Have you ever experienced an epiphany?
And not the Epiphany we celebrated last week.
I am not talking about the coming of the magi.
I mean an epiphany, a moment of sudden revelation or insight.
They happen to us all.
Sometimes we are looking for them,
a researcher toiling away looking for the answer to a problem,
like Einstein working at the patent office
and gaining insight into relativity through the most mundane tasks. Sometimes, we’ve just been mulling over
a thorny problem closer to home, when suddenly –
like a cartoon lightbulb, “aha!” the light goes on over our heads.
We all have those moments.
More often, though, it seems like epiphanies come
when we are not looking for them.
You read a great line in a book;
you witness a horrible accident;
you hear a difficult diagnosis,
or hold a loved one’s hand as they leave this life –
and everything changes.
You start to see the world in a different light;
you’ve learned, and grown, and colors change,
edges become more defined,
and though you never realized the world was out of focus before,
suddenly, it becomes clearer.
We don’t often go looking for world-changing epiphanies,
because – if we’re honest –
we’re pretty happy with things they way they are.
We are happy with the picture the way it is.
We are not looking for greater understanding.
We are not looking for a sharper image.
We’re just looking to get through the day.
One of my favorite quotes is from Helen Keller.
She said, “The only thing worse than being blind
is having sight but no vision.”
We have the ability to see, but choose not to… that’s the real shame.
When I was a kid, I met a guy by the name of Rodney.
Rodney was a street preacher.
He was the kind of guy that carries around the cross
and preaches from the street corner.
The kind of guy that most people think is crazy.
Like those guys we see in movies,
standing on street corners,
holding signs about how the end of the world is upon us.
Those guys seem pretty crazy
right up until everyone finds out
about the earth’s impending collision with an asteroid.
So Rodney was a guy kinda like that –
without the impending asteroid, that is!
…at least that was my impression
when I saw him with his big bushy beard
and long hippie hair playing guitar
on a street corner in my home town.
In fact I probably would have written him off completely
and forgotten he was even there
except that he was playing a guitar…
I’ve always had a thing for guitars.
But Rodney was a street preacher
and he hung around our town for a bit
so I suppose it was inevitable
that one day on my way to the lake front to swim with my friends that I would come across Rodney’s path.
He wasn’t playing guitar that day, no he was preaching,
talking to people. Telling them about their sin
and about hell and about Jesus being their only hope.
I only stopped because I saw the guitar case.
I thought, maybe, he might pull it out and play a bit.
And I had waited too long
because by the time I realized he wasn’t going to play any music
everyone else had walked away and it was just me and Rodney.
Rodney took my presence
as me being interested in his message.
Apparently he didn’t see me looking covetously at his guitar case.
He spent a little time trying to lead me to Jesus.
I nodded politely but told him I wasn’t interested
but that he had given me some things to think about…
like trying to get my parents to buy me a guitar.
in order to get out of the uncomfortable conversation politely,
I agreed to let him pray for me.
And he prayed that one day my eyes would be opened
and I would see the reality of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
He said some other stuff too,
but that is the gist of what I remember about that prayer.
He prayed that I would see,
that I would see clearly the reality of God around me.
While my eyes would remain closed for a few more years after that,
these days I mark that experience
as my first realization that God was calling me
to faith and to service.
My epiphany came much later,
but looking back through the lens of time,
I can clearly see God at work in my life even then.
God is at work in our scriptures this morning in much the same way. Jesus is calling disciples to follow him.
Now the interesting thing here
is there is no miracle preceding the calling.
These disciples have no sign or wonder
to prove to them who Jesus is at first.
Andrew begins to follow Jesus
because John the Baptist saw Jesus pass by
and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”
Andrew just starts following but before they go too far,
Andrew runs back to get his brother Simon and tells him,
“We have found the messiah!”
and so Simon comes running to see.
And before Simon utters a word,
Jesus looks at him and says,
“You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Peter.”
And then they all head off to Galilee.
Now I don’t know about you
but that all seems a bit crazy to me.
I am sure there were lots of things said
that are not written here,
but this progression just staggers me.
Imagine if you were to introduce one friend to another
and one of them says.. oh, your name is John, nahhh,
I’m just gonna go ahead and call you Bill.
It’d be a funny scene.
A great story to tell, but then, John (now Bill)
decides to hang out with the friend who changed his name
all the time and follows him around all over the place.
That’d be pretty weird.
But similar things keep happening.
On the way to Galilee they run into Philip.
Jesus looks at Philip and says “Follow me” and Philip does,
but while they are going on the road,
Philip runs off to find Nathanael and tells him,
“We have found the one about whom Moses
and the law and prophets wrote. Jesus of Nazareth.”
Nathanael, finally, has a logical reaction to this news.
He says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Now that could have been
because Nathanael’s town of Cana and Nazareth
had rival football teams,
but it’s more likely that Nazareth
was still a nowhere town with hardly anyone living there.
It wasn’t a spot on anybody’s map at that time.
But Nathanael comes,
and here we see the first expression,
the first inkling, of Jesus’ power.
Jesus makes a statement
about the impeccable honesty of Nathanael
and Nathanael asks Jesus how it is that Jesus knows him.
Jesus tells him that he saw him under the fig tree
before Philip called him.
