Draw Me a Sheep, Epiphany 2 (B) – January 14, 2018

[RCL] 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic work The Little Prince, the narrator is a pilot who crash lands his plane in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Miles from civilization, the pilot assumes he will only last as long as his water supply, but one morning he is awakened by a funny little voice that says, “Draw me a sheep.” When he turns and sees an extraordinary little prince, he stares at him in disbelief. The pilot asks the boy where he came from, but the prince just says, “Please…draw me a sheep.”

The pilot complies, or at least he tries to, but the first sheep he draws looks “too sickly.” The prince asks for another. The second sheep has horns, so the prince specifies that he wants a sheep, not a ram. The pilot draws a third sheep, but that one looks too old. Finally, perhaps in some frustration, the pilot draws a box with three holes in the side and says, “The sheep you want is inside.”

To his surprise, the prince says, “That’s just the kind I wanted!” And this first, whimsical encounter with the little prince is one of many in a journey that takes the pilot—and the reader—from contentment in the familiar to joy in an adventure.

Many of the disciples have notable and even whimsical first encounters with Jesus, but none more than Nathanael. Nathanael is minding his own business when Philip runs up screaming that he has found the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about, “And he’s from Nazareth of all places!”

“Nazareth?” Nathanael says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip simply invites him, “Come and see for yourself!”

So, Nathanael follows, and before he can shake hands with this stranger from the backwaters of first-century Palestine, Jesus raises his arms and exclaims, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

While some people are masters of flattery, Jesus offers no shallow compliments here—he sees Nathanael and Nathanael knows it. “How do you know me?” Nathanael asks.

Jesus responds, “I saw you under the fig tree even before Philip told you about me.”

To our surprise, Nathanael proclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

In one moment, Nathanael moves from his narrow ideas and contentment in the familiar to embracing the joy that is possible in an adventure following Jesus. But what is it about this whimsical encounter that makes Nathanael change his tune so dramatically?

There was a common metaphor used for the religious institution of Jesus’ time—that of the fig tree. Fig trees produce fruit right along with leaves, and in an occurrence found in Mark and Matthew, Jesus comes upon a fig tree chockablock full of leaves. He goes to pick some fruit and finds that there is none to be picked. Whatever pollination is necessary for fruit to be produced did not happen.

The same thing seemed to be true of the religious institution Jesus critiqued—all of the bells and whistles were there, but the fruits were not.

Jesus knew that Nathanael shared this perception of those religious institutions, and Jesus knew that Nathanael was familiar with the fig tree metaphor—one that was likely as common as referring to Washington, D.C. as “the swamp.” Nathanael knew that the fig tree he was “under” needed some pruning, and in few words, Jesus seemed to promise help with such an endeavor.

Nathanael is blown away, but the excitement does not stop. Jesus asks Nathanael, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these…you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

What do you suppose that might look like? If you had to draw the scene of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, what might that look like? More than a fantastic image, Jesus’ image alludes to Jacob—who was called “Israel” after his wrestling match with God. Like the metaphor of the fig tree, Nathanael would have immediately understood the connection to Jacob, who is said to have dreamt of a ladder reaching to heaven with God at the top. On the ladder, there are angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven.

Knowing this story of Jacob, Nathanael would have understood Jesus to be saying that he would be the one to reestablish the joyful relationship between the people on earth and God in heaven. Jesus would not do away with anything but would fulfill everything. Jesus would make it so that no person or institution could ever get in the way of God doing what God is going to do to bring about total reconciliation throughout the world and all of the created universe.

The Church—the Body of Christ—is said to have been birthed at Pentecost. Some people claim that Easter is the birth of the Church, and many speak of Christmas as that beginning. We may also consider that the birth of the Church happens whenever someone accepts that curious invitation to “come and see” what God is up to in the world today.

As participants in a faith community, we too have opportunities to join God in what God is doing. Often those opportunities lead us down unfamiliar paths. Sometimes those opportunities require that we take a good, hard look at ourselves and correct our path. Sometimes we simply need to find our spirits nourished and our energies renewed. More often than not, we can find ourselves somewhere in a cycle that moves us from contentment in the familiar ways of our world into a whimsical curiosity, in an adventure that promises us joyful results.

