St. Paul’s Congregational Church
January 19, 2020, Epip2A
Come and See
Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42
The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Epiphany is the season of light – the first disciples are like Isaiah’s “people who sat in darkness” who have now seen a great light. And our Isaiah passage this morning goes even further: I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Listen to that again: I will give you as a light to the nations. This is the very beginning of the “call passages” – God calling the early disciples, us, to follow Jesus – we are to bring the light of the world into the world. From now on, we’re challenged, aren’t we.
Today we hear John’s version of the calling of the first disciples. Two were standing with John the Baptist and Jesus walks by – John points to him and says, “Here is the lamb of God!” The two disciples turn and follow Jesus right then and there – but at a distance. Jesus turns around and notices them following and asks what they are looking for. They respond, maybe a little sheepishly, “Well, Rabbi, where are you staying?” Maybe at one level the question is just that - where is your lodging? But maybe if we go deeper it’s a different question – “Where are you working in the world? We want to know what this is about before we get too close. What are you doing in the world?” Jesus answer – a simple, gracious invitation – come and see.
We are called to simply – though not so simple sometimes – to share life with Jesus – to get to know him. And then, to claim the invitation to become a light to the nations ourselves.
This is a full week ahead of us: We have the opening of the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday. No matter your political views, this is an unsettling time in the life of our country.
Tomorrow we observe Martin Luther King Day – a day of service, of remembering, of inspiration. We’ve come a distance but we’re not there yet, though, are we.
And on Wednesday we note the beginning of the week of Christian Unity – a time to lift up what we have in common – a deep desire to follow Jesus, to learn what that means, to walk as Jesus walked, to treat each other as Jesus did, to grow in our discipleship.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I truly believe this is a good time to be church! What better time than the season of Epiphany when we celebrate that the light shines and hear again the call stories of the first disciples – what better time is there to focus, to get back to basics.
Nathaniel said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
What does the word “evangelism mean to you? Maybe to picture Billy Graham or any one of dozens of preachers who appear on television, speaking and asking for donations? Do you see images of pairs of young Mormon missionaries, making their rounds through town? Maybe your neighborhood Jehovah’s Witnesses, with copies of The Watchtower in hand? I suspect that for many of us evangelism is a word filled with negative connotations, hinting at (we judge) unseemly zeal that demands an on-the-spot faith decision.
If we look to the root of the word, though, we find that it comes from the Greek word evangelion, meaning, “the good news of Jesus Christ.” So it means “the bringing, sharing, preaching of the Good News.” Ok. All well and good. But what does this mean for us, here and now?
John the Baptist has followers – disciples surrounding him, people impressed by what they have heard him say and what they have seen him do – today he’s speaking about Jesus – and calls him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Two of his disciples, curious, decided to check Jesus out. When Jesus asks them what they’re looking for, they evade his question by asking another: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Maybe as a challenge, but certainly as an invitation, Jesus replies, “Come and see.” They are impressed, they look for their friends and relatives – Andrew finds his brother Simon – and tell them that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus says to Philip, “Follow me” the next day as he’s moving on to Galilee – and Philip finds Nathaniel to offer the same invitation.
This is evangelism: one person says to another, “Come and see.” It’s a ripple effect here isn’t it - from John’s disciples to Jesus’ disciples, from Andrew to Simon, from Jesus to Philip, from Philip to Nathanael. Someone invites, challenges another, “Come and see,” and makes available the Good News of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to make it complicated; all we have to do is to say, “Come and see.”
Nancy is an Episcopal priest and tells this story: When she
was a sophomore in college, halfway through the year, a woman named Vida came to live in the dorm room next door. As she learned only much later, Vida’s first weeks were a real struggle. All she knew of her was this: She came from Western Africa and was studying far from home. She knew very little English, either written or spoken. She was at least ten years older than the rest of us. She was one of only a handful of non-Caucasians on campus. She spent a lot of time by herself.
One day, Nancy says, I got a note from the Dean of Students: “I need to see you.” Such summonses usually meant trouble. I had no idea what to expect. When I got to her office, the Dean explained that Vida needed help. “You live right next to her,” she said. “I want you to start taking Vida to some of your activities.”
