Ultimately, faith is something that has to be experienced. Try as some of us might, Christianity cannot be learned in the same manner that one memorizes a series of mathematical equations, nor can it be logically accepted or rejected on the basis of whatever series of propositions are set before it. Faith is truth; truth that is personal, all-encompassing and wholly enveloping, and more often than not, it begins with an invitation: as Jesus said to those two as yet unnamed disciples who were following him and looking for something, “Come and see.”
This is true; and in fact, I would venture a guess that it can safely be said of each one of us here that our faith came about because somebody, somewhere first told us about it; because someone invited us in one way or another to “come and see,” and thus we were led to find out more and pursue this idea of faith in our lives. Even if you’re the one who came to church with your parents from the time you were a babe in arms and can’t imagine a Sunday morning not coming here to worship; nonetheless, how you view your relationship with the church and God was most certainly nurtured and enlivened by others: the people who brought you closer to Jesus whether they or you knew it or not! The parents or grandparents who brought you to church and admonished you to sit quietly and not be wiggling (!) in the pew; the Sunday School teacher who told you all those Bible stories and fitted you with the angel wings at the Christmas pageant; or that ancient pillar of the congregation (or at least the one who as a child you assumed was ancient; funny how that changes as you get older!) who no matter what always made a point to seek you out and find out how you were; or even some preacher who said or did something that struck a chord with you that still rings true today.
My point is that for each one of us there are those individuals who have been influential in bringing us to faith and into the embrace of God; people who have been led by the movement of God’s own Spirit in their own lives. This is how faith grows, friends; those who have received truth from those who have lovingly shared it with them then go forth to share it with others; from the divine invitation to come and see to the great commission to go and tell, it’s an ongoing cycle of call and response: this is how, in the words of Isaiah, we are given “as a light to the nations,” that “salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is how God is glorified, and incredibly, it all begins with the simple invitation for us to just “come and see.”
This is beautifully illustrated in our gospel reading this morning. Last week you’ll remember that we read Matthew’s brief account of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan; today we turn to John’s Gospel to hear his version of the story. Actually, here it’s treated as something of a “flashback,” serving as a testimony of John the Baptist as to the true identity of Jesus. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” says John as Jesus walks toward him, and it’s a powerful confession. “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
It’s also striking what happens next. The next day, again Jesus walks by and once more John proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God. But this time two of his disciples are standing with him, and struck by John’s testimony, are compelled to follow this Jesus where he goes; to watch him and listen, to find out more. “What are you looking for?” Jesus finally asks them, and of course, they don’t know what they’re looking for, only that they’re seeking something and that maybe they’d find it with him. So they answer with a question: “Where are you staying?” and it’s here that Jesus replies, “Come and see.”
What’s significant about this is that it turns out that one of the two disciples standing with John that day is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, who then goes to Simon and announces that they’ve found the Messiah. Now Simon goes to Jesus, to whom Jesus says, “You are to be called Cephas” – Peter, the rock, on whom the whole church would be built.
So do you see what’s happened here? The Good News, the wider ministry of Christ, the spread of Christianity, the building of the church of Jesus Christ: all of it starts with this invitation – come and see – and one by one, they seek him out; and as they do, the light of God grows in scope, the Gospel is proclaimed and good news is told. God’s embrace widens to include John, and Andrew and Simon Peter, and if you read on in John, next Philip and Nathaniel (who, it must be noted, was a little skeptical about it all, asking Philip if “anything good can come out of Nazareth!”) But to this, Philip only says, again, “Come and see,” and the circle increases; each one of them who before he was a disciple was simply someone who heard and discovered something important, and then simply had to go and tell someone else about it!
And it’s a circle that’s ever-widening; encompassing not only “the tribes of Jacob… and the survivors of Israel,” but which grows to “reach to the end of the earth:” slowly and individually at first, but then wildly and exponentially until it has indeed become that light unto the nations. And the good news, beloved? It’s that this is a circle that even now stands poised and ready to become larger still; and that is because of you and because of me. For if it is true that God so moved those first followers of Jesus to spread that good news; and if it is true that there have been those in our lives who have been equally faithful in their loving and spiritual pursuit of you and me, then it follows that we are called to the same pursuit of others!
