Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“That Scary Word”
Rev. Art Ritter
January 19, 2019
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 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).
At a memorial service for Walter Cronkite, 60 Minutes reporter Andy Rooney told a story about the famous news anchor. Rooney and his wife were boating in Maine with Cronkite and his wife Betsy. They tied up in a little village and Walter and Betsy got off the boat and walked into a nearby country store. A rather strange looking man walked up to Walter and asked him a question. Now Walter was always very polite to the public and to his fans, and with his wife standing right there beside him, he took great care in attempting to answer the man’s question. Cronkite said, “Oh sure. We’ve met several times. We’re not really close friends but I still talk to him once in a while.” Once they left the store Betsy questioned her husband. “Did you really hear what they man asked you?” Cronkite, who was hard of hearing answered, “No, I didn’t. But I wanted to be polite.” Betsy said, “The man asked if you knew Jesus Christ!”
Perhaps we’ve all been asked those kind of questions a time or two or three. A colleague was telling me that as he went into a college football game this fall, he was confronted by a very large and angry man shouting out Bible verses and carrying a sign warning others about their eternal damnation. Just before he entered the gates, the man asked him if he knew Jesus, if he had been saved. He chose to simply ignore the man’s questions. My colleague said a fight almost ensued moments later when a couple of other spectators, emboldened by their tailgate libations, began to challenge the man about his physical size and the evil of his apparent gluttony. My colleague said he couldn’t walk away from the scene quickly enough, fearing how the whole experience might tarnish the reputation of Christians in the minds of those who witnessed it.
I have a friend from college whom I dearly love. He is a good and honorable man. We have been there for one another through the ups and downs of our lives. But sadly, we are not as close as we used to be. Although he is a very devout Christian, our ideas about the Christian faith differ. We don’t talk about our faith as much as we used to because I have asked him to stop. I wasn’t comfortable with the condescending way that he spoke to me about what I believed. When we talked about Jesus his words didn’t convey much love or respect. He dropped subtle hints that my faith wasn’t quite the right thing, you know, quite like his. It felt like he was more concerned about my eternal fate than what was happening to me on that particular day. I know in my heart that my friend has the best of intentions but his actions come across as coercive, unloving, and even threatening.
Today in the words of the gospel of John, we are to consider our role as evangelists. I would venture to say that most of us within the mainline church admit to a measure of discomfort with the word. When we think of evangelists, we might think of pushy, self-righteous people who confront us within our safe space. We might conjure up images of those religious know-it-alls who stand on street corners quoting Bible verses or delivering fiery opinions. Some of us may hold the conviction that like politics, religion isn’t something that polite people talk about. Some embrace the Congregationalist tradition that values the individual faith journey and our covenant which calls us to support others in our different walks of faith. But many simply do not want to be perceived as being one of those people who we think of when we think of evangelism.
Whatever the reason, we are downright frightened of the word. And our fear cripples our ability to reach out to others with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this season of Epiphany, we recall that we are to celebrate God’s love revealed and made manifest in Jesus. We are to share that good news. We are called to be evangelists.
Jesus walked by John the Baptist and two of his disciples. The disciples began following Jesus and he turned to them, giving them his full attention asking, “What are you looking for?” Perhaps we could rephrase the question as, “What do you want?” or “What are you seeking?” Rather than pursuing a specific agenda that suited him, Jesus’ questions invited a sharing of their stories and an opportunity to reach deeper into the complexities of their life situation.
When they asked where he might be staying, Jesus didn’t give an answer. Instead he offered a very simple invitation. “Come and see.” Follow me and experience what I experience. Be in relationship with me. While John’s disciples were simply trying to observe at a distance, to gather enough information about Jesus to make a decision about who he was and what they should make of him, Jesus invited them to come and see. He didn’t give them books to study. He didn’t offer guidelines to which they needed to adhere. He invited them to come and tag along and see for themselves what a faith filled life could mean for them and for the rest of the world.
