[John 1. 43-51]: ‘Come and See’ – Encountering Jesus
I wonder how it is, you came to be here this morning… for some of us, coming to church is something we have done every Sunday, week-in-week-out, for many a year, perhaps for some of us longer than we care to remember. While for others of us, coming to church every week might still be a relatively new thing. One of the things I love about my job, is sitting with people and listening to them tell their stories. Stories of how they came to faith, and stories of how they came to belong to the Christian community of which they are a part. And one of the recurring things I hear in these stories is the words: “someone invited me.” That is certainly true of my story…
I was 10 years old when the invitation came. And, even though I’d been brought up in a Christian home, and went to church every week with my parents, it wasn’t until this invitation came that I began to think things through for myself. The invitation came via my school. Someone from the local Anglican Church had come in to help with our RE lessons, and it was there where he showed an interest in my work, saw something in me that I didn’t at the time see in myself, and invited me along to the after-school club he was running. And when I look back on that part of my life, 15 years later I realize what a remarkable difference that invitation made. For it was there, on a normal Monday afternoon, that I first encountered Jesus. And all of that happened because, like Philip in our gospel reading, someone had the courage to say: ‘come and see…’
And those three simple words, that invitation to ‘come and see’, is not simply for John, the heart of this opening scene, but the message of his whole gospel.
Again, and again, from these early disciples, to the Pharisee named Nicodemus, to the Samaritan woman at the well, to the man born blind, to Peter and Pilate, and eventually to Thomas, characters throughout John’s gospel are encountered by Jesus. And to each one, in one way or another, he says the same thing: come and see… come and see God do a new thing. Come and see as your future opens up in front of you. Come and see the grace of God made manifest and accessible and available to all. And at that point, like I did on that Monday afternoon in a Christian after-school club, each of us has a choice – will we accept Jesus’ invitation and follow, or will we not? And that is essentially what this Epiphany season is all about. Recognizing and responding to this Jesus, who reveals himself to us in unique and different ways.
Nathanael’s way of responding – with instant questioning, and doubts that anything good can come out of Nazareth, to instant recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, once he had been personally revealed to him, is just one way. But there are multiple other ways in which people respond too. Last week, for example, in Bowdon, we explored how King Herod responded by feeling threatened, and in turn, by rejecting Jesus. We explored too of how the Scribes and Pharisees – the Jewish clergy of Jesus’ day – had all the head knowledge, but couldn’t seem to compute that into heart knowledge, and so neglected Jesus and the relationship which he offered. And we looked, at the Magi – those wise, and learned men, who didn’t know fully who was laid in front of them, when they visited Jesus in the stable, but who choose to accept and worship him anyway. As we look at those four different ways in which people have recognized and responded to Jesus in the gospels, I wonder if you see something of yourself, or someone you know in these responses? Since, while it is wonderful to see so many people in church this morning, I stand here looking round, and notice that there are still a significant number of people missing. People like Nathanael. People like the Scribes and the Pharisees. People like Herod, even… and I wonder why that is?
The world we live in is a very different one from the one many of you grew up in. Churches are not places which people have ownership over anymore. People struggle to walk through the doors of our buildings, and their interactions with and experiences of faith are far more limited than our own. We can no longer assume the ‘come to us’ approach. But instead, must follow Philip’s example and invite people to ‘come and see’. This isn’t easy. And while receiving those words is wonderful, I suspect when its our turn to utter them, we struggle to actually say them to someone. Not because we don’t want them here, but because more often than not, we are scared of rejection, or worse still, scared that they might actually say ‘yes’, and we won’t know what to do after that! I’m right there with you! But take heart, in my experience, it’s much easier than you think!
The heart, not only of John’s gospel but of Christian evangelism is the call to simply extend an offer of invitation to someone to come and see what God is doing. And we do that, by simply saying what we see. What is God doing in your life right now? What has he done for you in the past? What stories have you heard? Each one of us will be able to answer those questions, both individually and collectively as a community. And I encourage you to do so, before you leave this place today. Because, it seems to me, from the little time I have spent here, that there is much that God is doing in and through the lives of all those who belong to St Michael’s. And that is good news which is worth sharing!
And so, before you leave this place today I ask you this: who is God asking you to invite? And what are you going to invite them to? A Sunday morning service? The Mothers’ Union? The Narnia Festival? Whatever it is, can I encourage you this morning, instead of being like Nathanael, who is always questioning, be like Philip who has courage to utter the words ‘come and see,’ because when you do, you will see that indeed good things do come out of Nazareth – far better things than you could ever ask or imagine!