Written by Pastor Ed
Come and See
January 15, 2017
Isaiah 49: 1-7
John 1: 29-42
Last week, as we celebrated Epiphany, our theme was that “Aha” moment when the church realized that God’s message through Jesus was for everyone, both Jew and Gentile, and by extension, all people. And I closed with the question of how we live out that message and share the good news with all, not worrying about who responds, because that really is the Spirit’s doing.
That question of how we share the good news and what it means will be my focus for the next few weeks, and is an ongoing focus of many articles I have been seeing recently. It’s not a new question or concern by any means. It’s been the question for the church since its beginning, but has again taken on more of an urgency given the times we live in.
For many years the church, this church along with many others, could simply count on people joining. Mostly it was family who grew up and stayed a part of the church, or members of the same denomination who moved into the neighbourhood and joined, but that is no longer the case. Yes, it happens sometimes, but we live in a much more mobile culture now, and denominational loyalty is not nearly as strong as it once was.
So what does that mean? Our scripture passage today from the Gospel of John provides us with several possible answers, I believe, but before I get to them, I ran across “10 ways not to share your faith” a post written by Greg Stier. (From <http://www.christianpost.com/news/10-ways-not-to-share-your-faith-45065/>) These are some things he suggests aren’t very good practices for sharing the good news.
- Stand on the corner and scream “REPENT!” at others. If it didn’t work for Jeremiah the prophet, it won’t work for you.
- Break into a public high school and shove gospel tracts into the lockers. Trust me on this. I’ve done it…seriously.
- Wear a “Ready to die…ask me why” T-Shirt. I’ve done this too. It’s not effective, but it did scare people.
- Go into a bookstore and secretly slip gospel tracts into all of the New Age/Witchcraft books. Have I done this? Maybe…okay, yes.
- Put gospel tracts in the hands of the mannequins at J.C. Pennys (or The Bay). While it looks like the fashion dummy is offering the gospel tract it’s the real dummy that gets thrown out of the mall. Suffice it to say that I’ve met many security guards this way and they are nothing like the guy in “Mall Cop.”
- Use fake $100 dollar bills with “the gospel” on them to get people excited that they found a $100 dollar bill and then get them ticked off when they realize that they didn’t.
- Go on Christian television and offer the gospel as a way to get rich on earth. Does anybody have a barf bag?
- Sky dive from 3,000 feet into an outdoor Atheist’s convention with “John 3:16″ painted on your parachute.
- Yell out “I love Jesus how ’bout you?” in the middle of class.
- Any kind of Christian bumper sticker (especially if you’re a bad driver!)
One could probably add quite a few more to the list. Many of the methods that were once thought to be effective tools for evangelism aren’t any more simply because we live in a different culture than when those methods were introduced, and many of them weren’t really all that effective either.
So what might we learn from a story about John the Baptist and Jesus that might be helpful. After all, they lived in a much different culture than we do, didn’t they? Well, in some ways “yes”, and in other ways their setting had some similarities to our current situation. They lived in a time when most people didn’t recognize Jesus, just as we do. One of the realities the church needs to face today is that many, if not most, of the people around us do not claim any religious affiliation and aren’t familiar with the Bible stories that many of us grew up on and take for granted.
Now, we tend to think of Andrew and Peter as just a part of Jesus’ disciples. But that’s not the way it started out. The account is that Andrew and someone else, who remains unnamed, were first disciples of John the Baptist. John, you may recall, was a rather interesting character who was attracting a crown wherever he went. And it was he who first recognized Jesus and, we are told, pointed him out to these two disciples, one of whom was Andrew. Now John records that both of them followed Jesus, although as I said we don’t know who the other one was.
Andrew then went off and found his brother Simon Peter and told him what had happened and thus Peter also became a follower. In both cases, the first task, both of John the Baptist and of Andrew, was to point people to Jesus. And really that’s our first task as well – to introduce people to Jesus. Not to get them to come to our church. Not to point them to some great preacher. But to introduce them to the person whom we follow, namely Jesus.
Of course, that means we first of all have to recognize who Jesus is ourselves before we can point others to him. And we have to be willing, as John the Baptist was, to point away from ourselves. And yes, unfortunately I have heard preachers and others who seem to be more about themselves and building up their own reputation than about pointing people to Jesus. But our faith and the church is built on the proclamation that Jesus is the Lamb of God, as John the Baptist proclaimed.
So first point, our primary task is to point toward Jesus as the founder and leader of our faith. To become a disciple of Jesus is the first and primary step in becoming a Christian. We’ll explore that a bit more next week.
The second point I learn from this passage is modeled on Jesus himself and his encounter with the two disciples who followed John’s pointing and started on the path with Jesus. When Jesus saw they were following him, he didn’t turn around and begin preaching at them. He didn’t tell them they needed to change something before they could follow him. He began with a question, “What are you seeking?” In other words, he began by asking them what their need was, what they desired. He began where they were at, not where he thought they should be.
And then, his invitation to them was simple. In response to their inquiry, “Where are you staying”, or more literally abiding, a prominent word in John’s gospel, he simply says, “Come and see.” It’s a simple statement, but conveys so much.
There was no rebuttal or questioning of motives, “Why do you want to know?” What’s it to you?” or such. There were no background checks, questions about who their parents or grandparents were, or if they lived in the area. There was simply an invitation to walk along and observe.
There is one little interesting puzzle in this passage that no one seems to have a good answer for, and that is John’s note that it was “about four o’clock in the afternoon.” Why that seemed important to include is anyone’s guess. Maybe since he says that they stayed with Jesus the rest of the day it meant they weren’t really there all that long. It’s just one of those little puzzles that Biblical scholars can spend lots of time discussing.
To return to our main point, in some ways “come and see” captures both of the principles I’m talking about. As Audrey West puts it in her commentary at workingpreacher.org,
“this answer captures a primary message of John’s Gospel: If you want to know the word made flesh, come and see Jesus. If you want to know what love is like, come and see Jesus. If you want to experience God’s glory, to be filled with bread that never perishes, to quench your thirst with living water, to be born again, to abide in love, to behold the light of the world, to experience the way, the truth, and the life, to enter into life everlasting, . . . if you want to know God, come and see Jesus.”
First of all come and see Jesus. And then come and see how the disciples of Jesus continue to follow in the way of Jesus. Now of course, that last part carries some risk, because that means that we who claim to be disciples need to model the way of Jesus, so that those who are invited can actually see the teachings of Jesus put into practice.
Unfortunately, as we know all too well from watching events south of the border, that doesn’t always happen. Unfortunately the actions of people who call themselves Christian often do not reflect the ways of Jesus, and so it becomes more difficult, and more important, for us to point to good examples of Christ’s way.
So in some ways it’s quite simple. Come and see. Come and see Jesus and come and see what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It’s an invitation that begins with where the other person is at, what they are seeking, and then points to the one whom we follow.
In his blog, Greg Stier ends his piece that I quoted before in this way:
So, if this is how you should NOT share your faith, how should you? How about this? Talk to people! Love them, listen to them, engage them and share the gospel with them. It’s only taken me about 30 years of sharing my faith to figure this out. I guess I’m a slow learner. It’s a good thing I love the book of Colossians. I finally got the message after reading this passage in chapter four, verses four through six,
“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Sounds so simple, and yet, for most of us, and I include myself, we find it sometimes hard to do. May the Spirit help us in our weakness.