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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