John 1:43-51 NRSV
What are we doing here this morning? How did we get to this place? Why are we here this morning sitting in a worship service? How does faith happen?
Well, according to John, it all started one day when John the Baptizer saw Jesus walking by and said to two of his disciples: “Look.” “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”
When the disciples heard him say this, they immediately, almost enthusiastically, began to follow Jesus, spending the entire day with him.
The disciple named Andrew went out and found his brother, Simon Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah.” He then brought Simon to Jesus so Simon could see for himself.
This is how church happens. This is how we got here. We are here this morning because one person told another person who told another person who told another person about Jesus.
This is how our faith got started. It is the way our faith happens today. It is the way that faith has always happened. It is the way it is intended to happen. It is to be shared personally, person to person to person.
Our scripture text continues…
The next day, Jesus went out to Galilee and found a man named Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Then Philip, much like Andrew who went and told Simon about Jesus, went out and found his friend Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote: Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
And here’s where the story really gets interesting. Nathanael doesn’t respond with the eagerness and enthusiasm of Andrew or Simon when they first heard about Jesus. In fact, Nathanael responds much like we expect people to respond to Jesus today. He seems cynical, skeptical, dismissive, and even rude. We can picture him arrogantly rolling his eyes asking, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
We can picture this, because we have seen it. We’ve heard this before.
We heard it put in vulgar words this week referring to Haiti, El Salvador and nations on the African continent”
And we’ve also heard it if we’ve invited anyone to church lately, and I am hoping that all of you have invited someone, are inviting people! Because that is how our faith works. It is how church works. It is shared personally, person to person.
Do you remember hearing the cynicism? “Can anything good come from the church these days?” “Does anything good ever come from organized religion?”
Nathanael responds the same way most people respond to us when we bring up Jesus or the church these days.
However, notice how Philip responds to the cynicism of Nathanael. Philip does not respond in any of the ways I would respond. He doesn’t snap back, get defensive, or walk away disappointed or angry. I am sometimes tempted to start preaching a little sermon, defending God and the way of Jesus, making the case for following Jesus, arguing that the things that he had heard about Jesus, Nazareth, and organized religion, are not all true.
No, Philip doesn’t do any of those things. He lets Nathanael’s criticism roll off his back and simply answers: “Come and see.”
What is interesting is that this is exactly how Jesus one day answered Andrew and his friend when they asked Jesus where he was staying. Jesus said, “Come and see.”
Andrew went and saw, and he saw that Jesus never really stayed anywhere. He saw that foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). He saw that Jesus was continually on the move, on a journey, teaching, leading, touching, healing, forgiving, feeding, giving, welcoming, accepting, restoring.
Jesus simply said, “Come and see,” and when Andrew went and saw, he saw that he had indeed seen the Messiah.
And when Nathanael dismisses Philip, Philip simply responds: “Come and see.”
Professor of preaching Michael Rogness points out that our task is “not to prove the truth of the Christian faith” to a skeptic or a cynic. It is not even to persuade others to become Christian. Our task is simply to say to others: ‘Come and see.’”[i]
And Nathanael came. And Nathanael saw this one who surprisingly knew him by name, this one who saw the good that was in him, this one who loved him and promised to open up heaven for him.
Seminary president David Lose remarks: “Such simple…and inviting words.” “Come and see.” Words, he says sum up “not only the heart of the Gospel of John, but the whole Christian life.” Because the Christian faith, he says, is “all about invitation.”
“It’s not about cramming your faith down someone else’s throat. After all, nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to ask anyone: ‘Have you given your life to Christ?’” Nowhere does the Bible tell us to go up to our neighbors and ask: “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?” “Have you been saved?” Or worse: “If you died this very day, do you know where you will spend eternity?” Or even worse: “God loves you and wants a personal relationship with you, but if you reject God, then God will send you straight to hell.”[ii]
No, we’re just asked to say (not to push, guilt or scare) but to say: “Come and see.” “Come and see for yourself what Christ means in my life.” “Come and see what Jesus has done for me.” “Come and see how Jesus informs my thinking, guides my life, gives my life meaning.” “Come and see for yourself the good things our church is doing in the name of Christ.” “Come and see.”
