Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Sermon: Come and See

Epiphany 3 Year A 2007
John 1:29-42
"Come and See"

At the coffee counter of one of the Large Chain bookstore we stop in at, there is now a bright new display which reads "Coffee and conversation with an Icon." It invites each passerby to consider, "Whom would you have coffee with?" and offers matching coffee mugs and little books of "interviews" with eight famous people: icons, as they say. How about it? Would you like to have coffee with Groucho Marx? Or with Plato? How about with Ernest Hemingway? Or with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Or with the Buddha? These are just some of the conversations that they offer. "Whom would you like to have coffee with?" It’s worth thinking about. What famous person from history would be compelling enough for coffee and a conversation – for you?

I noticed that, although the Buddha was on the list, Jesus wasn’t. Martin Luther wasn’t either, but then, I’m not sure he drank much coffee. And I wondered why Jesus was not included – to my mind he’s every bit as fascinating as any of the others – just the sort of person I’d want to spent time with. Wouldn’t you?

That’s also the way Jesus is portrayed in this opening portion of John’s gospel. It’s quite a picture, isn’t it? John the Baptist, at this point the most famous person in the gospel, sees Jesus somewhere on the streets and testifies about him, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." He also calls Jesus "the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" and "the Son of God." And simply on the basis of this testimony, two of John’s disciples turn and follow Jesus – literally. They actually follow Jesus down the street and ask where he is staying. He tells them to "Come and see," and they continue to follow him and to stay with him for the rest of the day. Coffee and conversation? Who knows? Both John’s testimony and Jesus’ presence must have been compelling to inspire such a conversion.

This is even more incredible when we consider that Jesus has not yet done anything. He has preached no sermon, healed no lepers, multiplied no loaves or fishes. He has not yet dared to forgive sins or heal a blind man. Changing water into wine? That will come in the next chapter.All these new disciples have is John’s word and Jesus’ presence. And yet, there is something about Jesus that is so compelling that they decide to follow him. They begin by literally following him down the street, of course. But by the end of the day they are "followers". They are disciples.
They are no longer curious onlookers. They are people who will go where Jesus goes, even though they do not yet understand everything, and even though they do not yet know where the path will lead.

I’ve always been fascinated by conversion stories. Perhaps it’s because as a person who was brought up in the church, I wonder about all the different ways that people come to faith, and learn to follow Jesus. One story that has fascinated me is by a young woman named Lauren Winner. Her story, "Girl Meets God," talks about her journey from orthodox Judaism to Christianity. As you can imagine, it’s full of twists and turns and insights. But I remember two different elements of her conversion story. One is a series of books she read: The Mitford series about a small town and a small church in the South. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
Anyway, she read these books, and was fascinated by the portraits they drew of the ordinary Christian people and their lives together. Who would think that something like these simple books would play a part in a conversion? Another is a dream she said she had more than once.

There was a mysterious figure in it, whom she identified as Jesus. And Jesus just kept coming to her in this dream. He was such a compelling figure, and she just couldn’t get him out of her mind. And eventually, Lauren Winner decided to become a Christian. But she started following Jesus, following after him, for a long time before that.

Jesus’ invitation to the two disciples is just as simple, and just as compelling. "Come and see," he tells them. He offers no explanations, no justifications, he doesn’t talk about who he is. Later on they will be following him and they will see and hear and experience things, because they have followed him. But right now all he says to them is "Come and see." And they come. And eventually, little by little, they begin to see.

A while back I went to a seminar on evangelism. The person leading the seminar was talking about traditional ways that his faith tradition had of introducing people to Jesus. And he said, that the common traditional wisdom is that it works like this: First, you get people to Believe in Jesus. You have them make a statement of faith, say a prayer, invite Jesus into their lives. Then you help them to learn to behave like a Christian – teach them about the Christian life, and what it means to be a disciple. And finally, at the end, they join the church. They belong. This is the traditional order of things, he said: Believe, Behave, Belong. But, at some point he discovered, in his work, that it really works better and more naturally in another order: first, he says, you belong. First you "come," whether to a church service or a fellowship event or to a dinner: "Coffee and conversation with Jesus", maybe. Then as you learn to follow, you learn to BEHAVE like a Christian. You learn more and more what the Christian life is all about: mercy and forgiveness, service and sacrifice. And finally, as you are learning and sharing and belonging, you discover that you Believe. You have come to see Jesus in your life, see his love guiding you, see his forgiveness setting you free. "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Like Lauren Winner, and like the disciples, first you "come" and follow, and then you learn to "see" and believe in who he is for you – lamb of God, Anointed one, Son of God, friend of sinners.