Last Sunday night I laid in bed comfortably, just approaching that marvelous point of falling into the arms of sleep. Laura came up into our bedroom, then walked into our bathroom, and then turned and said to me, “Are you asleep?” My first instinct was to ignore her and pretend that I was sleeping. But my conscience got the best of me. I opened my eyes and responded. She continued, “I want to show you something. Come here and see.” I have to admit, I tried to get out of it easy. I wondered if I could experience what she wanted to show me remotely, without leaving the comfort of bed. “What is it?” I asked. Laura wasn’t letting me off that easy. “I need to show you.” Immediately I remembered hearing those words from my daughters when they were younger, right before they showed me an ugly insect, a drawing they had proudly made, or a footprint in the snow. Reluctantly I got out of bed and made my way into the bathroom. Laura stood there, staring into our shower, with a look of great pride and admiration. Earlier in the day she had tried a new cleaning product on the grout between the tiles. She had only cleaned half the shower but there was indeed a distinct difference in the color. What was once dirty was now clean. I was impressed, but I was also tired. I complimented her and made my way back to bed. The funny thing about all of this is that although that trip to come and see didn’t mean much that night, I have remembered it all week. Every time I have taken a shower since then I have noticed the clean grout and think about the hard work that Laura put into that shower. I try to make certain that I am doing what I can to keep it clean.
Come and see. Something happens and you just can’t keep it to yourself. A new restaurant, an exciting play in a baseball game, a captivating television show. We want to share it. Come and see. You want another person to enter into your experience, to see your work or your accomplishment, to know of your struggle and your pain, to participate in your celebration and discovery. Come and see. But before the invitation can be issued, we must experience that something for ourselves. We can’t speak of the beautiful sunset with seeing it. We can’t telling a love story without falling in love. We can’t tell of the wonders of a new land without having traveled there. The first step to evangelism is noticing what God is doing in your life and giving voice to that presence and how it has moved you, inspired you, and changed you.
But there’s more to it than sharing your story. Evangelism is also acquiring a genuine attentiveness to the needs of others, in the longings and needs of the other person. Jesus’ invitation to those first disciples was a tender one, not a harsh assessment. As he shared the good news he spoke it not with empty words and slogans but with the opportunity to enter into relationship, to see “where he lived” and to understand that when people knew him that they would come to know what they needed to know.
Doug Pollack, a YMCA chaplain and minister with Athletes in Action relates an incident that happened to him recently. His article in Christianity Today is entitled “The Confessions of a Recovering Evangelist.” Pollock was riding in a rental car shuttle in Denver when he struck up a conversation with a young man in his twenties. The man had just flown back to the U.S. after a year of graduate studies abroad. When they got to rental counter the young man discovered his license had expired so nudged by the Holy Spirit Pollock offered him a ride to Colorado Springs where the minister was speaking to several churches. The young man was totally taken back by his seemingly small offer of kindness. Their conversation grew more intense when Pollock shared his profession. His passenger remarked that he wasn’t much interested in religion. Pollock then asked the young man what he might advise Christians not to say in speaking with those outside the faith. The young man quickly replied, “I’d tell them if you are not willing to listen to me, I am not going to listen to you. Every conversation I’ve ever had with Christians have left me feeling very disrespected and angry because it’s more of a monologue. All they are concerned about is getting their point across. It comes across as arrogant or rude. I don’t want their Jesus because I don’t want to become rude and disrespectful like they are.” Pollock was stunned by this comment because he felt suddenly felt convicted. God had flipped his “Good Samaritan” act and had used this young man to reach him instead. He thought of all the times he felt called to speak to others but never thought about listening. He since has found that sentiment confirmed in a study by George Barna saying that the number one thing not-yet Christians want but very rarely experience when talking to Christians is to be heard without judgment. Pollock said that in his conversation with others, with his evangelism, he now emphasizes listening with judgment, listening without speaking, caring without worrying about accomplishing his agenda.
Evangelism needs to be offered as good news not as strong judgements. When we bear witness, our witness needs to be as Jesus witnessed, with interest and kindness and compassion. Our faith grows when we experience something and share it in practice with others. We see kindness offered and we apply it ourselves. We receive gifts from others and are moved to share of what we have been given. We learn that we have been prayed for and we remember to pray for others. We hear a call for justice and we join others in working for it. Come and see. As you grow closer to God you will find ways to invite others to come along and see as well.
Long ago, a simple invitation to come and see reached far beyond what those first disciples could have ever imagined. God delights in taking such little things and blessing them and doing something wonderful through them. Even if our initial efforts to share our faith, our story, our church, may seem small and tentative, telling others to come and see is the way God brings light from darkness and raise the dead to life. God can do marvelous things through us. That is the promise of evangelism.