Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Come and See

Come and See
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
January 18, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 1: 35-51
Genesis 28: 10-17

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Beth-saida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathana-el, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathana-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathana-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” 48 Nathana-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathana-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” [1]

Call stories are always my favorite stories because they preach so well.  They seem to always find us where ever we are, and speak to us because they relate to us. Call stories are about regular people, doing regular stuff, and then all of a sudden something very irregular comes in. And there is God calling you to service. There is Jesus calling you to become a disciple, to follow, or in this case to Come and See. This week we take a look at the call of the disciples according to John's gospel. It is interesting because like other aspects in John's gospel, as we have seen, it is different from the other Gospels. There aren't any fish, no full nets, no I'll make you fishers of men. Instead we get two different descriptions that are very much related.
In the first grouping, we get a little bit of background that the others don't give, that some of the disciples of Jesus had been disciples of John the Baptist first. We get told that there were two followers of John, who heard him say, "Behold the Lamb of God." And so these two guys having heard that, decide to check out Jesus, since it was early in the day, they check him out hanging with him for the afternoon and decide to follow. One of those disciples is named.  . . Andrew, and the other is not named. It is noteworthy that one is named and the other isn't. . . what do you think? Who do you think this unnamed disciple could be? . . . . . .  Right. . . Most people suspect that it is Judas, and he isn't named because they didn't want to acknowledge him. But the other one, Andrew, is Simon's brother, who would later be called Peter, actually here in this story at first he is given the name, well Cephas. . . and it is Andrew that tells him that they have found the Messiah. So this one doesn't have the details around Peter being the one to first claim that Jesus was the Messiah. . . but again John's Gospel doesn't wait to say stuff like that, making sure that the claim of exactly who Jesus is, who we are supposed to believe and receive is already here right up front from the very beginning. So those are some of the details from the first half of our reading.
The second half covers the calling of Nathanael. It just so happens that Nathanael is from a town outside of Nazareth, Bethsaida. And it is Phillip that comes to him and says. . . Hey we found the Messiah, come with us. He's from Nazareth it is great. . . and Nathanael, famously says "Nazareth. . . really. . . what good could come from Nazareth?" It would be like someone in Louisa wondering if anything good could come from Orange, or a UVA grad wondering if anything good could come from Blacksburg, and myself I would have trouble believing that anything good could ever come from Randolph Macon in Ashland. . . But like the others Nathanael is convinced by Jesus to follow. And this is what drew me to this. It jumped right out at me in my first reading of it. Notice what Jesus says to all of these guys. He says, "Hey come see."  He doesn't argue, he doesn't entice, he doesn't really even preach, he just says, hey follow, come and see what you will see.
There are literally 13 references to sight in this passage alone. There is "Behold," twice, then look a bunch of times, see a bunch of times, and saw a bunch of times. So it really jumped out at me. . . Jesus asked these guys to come see, and they saw, and seeing was believing for them. What did they see? Wouldn't you like to know? And then was it easy to see? If it was easy to see, why did only a small number actually see? And if we were there would we have seen? These are the questions that were going through my head all week. For here it is John's gospel invites us to come and see, just like the other gospels invite us to become fishers of men.
In the middle of the week, my friend sent me a copy of his devotional reading from the day, and it was all about seeing. He said that he sent it to me because it reminded him of my prayer for illumination that I always say before my sermons. It said: "Love is alot of things but blind is not one of them" it was all about how visible love is. He told me that it reminded my of my Prayer for Illumination, asking for help to see with God's eyes. The devotion writer, puts  "O, that I may see as love sees, all things in their true shapes, all life in its highest possibility. that I may see what beauty there is in this soiled world. That my senses would hunger as much for justice and right proportions of things. Love, be my vision, my eyes, my light, till all things are clear, till Christ be revealed. In Christ, my eyes, my light, my blindness, my sight. Amen."[2] I couldn't help but think that perhaps love is the "come and see," that love is instantly recognizable, and also is something that once invited into its world, it immediately drags you in and that you want very much to be a part of it.
