Come and See
Lectionary Texts: John 1: 29-42
First United Methodist Church, Wharton
Sunday, January 15, 2017
- What is Next?
So, last week, we talked about Baptism and those of you that were here had the opportunity to reaffirm your own baptism. It is the moment when, for each of us, God calls us and God reminds us that we are a son or daughter of God with whom God is well pleased. So, what then? What happens next? What happens after we are baptized, after the Spirit descends into our lives. I mean, we can’t go back to the way it was before. So we have to go forward. We have to do something. So, what is it? What is next?
Well, what is next is probably not what we were expecting. See, Jesus doesn’t tell us to then start work on cleaning up our act so that we can gain eternal life. Jesus doesn’t tell us to be something we’re not. It’s very simple. Jesus’ response to us is to come and see. Don’t stand there until you’re ready. Don’t stand there until you’ve figured it all out. Don’t stand there until your life is perfectly arranged or until you become someone that is worthy of such a thing. Come now, just come and see. In other words, come experience it all. Come encounter God. Come and join in this incredible adventure journey because it is the path to life. Come, now. So, why are we waiting?
There’s a book by Noah Adams, a host on NPR (National Public Radio), called Piano Lessons. He had always been fascinated by pianos and piano music so, at 51, he suddenly decided that he had to have a piano. He invested in a Steinway upright, which for him was enough of a financial commitment to actually practice and learn to play the piano. But it turned out to be harder and more time-comsuming than he thought and he already had a busy schedule. There were scales to learn and basic rhythms to master. And some of that was a little boring. I know what it’s like. For those of you that learned piano, remember the first thing. (“Stepping up, stepping down, then a skip”, using only the first three white notes.) I mean, what kind of song is this?
So, Adams tried a shortcut. He bought a “Miracle Piano Teaching System” for his computer. Finally, a good friend pointed out to him that he might be learning how to play the piano, but he was not learning to make music with the instrument.
So, he signed up for an intensive music camp and discovered that there was nothing that could substitute for devoted, steady practice. And by the end of his first year, the frustrations began to go away and he actually desired to make time to practice. He had become an artist instead of just learning the keys. And he realized that it was a never-ending journey.
- Beginning the Journey
That’s what Jesus was trying to get across. The passage that we read begins where we left off last week—with John the Baptist. Or, perhaps you could call him the first evangelist of the story of Christ. After all, he quickly moved from taking credit for baptizing Jesus to pointing to who he was, to telling people what he had seen and what he had experienced.
So the two that heard him wanted to know more. They began looking for Jesus. And Jesus’ response? It wasn’t an interview or a test of who they were. It was an invitation. “Come and see”, come and experience what God has for you. It says that they remained with him all day, no longer just hearing about Jesus, but getting to know who he was, and, in essence, becoming a part of the story themselves. In those hours as they spent time experiencing the Christ, they became disciples.
The passage then tells us that it became 4:00 in the afternoon and they wanted to know where Jesus was staying. I think that that time of day and the fact that Jesus was apparently leaving to go stay somewhere implies that it was probably the Sabbath. And that’s important. Because, as you know, Sabbath was a practice that they did every week—not when the weather was good, not when they didn’t have something else to do, not when there was not a sports event. It was their way of practicing to be an artist in their spiritual walk.
So, they ask Jesus where he was staying. It’s a way of getting to know who he was, because Jesus would have stayed with his relatives or possibly some close friends for the Sabbath. It’s sort of like asking someone who their people are. And Jesus tells them to “come and see”. In other words, come go with me, come experience what I experience, come encounter who I encounter. Come be a part of my story.
And then we are told their names. Because God doesn’t just throw a blanket over humanity to see who will pick it up. And nowhere in the Bible does God really ask and wait for volunteers. Nowhere do we read of God pointing at someone and yelling, “hey, you”. Because we know that “hey, you” does not create relationship. No, God is much more intimate with us than that. God gives us a name, a holy act of creation, and we are called to live into that name. Jesus called each of these people one by one. And has done the same with us. Each of us has a unique part of the story to tell.
Look at these flowers. They are in memory of Roy Wright. But they are more. They say who he was. They tell his story. They remind us that God calls each of us from where we are—wherever we are. So, what would yours look like? Mine would probably have cooking and decorating and beauty and this one would have writing and Bible Study and pastoring. Jeff’s would have guitars and a big sound system and helping those who are ill. Sue’s would have a beautiful and meaningful altar. Fills yours in. Then realize that God calls us where we are and takes us somewhere else and we are called to tell the story of that journey.
III. Learning to See
So what part of the story is yours to tell? Jesus has invited us—each of us– to “come and see”. Jesus has called each of us by name. (Jesus has called you Jeff…Jesus has called you Barbara…Jesus has called you Gary…Jesus has called you and you and you and you and me. What does that mean? What does it mean when Jesus invites us to “come and see”?