And we can only assume that this fig tree was a long way off
and somehow hidden
or a place that no one knew Nathanael hung out at
because of his response to Jesus.
“Teacher you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.”
Jesus responds to that statement with a question and a promise.
“Do you believe because I told you 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.”
All of these disciples followed
not because they saw a miracle,
but because they were called.
And they followed long before they knew what Jesus’ program was and they even began inviting others.
And they didn’t run off to invite the elders
and the scribes or the pharisees.
They went and called their friends and neighbors
and strangers and invited them to come
and experience the messiah.
And we can all learn from that example,
that as we follow Jesus we need to keep calling people,
keep inviting people to come and follow too.
Today though I want us to focus on that promise.
“You will see greater things.”
We can look at this story and wonder
what it is that is making these people follow.
What it is that compels them to drop their lives
and follow this man of Nazareth.
And it is in this promise I think we have our answer.
As we come into contact with Jesus, we see greater things.
We see things that we cannot see apart from Jesus.
When the disciples entered Jesus’ presence,
the brights got brighter, the contrasts crisper,
the image began to sharpen and clarify
and they could see more clearly then they ever had before.
When Rodney’s prayer was eventually answered,
when my eyes were opened and I began to truly follow Jesus,
I remember telling a friend of mine
how the world around me seemingly switched
from black and white to full color.
So many things began to make sense that didn’t before.
Before I came to faith,
before my eyes were opened,
I saw what the world told me to see.
Go to school. Get good grades.
Go to college. Get good grades.
Get a good job. Make lots of money.
That was the life plan. That was the goal.
That was what me and all my friends and classmates
believed life was about.
Get good grades and make lots of money. And then Jesus said… follow me and you will see greater things.
And I did. And all of that changed.
I saw greater things. And continue to do so.
The closer we are to Jesus the more clearly,
more vividly we can see the world around us.
When you walk with Jesus you realize,
as Confucius said,
“Everything has beauty, not everyone can see it.”
Take a look at the front of your bulletin for a second. Now, you can tell what the picture is,
you can probably even read the words but it is all still a little blurry. We can make it out but just barely.
Now put on those high fashion spectacles that came in your bulletin today and look at the cover.
The edges get crisper.
The image takes on a dimension
that you couldn’t see before.
There is something more to the image that cannot be seen without the glasses.
Just like there is beauty,
there are parts of this world and our existence that cannot be seen without following Jesus, without drawing close to him.
And friends, the closer we follow,
the longer we follow, the clearer our vision becomes,
the more our vision aligns with Jesus
and we can see the world in all its beauty,
and we can see, even in the chaos,
the beauty that is to come.
The choices we have to make become less daunting.
We learn to choose to put others before ourselves.
We learn to choose to help and serve
the poor and the outcast first. Over self.
Because we are able to see clearly
that these are the places where God is working.
And the contrast also becomes that much more stark.
The line between good and evil becomes much clearer.
The approaching darkness becomes apparent,
and we are that much better equipped
to stand against that darkness.
Because we see it all so clearly,
it is harder for us to ignore it
and easier for us to say enough is enough.
Easier for each of us to give a bit more
or live on a bit less
so that the poor can have a bit more to live on.
With 3D Jesus, though –
when it comes to seeing more fully,
to seeing the world through God’s eyes –
it’s not as simple as putting on a pair of glasses
from the movie theater.
It is a daily, hourly, minute by minute choice to follow,
a choice to strive to see as Jesus sees.
It is a commitment to follow wherever Jesus leads
no matter where that may be.
The only thing worse than being blind
is having sight and no vision.
This has always been true, and keeps getting truer.
It seems like a daily occurrence now
to hear or see some deplorable thing or another
come spewing out of our nation’s capitol.
Things that many of our neighbors
are unwilling or unable to see
because it isn’t Jesus they are following.
Whoever they follow, if it isn’t Jesus,
can only serve to make the picture blurrier.
They smudge the edges so that anger and hatred
are all they seem to know.
The best way for us to help them see,
is for us to work on our own eyesight more and more.
The clearer we can see
the more clearly we can describe the truth
to those who cannot see it.
The closer we are to Jesus
the easier it is to call out to those neighbors
and invite them to meet Jesus,
and let Jesus heal their broken sight.
When we know someone
or meet someone with vision problems, we try to help them –
we help them navigate around obstacles
and through the world –
we try to help them get glasses
or corrective surgery or anything else
that might help them see better –
and we hope that they will either find their sight restored,
or they will learn to move through a world they can’t see.
It’s the same with our neighbors who are spiritually blind,
with those who can’t see what is so clear to us:
we try to help them,
we try to help them feel the shape of obstacles and challenges
and truths that are hidden from their sight;
we try to help the true shape of things come into focus for them;
and we pray that the Healer,
who is so much greater than we are,
will take the scales from their eyes, so that they might truly see.
And we also remember
that we might not always get it right…
we remember that often there is a deeper truth,
and we make a point to look closely,
to take a second look,
to ask God to help us see things
and people as they truly are,
and to live based on what we find there.
So please, take those glasses home.
Keep them as a reminder
that there is always more for us to see in the world.
And keep responding to the call of Jesus.
Keep following him
and keep striving to see the greater things. Amen? Amen.