It is not our job to convert or to save; only to invite.
And here’s the thing. When we first bring up the subject of church, if they can see that we are truly being sincere, if they can see in our eyes that we are being honest and genuine, if they can see we are sharing from our hearts, we should expect them to be skeptical and cynical. We can fully expect them to dismiss what we are saying, or even make some smart-aleck response like: “I didn’t know anything good could come from church these days!”
And when they do, when they hesitate or smirk, we need to understand that that’s okay. In fact, in this world, it is to be expected. Because this good news that we are sharing—the good news that God, the creator of all that is, not only knows us by name, but loves us, sees the all of the good in us, gives God’s self to us, and promises to open up heaven for us—this good news does seem too good to be true.
Thus, we should completely understand if they pause at our invitation, if they look unsure, or even if they walk away. All we can do, all God wants us to do, is just say, “Come and see.”
Come and see a church that never stays put, but is always on the move. Come and see a church that does not invite you to come to church but to go and be the church, be the embodiment of Christ in this world.
Come and see a church who strives everyday to keep the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr alive by being a pro-reconciling, anti-racism church.
Come and see a church that supports and works with local law enforcement and the community to build relationships and provide a safe place to converse about behaviors that adversely affect people of color.
Come and see a church that believes in religious freedom for all religions, not just Christians. And come and see a church that does not believe religious freedom gives us a right to discriminate or to do harm to another.
Come and see a church that invites and welcomes a Muslim leader of the local mosque to speak at a Men’s dinner to break down the walls that divide us, to build bridges and create friendships will all our neighbors.
Come and see a church where you brain does not have to be checked at the door. Come and see a church that believes science is real and caring for this planet is a God-given, moral responsibility.
Come and see a church that believes all people are created in the image of God, male and female. Come and see a church that values the leadership of women, ordains women, and believes women’s rights are human rights.
Come and see a church that is deeply rooted in the American dream, a church that was conceived by immigrants in the early 19th century, a church where the words of Emma Lazarus that are engraved in the foundation of the Statue of Liberty are engraved in our historical and spiritual DNA:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Come and see a church that hosts Christmas parties for the poor and the marginalized and purchases Christmas gifts to give to impoverished strangers.
Come and see a church that regularly sends care packages to widows and remodels apartments for the orphaned and is committed to the Word of God, and, with the prophet Isaiah, isn’t afraid to speak truth to power:
Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
and that you may make the orphans your prey! (Isaiah 10:2)
Come and see a church that serves its community by feeding the hungry, volunteering in the hospitals, tutoring the illiterate, and caring for those who are homebound or in nursing homes. Come and see a church that sends supplies and volunteers to give hope to survivors of natural disasters.
Come and see a church that seeks to be a place of grace, believing that none of us are better than others, and all of us, each one of us, including the pastor lives in sin.
Come and see a church who, without condemning or judging, genuinely welcomes all people to join their mission to be the Body of Christ in this world, and all means all. Come and see a church that believes we are all called to be ministers; we are all disciples called to build up the Body of Christ by inviting others to join us.
Come and see a church that believes that the grace of God extends to all and that there is nothing in heaven or on earth, or in all of creation that can ever separate any of us from the love of God through Christ our Jesus Lord.
What’s that you say? You don’t believe it?
Of course you don’t. We don’t expect you to. It sounds too good to be true.
So why don’t you just come and see!
O God, to all cynics who believe that nothing good can come out of the church these days, help us to say, “Come and see.” Amen.
Invitation to Communion
Now, I invite you to come and see a table that has been prepared for you.
Come and see bread that was broken for you
Come and see a cup that was poured for you.
Come and see the very life of God, the creator of all that is that has been given for you.
Come and see this love, this grace. Touch it, taste it, consume it, for it has the power to change the world.
COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION
Go forth as a church that is on the move,
A church that is committed to using all of our gifts
To work for peace and justice to flow like a mighty stream.
Go forth to share your faith, person to person to person.
Go forth and invite someone to come and see a church that
seeks to become the radiant hope that is needed in our world.
And as we go forth,
may we experience our God rejoicing over us and with us.
And let us go forth confident that
unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word!
[i] Michael Rogness, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2314
[ii] David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2314