Here is a partial definition of the word epiphany:
· An usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.
· An intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking.
· An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John is built around some huge theological statements, which have their foundation in John’s epiphanies of Jesus:
· In the beginning was the Word…
· All things came into being through him…
· The light shines in the darkness…
· To all who received him… he gave power to become children of God…
· And the Word became flesh and lived among us…
These are ideas knit together after considerable reflection on intuitive perceptions and realizations about Jesus. They are theological expressions of the epiphanies John encountered first-hand.
This morning we read even more from the first chapter of John. This time it is John the Baptist who is making profound declarations. When he sees Jesus pass by he proclaims to everyone within earshot:
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
It is an incredible statement, given the role of the innocent lamb in the sacrificial rituals of the Temple. He goes on:
He ranks ahead of me because he was before me.
I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.
John the Baptist says these things, but no one seems to pick up on them. His words do not make for an epiphany because on this day no one follows after Jesus. He repeats them the next day and this time two of his followers decide to approach Jesus. Here is where the chapter turns from big ideas and proclamations to, well, the startlingly ordinary and mundane.
Even though the two men are “following” Jesus, it is Jesus who has to initiate the relationship. His question, “What are you looking for?” can mean anything from “What is your deepest longing and desire?” to “Why are you tagging after me?” By addressing Jesus as “Rabbi/teacher”, it is clear they see him as someone who possesses something of value, but have not yet had the profound epiphanies detailed in the beginning of the chapter.
The disciples pose to Jesus what appears to be an odd question: “Where are you staying?” Jesus’ response is open and gracious: “Come and see.” And it hints at something even deeper… if you come with me you will see (as in perceive) who I am.” Given the disciples spend “the day” with Jesus and given the reference to four o’clock in the afternoon, it appears the disciples are asking Jesus if they can spend the Sabbath with him. This explains why Andrew gets his brother before the sun goes down and the Sabbath begins. Three individuals searching for a Rabbi to teach them spend an evening with Jesus; sharing supper, saying prayers, singing hymns, and enjoying one another’s company.
The first chapter of John’s gospel proclaims Jesus is infinitely more than a teacher, but for the remainder of the Season of Epiphany we will encounter Jesus as a teacher. In fact, of the ninety different times people address Jesus in the four gospels, sixty times they address him as “Teacher.” Today, when we hear the title teacher we tend to associate it with a person who imparts specific knowledge or who develops certain skills in a classroom setting. Teachers teach and then evaluate through a variety of quizzes, tests, and papers how well students have learned.
This is not the kind of teacher these followers hope to find nor is it the kind of teacher Jesus is. They are looking for what we might refer to as a kind of life-coach/shaman. They long for a guide to illuminate, to admire, and to emulate. And they believe deeply God is sending just such a teacher to show them how to live.
The world is always hungry for a person who can help us live fully and faithfully in our own time. I read an article this week discussing Joshua Cooper Roma’s new book titled The Seventh Sense. The book builds on a century-old insight articulated by Fredrick Nietzsche that those living at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution needed to develop a sixth sense to help them manage the new conditions it created. Roma suggests we are now living in a new era, which he calls the Age of Network Power, and we need to develop a seventh sense in order to navigate a our world of constant contact. Roma states we need a seventh sense to give us “the ability to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection.”
If you don’t have a clue what this means, you are not alone. I too struggle to grasp it! Still, it highlights for me our constant need to return to Jesus the Teacher. How do his timeless words speak to the challenges, demands, and opportunities of our time?
Next Sunday the appointed readings of the Lectionary take us back to the Gospel of Matthew from which, over successive weeks, we will hear Jesus’ teaching in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. These teachings, found in chapters 5-7, will challenge us, stretch us, comfort us, and reassure us. They will be epiphanies revealing the true nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, which we advance by living in to in our earthly realm.
We Episcopalians are notorious for loving the bible while never actually reading it on our own. Let me issue an Epiphany challenge: why not set aside ten minutes this week to read the Sermon on the Mount! I know, it means locating your bible, actually opening it, and finding the Gospel of Matthew, which, by the way is the first book in the New Testament, which, by the way, follows all the books of the Old Testament. Chapters 5-7. Most bibles break down each book into chapters and verses. If finding these three particular chapters feels like it is well beyond your skill set, you have two options: either come and see me and let me help you, or do a Google search on “The Sermon on the Mount” and let the instrument requiring a seventh sense take you to the promised land.
We are like those early followers asking Jesus “where are you staying?” In the coming weeks we will learn what happens if we accept Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” We will have the opportunity anew to apply the timeless teachings of the Teacher to our contemporary lives. All the while, we will gather in friendship and fellowship to discern Jesus in our midst as we say prayers, sing hymns, and enjoy one another’s company.