Nancy’s initial internal response was, Good grief! How am I supposed to do that, when the poor woman can barely speak English? She voiced her misgivings to the Dean – who replied chuckling, “Oh, you’ll find a way. I have every confidence in you.”
Nancy says, “That meeting took place on a Friday afternoon. For a whole day, I fussed and sputtered to my friends. Vida came and went, her very presence in the dorm making me feel ashamed for not speaking to her.
Finally, late Saturday night, Nancy knocked on her door. “Vida,” she asked, “Are you a Christian?” Nancy reports, when she looked at me, I pointed to the cross I wore around my neck, under my t-shirt (so as not to be offensive to others). Vida’s head began to nod excitedly. “Would you like to go to church?” I asked. Again, she nodded. Then, I told her how to get to the church I attended. “The service is at 10:30,” I said and I left, congratulating myself on having figured out a way to meet the Dean’s assignment.
The next day, Nancy went off to church as usual. She kept looking around for Vida during the service. She wasn’t there. Vida wasn’t in her room that afternoon. She came in very late the next few nights, carrying piles of books. I wondered what I’d done wrong.
The following Sunday, Nancy got up earlier than usual and knocked on Vida’s door. “Are you awake, Vida?”
“Yes,” came the sleepy reply.
Suddenly, in that instant, everything became clear. “Will you come to church . . . with me?”
You see, telling her wasn’t enough. Nancy realized, I had to take her with me. It was pouring rain as we were about to leave. Vida looked out the window, pointed to the rain, and began to shake her head no. I looked at her beautiful African dress. Then a lightbulb went on in my head. “Are you afraid you’ll get wet?” I asked. “I have two umbrellas,” I told her. “You’ll be just fine.”
So, every Sunday for the next two years, Vida walked to church with Nancy. Not until she was in seminary did she realize what had happened.
Dr. Bruce Metzger, her professor of New Testament, said during a lecture: “Evangelism is one beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread.” Nancy says, “I could have added, “Evangelism is having two umbrellas, and offering one to someone else.”
Nathanael said to [Philip], “Can anything good come out of
Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.’”
Friends, you and I are called to pass on the faith we have
received from someone else, not for the purpose of filling up the church with warm bodies; certainly not to bring in new people to pay our bills; but because every person we meet deserves the invitation: “Come – with me – and see.” When we do so, we’ll need to have a second umbrella ready, just in case.
Jesus’ gracious invitation is as simple and open today as it was for those first disciples – come and see. Jesus doesn’t set out pre-conditions – he doesn’t say, “If you’re willing to live by these rules, accept these presumptions, sign this statement, or even swear to this statement of faith – then you are welcome to come and be with me.” No. When Jesus sees someone seeking, he simply says, “Come and see.”
Each of us who is here today, gathered into the Body of Christ, this place we call the church, is continually being called to grow and change. Each time we come together “in Christ” we come to know more – about ourselves, about the truth, about the meaning of our lives and the life in God. And, as we grow, we are called to extend Jesus’ gracious invitation to other seekers – to come and see. Come and see what it’s like to live in Christ. Come and see what it’s like to live among a community of people committed to growing and seeking. Come and see what it’s like to feel hope in the face of the despair of the world around us, to see light shining in the gloom, to know love and welcome in the midst of a world of pain. Come to the place called “love.” Come and see.
There’s our challenge as church, friends: God has called us to be a light to the nations: we have responded at one time to the call, come and see. Now it’s our turn to go and tell. God has chosen us. Will we respond? I pray we all will.
What better way to honor Dr. King? What better way to cope with the uncertainty we face in our country this week? What better way to live out our call to Christian unity? What better way to be the Body of Christ right here in Nutley? Let your light shine! Let our light shine! And bring an extra umbrella.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, you have called us to follow you, to walk with you, to work with you for the furtherance of your realm. In love you reach out to us, call us by name, and you invite us to be part of your move into the world. Grant us the grace to live up to the faith you put in us. Give us the gifts we need to do your will. Strengthen us to follow you faithfully, no matter where you take us. And instill in us a passion and courage to reaching out to others in your name, calling others to join us, that your realm may come on earth as it is in heaven. May our faith become ever more real. In Jesus’ name. Amen.