Well, seeing is about opening our eyes, right? It’s about looking at things not just as how they are but also seeing how they could be. It’s about looking at ourselves with a critical eye. It’s about learning to really see, really notice things.
I heard this story several years ago of a pastor who began serving at a church and on his first Sunday, when he got to the part in the service where he invited everyone to say the Apostles’ Creed together, he was surprised when the entire congregation stood and turned around and faced the back wall. Ok, he thought, I’ve never seen that before, but I’ll figure it out. The next week they did the same thing and the next and the next. Finally, he had an opportunity to ask the lay leader what that was all about. His answer? (You can say it with me.) “THAT’S THE WAY WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT.” And then the lay leader told him the rest. Actually, years and years ago, probably decades ago, the words to the Apostles’ Creed were painted on the back wall. They have long since been painted over but we never changed. “Come and See.”
Seeing is also about looking at things that you see differently. I’m going to tell a story that is not mine. I actually heard it second hand from my former District Superintendent, so you are hearing it third-hand, I suppose. One of the pastors in that District went with his wife to visit his college-age daughter in Austin. They arrived on a Saturday afternoon and they were going to go out to eat that night. When they got in the car, their daughter told them that she would like for them to come and see her church. So she showed them the way through downtown Austin, winding around the lake and the capital.
On the way there, they had to go under an overpass where there were lots of people gathered, most of whom were dirty and homeless and probably a little scary. The pastor and his wife began locking the doors and he turned to his daughter and said, “we need to make sure we get to your church safely.” His daughter responded by saying, “Dad, this IS my church.” The Church Under the Bridge is a combined effort of the Body of Christ in Austin. Twice a month, the church provides a meal and the chance to connect to God’s family. It’s a different way of doing church. But it’s a way that those people can truly come and see what God has in store.
- Telling the Story
That church is part of what the church gurus are calling “emergent” churches. It’s a different way of doing church. It has less to do with the familiar traditions and more to do with relationships in the Name of Jesus Christ. They are churches, as uncomfortable as they may make many of us, that are doing the job of inviting people to come and see and then putting those people to work inviting others to do the same.
So, how many of you would like to be an evangelist? No, I’m serious…raise your hands. I think that being an evangelist gets a bad rap. It’s not about being obnoxious on the television. It simply means telling the story. When we join the church, we are now called to promise our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. THIS is our witness. It’s about telling our story.
So, when’s the last time you told someone the story? When’s the last time you invited someone to church? Do you remember when some of the church growth experts used to say that you had to have an elevator speech handy? It was words that you could say to someone in three floors that would convert them. That always freeked me out because I like words and I would probably have too many. And, ok, honestly, that would be annoying. I don’t think that’s what it is. I think it’s more about what Jesus did—spending time with someone, letting them get to know you, and then inviting them to “come and see.”
You’ve heard it all before. The mainstream church is in decline. This church and every other church I’ve been in, both large and small, are struggling. Our pews do not have the people that once were there. Our offering plates are no longer running over. But you know what? I don’t think it has much to do with how we worship or how we study or what ministries we offer. I think it’s because all of us—ALL of us—have quit paying attention. We’re saying the words but we’re not telling the story. We’re hitting the notes but we’re not playing the music. We have forgotten how to be like those so-called emergent churches.
So, when’s the last time you invited someone to church? When’s the last time you offered to pick them up and let them ride with you? When’s the last time you invited someone to come and see, come and see what God is doing, come and see our part of the story, come and see what God is calling you to do? C.S. Lewis once said that the church is the only entity that is for the benefit of those who are not its members. That’s a good thing to remember.
I am often told the same thing. If you’ve told me this, I’m not picking on you, because you’re not the only one. I am often told. “You should contact this person.” You know, if it’s for a pastoral reason, yes I should. But if it’s to get them to return, to get them to come and see what we’re doing, it’s better if you do that. I mean, I can, but if a pastor contacts you, many think that you’re trying to build up numbers. It’s you that can invite them to come and see. When’s the last time you did that?
- Come and See
“What are you looking for?” says Jesus to people who were told by someone else where he could be found. “Come and see,” he said to people who wondered if they had a place in his story. The thing that moves people from one question to the other, from “What are you looking for?” to “Come and see” is the story the church has always been called to tell. It’s the only story the church has to tell, the story of its home, the place from which we draw hope and strength and power. That place is a person, and the best way to tell his story-perhaps the only way-is with our lives. See, remember, there is nothing that can substitute for a life of intense practice in the midst of the music you make. The answer? “Come and see, come and experience, come and encounter it all and I’ll go with you.”