Jesus invited Nathanael on a journey that would take him all around the region and eventually right up to Jerusalem to encounter the powers of the day. There was no hour-by-hour itinerary, but there was a promise of joy and hope in helping to usher in a world that could be—God’s kingdom come.

Jesus does not offer us as much information about what following him will look like. Not unlike Saint-Exupéry’s pilot depicting a sheep by drawing a box with holes in the side, Jesus promises us an adventure and a chance to imagine together what following Jesus might look like. We will define what turns our journeys take, but we can only do that once we accept that curious, whimsical invitation: the invitation to “come and see.”

The Rev’d Curtis Farr serves with the good people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fairfield, Connecticut as their rector. In his spare time, he chases his dog Eleanor Roosevelt (Elly) around the house as she attempts to make off with one of his Batman comics.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 2 (B).

Let your heart be light, 2 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

“You will see greater things than these.”

Like Nathanael, we are all looking for signs. We search high and low, near and far, for some confirmation that God is with us. When really, as Jesus says to Nathanael, we will see greater things, if only we will open the eyes of our hearts.

It can be as easy as listening to a song. Judy Garland, in the 1944 MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” introduced a song by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine called “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”:

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.”

As much as some decry the commercialization of Christmas, in the end, letting our hearts be light is really what it’s all about. And Epiphany is a season of light – a time to reflect on just how our hearts and our lives can be light.

On Christmas Day, the reading from the Gospel of John said: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This Second Sunday of Epiphany, we pray: “Christ is the Light of the World. … Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.”

And on the First Sunday After Christmas, we prayed: “Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.”

“Enkindle”: to stir up, fire up, inspire, rouse, awaken, ignite, instill, incite! It is all a way of saying that the Incarnation in which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us – and does so by taking up residence in our hearts – the Light that is the Life of all people resides within us, at our center. He makes a home in our hearts.

This light of each person is not meant for themselves, but meant for all, that all might see better the other gifts of creation. It is what Jesus talks about when he urges us not to hide this light, not to put it under a bushel, but to put it on a lamp stand so it will give light to the whole household – which in biblical terms always means “the Household of God.”

The word for “household” in Greek is oiko – from which we get words such as “economy,” oiko-nomos, the law of the household, and “ecology,” oiko-logie, study of the household, understood as the environment in which we live.

The idea is that we have all been given the gift of Light, which is the Life of the world, Jesus. And giving it away, letting go of what we already have, is what gives us eternal life in return. It is the Light of Life. This Light is what unites us with God in Christ. And it is meant to give Light and Life to the whole world, everyone, all people.

To hold onto this Light, to hold onto our gifts, results in a world that is upside down from God’s view of things. So God comes to us as Jesus to turn us right-side up again.

We have difficulties with all this. We find it difficult to believe God would give us a gift at all – so we hold onto it for dear life lest God stop giving us his Word, his Sacraments, his Light and his Life.

Little do we suspect what difficulties this holding on causes for others in the household. So much so that others begin to find it difficult to see the Light that shines within them. This causes the entire household to slip into darkness, a return to the darkness that covered the whole of the face of the deep, before God spoke and there was Light.

Yet, we are those people who believe and pray that this Light is already enkindled, instilled, stirred up within all hearts everywhere. We need to believe what we pray and what God’s Word and sacraments mean to instill and enkindle in our own hearts.

The story is told of the preacher who went about town preaching, “Put God into your life. Put God into your life!” But the rabbi of the town said, “Our task is not to put God into our lives. God is already there. Our task is simply to realize that!”

God is the ground of our being. The relationship between God and creature is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. God is always at home. It was Meister Eckhart, a 13th-century German theologian, who reminded us that we are the ones who are not at home. We are not at home, even within ourselves.

Know that little by little – it takes time – Jesus will reveal to you how much he is at home with you.

