As tonight is the Eve of the Epiphany, we had three readings at Morning Prayer today rather than two. Each of them spoke to me strongly about encouragement and the presence of God right here and right now, with us wherever we go. It fits with the Incarnational theme of the Christmas season: Emmanuel = God with us.
I thought, too, of all my friends in the midst of their GOE's – the General Ordination Exams that seminarians in the Episcopal Church must pass, a series of seven 3.5 hour exams spread over the course of this week. The most encouraging verses here are found in the midst of readings that can be a little rough to read – the anticipation of an invasion and the description of those who have died for their faith, among them – but perhaps that is for the best, as it is in the midst of the difficult that we need the reminder that God will be with us, close at hand through it all.
And so I would like to share these with you all, for them and for you and for me, that we might continue our journey knowing that, like the Magi, we will find God here, in the midst of the ordinary, where God's weakness is stronger than our strength and God's love greater than anything we can ask or imagine.
This morning's readings:
Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 2:1-2a
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5
And my mind automatically continues to verses 9 and 16b
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.
Here is the whole passage that I hear in my mind, John 15:1-17. Hear it and be encouraged today.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.