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Come and See

January 18, 2011

“Come and See” John 1:29-51 © 1/16/11 by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

The tragic and senseless shootings in Tucson, AZ a little over a week ago reminded us that in the blink of an eye, life can change, and life can end. But the psychotic young man’s rampage at a political meet-and-greet is but the latest example of how fragile and uncertain our lives, our world are. A phone call, a chance meeting, a conversation overheard, a secret discovered can alter our future. Or consider a perhaps more benign example: technology is constantly updating, improving, coming at us in ads and stores so fast we can hardly keep up, even the younger ones among us who grew up with computers and smart phones.

Of course, not all change is bad, hurtful or to be rejected. No doubt we’re glad when our bank accounts are not the same today as they were yesterday, but show positive growth. We like to see our children learning new skills and hear them using bigger words. Getting a promotion, graduating from school, marking the birthday when we turn into a teenager or an adult, getting a driver’s license could all be placed in the plus column.

Still, there is something to be said for the status quo, for routine, for living in one place, for being able to rely on the old truths and the faithfulness of friends, spouses, and pets. Carole King in a song years ago expressed the question some of us may have quite often in these changing, mobile times: “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” The late Dan Fogelberg wanted to know “How can we make love stay?”

The need to find a place to rest, to be safe, to remain untroubled and unhindered by worry and stress is a spiritual longing, too. Sometimes we want to move on in our pilgrimage, to pack up our tents and migrate somewhere that offers more resources, more challenge, more excitement. No doubt that explains church shopping and the constant stream of new self-help books. Boredom is not a gift of the Spirit.

But there is also an impulse in us that needs to be held in God’s hand, to be hidden in his quiver, as the prophet put it, to have our souls rocked in the bosom of Abraham. We would like the time to soak up wisdom, to sit at Jesus’ feet, to reflect without interruption.

The disciples shared our desires. They asked Jesus “where are you staying”? John means that, of course, in the literal sense. The two who left the Baptist to follow Jesus simply wanted to know where they could go and spend some time with our Lord. Plus, they needed to find beds for the night, because it was late in the day.

But the gospel of John never rests content to leave words with their surface meaning. There’s always something going on underneath. That’s why someone once said of this gospel that it’s so shallow a child can wade in it and so deep an elephant could drown in it. John loves the double entendre.

So it is here. Words like “stay,” “remain,” “abide” are favorites of John. In Greek, in fact, they are all the same word. When the would-be followers ask Jesus where he stays, they are seeking relationship with him; they want to know something of his life; they want to dwell with him, if only for a time. Abiding with Jesus is the key to the spiritual life for John, the essential activity for being nurtured by our Lord. Paradoxically, abiding, remaining, staying, is the means by which we grow, change, mature, produce spiritual fruit. Cut off from Jesus, from intimate, personal relationship with him, we can’t do anything.

In a world of constant change, we have to have a source outside ourselves to empower us to keep faith and be faithful. A poem from a number of years back had the odd title “Sister Marie Angelica Plays Badminton.” It’s late afternoon, growing dark, after the vespers service. Two nuns decide to snatch what little remaining daylight there is to get in a game. As the match progresses, Marie Angelica must do everything she can at one point to keep the shuttlecock in play, to “keep her delicate balance.” As the birdie descends, “a feathered cry/that hovers in the heart of heaven, hovers—and plummets…” the nun gets it in her sights. She keeps it in play; she “will not let it fall/despite the darkness gathering” (Rennie McQuilkin, The Atlantic, November 1985: 93).

The poet has given us an image of the life of faith, the difficult balancing act we have to perform to keep our sights on Jesus in the midst of a changing and turbulent world, where the darkness gathers. The shuttlecock is a symbol for a way of life, one that sometimes eludes us, sometimes seems in doubt, the way of the disciple who abides in Christ.

So, in order to gain the insight, the strength, the wisdom we need, we too want to know “Rabbi, where do you abide?” Where can I be with you, learn from you, watch you work?