He calls you to follow him
So that you may do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit.
The world needs you, the Church needs you, Jesus needs you.
They need your love and your Light.
There is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives.
This is a deep secret you are called to live.
Let Jesus live in you.
Go forward with him!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, a blessed Epiphany season – and let your heart be light.

Amen.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

We all do what we can, 2 Epiphany (B) – 2012

January 15, 2012

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Hannah was barren. She could not have children. In the ancient times, this was a disgrace, but her husband loved her and did not care. Hannah cared. She stood deeply ashamed in the presence of other women. She was an underdog.

Like so many of us who turn to the Lord when we need help, Hannah turned to the Lord God, the friend of the underdog. The Lord heard Hannah’s prayer.

Eli was the priest on duty when Hannah petitioned God, and he announced, “God has granted your petition. You will have a baby.”

Within the next year, Hannah gave birth to a son, Samuel. When Hannah returned the next year to pray, she did the unthinkable: she donated Samuel to God, leaving him behind to be raised by Eli. In dedicating Samuel to God, Hannah proclaimed: “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”

Years later, this same Samuel anointed Saul and David as kings over Israel. It was to the boy Samuel, only 12 years old, to whom God spoke today’s strange prophecy of judgment. This prophecy was his first, and he didn’t quite know what to do with it. After all, the prophecy was directed at his adopted father, Eli, his mentor and caretaker.

“Here I am,” Samuel answered God, who spoke out loud. How terrifying it must have been for a boy to hear God’s harsh judgment from dark corners of the night.

That is the “Old” Testament, isn’t it? Dark corners, rash judgment, and cruel penalties? Perhaps, but consider, well, the “rest of the story.”

Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord, just like their father. Unlike their father, they were bad priests. “Scoundrels,” Scripture dubs them.

These scoundrels stole the meat people sacrificed to God so they could eat a steak dinner. Far worse, they raped the women of – essentially – the altar guild, the women who served at the tent of meeting.

Eli tried to stop them. He attempted that wonderful and oh-so-effective parenting method: he talked to them. They ignored Eli, and I feel certain that they did not respect him, either. Eli should have stripped Hophni and Phinehas of their priesthood and kicked them out; but he did not.

Because Eli would not do anything meaningful, God had to. God may be longsuffering, but God will not tolerate abuse of power forever. God is a friend to the oppressed, the abused, the hungry, and the destitute. To this day, God assumes the cause of the oppressed, the abused, the hungry, and the destitute. Note Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, sent by God to set people free. Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa. Prophets who spoke God’s word they discovered in the dark corners of the night.

Here is a story about a fellow named John. John was homeless, although he did claim as his the city block in front of a downtown office tower. John kept an eye on the tower, watching people come and go on his block, familiarizing himself with their faces. One professional man made a deep impression on John. He was always impeccably dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, Johnston Murphy shoes, and silver cufflinks.

John assumed correctly that the fellow worked on the top floor of the office tower. One day, John decided to ask the man his burning question. As the fellow arrived at his usual time, John jumped up from his spot over the grate, and stood in front of the man so he would have to stop.

“Excuse me. Uh, excuse me.”

The professional was astonished that John had stopped him and was speaking to him. Homeless people seldom spoke to him, except to ask for a dollar.

“Excuse me. I just, well, I have to know.” The man debated anger, feigned indifference, and wondered curiously at John.

“Uh, can you, can you people up there, way up top – can you people see us way down here from up there? On the street? Can you see us?”

That is the same question you may have asked God. “Can you see me, God, from way up there?”

Or – the underdog in me wants to know – will you assume my cause? God, do you care? Like the disciples speaking to Jesus in the boat on the angry sea, Don’t you care that we are going to die?

Do you care that I am lonely, that I feel oppressed? Do you care that my marriage is on the rocks, that I need a job. God, can you see me from way up there?

Only God is not way up in some lofty tower of heaven, but here, this close, mobilizing heaven and earth on your behalf. Mobilizing star and cherubim, mountain and seraphim, to rescue you, to free you from oppression. Just like God freed those abused by Hophni and Phinehas. The friend to the underdog.

But – what of those on the top floor?

What happens when the Christian becomes the oppressor, what then?