Friends, we must never forget the great importance of what we say and do as Christians; we must never lose sight of the knowledge that how we are in the world – that is, how we present ourselves here in church or out there amidst family and friends, at work or at play – does affect those around us, in intentional ways as well as unintentionally. Never forget that in Christ’s name, we are each and all ministers, and our ministry can and will emerge from the things we say and do each day. And that’s not to be taken lightly; because for a great many people, the first glimpse of who Jesus is and what he represents comes down to who we are; and moreover, the image of Christ’s church is forged in the impressions that our compassion, our behavior and our very openness leaves with others!
As Christians, we are people who live life in the wide, loving embrace of God, and ultimately, our purpose is to envelop others in that same embrace; to invite them to “come and see” what we already know. This might take the form of evangelism in the traditional sense; making that all-important effort to actually invite someone to church, to tell that person what Jesus Christ means to you in your life. But it might also be conveyed in a hearty handshake or in the sharing of a cup of coffee; in words of encouragement spoken at the right moment, or for that matter, in moments that need no words at all, when we’re providing a listening ear for someone in need. To return to Isaiah, in such moments amazing things can and do happen “because of the LORD, who is faithful,” and who, as it turns out, “has [also] chosen you!”
Now, I know; when we hear scripture like that, our first response is to think that a lot of what we’re talking about doing here does seem rather small and inconsequential in the scheme of things… but it’s precisely in the small and seemingly inconsequential things that faith begins and where it grows.
I’m remembering, for instance, a woman who was part of one of the churches I served in Maine. She’d just moved to New England from the Midwest with her husband and two sons; and in truth, she was miserable. She was trained as a teacher, but couldn’t find a job; she really hadn’t been able to make any real friends as of yet, and then, in the midst of everything, her father, to whom she was very close, had died unexpectedly. So here she was, miles from home, dealing with grief and loneliness and this incredible emptiness inside; and so, knowing she needed something… or someone, one Sunday morning she ended up in our church… parking lot.
I say, “parking lot,” because as she confessed to me later, she didn’t dare come inside! Oh, she got out of her car, she walked to the door, but then for some reason she couldn’t even name, a sense of fear and sadness overwhelmed her and she rushed back to her vehicle; but then, just as she had started the engine to head back home, a voice inside of her told her she needed to try again. And she did try again, about three different times without success; that is, until Len, one of our church members one of the absolute pillars of that congregation, happened by. You see, Len was running late for worship that morning – and understand, that never happened (!) – and he’d seen this woman rushing back and forth across the parking lot like she was lost. But rather than keep right on going into church so he’d be on time for worship, instead he went up to her, and with a warm voice, he said, “Young lady, can I help you find your way inside?”
And pleased, relieved and embarrassed all at the same time, this woman just started to cry and told Len all about it. And Len just listened, even as he could hear the organ inside the sanctuary starting the opening hymn, and then, when she’d finished her story Len just put an arm around her shoulders and said, “Well, why don’t you come in and sit with my wife and me… that way, you’re not a stranger.”
Friends, within a few weeks she and her husband had become members of the church: she was running games at that year’s VBS, meeting people at the church and by extension becoming a vital part of her new community. And all of this because one person offered up a personal invitation to a stranger in need. And in the process, the circle of faith and love got a bit wider, and the light that we’ve all been given to share shined all the more brightly.
Come and see, says Jesus. If you want to know more, come and see. It’s not only our invitation, beloved; it’s our call to action. May it be said that that everything you and I did today and in the days and weeks ahead served to answer that call; that we truly did “go and tell” about Jesus and what we know to be true in faith and love. I’m not sure we can ever fully understand just how much good that can do!
Let us offer up that invitation of light and love in all the places and to all the people in our lives, and as we do, let our thanks be unto God!
Amen and AMEN.
c. 2014 Rev. Michael W. Lowry