Come and See – a sermon

Technical difficulties prevented me from recording my sermon today.  If you’d like to get the gist of it, you can read it below.

For Christmas this year, Santa brought Eliza a really cool art set.  It is an easel with a chalkboard on one side and one of those dry-erase white boards on the other.  The girls’ favorite part, however, is the roll of paper that lives in the center of the easel that can be used to paint.  Painting is messy, which means it must be done as often as humanly possible.  The easel has made its home in the girls play room, which has linoleum floors that are easily cleaned, and they often engage in their artist expression unsupervised.  As soon as a new painting is complete, the young Rembrandt comes running out of the playroom, hand outstretched, saying, “Daddy, come and see.  Come and see.”  Most of the time, I love to hear the joy in their little voices as they come to share their work of art with me, but I’ll admit that there are times, often during a football game, when I feel a whole lot like Nathaniel in today’s Gospel lesson, “can anything good come from the paintbrush of a two-year old?” Of course, the quality of the art is not what the invitation to come and see is all about.  The invitation to come and see is an invitation to enter into a relationship, to join a community, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

The invitation to come and see is at the heart of John’s Gospel and serves as the model of all Christian evangelism.  It all starts on the banks of the Jordan River with a man named John the Baptist, who was sent from God to witness to the light so that all might believe through him.[1]  One day, John was standing with two of his disciples when they saw Jesus walking by.  As they watched Jesus pass, John said to his friends, “Look, there goes the Lamb of God!”  Without hesitation, the two left John’s side and began to follow Jesus.  Jesus noticed them and asked, “What are you looking for?”  Not quite sure what to say, they replied, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  And Jesus said, “Come and see.”

Jesus invited those two men into a relationship with him.  They spent the day together in the place where he was staying.  The Gospel writer doesn’t tell us what they talked about, but we know that they were changed in their encounter with Jesus.  They had answered his call to come and see and their lives would never be the same.  In fact, one of John’s disciples, a man named Andrew, was so excited about what he saw in Jesus that he ran off and found his brother, Simon Peter, to share the Good News and bring him to come and see Jesus.[2]

Our story picks things up the next day.  Jesus was again walking around, this time on his way to Galilee, when he encountered a man named Philip who he called and said “follow me.”  Philip did, and like the two the day before, his encounter with Jesus forever changed his life.  Again, we have no idea what went on while Jesus and Philip were hanging out.  We don’t know what Jesus said other than, “follow me.”  We don’t know if he performed any card tricks or turned water into wine.  All we know is that Philip was so enthusiastic about what he saw in Jesus that he ran off to find his best friend, Nathaniel.  Breathless, Philip shared with his friend, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”[3]

Nathaniel is not swayed by Philip’s description of Jesus.  Perhaps he’s been duped before.  Jesus wasn’t the first person to come around and claim to be the anointed one of God.  Maybe Nathaniel had run across a few David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, and Jim Jones types.  There was a charlatan selling his magical healing powers on every street corner.  Nathaniel isn’t convinced that Philip has found what Philip thinks he has found.  He is cautious at best, most likely skeptical, and perhaps even cynical of the whole thing.  “This Jesus character is the son of a carpenter from Nazareth?  He wasn’t born in Jerusalem to a member of the old royal family?  He wasn’t educated at Yale Divinity School?  You just met the guy this morning?  Really, Philip?  Think about it.  Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Philip took a risk that many of us are too afraid to ever attempt.  He reached out to a friend to tell him about Jesus, and he received one of the worst case scenario responses.  Nathaniel scoffed at the very idea of Jesus being the Messiah, but notice Philip’s response.  He didn’t get defensive, but he didn’t back down either.  He didn’t start into a long list of reasons why he said what he said.  He didn’t get angry.  Instead, he said three simple words, “Come and see.”  Despite his misgivings, Nathaniel goes off to meet Jesus and like Andrew and the unnamed disciple of John, like Simon Peter and Philip too, Nathaniel’s life is forever changed by an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.

Over the past several years, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church has grown by nearly 15%.  We are blessed by visitors most Sundays.  Some show up because they’re in town and Googled “Church in Foley,” but most come for another reason.  Most newcomers land at Saint Paul’s because they were invited by someone.  Someone cared enough to say to a friend “come and see.” A 2008 study by Lifeway Research found that 63% of non-church going Americans would consider attending church if invited by a friend or neighbor.[4]  The number one reason for trying a church for the first time is not its size or reputation; it’s not the beautiful buildings or the service times; it’s not the style or quality of music or even amazing preaching by two good looking priests.  The number one evangelism tool is an invitation from someone just like Andrew, just like Philip, and just like you.  “Come and see” are three of the most powerful and wonderful words in the world: they can be an invitation to a life changing encounter with Jesus.

In the First Letter of Peter, the author admonishes us to “always be ready to give an account for the hope that is within us.”  Most often, that’s what we think of when we think of evangelism, we need to be able to tell someone about Jesus; about how he makes a difference in our lives.  That’s well and good, but in reading through how Jesus gathered up his first disciples, I’m beginning to think that telling people about Jesus isn’t the best way to get things started.  Showing them Jesus seems to work much better.  It’s as simple as inviting them to come and see. Come and experience what it feels like to worship God in the beauty of his holiness.  Come and see what a community of faith caring for each other and the needs of the wider world looks like.  Come and join our merry band of hypocrites that is doing its best to live into the Kingdom of God.  Come and see, and then we’ll talk.  We’ll eventually get to the details about the source of that hope, faith, care, and love, but first, just come and see what a difference Jesus Christ makes.

It is a risky thing to invite someone to come and see Jesus.  They might scoff. They might say “no way.” But the risk offers eternal rewards: the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Who wouldn’t want that?  What’s holding you back from sharing it? The invitation is as simple as three words, come and see. Amen.

[1] John 1:6-7

[2] John 1:35-42

[3] John 1:45, NLT

[4] http://www.lifewayresearch.com/2010/12/20/lifeway-research-finds-christmas-is-prime-time-for-church-invitations/

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