Christian commentator, Martin Marty, tells the story of attending an historian’s convention. The presenter spoke about Southern clergy in 1861. Most clergy, it seems, were surprisingly moral and devout men, educated and caring pastors, and thoughtful preachers. To a person, these devout men defended human slavery, claiming it to be a response to divine mandates and will, authorized Biblically.

“Well,” Martin and his colleagues later agreed. “That was one blind group of clergy.” How could these men have been so blind?

One among Martin’s colleagues, however, stopped the conversation and asked each of them to write on a piece of paper the issue that would make people a century from now ask the same of us, “How could they have been so blind?”

Each of Martin’s colleagues wrote that we are quite blind when it comes to our own underclass, those who do the heavy lifting for us – the laborers, and I don’t mean the laborers at the Ford factory, but the Mexican immigrants, the men and women working in your garden, changing your hotel sheets. What about those people?

Martin and his colleagues acknowledged quickly that they, good Christians, have blind spots. It is what the 99 percent is saying of the one percent.

In many ways throughout our lives, we are the oppressed, either literally or figuratively. Those times of seeming oppression are easy for us to see clearly. What we don’t see are the many instances in which we, albeit accidentally, assume the role of oppressor.

Think about it. There is an AIDS epidemic in the developing world that will make as many as one-third of Africans orphaned. We – the rich nations – have the drugs to help, to do something monumental about this. But mostly, we do not. Not really. Spare change, but that’s about it.

Likewise, we are aware of our excessive consumption and its effect on the world – not just environmentally, but the pace at which we are using up resources. But we do not do much about it. It’s like seeing a big black Cadillac Escalade sporting a bumper sticker with the words “Save the Earth.”

The irony that we are the oppressors is lost on us. We live at the top of the office tower, but as those at the top, do we see those people way down there?

Tomorrow we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe you will attend an event, maybe you won’t. I hope you will honor the prophet in him, the man who rejected society’s blindness and assumed the vision of God, the man who called an entire nation to repentance, to change, to see itself more clearly. On such a day as tomorrow, we can do more than remember this prophet of God; we can re-enact him, his honesty, his desire for equality, the realization that there is no artificial tower, and that we are all in need of God’s grace. We can regain the promise that when one of us hurts, we all hurt together. We all do what we can.

— The Rev. Rob Gieselmann is the interim rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Belvedere, California. Before entering the ministry, Rob practiced law for ten years, he is the author of The Episcopal Call to Love (Apocryphile Press, 2008), and is the father of two wonderful children.

Becoming the presence of Jesus, 2 Epiphany (B) – 2009

January 18, 2009

(RCL) 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Today’s gospel reading is a delicious story. We encounter enthusiasm, prejudice, and extraordinary insight all in one short story. It is sometimes good for us to remember that we get above ourselves when we regard the people of our Lord’s day as being so inferior to ourselves as not to be taken too seriously. Obviously we know a good deal more than they did about all sorts of things. Yet we share not only a common humanity but those very same traits that enliven and sometimes sully our day-to-day lives. Philip and Nathanael are not unlike you and me, prone to bursts of enthusiasm and almost unconscious prejudice.

Philip’s encounter with Jesus was obviously dramatic and life changing. Jesus was direct. He met Philip and told him to join Jesus’ small band of followers. There may have been more to the encounter that added to the extraordinary excitement that sent Philip off to find Nathanael, but however long or short the encounter, Philip was hooked. So off he ran to find his friend.

Nathanael thinks Philip is crazy. To a pure Jew, the inhabitants of Nazareth were not only country folk with a country accent, they were a racially mixed community. The same sort of prejudice that we encounter, and perhaps exhibit in unguarded moments, caused Nathanael to blurt out, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?”

It is interesting that the writer of the fourth gospel includes this detail. There’s no attempt to whitewash the resumes of the disciples. Despite our stained-glass windows and their depictions of the first Christians, we encounter them as real people, warts and all. How could Jesus choose people who demonstrate the same failings we meet in human beings in our daily lives? How could Jesus choose us?

