Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 20, 2008

2008.01.20 “Come and See”

Central United Methodist Church

“Come and See”

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Matthew 1:  29 – 42

January 20th, 2008

“The next day John 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).  (Matthew 1: 29 – 42, NRSV)

Initially, it sounds like the invitation of a child, taking us by the hand:  “Come and see.”  As we grow older, it’s an invitation we use, about something we want to share.  Perhaps a sunset, a work of art, a movie we have seen, a restaurant we love. “Come and see”, we say.  It becomes a invitation useful for sharing the most simple to the most profound.

And so it is, with these words an adventure begins in today’s reading from the Gospel of John.  “Come and see,” says Jesus to two of John disciples, and so they do.  It is an adventure that will not only change the course of history, but, in time, us.

If you have read the Gospel of John, you know that the Fourth Gospel, as it is called, is quite different than what we call the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospels that “see alike:” Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  John was the last Gospel written, around the end of the first century, and thus it has a deeper, more reflective and symbolic perspective.  Someone once observed that the Gospel of John is at the same time a stream in which a child can wade, and an elephant can drown.  In other words, at the same time, simple and profound.

For example, the Gospel of John begins with these famous words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Who can fully understand the mystery of the Logos, the Word made flesh?

And then, in the space of a few verses, we find ourselves out on a riverbank of the Jordan River at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, where John the Baptist is preaching.

As Jesus approaches, Jesus becomes the focus of John’s sermon, perhaps pointing at him:  “Look, the Lamb of God!”  “Who me?” perhaps Jesus says, perhaps trying to be inconspicuous.  Would kind of make you not want to come late to one of John’s sermons, wouldn’t it?

By the way, did you know that John 1 is the only place in the Bible where this phrase, “the Lamb of God” is used? No Old Testament prophet ever referred to the Messiah as “the lamb of God” before John 1 and no New Testament writer will repeat it afterwards.  Even in the Book of Revelation, where the apostle John often mentions the Lamb, the phrase “the Lamb of God” is not repeated.

The next day, it happens again.  John is standing with two of his disciples, and Jesus walks by. Again, John starts in:  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Two of John’s disciples decide to check Jesus out.

Frankly, I’m not sure somebody called the “Lamb” would be anybody you’d want to follow.  Scholars are not sure exactly what John meant, whether it was supposed to be something like the Passover Lamb, but most of us know how we use “lamb.  “There he goes, like a lamb to the slaughter,” we say.  Does that sound like somebody you’d want to follow?  Like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie, doesn’t it make you want to yell to the two disciples, “No, wait, go in the other direction; step away from the Lamb!”  Later, Jesus would say something similar: “Whoever wants to come after me must take up their cross and follow.”

But at this point they don’t know that, and their curiosity impels them.  “So,” says one of them, as a conversation starter,   “Where are you staying?”   And Jesus says: “Come and see.”

And so, says John, “They came and saw where he was staying, and remained with him that day.” Remember, in John’s Gospel, words are simple and profound.  “Remain” is one of those words, rendered later as “abide.”  Let’s put it this way:  when they “remained”, it wasn’t because of the luxury of his apartment.

The best spiritual teachers, who are they?  Not the people who tell us what to believe, not the people who prescribe for us faith or spiritual maturity in four easy steps.  They are not the people who tell us the way to go, they are the people who invite us to go with them. 

Over the holidays, I indulged in watching past episodes of one of my favorite TV shows, West Wing.  One of my favorite episodes was when they have to call in a Post Traumatic Stress Counselor for Josh Lyman, as he recovered from being shot.  When he comes out of the session, late at night, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry is waiting. “What are you doing here, “ Leo, “you didn’t have to wait.” 

And McGarry, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, says:

“Man walking down a street falls into a hole, so deep he can’t get out.  A doctor walks by, throws him a prescription, down in the hole.  A lawyer walks by, throws him a business card, down in the hole.  A priest walks by, scribbles a prayer and throws it down in the hole.  A man walks by, jumps down in the hole.  “Why did you do that?” the victim says.  “I been here before,” says the man, “I know the way out.”

