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God's Work of Art – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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Epiphany II

Four times a day when I was at seminary in England we were called to chapel by the sound of a bell.  And on that bell were inscribed, in Greek, the words “faithful is he who calls.” (1 Th 5:24) Faithful is he who calls.  And our readings today on this second Sunday of Epiphany are all about being called.

In Isaiah we read, “The Lord called me before I was born.  While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.”  Called into being – and named.  That is what God has been doing from the beginning of Genesis, where he called the creation into being and then named it.  “God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.”

Each one of us were called into being by God – and given a name to show that we have a unique and special vocation.  “The Lord called me before I was born.  While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.”  We are not just anybody – not just a number, a statistic.

We are each unique.  We are, each of us, as the Psalmist puts it, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps 139:14)

There is a beautiful phrase that I love in the letter to the Ephesians which tells us how God regards us.  The Jerusalem Bible translates this as “You are God’s work of art.” (Eph 2:10) And yet, left to our own devices we can horribly damage and tear God’s precious works of art.  We don’t need to look as far as the recent terrible events in Tucson, Arizona, to know how easily we can hurt and damage each other.  And we probably have a pretty good idea over the years of how easily we can damage ourselves.

It was St. Paul’s conviction that God has not left us to our own devices, that in Jesus Christ God has given us the means to mend God’s precious works of art, to repair the broken canvas of God’s creation.  In our reading today from the First Letter to the Corinthians he tells us that God has not just called us to life and named us – but called us to new life in Christ.  “You are called to be saints,” he says.  “God is faithful, and by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor 1:9)

The good news he proclaims is that through union with Christ, walking as companions with Jesus, we receive grace and power to mend the broken canvas of our lives and of our world, so that slowly we can become those unique and beautiful works of art whom we were called to be.

One of the loveliest stories of coming into fellowship with Jesus is told in our Gospel reading today from John (Jn 1:29-42).  Jesus is walking by and the two disciples of John begin to follow him.  And then Jesus stops and turns and sees that they are following him, so he says, “What are you looking for?”  They say “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And he replied, “Come and see.”  The story is written very simply and sequentially.  But each word counts!  In John’s Gospel, words have a surface meaning and also many deeper levels of meaning.  One of John’s favorite words is the Greek word μενειν meaning to stay, to remain, to abide.  It is a word packed with profound spiritual meaning.  When the two men ask Jesus “where are you staying” it is that resonant word μενειν that they use.  On the surface they seem to be asking “where are you staying?”.  But elsewhere in John’s Gospel that same word, often translated “abide” is used to describe that deep relationship of union and fellowship with Jesus.  “Abide in me, as I abide in you.  Abide in me, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15) So when they ask Jesus “where are you staying” they are not posing a geographical question, but a profoundly spiritual one.  Who are you Jesus?  Where do you abide – so that we may abide in you and you in us.

It is this being in relationship with Christ, which Paul calls being “in fellowship” with Christ, or being “in Christ,” and which John calls “abiding in Christ.”  It is this essential relationship which allows God to begin the work of redemption in us and in our broken world.  Our baptism into Christ opens a channel of grace by which we can be changed and transformed into the work of art whom God created us to be.

We are two weeks into the New Year.  If you’ve made any new year resolutions you’ve probably forgotten them by now!  But that sense, that desire to take stock of our lives and make some change for the better, very much fits the season of Epiphany.  It’s the season of manifestation, of shedding light on our lives to reveal the truth.

It’s a great time to allow God’s searching light to shine onto our lives.  Ephesians says that we are God’s work of art.  As we live our lives, we are in a sense creating a picture, a canvas.  Every day we add strokes to the growing picture.  I sometimes find it very helpful from time to time in my prayers to reflect on my life so far and ask if I had to paint a picture of my life – what would it look like?  And then in my prayers, to ask for grace to glimpse something of what God’s picture of me is like.  Perhaps it is something you might do yourself.  Draw a picture of your life.  What does it look like?  And then pray that you may glimpse the picture that God has of you.  How does God see you – you who are his work of art?

When I was growing up with my two brothers and sister, at Christmas, were always given a really big jigsaw puzzle.  And although we’d argue all the time over it, we’d spend hours slowly trying to create the picture which was on the front of the box.  To make it more difficult, sometimes my father would show us the front of the box just long enough to glimpse the finished picture, and then he would hide it.  Then would begin the hard job of creating the picture piece by piece.  It’s an image I’ve often prayed with when I’ve got stuck in my life and felt that none of the pieces in my life seemed to fit.

I also remember with the jigsaw us finding a piece that didn’t quite fit, so we pushed it and shoved it so that it kind of fitted!  But deep down we knew it wasn’t right and that it was going to mess up the finished picture.  So often we’d have to admit we’d put the wrong piece in and we had to undo whole rows of the puzzle.  Kind of like repentance, I suppose.  And then start over again – this time with the right piece.

So maybe this Epiphany, this New Year, God might be inviting you to allow God’s light to shine on your life – that in your light we may see light.  Ask God for the courage to look honestly at the picture you have painted so far.  Have you made some wrong choices – things which simply don’t fit into the work of art which God created when he created you?  Where might we need to repent, perhaps go back and make a new start, lest a wrong fit could spoil the whole picture.

And then, in your prayers, ask God to grant you a precious glimpse of how he sees you – of the wonderful picture that he sees when he looks at you.

Give thanks to our loving God that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Give thanks that you have been called to life – and to new life in Jesus Christ.

Give thanks that you are indeed God’s work of art.

