Epiphanies and Theophanies

Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11

Author Annie Dillard advises that we should wear crash helmets and lash ourselves to the pews, when we come to worship.  You never know when the Living God will show up in all God’s glory. Today’s scriptures describe God showing up to dramatically change lives in the Jerusalem Temple and on the Sea of Galilee.

I’m a student of Celtic Christian spirituality. Scotland is the homeland of my mother’s family, the Macmillan clan, and the Scots often speak of holy places, thin places, special spots – craggy rocks, lakes, groves of trees, and islands – where the boundary between heaven and earth is erased, and earthly life becomes a revelation of God.  In Scotland and England, there is Landisfarne, Findhorn, Glastonbury, the fabled Avalon, and the Isle of Iona.  In Jerusalem, it was – and still is – the Temple.

The year King Uzziah died, Isaiah goes to the temple.  He knows it’s a special place, and so he is seeking comfort and guidance in a time of national turmoil – the great king is dead and people are anxious about the nation’s future, this little postage-stamp kingdom, between the empires of Egypt and Babylon.

We don’t fully know Isaiah’s state of mind.  But, he got more than he expected that day.  The Holy One shows up, the foundations shake, angels chant, and Isaiah is terrified.  We don’t know if he is alone or in a crowd, but he is the only one who experiences the veil between earth and heaven pierced.  “The whole earth is full God’s glory,” the angels sing and in response, Isaiah stammers, “Woe is me, I am sinful man among sinful people.”  Confronted by the glory of God, Isaiah feels his finitude; he is nothing and God is everything; and before God, even Isaiah’s goodness seems inadequate.

No doubt, he wants to hide. But, who can hide from God’s glory?  And, who can evade God’s call?  In his terror, he hears a question – God’s question to him – “whom shall we send?  Who will speak to this people?”

Despite, his fear and trembling Isaiah says “Yes.  Here I am, send me.”  As inadequate as he may be to speak for God, Isaiah is chosen, energized, purified, and sent on a mission.

Those whom God calls, whether young children or aged adults, are always given a vision, and the energy and guidance to achieve it.

No one predict when God will show up.  Even on a bad day, the Holy One can confront you with a possibility, or dream, that goes beyond your wildest imagination.  Peter was depressed that day.  He’d fished all night and caught nothing, and in those days – when people often lived from one day to the next economically – no fish might have meant no food for his family.  And, then Jesus shows up, with an audacious request.  “Go back to work.  Launch out into deep waters.”  And then, he hauls in more fish than he’d ever caught, and Peter is overwhelmed.

All of us can have bad days.  We lose our work on the computer, our car breaks down, our children or grandchildren tear up the house, we get in a fight with a friend or spouse, we realize we’ve really messed up in a relationship or business situation, we do something stupid and will have to pay the piper.  And yet, these vulnerable moments can become “thin places,” where God breaks in to show us a new way of life, a new calling or possibility.

Yes, Peter is overwhelmed.  “Stay away, I’m a sinner,”  he cries out. He’s not confessing how bad he is or the mistakes he’s made.  Peter is realizing that he has been confronted by God and he’s totally unprepared and frightened about what lies ahead.  God’s call, at first glance, may be more than we feel we’re up to – in terms of our personal gifts and talents, our ethics, our spiritual life, or our past history.  And, yet, God calls, “follow me,” and somehow Peter responds.

In another book, Annie Dillard describes her childhood hobby of planting magic pennies on the sidewalk in front of her house.  She hoped passersby would find them, rejoice at this gift of the universe, and delight in their good fortune.  As an adult, Dillard confesses that unbeknownst to her that she was imitating God, who plants magic pennies everywhere, whose glory revealed in all things, but we’re simply too busy to notice.

One of my spiritual mentors Gerald May advises those who seek God’s wisdom and guidance to pause, notice, open, stretch, and then respond.  God moments are everywhere, and sometimes we notice.  Carl Jung, one the great psychiatrists of our time, describes these moments in terms of synchronicity, “meaningful coincidence.”  Leslie Weatherhead, the well-known British preacher of the twentieth century, notes that “when I pray, coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t.”

Deep down, we all want more abundant life, even if it asks something from us.  Deep down, we want more meaning and joy, more energy and love, a sense that what we are doing really matters.  We want, as the bumper sticker counsels, to “keep sublime alive.”

Isaiah and Peter remind us that beauty, wonder, energy, grace, and love abound – the whole earth is full of God’s glory and a bountiful blessing is hidden in plain sight.

This is pure grace.  We don’t have to do anything.  It’s already here. Open to what God is doing, to the wonder of life – pause and notice – and then when you hear a whispered word, say “yes” and your path will be holy, your days filled with wonder, and your life filled with meaning.