His answer to his new disciples was “Come and see.” And he graciously invites us with the same words. We are called to remain with him in that place where he dwells in truth with his Father, where he tabernacles with us as the only authentic and sinless human. He invites us to remain in his care, under his tutelage, by his side, all the while gaining in knowledge of ourselves and of God.

“Come and see.” For John to see is to understand, to look with the eyes of the heart, to go below the surface to the reality of things. “Come and see” is a deeply personal invitation. There is no faith, no abiding with Jesus, without personal involvement and action. The two disciples were led to seek out Jesus by the testimony of John, but they had to ask the questions, they had to go, they had to listen. So it is for us as well. We have to step out and go see for ourselves.

But if Jesus invites us to come and see, he also expects us to say the same to our neighbors and friends. And if we have indeed found the Messiah, isn’t inviting someone else to come and be with him the next step?

Think about the way we tell anybody about anything, and how we say it. “Hey, there’s this movie you’ve just gotta see.” “His latest novel is the best in a long time.” “That new restaurant El Bistro Diablo has some creative food at reasonable prices. Let’s go sometime soon.” “Have you downloaded the hit from that new band, the Euphonious Pigs? They rock, man!” “I’ve finally discovered a medication that takes care of my pain. Maybe it will help you.” “If you’re looking for a new car, consider one I just bought. It looks like a box on wheels, but it runs great.” “There’s someone I want you to meet. You two will be just right for each other.”

Word of mouth. The recommendations of friends. Connections. Social networking in person or in cyberspace. Introductions. We value what we’re told by others we trust. As we ourselves are likely in our excitement to clue in somebody else about the product, the technique, the person, the cause that seems to us to be the answer, the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams or at least our latest consumer craving.

“Come and see.” Such a simple phrase. It would work on a bumper sticker. But what an irresistible invitation, what a statement of trust in the judgment of our neighbors and friends, what a model for evangelism! “Come and see.” Say that and be free from arguments about abstract concepts, arcane philosophies, and obscure rituals. “Come and see.” Say that and be not afraid of what somebody else is going to decide. Maybe he or she will agree. Maybe not. You still know what you’ve found. What you’re after is for your friend or family member to experience an encounter with Jesus Christ. Personally. Actively. Intelligently. And on his or her own terms. That’s what faith is, after all: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Not knowing the right things, but the right person. Not practicing the right rituals, but living the life of a disciple. Not just being convinced up here (head) but here (heart).

Of course, you and I can hardly share what we have never experienced. So let each of us ask ourselves quite seriously about our own relationship with Jesus. Let us test our experiences and intuition against the witness of Scripture, where we find out who Jesus is.

Philip was excited about Jesus and wanted to tell his best friend. Am I excited about Jesus? Are you? With whom have we shared our enthusiasm lately, through all the means available to us, in all the places we might go? Do we spread the word about Jesus like we do for our favorite restaurant, a new movie or book or band, a sports team, a political candidate or a cause?

I know, I know: we’re afraid of being pushy or fanatic, and we hate it when somebody acts that way with us. But saying “come and see” is different. Those little words are not obnoxious. They respect the right of somebody to decide for themselves. They say that who Jesus is for me may not be who he is for you, that what I do in worship might not be what you find fulfilling. They don’t demand commitment; they simply entice others to explore, checking something out for themselves. “Come and see” says dip your toe in the pool before you plunge in; see what you think, feel, need, want and whether this experience, this person meets you where you are. “Come and see” celebrates and encourages new discoveries and fresh ways of thinking. They are words that invite another to come on a journey that is just beginning. And they bid the other to partner with you and me on the quest for what’s real and beautiful and life-changing.

“Come and see.” Jesus invited two seekers to find out about him for themselves. And one of them, Andrew, shared his conclusions and brought in another disciple, namely, Peter. Then our Lord called Philip, who in turn answered Nathanael’s skepticism with three simple words that called for action and respected his powers of perception.

But Jesus wasn’t finished. He promised more than the two men or anyone could imagine. They would be in the very presence of God.

As we seek him, abide with him, invite others to faith, what will he show us? Do with us and for us? Only one way to find out: “come and see.”

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