Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Come and See”
Rev. Art Ritter
January 14, 2018
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found 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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
A little boy named Willie wanted a birthday party. His mother consented, but only if he invited the neighbor boy Tommy, a young man with whom Willie was to quarrel. Yes, the boys had problems, but rather than not have the party, Willie promised his mother than Tommy would be invited. On the day of the party, all of the invited guests arrived, with the exception of Tommy. Willie’s mother grew suspicious and asked her son, “Willie, did you really invite Tommy to your birthday party?” “Yes,” replied Willie. His mother replied, “And did he say he wouldn’t come?” “No,” explained Willie. “I invited him all right. But then I dared him to come.”
Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean, the Mackinaw Bridge, the Pacific Ocean, the Statue of Liberty, or a high mountain peak? I grew up in a small town in central Michigan and while growing up my family vacations didn’t take me anywhere out of the state. While we had our share of hills near Stanton, there was nothing really of significant elevation until you reached northern Michigan. I had always thought that the hills around the ski resorts around Traverse City were quite impressive! When I met Laura I was intrigued that she was from Colorado and I couldn’t wait until the day I could visit her home in Colorado Springs. Following our engagement in 1983, we flew into Denver so I could met her parents. It was late at night so the drive between Denver and Colorado Springs was uneventful. Laura mentioned that there were large mountains off to the west but I had no idea what they might look like.
I will always remember waking up the next morning. I crawled to the foot of the bed and pulled open the blinds, looking into the distance to catch a glimpse of the mountains that I had been promised. What I saw was unbelievable! There was Pike’s Peak in all of its purple mountain’s majesty, with just a little snow on top for greater visual effect. It was such an awesome sight. It hardly seemed real to me. I found my camera and quickly took a picture. And then I did what anybody who grew up in Michigan without mountains would probably do. I called my parents immediately. “Mom and Dad, you would never believe what I am looking at right now! There are mountains. Lots of mountains. Pike’s Peak is right in front of me. You’ve got to get out here and see this for yourself. It is incredible.” A few years later, after Laura and I were married, we took my parents out to Colorado Springs. As I recall, when they first saw Pike’s Peak, they began to take pictures and then immediately called my brother and sister, imploring them to come and to see what they had now seen for themselves.
Come and see. We use that phrase a lot when we have witnessed something important and inspiring. Perhaps we have been swept off our feet by something beautiful or something significant. Perhaps we heard something profound or moving. A new home. A completed do it yourself project. A lovely melody. A play in which our children have a part. An exquisite sunrise or sunset. An unusual baseball play being shown on instant replay. Come and see. We want others to see and hear and be moved by what we have seen and by what has touched us in some meaningful way. Have you ever tried a product or purchased an item because of someone’s recommendation? Have you gone to see a movie or eat at a restaurant favored by a friend? Come and see. It is an invitation to others not only see something but to come along and be part of something of which we are a part.
Come and see. These words are a large part of the first chapter of the gospel of John. Before our reading today, Jesus confronted Andrew, one of John the Baptist’s disciples. When he saw Jesus, he began to follow. He had never met anyone like Jesus before. At the beginning of their conversation, Jesus first asked Andrew, “What are you looking for?” It was a profound question, a deep question, one that actually reaches to the core of the person. It moved beyond comfortable conversation about the weather and last night’s game to inquire about what was ultimately important. What are you looking for? It is like asking someone “What is the meaning of life?” but asking in a way that forces the answerer to focus upon their own deepest needs. What are you looking for? What question do you need answered? What need to you need satisfied? What emptiness or longing do you need filled? Jesus seemed to be taking Andrew into his own heart and into his circle of concern.
Andrew then asked where Jesus was staying and Jesus replied, “Come and see.” Andrew quickly ran to his brother Peter and told him the story. “I’ve met someone incredible, someone with great wisdom and compassion. You’ve got to come and see.” And so Peter came and was moved by what he heard and saw. Peter went to Phillip, a friend from the hometown of Bethsaida. He told Phillip about meeting Jesus and how his heart was transformed. He said to Phillip, “You must come and see.”
Phillip then sought out his friend Nathaniel, and urged him to come and meet this Jesus. Nathaniel seemed a bit suspicious, perhaps as suspicious as we might be when a friend invites us to participate in their new business venture, suspicious and prejudiced as we might be wondering what we might gain or learn from someone so different from us. Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” His words seem to echo some of the angry rhetoric we heard this past week during the immigration debate in Washington. Nathaniel seemed to measure Jesus’ worth purely by his hometown. Yet upon meeting him, Jesus seemed to know all about Nathaniel. Jesus said, “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” If we translate accurately, we know this was not really such an insult in return. Jesus wasn’t putting down all Israelites. He was saying that he was impressed with the purity and honesty of Nathaniel’s heart. And Nathaniel was captured by that moment. He knew that Jesus was the Son of God. There was some understanding and grace that reached beyond ignorance and self-interest. One could then imagine Nathaniel going out to his friends and family and recommending to them a conversation with this man Jesus and urging them also, “There is something special about this man. Come, and see!”
Come and see. They are such easy words. But perhaps the writer of John has them featured so prominently here in the early part of his gospel because they are words that are essential to the Christian faith. We are to be followers of Christ who implore others to “Come and see.” We are to invite. We are to be evangelists. It is one thing to read about who Jesus was. It is one thing to hear about what Jesus means. Yet it is an entirely different things to come and experience Jesus within the community of faith.
That word “evangelist” is a frightening one for most of us. It conjures up pictures of altar calls and judgmental standards. But it seems that is not the case, at least according to this story from John’s gospel. We are called not to cram our faith down another person’s throat. We are to invite, but not by questioning another’s eternal destiny or with threats of hellfire and brimstone. We are to ask others to come and see, to see what God is doing through what we are doing and to participate in what Jesus is doing through the community of disciples who have chosen to follow him. Come and see a place that is important to us and to experience an environment that makes a difference about the choices and priorities of our life.
Frederick Buechner writes that the gospel writers understood that there was no language which could convey the miraculous power of the truth of Jesus. What they wrote about his birth, the shepherds and angels and wise men and star, were only ways at pointing to the truth. Yet how do we know whether or not this truth is true? How do we find out for ourselves whether in this child born so long ago there really is a power to give us a new kind of life, a life with deeper meaning and a life in which we can appreciate our friends and try to understand enemies and maybe even love ourselves? The only answer is to come and see. “Come and have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough to see it for yourselves.” Buechner says that the only way to understand is to come and see for yourself. He says that this is the attraction of Jesus’ call- its simplicity and yet its possibility. There is something wonderful when ordinary people with an honest assessment of the needs of the world come together, finding hope through humility and gentleness and compassion and sacrifice. And there is something powerful when the messengers fit the message. And there is something more powerful when others are invited to come and be part of the story.
As I read over this account of the calling of Jesus’ disciples, I find a powerful and important lesson for us in the church today. First, we must understand as Jesus did, that everyone is looking for something. What are we looking for and where is our faith taking us? Is it filling us with compassion is it telling us that we must protect our own interests? Is it offering signs of hope or telling us that we need to take action in fear? Is it revealing to others the likeness of Christ or is it lifting up our own self-importance? And what is it about us as followers of Christ that is important enough to invite others to come and be part of our community? We may not feel comfortable or confident in inviting others. We may not know what to say. We may not want to put others in a place of having to refuse our invitation. But the future of the church and the future of our own church is deeply dependent upon all of us summoning the courage and energy to invite someone to come and see, to experience what we have found to be important in our lives.