January 19, 2020

2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Pastor Elizabeth Damico-Carper

John 1:35-51

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Creator and from the One who is the light of the world, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

So, John the Baptist had two friends who started following Jesus, one was Andrew, you know, Simon Peter’s brother.  Andrew found Simon who was then called Cephas, which actually translates to Peter. Then they went and found Philip who was from the same neighborhood as Andrew and Peter and Philip found Nathanael and invited him too.  Nathanael wasn’t sure but Jesus convinced him and they all became disciples from Andrew to Simon Peter to Cephas to Peter (again) to Philip to Nathael and all because of John the Baptist.

This morning’s gospel reading reads like the social article in the local paper, the newest thread on Facebook, or…maybe, it’s the beginning of the Christian church! It is all about connection, knowing someone, invitations, following and Jesus.  If I told you that this morning we were going to hear the details that were the very beginnings of the Christian church, what would you expect? Perhaps drafts of constitutions and bylaws, maybe wondering how quickly these men would all be assigned as head of committees? Did they all stand before the crowd and get properly installed?

Of course, we did not hear of any pomp and circumstance, the beginning of the Christian church began with a question from Jesus.  A question that speaks to the core of our human experience, the question that we all need answered so badly, yet our answers will change so rapidly we hardly know how to hear the question.  The beginning of the Christian church began when Jesus asked, “What are you looking for?” Jesus, peering into the souls of the brand new disciples, sees their desires, their fears and asks them, “What are you looking for?”

And then the image of the Church begins to unfold as we hear each called and invited person witness to what they have been longing and looking for…

Those first two disciples, who were with John the Baptist, answered Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” by saying, “Rabbi” which means a teacher of the Scriptures and a mentor in the ways of faith. Andrew referred to Jesus as, “the Messiah ” which means the One anointed by God.  If we had continued on in our gospel reading, just a couple of verses, we would hear Philip refers to Jesus as the One “whom Moes in the law and also the prophets wrote about”. Philip has been looking for the One to complete the story of faith, the story of Israel, the promises made in the Torah and the prophets.  Nathanel is the one who doubts, who hears the story and scoffs when he says, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Yet his doubt is relieved and his cynical outlook is diminished when Jesus looks right at him and says, “I saw you, under the fig tree…I saw you.” So, Nathael’s answer is “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.”

No one’s answers are exactly alike, our life experiences, our own questioning, bring us all to a place where we can look at the same man, hear the same invitation and still answer Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” in a very different way.

So, beloved church of Christ, what are you looking for? A teacher, a mentor, something eternal to hope in, to feel God’s presence and power. Are you looking for someone to know your doubts and darkness, to really see you and invite you in, anyways.  These are the answers of those first disciples, this is the image of the Church as She begins to unfold….born out of questions, invitations, and seeing one another as Christ sees us. Dear Church, this is our origin story as a body of Christ.

So, after Jesus’ question, and after all the revealing and diverse responses…we hear the invitation.  And you should pay attention here, this is the basis for evangelical ministry, Jesus is about to lay out the plan for church growth and revitalization… “Come and see.”  No fancy slogans or 5-step programs, no telling what you will find, or witness or encounter….simply an invitation.

“Come and see.”

Because just as varied as the disciples’ answers are to Jesus, with the responses of Rabbi, Messiah, fulfillment of the Torah, Son of God, King of Israel…just as varied as the responses, so is what one will find when they respond to the invitation of the Savior.  Jesus says, “Come and see”. If I were to invite someone to this church or to my church over in Afton, I cannot guarantee what they might experience…I cannot say, Come to my church the people are nice, come to my church you’ll experience Jesus in a powerful way, come to my church all your ailments will be healed, come to my church the coffee is pretty good.  I cannot tell anyone outside or inside this church how you will encounter this Jesus man. That is a God movement, a God centered relationship, every person will experience God through Jesus Christ and that will happen in God’s own time and place.

Yet, we are told to invite others.  So remaining silent about who Jesus is is not an option. We are called by Jesus, just the same as Andrew and Philip and skeptical Nathaniel.   What will your invitation sound like? Maybe instead of “Come and see” it could be, “Come and pray, that’s what I find meaningful”

 “Come and meet my teacher”

“Come and work for justice”

“I learned how to forgive, come and hear about it”.

We are called to speak and live out of our faith and say, I belong to Christ…here is what that means to me.  It does not have to be some elaborate plan for church growth or evangelism. It cannot be shaming or fearful. No, we lovingly tell what God has done for us and invite others to experience it for themselves.  This is not an invitation to coffee or a social hour, you can extend those invites every other day of the week. This is an invitation to share and experience what God has done for you and for me and for us all.

“Come and see”.

And this inviting thing may sound small, but as we saw in God’s Word this morning, it can be the beginning of something big, beautiful, messy, holy.

I recently heard an interview of a young pastor who spoke about the influence that Gandhi had had on his life.  This young pastor said that he was invited to attend a lecture about Gandhi and Gandhi’s theories of non-violent resistance.  So, this young pastor attended the lecture and heard stories of peace, war, oppression…he heard of a movement born out of longing, hope and need.  The young pastor was inspired and certainly moved, but never imagined that soon his own life circumstances might call for a similar path. The invitation to “Come and see” led this young preacher to hear about the experiences of others, and the power of those experiences moved him to lead his life differently and invite others to “Come and see” and a movement was born, born out of questions, connections, invitations and seeing one another as Christ sees us.

This young pastor is Martin Luther King Jr.  On this MLK weekend, I will leave you with his words, an excerpt from his letter from the Jail in Birmingham.  Listen for the legacy of faith that came before Martin Luther King Jr, listen for the experience, for what God has been to him and for the invitation he extends.  It is not “Come and see”, but it is an invitation for the church to rise up as he was once invited to rise up…

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

There was a time when the church was very powerful…when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

People of God, Jesus sees us as we are, invites us to follow in a new and liberating way, so that the whole world will know and experience the saving love of God.

Come and see what God has done, come and see what God will do.

May this invitation to love and justice echo in this place and in all the places we inhabit.