By The Rev. Sherry Deets

3 Epiphany, January 25, 2015

Mark 1:14-20

So, we are in the church season called Epiphany and you recall that Epiphany is an immediate and meaningful understanding of something. Surprising. Sudden. Profound. There are several things I could focus on with our gospel reading this morning, but this time the word ‘immediately’ caught my attention. I think that “immediately” can be less about marking time and more about describing action. Immediately does not only designate a when but a what. Not only a place in time, but an event that changes the meaning of life. Think about your own epiphanies, your own moments of enlightenment. Some immediate, profound understanding that changes the meaning of life as you know it. Granted, the disciples have no clue at this point how life has been changed. But we know, their life is changed.

We what if we take Mark’s immediately seriously. This is not, “wait a few minutes. Let me pack my bag. I have a few more arrangements to make.” No — epiphanies just happen. No preparation. No packing list. No recommendations of what to take, what to do.

And so, Jesus just happens. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee. No time to think. No invitation to take your time. Just go. Here is truly epiphany according to Mark. Epiphanies are untamable and unpredictable. Unexpected and even undeserved.

But maybe we knew this already. We just needed to let it sink in. Mark reminds us that we shouldn’t get too far into Epiphany and get comfortable. There is nothing comfortable about epiphanies. They rock your world.

Anne Lamott, an outstanding Christian writer, tells the raw, truthful story of one of her own life-changing epiphanies: It comes from her book, Traveling Mercies:

In April of 1984, Anne Lamott had an abortion. Anne, writes, “I was sadder than I’d been since my father died, and when [Pammy] brought me home that night, I went upstairs to my loft with a pint of Bushmills and some of the codeine a nurse had given me for pain. I drank until nearly dawn.

Then the next night I did it again, and the next night, although by then the pills were gone.

I didn’t go to the flea market the week of my abortion. I stayed home, and smoked dope and got drunk, and tried to write a little, and went for slow walks along the salt marsh with Pammy. On the seventh night, though, very drunk and just about to take a sleeping pill, I discovered that I was bleeding heavily. It did not stop over the next hour. I was going through a pad every fifteen minutes, and I thought I should call a doctor or Pammy, but I was so disgusted that I had gotten so drunk one week after an abortion that I just couldn’t wake someone up and ask for help. I kept on changing Kotex, and I got very sober very quickly. Several hours later, the blood stopped flowing, and I got in bed, shaky and sad and too wild to have another drink or take a sleeping pill. I had a cigarette and turned off the light. After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actu¬ally turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there—of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.” I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.

Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone. This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the exis¬tence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me.

I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “F*** it: I quit.” I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.”

So this was my beautiful moment of conversion. Anne Lamott’s life was forever and meaningfully changed.

Back to Mark’s gospel. We could spend a lot of time speculating why the disciples followed Jesus. At the end of the day, I am not sure I care. They did. Maybe there was no choice. I don’t know. When we place our emphasis on the immediately we are directed more toward the event and less on the how. I don’t know how. I just know that it happened.

In other words, maybe we tend to overthink Epiphany. Overanalyze the how. Overthink the what. And most certainly, overemphasize the need for our reaction. Epiphanies just happen. There you are — and what will you do? There’s not much time. You just go with it, and see what happens.

Epiphanies, especially of the divine nature, demand an immediate response. There’s no invitation for contemplation or reflection but instantaneous commitment and risk. Or, to put it another way, no real choice. Naming epiphanous moments, describing those times when your response is out of your control, that might be getting close to articulating what happened with the disciples in Mark. If the heavens are ripped apart, well then, get ready for a wild ride. This can be simultaneously freeing and terrifying. Free to respond in the moment. Terrified of what beyond the moment will unfold.

This week, at least according to Mark, Epiphany is when your life is changed forever because Epiphany celebrates, in part, that God was forever changed. God came in the form of a human. God sent his only Son, so that we might have life. Amen.

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