Philip risked rejection when he tackled Nathanael. He risked being embarrassed. Today, in our setting, he would risk being accused of trying to force his religion on others, of being “evangelical” or even a crank. Yet Philip seemed to be sure that if he could get Nathanael to meet Jesus, he would be convinced that even if this Jesus was the son of Joseph from Nazareth he was also the person Jews had hoped for since Moses.

Jesus saw in Nathanael a character that was totally honest and probably blunt, “an Israelite in whom is no guile.” That description is about all we shall know about Nathanael, except that he was probably also called Bartholomew – and that he had a low view of people from Nazareth.

We usually associate St. Peter as the follower of Jesus who blurted out that Jesus was the Messiah, the one yearned for, the one sent from God to establish the Kingdom. Yet in this story, a new convert, amazed that Jesus knew where he came from – under the fig tree where Philip found him – blurts out, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answers Nathanael by recalling the story of Jacob and Bethel, who placed his head on a stone, dreamed that he wrestled with an angel and saw angels ascending and descending on what seemed to be a ladder. This all seems pretty obscure to us, but to a faithful Jew, the story of Jacob is one of redemption and calling, of God reaching into a human life in a transforming way. Bethel means “the place of God.”

In our baptisms, we too encountered the living God. A “Philip” cared enough about us to bring us to the place where God is, the thin place which was there was a font or basin filled with water made holy by priestly blessing, our Bethel. Perhaps our Bethel is the church where we worship today. In our baptism, Jesus or “God with us” looked into our souls and judged us to be the person he was calling. Like the disciples, like Nathanael, we had the potential to be, or were if we were baptized as adults, the sort of person Jesus calls to be his intimate followers.

A great Anglican theologian of the 16th century, Richard Hooker, described all worship as our encounter with angels ascending and descending. Or to put it simply, it is the action in which we participate in the worship of heaven and experience the sort of fellowship we hope one day to experience after death.

But the thrust of our lessons today is that we are now “in eternal life” as the priestly absolution puts it in the Eucharist. We are forgiven our sins in order that we may be kept in Eternal Life. In forgiveness, in being looked into by Jesus just as Nathanael was looked into, we encounter the power to be changed. Jesus looks at us and says, “I saw you in your garage” or “I saw you at the supermarket.”

We are challenged to blurt out our faith that even though Jesus was from northern Israel centuries ago, he is the Son of God and he is our King. With that challenge comes the bounden duty and service of representing Jesus to others. He calls us because he knows us. To him, “all hearts are open, all desires are known and from him no secrets are hid.” He sees our potential and our prejudices, our talents, and our sins; and chooses us.

That is amazing. If the Messiah can be born in the backwaters of Nazareth in a mixed community, anyone can live in Jesus as he lives in us.

Jesus calls us to be Nathanaels, whose prejudice about people in the past, whom we look down on in our 21st century hubris, can be changed by an encounter with the Lord. Today we encounter Jesus at the font in baptism and Sunday by Sunday in bread and wine, those simple elements, like a stone, in which we may encounter the living God.

Such an encounter calls us to engage people in the totality of their being, whatever their race, background, class, wealth, or poverty, and to bring them to Jesus. Bringing people to Jesus is evangelism, but a whole evangelism for Jesus cares about poverty, disease, hurt, grief and sin, and calls us to be agents who cooperate with him as his Kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven.”

We do this by becoming the presence of Jesus and as we touch life where we find it and become healers, feeders, lovers, and redeemers.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also dean of the Michigan City deanery.

You ain’t seen nothing yet, 2 Epiphany (B) – 2006

January 15, 2006

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

We’ve all heard little kids holler at each other, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” For a mother, that phrase can be horrifying because it usually means the kids are doing something like hanging upside down on a tree branch they had to climb pretty high to reach in the first place or daring each other to eat something totally disgusting to human beings. However, if the kid who throws down the gauntlet of “you ain’t seen nothing yet” is successful in doing something extraordinary – whether it’s safe or not – well, that kid can gain a lot of respect.

