Epiphanies: Serendipiters of the Divine


1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV)
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

John 2:1-10 (NRSV)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’



             The inspired conversation of the Worship Design Team this week brought to my attention a New York Times article published earlier this month, in which Pagan Kennedy explores what she terms the “art of serendipity.” In 1754, Horace Walpole coined the term “serendipity” to describe the talent for detective work that leads from “accidental” discoveries to the work that is required to bring them to fruition in a brilliant and useful way. “At its birth,” Kennedy says, “serendipity meant a skill rather than a random stroke of good fortune.”[1]  

She continues, “A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, X-ray imaging.” Kennedy then asks readers to consider this question: “How do we cultivate the art of finding what we’re not seeking?”[2]

            In the article, she explores the lives and habits of “serendipiters,” which she describes as people with the dedication and discipline and determination to creatively follow the trail of a happy accident to its fruition into a surprising discovery or a work of beauty or a something of great value to the betterment of the common good.

            And today, as we celebrate together the life and legacy and witness of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the central question alive in my heart and mind is not what we can learn from King’s legacy about the work of peace and justice – you all already know too well the concerns that beckon for our response.

Today, the question alive in my heart and mind is this: What can we learn from King’s life and legacy and witness about how one attunes one’s spiritual senses toward the possibility of being open to divine disclosure, gradually becoming transformed by the little epiphanies of daily living? How might his dedication and discipline and determination in following the trace of the divine he sensed teach us all something about becoming “serendipiters of justice,” or, better yet, “serendipiters of the divine?”

You’ve known a few serendipiters of the divine. Just think about those serendipiters who have walked with you for a time, whose dedication and discipline and determination to creatively follow the trace of something that exists only in potential to its fruition into a surprising discovery or a work of beauty or a something of great value to the betterment of the common good. You speak of them often.

Like Marcia Deihl, whose ability to perceptively capture something of human experience in song and move the heart toward peace and justice with lyric and tune, marked her a serendipiter of the divine among you for many years.

Or Marty Hackett who, just this week, I heard named on a number of occasions for her healing abilities and for her way of bringing people together to surround those in need of healing with a caring community, marking her as a serendipiter of the divine among you.

But when we look at a figure like that of Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s hard to imagine that any of us bear the types of gifts that this man had, or that any of us could provide the services toward the common good that King was able to provide, or that either you or I could possibly be engaged in the type of activities that King engaged in that quite literally changed the shape of our social landscape.

But the question is still alive in my heart and mind today: What can we learn from King’s life and legacy and witness about how to attunes our spiritual senses toward the possibility of being open to divine disclosure, gradually becoming transformed by the little epiphanies of daily living, becoming serendipiters of the divine?

That is something like what Paul was exploring in the message of today’s reading from the First Epistle to Corinthian Church:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

What is exceptional about this passage from old Apostle Paul is that there are no exceptions in the Spirit’s movement. “But it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” No exception whatsoever. In fact, that kind of exceptionalism is exactly what Paul was writing to warn against.

There were some who privileged and prized some gifts and activities and manifestations of the Spirit over others, who would draw lines of distinction and discrimination based upon who possessed which gifts and to that Paul says firmly and resolutely to the Corinthians, “varieties of gifts, same Spirit,” “varieties of services, same Lord,” “varieties of activities, but the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

            So, how does one attune one’s spiritual senses toward the possibility of being open to divine disclosure, gradually becoming transformed by the little epiphanies of daily living? How, in light of the life and legacy and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., do we become “serendipiters of justice,” or, better yet, “serendipiters of the divine?”

King said, “Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit. The transformed nonconformist, moreover, never yields to the passive sort of patience that is an excuse to do nothing.”[3]

King says it is only through an inner spiritual transformation that we become transformed nonconformists – something akin, perhaps, to serendipiters of the divine. And, like Paul, King holds out hope that this transformation into nonconformist serendipiters of the divine will take place for all people. “Varieties of gifts, the same Spirit,” “varieties of services, the same Lord,” “varieties of activities, but the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Each person, without exception, says Paul, is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the good of all. And for King, our very life together depends on each of us drawing upon these gifts and services and activities and manifestations of Spirit for the common good. He went so far as to say,

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist![4]

This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists…

The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority…Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.[5]

But describing what inner transformation into a creatively maladjusted, disciplined nonconformist, serendipiter of the divine looks like can be tricky. “Varieties of gifts, same Spirit,” “varieties of services, same Lord,” “varieties of activities, but the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

For some, inner spiritual transformation looks like an epiphany – the divine dramatically disclosed. For others, it is looking for something that you can’t yet name or finding something that you weren’t looking for. For some, it looks like dedication and discipline and determination to creatively follow the trace of something that exists only in potential until it comes to fruition in a surprising discovery or a work of beauty or a something of great value to the betterment of the common good. For others, it looks like an absolute miracle.

Gail O’Day, says. “The essence of any miracle is that it shatters conventional explanations and expectations.” It is something inviting us “to entertain the possibility that this boundary breaking marks the inbreaking of God…[A] miracle challenges conventional assumptions about order and control, about what is possible, about where God is found and how God is known.”[6]

For most of us, it’s hard to imagine experiencing something that we would describe as an “epiphany,” much less a “miracle.” Yet, King is determined in saying that it is only through an inner spiritual transformation that we become transformed nonconformists. Like Paul before him, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” No exceptions. But it may look a little different for each of us.

There is something of a deep personal nature to being transformed. There’s always an expression of your unique individuality in the process of inner spiritual transformation into disciplined nonconformists and serendipiters of the divine. “Varieties of gifts, same Spirit,” “varieties of services, same Lord,” “varieties of activities, but the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”

For some, inner spiritual transformation looks like an epiphany – the divine dramatically disclosed. For others, it is looking for something that you can’t yet name or finding something that you weren’t looking for. For some, it looks like dedication and discipline and determination to creatively follow the trace of something that exists only in potential until it comes to fruition in a surprising discovery or a work of beauty or a something of great value to the betterment of the common good. For others, it looks like an absolute miracle. Like this:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee… When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine’…Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)...the steward called the bridegroom and said, ‘Oh, I see you have kept the good wine until now.’

To Mary, it looked like an epiphany – the divine dramatically disclosed. To the drunken party guests, it looked like finding something they weren’t looking for. To the steward, it looked like dedication and discipline and determination searching for something until one makes a surprising discovery. To servants, it looked like an absolute miracle.




[1] Pagan Kennedy, “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity,” New York Times (Jan. 2, 2016), online: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/how-to-cultivate-the-art-of-serendipity.html?emc=edit_th_20160103&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=38084348&_r=2.



[2] Kennedy, “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity.”



[3] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1963/2010), 18.



[4] King, Strength to Love, 16



[5] King, Strength to Love, 18.



[6] Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles and Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections for Each Book of the Bible in Twelve Volumes, vol. IX, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995),  539-40.
  • The Rev. Cody J. Sanders
  • January 17, 2016