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20 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Hardy on October 11, 2016 at 11:38

    Right words on the right day. I need this today. Thank you.

  2. Jan on October 11, 2016 at 09:56

    I love the visual of the painting we create of our lives every day. It motivates me to keep the big picture in mind with everything I do.

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  4. Mary matteson on September 5, 2015 at 11:15

    i am an artist and this message had a special meaning to me. Thank you

  5. Damon Hickey on September 5, 2015 at 08:15

    In 1989, I participated in an icon workshop led by Russian iconographer Vladislav Andreyev. As we worked on our icons, building up the egg tempera layer by layer, we all made mistakes. But we didn’t go back and try to repaint or remove them. They simply became the foundation for the next translucent layer, to be incorporated into the completed sacred image. Vladislav was fond of saying, “As we are making icons, they are making us.” Repentance may be an opportunity, not for us to be repainted, but for God and us to incorporate even the traces of our sins into the sacred images that we are becoming.

  6. Ann on January 2, 2015 at 10:52

    Our church staff likes to put puzzles together during our lunch breaks and I love the metaphor of repentance as finding the piece that doesn’t fit.

  7. Norma H. Pinkelton on January 1, 2015 at 09:50

    This is a very guiding and up lifting message for me .It is giving meaning to the actions for my life at this time. I am in the throes of cleaning out years of my life and sorting what is to remain. I have alwals been strong in prayer and requesting God’ guidance for what I had believed to be my purpose at the time. Much has been achieved of value. I will continue in prayer,but it would help to have a glimpse now of God’s intent for me at this time. Thank You for the message.

  8. Anders on September 14, 2014 at 07:31

    Thanks for the word abide, to stay or remain. It highlights a fundamental tension I face in being in family and church community. The jigsaw puzzle where the picture remains hidden is also a good metaphor. In the church of my childhood, I was given a worn out lid and told it was exactly what I needed to piece together here and now by myself. I was not left to my own devices, but rather to shame and abuse within the church. I continue to be confronted with family issues where abiding, remaining often feel like jumping into the chasm of others’ mental illness. As my 10 and 12 year old sons struggle with their mothers’ bipolar illness, I have no jigsaw box cover to show or hide from them. I can abide by them, as the Lord has stayed and watched with me, and remind them, remind myself, that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Others, also in the context of the church, continue to stay by me and my sons. And that’s enough for today.

  9. Lily on September 13, 2014 at 20:17

    Dear Br. Geoffrey,
    Reading your meditation, I felt as though I had caught hold of a life-preserver. Thank you!

  10. Fay LOHR on September 13, 2014 at 16:49

    I am looking for a sermon/reading on the importance of listening for my EFM group.

  11. Ruth West on September 13, 2014 at 11:06

    Thank you for this message. ‘Tis a good one with which I can begin the day. Knowing we are “fearfully made” says to me that we serve an awesome creator who has made us to glorify Him.
    He is the potter; we are the clay.
    As to the effort to make him a more feminine softer
    being, is it not an effort to bring Him down to our human level? He is high and lifted up. His thoughts are not our thoughts. In sending His Son Jesus into the world, he accomplished the total God/total mankind Being. I firmly believe in the Trinity. We need all three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  12. Jackie on June 28, 2014 at 20:23

    Dear Brother Geoffrey,
    I generally really relate well to your contemplations and thank you for them.
    However, I don’t understand what it means to be “fearfully” made. Could you please explain? Thank you.

  13. Beryl Cox on June 28, 2014 at 18:30

    Would it be possible at times to write the name of the diety as “Godde” rather than “God?” Godde looks more feminine than God when written, and connotes a softer, more nurturing, creative diety, than a wrathful, punitive, although powerful God.

    • Sandy on September 13, 2014 at 09:44

      Br. Geoffrey,
      Thank you for this insight today. I am in transition to retirement and reminscing about where I’ve been and what is next. Where will my piece fit? I was thinking of this transition as being done, passed on, but this translation transformed that thought direction, to looking at the adventure of what’s next, Thank you.

    • Margo on January 1, 2015 at 08:09

      Carol Gilligan’s seminal work on the moral perceptions of women being different to the moral perceptions of men, which has huge ‘unexplored’ consequences for a whole spirituality is not something the brothers seem conscious of. Maybe there are women who read this who are aware and interested?

  14. Christina on November 23, 2013 at 10:23

    Dear Brother Geoffrey: You write that St. Paul’s conviction is that we are not left to our own devices. I know that to be true. Not frequently, but sometimes, when I have tried to put the wrong piece into the jigsaw puzzle, I have known that that is not the right thing for me to do. I was given the OPTION of a small change of direction. I discovered the right piece and, thankfully, replaced the piece that didn’t really fit.
    The first time I experienced this was fifty-five years ago. Christina

  15. Anders on November 21, 2013 at 14:03

    I like the idea of being Gods work of art. Sometimes the best thing to do as such is to get out of the way, as Umberto Eco reminds us: “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.”

  16. Stephanie on August 28, 2013 at 14:10

    This spoke to me today, Geoffrey. Having caught myself in the trap of thinking people draw near to me because they want something from me (and discounting the value of what I have to give), it is a blessing to be reminded that the real power lies not in one’s gifts but in the Giver. Thank you.

  17. Angelica Korbas on August 28, 2013 at 06:10

    thank you Father for this insight, this was very wise, I do appreciate this, Angelica

  18. DLa Rue on May 26, 2013 at 08:36

    Some days it would be so much easier, though, to be just a cog in a wheel…

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