimes, the decision is a difficult one. For some, life may have changed for the worse and there is a mourning for what has been lost. I acknowledge that. But for most of us there are aspects of our life we would like to change; things we would like to do, or know more about.

I’m not talking of New Year resolutions which we tend not to take too seriously. I’m talking about a fresh commitment to accept an invitation to join Christ on a journey of discovery; to respond to his call to ‘follow me’ and take seriously the invitation of Philip to, ‘Come and see’. And this come and see holds the potential for revealing something more than what simply ‘meets the eye’. There is a promise of something much greater.

We always begin each year in the church season of Epiphany. Epiphany means ‘manifestation’; the idea that what was always there, is now made manifest, made visible, made known. It’s a bit like an anagram; the answer is always there before you but hidden until it is revealed. This is the journey of discovery I’m suggesting we undertake in 2018. A journey of Epiphany.

Gospel

Our Gospel this morning is a good example. It begins with no obvious indication that Jesus is any other than a simple human being. No miracles, no signs, no teaching, no proclamations. Philip has no evident reason to find Jesus in any sense remarkable.

Yet he meets him, hears the call to follow and he responds.

Our passage progresses into an encounter with Nathaniel and as a consequence of his engagement with Jesus, he proclaims Jesus to be the Son of God, the King of Israel – the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets, the fulfilment of all Scripture and the hope of Israel.

It is a remarkable transition in understanding. A true Epiphany.

I believe John’s gospel is not trying to rush through a story and be economical with how much he reveals about what went on, like skipping impatiently to the last page in a book just to make sure you like the ending and so see if it is worthwhile reading. I believe John has a serious point to make.

Somehow, it is through meeting and engagement with the person of Jesus which awakes people to a believing response which is not based on any empirical evidence; not based on the fruit of any individual deliberation or choice. It is not about weighing arguments. It is not about deciding if this is rational, logical or modern. It is not about deciding if I can believe this story, or that miracle.

Oh, how we love to complicate. So often we overthink the gospel.

It is simply about understanding who Jesus is, and, meeting him.

It is the presence of Christ which draws the disciples, and us, to an awakened understanding; an epiphany.

Christ the Epiphany of God

To meet with Jesus is to understand that it is he, and he alone, who reveals the very person of God. John’s gospel opens by describing him as the light shining in the darkness. He makes the point early in his gospel, ‘No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.’ In chapter 15, Jesus himself when talking to his disciples about treating them as friends not slaves says, ‘for all things I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.’

Paul, writing to the Colossians announces his own purpose in life is, ’to make the Word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints’.

Jesus is the Epiphany of God. That is why it is so important to meet him.

Invitation to our Epiphany

The calling of his disciples, and us, is not initially a call to mission. After all, the disciples at this stage know little, and even towards the end, their understanding is stilted, faltering, unsure, full of doubt and unanswered questions.

To be a disciple of Christ is not in any way to fully understand, but it is to accept the invitation to a journey of epiphany; a lifetime of learning to understand the relationship God offers and our responsibility within it. It is a call to know and to be known. It is a call to meet Jesus, for it is through Jesus that our own epiphany comes.

Once we have met Jesus two things start to happen. Firstly, Jesus offers an invitation to participate in the unfolding of a future vision where the fullness of God’s future will be revealed; to become members of a new redeemed humanity; to be known by another name.

The words of Jesus to Nathaniel here, are weighted with significance. An Israelite in whom there is no deceit – a clear reference to Jacob, who deceived his brother of his inheritance; but a man who went on to wrestle with God and receive a new name, Israel. A man who was the father to the 12 tribes of Israel; a man who met God face to face and saw a ladder reaching from heaven to earth and angels descending and ascending.

Secondly, we are driven to know more.

Meeting the person of Jesus challenges our preconceptions. Jacob wrestled and met God and was transformed by the encounter. In our gospel, Jesus is hinting to a new nation, a new creation, a new humanity reborn in Christ.

The Promise of a Deeper Epiphany

Jesus identifies himself as the ultimate ladder linking heaven and earth, the point of contact between the finite and infinite; the temporal and the eternal. Through him the gates of heaven are opened and revealed to us. This is the epiphany promise held out for us in Christ.

‘Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

May 2018 be the year when we meet Jesus afresh, or for the first time, and be the year when we journey with God as he reveals to us the mysteries of his grace and truth.

Amen.

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