What did Jesus do?  He called disciples that they might be with him, saying, “Come and see.”

From that point on, things begin to happen.  The two disciples invite Simon. In only a few verses, Jesus finds Philip, who goes to his friend Nathaniel, and tells him about Jesus. When Nathaniel asks, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Guess what Philip says?  “Come and See.”

As so often in the Gospel of John, I believe John intends a more profound meaning yet:  not only is John inviting them, he is inviting us, dear reader, right here at the beginning of the Gospel: “Come and See.”  At some point we accepted the invitation, and here we are today.

In these day of high tech marketing and advertising, we forget that Christianity spread throughout the ancient world before either existed.  Many of us were brought up to think of evangelism as what Billy Graham used to do when he filled a stadium full of people and preached, followed by an invitation.  But in the ancient world, where Christianity was persecuted and illegal, such a form of evangelism was impossible and did not exist. Christianity spread by word of mouth, family inviting family, friends inviting friends, along and across social networks, along the towns, trade routes, and roads of the Roman empire. I remember reading an ancient record of a Christian couple who made some 50 trips to Rome, all on foot, and every time, along they way, they told new people about the Way, as Christianity was called.

Twenty centuries after those first Christians who spread the Gospel by word of mouth, why should it be a surprise for us to hear that survey after survey still shows, that when people are asked why they started or returned to Church, some 75% say it was because of someone’s invitation.  The best means of sharing faith, is still not an argument or a gimmick, but an experience. “Come and see.”

Why is it so difficult then, for us to extend this invitation?  Is the problem with us, or with our congregation, our form of faith?

Adam Hamilton, pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, in Kansas City, one of our largest United Methodist churches, makes the analogy of our congregations as like restaurants.  How interested would you be if somebody invited you to a restaurant, and when you asked them how it was they said, “Well, the ambiance is not that great.” And the service? “Well the service is not really that great, either.”  “Then it must be for the food,” you say. “How’s the food?”  “Well, the food’s really not that great, either?”  Would you want to go?

What we say is, “Wow, I just found this restaurant, the ambiance is great, the service is attentive, and the food is the best I’ve ever eaten.”  “Really, is it that good?” someone might say.  What do you say?  “Come and see.”

So, from the simple to the profound, the invitation works.  Whether it is a restaurant that is consistently good, a vacation spot we love, a congregation that feeds our souls, or the vision of a better life and a better world, the best invitation is always “Come and see.”  It worked in Jesus’ time, and it still works today.

      On this weekend when we remember one of our greatest visionaries, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is worth remembering that what he did, by his work and his words, was not just to point us towards the vision of a more perfect society, but lead us toward it, saying “Come and see.” 

      From the day of his birth as the son and grandson of Baptist preachers, all Dr. King every really wanted to be was a Baptist preacher.  Then in 1955, while Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, along came a woman by the name of Rosa Parks, and the ensuing Montgomery Bus Strike, and suddenly King was swept up in a purpose not previously envisioned, as a drum leader for justice.  But even as he devoted himself to that, he didn’t know that God had greater plans, to enlarge all of our dreams for our nation.

      So, in the summer of 1963, King came to Washington for the March on Washington. Taylor Branch, in his book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, says that Dr. King’s speech was written the night before and given to colleagues and the press.  But something different happened as he gave it.  After the powerful quote from the prophet Amos – “Let justice roll down like waters” – the crowd responded aloud and King couldn’t bring himself to deliver the speech as he had written it, which was rather lame and pretentious. The singer Mahalia Jackson piped up as though in church, ‘Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” Whether her words reached him is not known. But King knew there was no alternative but to do what he did best, which was to preach.  He paused, reaching for what to say, then left the printed page behind and preached from some other place, by some other power:

      “So I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream . . . .”

      “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today . . . . “

      Until he came to that unforgettable ending:

      “And when this happens . . . we will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

      “Come and see,” says Martin.

      “Come and see,” says Jesus.

      “Come and see,” say we.  “Come and see.”

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