A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church
Jan 7, 2018
Our text from John’s gospel today gives us another picture of how we are called together into community. It begins after John the Baptist’s account of Jesus’ baptism, which is closely connected to the calling of the disciples. Randy preached about this text last week, how Jesus’ baptism happens offstage in John’s gospel. We don’t actually see it take place. This will be a theme in John’s gospel—we are not eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. We only know of Jesus through what other people tell us about him. In John’s gospel, we have to decide how reliable the eyewitnesses are. Do we believe them enough to follow Jesus in our own lives? Do they live their lives in ways that make us want to accept the invitation to “come and see” Jesus?
What I noticed in this text is that even Jesus is called to be a part of a community. Even in John’s gospel, where his divinity is on full display, Jesus isn’t a lone ranger. He calls the disciples to “come and see”, to join him on the way.
And we know about the disciples. They are not called because they have it all together or because they bring with them particular crime fighting skills. We know that they say and do the wrong things all the time. But they are better together than any of them are alone.
And sometimes they get it right too.
In this account, they recognize Jesus for who he is. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” They proclaim his identity at the beginning of his ministry, perhaps even calling him into his role and his better nature. And then they invite others to come and join them on the journey.
The community Jesus gets comes about because of non anxious invitation. Inviting people to see Jesus is not a popularity contest or a numbers game where we measure victory by budgets, attendance, or other measures.
John the Baptizer points Jesus out to two of his own disciples—“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”— and they immediately leave John to follow Jesus. John’s testimony was worth something, it seems.
Jesus’ response to these new people following him is different than we might expect from some people today. He doesn’t say “YES! I’ve got two more! I’ve got more disciples than anyone! I’ve stolen some of John’s congregation and so my church will be the biggest church in Israel!”
He doesn’t ask them what they can do for him. “Is one of you, by chance, a guitarist? I could use a praise band at the early service”.
He doesn’t ask what their qualifications for ministry are.
He asks them, “what are you looking for?”
I don’t think they have an answer for him. They just knew that if the Lamb of God showed up, they should follow him. And Jesus invites them to “come and see”.
They didn’t have to sign a contract or a non-compete clause. They were, we imagine, free to leave at any point, to “go and not see”.
American Christians, people like us, have not been the best at non-anxious invitation in recent years. There is a strand of Christianity that wants to bring people into the fold so the people won’t end up going to hell. I suspect that’s not most of us, but perhaps some of us have been on the other side of an invitation that was more of an imperative.
From what some of you have told me, I know there is also a reticence, a hesitation, to be a jerk. We don’t want to be the people who make Christianity seem like such a joyless venture. And sadly, that means we end up keeping the Good News to ourselves.
I wonder, though, if that’s why we don’t share the invitation. Maybe we do want to keep Jesus to ourselves. Do we really want those other people to show up and take Jesus’ attention away from us?
I doubt anyone has ever said that out loud, but it occurred to me recently when I mistakenly read the comments on an article about how Idaho is the fastest growing state in the nation. I know. Never read the comments. The comments were horrible (especially the racist ones) and revealed our tendency to want to keep what we like without change. People complained about how the new people are causing traffic problems, and raising housing costs, and taking jobs, and generally ruining the lifestyle that drew us here when we were new people.
As a native Northwesterner, but not a native Idahoan, I recognize that I’m one of “those people” who came to the state for the quality of life, Boise Schools, lack of Atlanta-like traffic, trails for hiking, etc. Really, it’s your fault, because you gave me the job. In any case, I’m really grateful to be here. The politics are a little whackadoo sometimes, but we love living here. We are grateful for the invitation you offered our family, for the way the community has made space for me.
Is that why we don’t invite people to follow Jesus? We like sitting at his feet and listening to him talk. What if new people show up and take our seats, forcing us to sit in a different (egads!) pew?
God’s community is invitational. I try to ask people who come to the church how they found us. And occasionally, someone will mention someone by name as having invited them.
The invitation doesn’t have an expiration date. We don’t invite someone to join us at church and say, “but this offer is only good for a month and then it expires. ACT NOW.” Sometimes the invitation takes years to play out, so people might not even remember having been invited. The invitation might be something they heard, read, or saw at some point in the past, something you had done or said in the community, that stayed there in the back of their minds until the call to “come and see” Southminster was remembered. Or maybe the invitation happened in another town, or when you were kids, and you didn’t remember the invitation until you were driving down Overland and saw the church.
Who invited you to “come and see”? Can you even remember? What made you want to be a part of a community that followed a palestinian Jew who died 2,000 years ago and claimed to be the Son of God?
In each of the responses to the invitation in this story, people noticed a different thing about Jesus. For John the Baptizer, he was the Lamb of God. For Andrew, he was the Messiah. Phillip followed a direct invitation from Jesus and then invited Nathanael because “we have found him about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael followed Jesus because of what Jesus knew about Nathanael—that might be my favorite reason of all of them—the notion that God knows exactly who I am, and wants me to follow anyway.
Each of us would describe who Jesus is in different terms. This doesn’t mean we’re wrong for having different answers. It’s just worth noting that what brings us to faith may be different than what drew someone else.
Which means we won’t offer a class on exactly what to say to invite someone to “come and see” Jesus. What I like about these call stories in John’s gospel is that each of the disciples are drawn by different things and are accepted as they are. Nathanael is called, even as he makes fun of Jesus’ hometown. They even take snarky disciples to follow Jesus.
Jesus took one look at Simon and said “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which is translated “Rocky”). He recognizes everything in Peter in a glance—his passion, his impetuous spirit, his deep heart—and he never tries to pretend Peter is anything other than that. The invitation is for our authentic selves.
Which means our invitation to others needs to come from our own authentic self too. Speaking of faith is never the time to pretend to be someone you’re not. And it may not involve a lot of words.
Seeking God by getting on a subway, as the little boy did, and unexpectedly finding God, when you weren’t looking for God, as the woman on the bench did—the invitation there was for connection, and involved seeing the full humanity of the other person, despite whatever differences might have wanted to get in the way.
Are we willing to meet people where they are, trusting the invitation will be extended, maybe by us, and maybe to us?
The invitation is less about building an argument for faith and convincing people that we have the right, and only, answer to the question. The invitation is in how we live our lives invitationally—how are we living out our faith so people will want to join in with us? Because the invitation is also not to isolation. It’s an invitation to community.
As we see the stories of Jesus and the disciples play out, it will show us what we already know from our own experience—community is messy and challenging and wonderful. Life giving and aggravating. And that’s our invitation.
The invitation to come and see is a response to both our baptisms and to the baptism of Jesus, to join on this journey of discipleship in community. Even if we could do it on our own, we aren’t called to do it on our own. We go together. Our successes and our failures are a part of who we are together.
I’d like to leave you with a quote from a Roman Catholic Archbishop from Brazil, Dom Helder Camara. He said, “When we are dreaming alone, it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.”
Friends, what reality are we being called to dream together? How will our lives respond to the invitation? Come and see!