One of those two disciples who comes and stays turns out to be Andrew. Andrew, it turns out, has a famous brother, Simon. Andrew himself is not so famous, although he has gained a minor reputation for introducing people to Jesus. Andrew hears Jesus’ invitation to "come and see" – and not only does he follow Jesus himself – he also invites his brother to "Come and see" Jesus for himself. This Jesus was so compelling to him, so powerful, so life-giving that he had to share him with others. "Coffee and conversation with an icon?" – not enough. Something about Jesus – his wisdom, his power, maybe his love? – had made an impression on him. Here was "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Here was "the anointed one." Here was "the son of God." Here was the healer and giver of life, friend of sinners, bread of life, good shepherd ... so many things he would find out as he kept following Jesus. Except: Jesus hadn’t done anything: yet. These are things he would learn as he followed Jesus, on the road to the cross, and to true freedom. These are things he wanted to share with his brother, Simon. "Simon," perhaps he said, "I’ve met the anointed one, the lamb of God, the bread of life. Come and see."

So the invitation doesn’t stop with Jesus’ invitation to us – it continues as we also invites others to "come and see" for themselves. We invite people to come and see Jesus in our lives; we testify how following him has changed us, why we follow him, how we have opened our hands and he has fed us. And I’ll be truthful: this might be a frightening thing, for all we have is our words, all we have is our witness. Most of us don’t have a miracle to point to, a special "sign" – just ordinary ones like bread and wine, like water, like people who forgive each other, however imperfectly. And yet still we are called to say "Come and see. Come and see Jesus in my life. Come and see Jesus when I am courageous and when I fail. Come and see Jesus as we serve the grieving and the wounded. Come and see Jesus as we lead children and hold their hands. Come and see Jesus as we fall and pick each other up. Come and see Jesus as we listen and when we speak."

On Saturday, a group of children from our congregation went to the Oxboro Library to hear a speaker sing songs and tell stories and remember Martin Luther King Jr. He began by sharing part of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech. And I remembered hearing once that at first, Martin Luther King did not want to be a leader of the civil rights movement. He just wanted to be a pastor, following Jesus, and encouraging his congregation to "come and see Jesus" too. But this is where the road led, for him. This is what happened when he heard the invitation to "come and see Jesus" and when he invited others to come with him. Disciples of Jesus took action – and changed the world.

"Coffee and conversation with an icon" Remember that display? I wondered why there was no book or coffee mug for Jesus. Perhaps this is why: when we sit at table here with Jesus, sharing words and a meal together, we get up to follow him – and to change the world together. "Come and see" he invites us. "Come and see me in bread and wine, in acts of service and sacrifice, in one another. "Come and see" we turn to invite others – "come and see Jesus in your life." Who knows where it will lead? AMEN


mompriest said...

Wonderful! I love every thing about this sermon, from the coffee with an icon to the idea that first we belong, have coffee and conversation...excellent.

I hope it felt good to preach too!

RevDrKate said...

Absolutely stunning sermon, Diane! Thanks for sharing it.

FranIAm said...

Dear Diane- that is a real gem of a sermon! Wow. Although I have yet to see you in your church setting, just having met you and heard your voice, I have an image of you speaking this.

Your words were so moving in so many ways... and I love the great beginning about having coffee with an icon. Really well done and you bring it back to that so beautifully.

I am forever moved by how I see so many examples of God's love, God's word out here in the blogosphere. I am honored and humbled to be a part of it.

You have done something very beautiful here and I want to send it to everyone I know.

Diane said...

Fran -- thank you for your kind words, but please imagine me with a hoarse voice.. :)