But of course, that’s kid stuff. Then again, that’s almost what Jesus was saying to Nathanael in today’s Gospel passage. “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. . . . Truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Nathanael has just been surprised that Jesus recognized him at all, but then Jesus says, in a manner of speaking, “You think that’s amazing? You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

For us, this image of angel traffic between heaven and earth might at first seem pleasant, perhaps a little sweet. But it probably at once meant something deeper to Nathanael. He’d know well the Old Testament story of Jacob’s dream, where Jacob saw a ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down. Nathanael might also have noticed the difference in the image Jesus used. Jesus said the angels were going up and down not on a ladder, but on the Son of Man – a subtle, but very important, difference. In both instances, the image of angelic traffic points to the connection between heaven and earth, the connection between God and God’s creatures. But in the image Jesus used, that connection between God and us resides in the person of Jesus. Jacob’s dream becomes very personal for us all.

This is good news – this connection – because Jesus’ challenge to Nathanael comes in the midst of Jesus’ gathering his disciples, and Nathanael is welcome to join the group. Today we might say it was his call to ministry. Nathanael, “an Israelite without guile,” has evidently been a faithful Jew, one who probably studied the Torah with seriousness. But Jesus is saying, “There’s more.” Nathanael can go even deeper into an understanding of what Torah calls him to; he can learn even more about God. Jesus’ mission is to show God’s people who God is. As we sing in the hymn “Songs of thankfulness and praise,” Jesus is “God in man made manifest.”

This is very good news – this connection between heaven and earth, this connection between God and God’s people. It’s not a new connection. It didn’t begin with the coming of Jesus. Our Old Testament passage for today is also a call-to-ministry story. It’s so easy to love this story of the boy Samuel. We love to picture little Samuel waking his teacher Eli because he heard someone calling him. “Go back to bed,” Eli keeps saying, until he finally figures out that the Lord is calling Samuel. After Eli tells Samuel what to say the next time he heard the voice, we might imagine that Eli was thinking, in a manner of speaking, “Well, kid, you ain’t seen nothing yet!” And indeed, Samuel was given a difficult job for a young boy – the job of speaking God’s truth to Eli.

From the beginning, God has offered this connection between heaven and earth to God’s people. The ladder has always been there. The means to connect with God by living as godly people has always been there. It’s we who have failed to see it or even ignored it. In her wonderful book The Dream of God, Verna Dozier writes, “Both the people of the Torah and the people of the resurrection were escaping from God’s awesome invitation to be something new in the world.” This connection to God means we must constantly be open to “new-ness” – to being re-newed, to seeing anew every day the needs of God’s people around us, to being open to the new directions our spiritual lives may go if we dare to become that ladder.

Can we even go there? Could we ever presume to be so connected to God that we could take that very creative image of ladders and angels and say our example of godly living might become a ladder for others? I hope so, because that is, I think, what God offered Jacob in his dream and what Jesus offered Nathanael face to face. This makes sense if we remember that Jesus constantly reminded his followers, and so us, that what he was doing, they and us would have to continue.

So, if we do dare, it will be an adventure. On the facade of the great abbey church in Bath, England, are two immense ladders, carved in stone, stretching from the top of the front doors to the roof. A number of angels are carved on the ladders, but it’s quite an interesting crowd of angels. Most are intent on climbing upward, but several are looking over their shoulders as if to encourage those behind. There are a couple, however, on each ladder that seem to have gotten turned completely around and look as if they’re hanging on by their toes upside down.

They’re wonderfully funny angels, but they’re also strangely comforting. Daring to be that ladder ourselves doesn’t mean we’ll always be perfect. Nathanael probably wasn’t always perfect in his ministry as one of Jesus’ disciples. Samuel probably wasn’t always perfect in his ministry as one of God’s prophets. We won’t always be perfect in our own vocations. Some days we may feel like we’re not much of a ladder, but those are the days we must remember that Jesus’ mission was to show us who God is and how much God loves us. In another great hymn, “When Jesus went to Jordan’s stream,” we sing, “the Triune God is thus made known in Christ as love unending.” In love, God offers us reconciliation. In love, God offers us a chance to right ourselves and continue in our work of building up the kingdom. In other words, our lives are to become increasingly an epiphany of God.

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.