Epiphany 2B – When the student is ready…

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), 1 Cor. 6:12-20, John 1:43-5

In the first reading, Samuel hears a voice. Eli tells him it is the voice of God. How does Eli know that? How do we? Is God still speaking in 2021? There are so many voices in our lives. How can we know which voices are from God?

We count on the Holy Spirit to show up and help, but we need to show up too.

We may think of the Holy Spirit or “inspiration” as something magical that happens to artists and prophets. In fact, it can happen to anyone who prepares for it. Inspiration is not so much an event as the culmination of a process.

That process begins with our desire to find a solution to some problem. As we look for an answer, we observe, listen, study. We try to make connections between all the big and little bits of experience and information we can find.

Alongside this intentional process, an unconscious process is also at work. What we know arranges and re-arranges itself until “suddenly” – in what feels like an “aha” moment – we have an insight or inspiration that enables us to see in a new way. That parallel process can take time. It can feel like nothing is happening, but that’s only because we’re not consciously in charge of it.

For people of faith, the intentional process and its parallel needs to include prayer and meditation, charitable openness to the experience and pain of others, patience, and finally a willingness to hear what the Spirit will eventually reveal, even if the message is challenging to us.

As the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

In the gospel reading, Jesus seems to appear out of nowhere. Philip and Nathanael’s recognition of him has a bit of a magical quality. But most likely, they had been reflecting on the meaning of the law and the prophets for a long time. The Holy Spirit had been at work in them. When Jesus showed up, it all came together. The time was right, and Philip and Nathanael were ready to see things in a new way.


Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Epiphany 1 – Getting out of the river

Genesis 1:1-5, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

I used to write appellate briefs. I felt like a legal Monday-morning-quarterback. I would read transcripts, read case law and try to find all the mistakes that someone else made in a trial. Not because the lawyers or judges weren’t talented or prepared but because there are some things you just can’t prepare for. Trial work, like life, happens in real time. There are always hiccups, surprises and disasters. It can be chaotic. Everyone has to do the best they can.

According to Genesis, everything began in chaos. In the midst of the chaos, God acted saying, “Let there be light.”

No one second guessed God on this. No one suggested that if God had started creation with the sun or plants or the sea, the world would have turned out better. God got a pass.

We are not so lucky. When we act or speak or try to be creative, there is usually someone watching or reading the transcript who thinks they know better.

Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez said that when it comes to being Christian, it is not enough to think about things. Being Christian is not about being perfectly prepared or understanding it all.  Believers need to act and do they best they can under the circumstances. Understanding, theory and theology may come later, but only as a reflection on the actions undertaken by believers with and on behalf of the poor.

Gutierrez saw the process as cyclical: action, theological reflection, and back to action but transformed, with new insights into scripture and a new vision of faith. Because when we act – when we are doing – the Holy Spirit finds us.

We need critics. We need critical thinking about the ways in which systems and cultures perpetuate oppression. As I get ready for a new “Me and White Supremacy” group, I remember that we need to think critically about the ways in which we participate in those systems. Critics can rightly call us to repent of our sins. 

We need critical thinking, theology and ideological commitments. But we also need action. Someone to do the trial work. Someone willing to think on their feet and do the best they can in the moment. Someone willing to try something new. It may not work, or it may break the case wide open.

There is a time and a place for John’s baptism of repentance. But as Paul explains in the reading from Acts, that’s not really what Christianity is about. After the repentance, we need to get out of the river, dry ourselves off and act. That’s when the Holy Spirit will find us.


Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash