Text: John 1:35-51
A Happy New Year to all of you! Looking at the forecast a couple of days ago, I wasn’t sure we would be meeting here this morning, but I am glad I did not have to get out the snow blower this morning. And the wind chill when people needed to leave to go to church was only 12 below, not 25 below, so here we are – although there may be a few more than usual on Zoom today, and it’s nice to be able to do that..
Since the Sunday after Labor Day, we have (mostly) been following the Narrative Lectionary, a set of scripture readings for each Sunday that sees the Bible as a continuing story, a narrative. Over the course of a year, we cover a pretty wide variety of Biblical material. We began with the book of Genesis and the story of creation. Through the fall we hit some of the great stories of the Old Testament – Jacob and Esau, manna in the wilderness, God calling the boy Samuel and the anointing of King David. We heard from the prophet Isaiah. We looked at Jesus’ Advent and birth, and now we are in the gospel of John. We will be in John through Easter, taking in a story or episode from the gospel each week as we follow the life of Jesus.
This morning we have this very interesting passage from the first chapter of John, which tells about the calling of the first disciples. How did they learn about Jesus? How did they come to follow Jesus? How did this whole movement get started? On this first Sunday of the New Year, we will be looking at what is in a sense a story of beginnings.
John reports on how the ball got rolling, how a community began to form around Jesus, and what is perhaps remarkable about it is how laid back it all is. There is no pressure, no arm-twisting, really not a lot of drama about it.
John the Baptist – who you will remember is the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and a cousin of Jesus - John had developed a following, with disciples of his own. Part of John’s message, of course, was that he was preparing the way and that one greater than him would come. One day, while John was with a couple of his disciples, Jesus walked by. John said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” John basically says, “This is the guy,” and John’s disciples right away decide that they will follow Jesus.
The dialog is very interesting. Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” And they reply, “Where are you staying?”
What kind of answer is that? If someone asks you, “What are you looking for?” would you reply with “Where are you staying?”
Well, the word is actually a little stronger than “staying.” It’s more like, “Where are you abiding.” The question may have had to do with geography, but Jesus does not answer it that way. He doesn’t say, “I’m staying over there on Lynn Avenue, it’s the third house on the left.”
The deeper question is whether Jesus is the one for whom they have been looking. Where are you abiding? Where are you hanging out? What are you really about? What’s your story?
Maybe that is more of what they are asking, but still, Jesus doesn’t really answer. He just says, “Come and see.”
Come and see. You can’t really get the answer ahead of time. To get the answer, you have to follow Jesus. You get the answer through lived experience.
Now you may have already known this, or maybe you just noticed this morning, but John is somewhat different from the other three gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all follow pretty well the same story line and contain many of the same stories, much of the same teaching from Jesus. John is a little different. It was the last of the four gospels to be written. It is more theological in tone - not just reporting what happened but explaining it for us. Although explaining might be overstating it, because there always seems to be multiple layers of meaning, and in John, everything is not always spelled out.
In Mark, Jesus’ first words are “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” In John, Jesus’ first words are “What are you looking for?” and then “Come and see.” It is about looking and finding and inviting. As the gospel begins, Jesus makes no big dramatic claims. Now John does – he begins the gospel with a very theological prologue, saying “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” We read those words on Christmas Eve. But Jesus himself simply says, “Come and see.” Check it out.
It is a low drama, very invitational way to call people - through their own curiosity and interest, a way that respects and honors their own experience. And that’s the way it actually works for many of us, maybe most of us.
Many years ago, what was then the American Baptist Convention had something called Life Service Sunday, a day to especially encourage people to consider ministry as a profession. In 1959 they published a brochure which told about how various leaders had been called to ministry. Joan Thatcher, publicity director of the American Baptist Convention, asked Martin Luther King, Jr. to compose a statement for that brochure. In her request, Thatcher noted, “Apparently many of our young people still feel that unless they see a burning bush or a blinding light on the road to Damascus, they haven’t been called.’
This is what King wrote:
My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician; then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry.
During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become. A few months after preaching my first sermon I entered theological seminary. This, in brief, is an account of my call and pilgrimage to the ministry.
For King, his calling was a process, a journey. It was a matter of, come and see.
Two potential disciples expressed interest in a life of faith with Jesus. And Jesus’ call to them was: come and see. And they did. These two followers of John become followers of Jesus.
One of them is identified as Andrew. He finds his brother Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah.” Which is a pretty strong description of Jesus, based on Andrew’s brief interaction with him, although I suppose he is going by John the Baptist’s word as well. But the fact is, at this point, he really has no idea what it means to be the Messiah. This is something that he will have to come and see. But he brings his brother Simon to Jesus and Jesus immediately calls him Cephas, or Peter, which means Rock.
The next day Jesus heads to Galilee. He finds Philip, from Andrew and Simon’s hometown, presumably a friend of these brothers, and says “Follow me.” And Philip does. And like Andrew who immediately went and found his brother, Philip immediately goes and finds his friend Nathanael. He tells Nathanael about Jesus of Nazareth.
Nathanael’s immediate response is, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ You’ve got to love that response. Nazareth was kind of a backwater, Podunk town, with Gentile and Samaritan territory nearby, Roman soldiers and citizens in the area, far from the good influence of the temple in Jerusalem. Nazareth was not exactly known for producing religious leaders, much less Messiahs. And so Nathanael understandably rolls his eyes.
Now, Philip might have tried to argue with Nathanael. Or he might have just let the comment slide and said, “Whatever, suit yourself.” But I like his response. It is the same approach that Jesus took. “Come and see.” Why don’t you check it out for yourself?
And Nathanael does. For his part, Jesus seems to appreciate Nathanael’s honesty and straightforwardness. “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” he says. And Nathanael winds up making a great profession of faith: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael repeats some of the traditional language. At this point, he really doesn’t know what these words mean. But he has signed up to find out.
There are a great number of people who find meaning and value in being part of a community of faith. There are countless people who find love and healing and community through the church and who find hope and joy in following Jesus.
But the trend isn’t so great. Every year, surveys indicate that more and more people claim no religious affiliation. People read about misconduct on the part of church leaders or see self-proclaimed Christians who seem to be way more interested in political power than in serving a hurting world, and they are turned off.
Taking a stance of superiority and just assuming we are right and we have all the truth is not going to cut it. It’s not real attractive. I’ve had strangers knock on my door and tell me that I need to turn my life around, and I have to say that their message was not very compelling. I have heard preachers on campus yelling at students as they walk by, and their approach is not very effective.
There is a way of sharing the Good News that respects the other person. I love these words of Jesus that we also hear from Philp. “Come and see.” We can bear witness to our own experience and invite others to come and see for themselves.
To say “Come and See” is to honors each person’s unique experience. And we understand Jesus, we grow in faith, we come to know God as part of our journey. That journey may be different for each person, and it can take us places we never would have imagined. Faith can’t be completely explained in advance, if it ever can. It has to be lived.
We are at the beginning of a new year. It is an opportunity for a new beginning. And perhaps what Jesus is inviting us to do is to “Come and see.” That can mean not necessarily knowing where the journey is going, exactly, but trusting in the one with whom we are journeying. Jesus continues to say to each one of us, “Come and see.” Because following Christ is not a once-and-done thing – it is a daily choice, a continuing journey. Come and see. Amen.