And that got me thinking because just that day I was working with a kid on a paper for my class. He was writing a paper on the Axial Age and how people in different cultures, as shown by the texts he was writing about, started a trend towards believing in transcendent truth rather than truth found in the old polytheistic rituals. The text that he was working on all had to do with being able to look within yourself. To Look with in to the truth that lies within. . . or the other text had to do with having enough perspective to  be able to see how the truth was in the connections between things, that if you were focused on one thing, you would miss it, but if you could stand back far enough to see how one issue was connected and related to others, that you could begin to know that there is only one truth and that it is in everything. I couldn't help but see all the parallels. Here I was trying to teach a kid to write, showing people how to see the text. . . that the text was all about seeing the truth. . . that his problem is that he doesn't really see the abilitity in himself enough to have confidence in himself. He doesn't have confidence in  himself because he has never written all that well before. So it is a vicious cycle, and if he could just break outside of it I could get somewhere. If I could just get him to see. . . but how.
That got me thinking what are all the things that get in the way of us seeing Christ, seeing Christ in a drop everything you have, go follow, proclaim he's the messiah, and then run and tell everyone else to come and see kind of way. What are the things that keep us from truly seeing? It may be that we don't go. . . Christ says come and see, and we don't go, so we don't see. Maybe we don't go because we don't know where to go, maybe we have too much going on to go, maybe we are better off, or think we are better off not going to see. It's possible that we do go, that we try very hard to see, but we just haven't seen. Maybe there are things in our heads that we have stored up that keep us from seeing. Maybe it is a confidence thing like my student. Maybe it is guilt, maybe it is a misconception about who Jesus is and what he is looking for, maybe it is a preconceived notion about where Jesus would be, and what he is showing us. Nathanael said that Jesus was from Nazareth, and was so sure that nothing of any value could come from a place like Nazareth. Maybe we have preconceived notions about the truth, maybe we prejudge situations and that precludes us from being able to come and to see.
But the amazing thing is there are no barriers to seeing Jesus. He invites and we go. Everyone invited in this passage to come see, comes and sees. They all proclaim. And even when they think they have seen it there is more. The Nathanael story is a great example. Nathanael is ready to follow Jesus simply because Jesus could tell him who he was and where he was sitting just a few moments before. It is so great what Jesus tells him. . . if that amazes you, just wait for what you are going to see next. I will show  you the heavens and the earth open with Angels ascending and descinding.. . very much akin to the Jacob's ladder passage we read this morning from the Old Testament. . . . the thing that amazes me though, and the thing I'd really like to take away from this is, even us, even us who think we have already done our come and see, even if we've already been able to come and see Jesus, and we are all here, we've all decided at some point in our life to be here, to follow to try. . . even so, there is more to be seen. That coming and seeing Jesus seems to be an ongoing proposition. It suggests that at first sight we will be amazed enough to follow, but as the relationship grows, as our experience grows, the sheer awe and wonder of what we see with Jesus will not go away. Bold promises. . . aren't they.
I also came across in my study for this week, an article that was taking a look at this passage, and how it relates to Evangelism, and spreading the word about who Christ is. What the disciples and we are all eventually called to do. His main point was how often in our zeal to spread the truth of Christianity, we fail by trying to do more than the simple invitation shown here. That Jesus simply says, "Come and See," but we tend to argue, and prove, and come up with the best air tight case for the truth of Jesus, and in doing so we actually blind the other person the truth. That by seeking so hard to prove, we end up shadowing what would otherwise be very clear, and that rather then simply letting our love show the way to Christ, we try the much shorter and easier road of trying to explain it. As a teacher of writing I don't know how many times I have told my students that showing is always better than telling, but hadn't made the connection to this "come and see," until now. I did preach on a similar subject a few years ago around Easter, when I preached the sermon, "Jesus on Trial," suggesting that if Jesus doesn't defend himself with words, why would we think that our words could convince people. If it is the cross that truly saves, why would we think that anything less could take the place of the Cross. I'm not sure if I'm going to go all in, in believing that everything Christians do today muddies the picture, but I think there is something to the critique. It is much easier to write a book than it is to show love in your life, to simply say, hey come and see what Christ is doing in the world, come and see what Christ is doing in our church, come and see what Christ is doing in our lives. And it is easier to talk about it and write a book than it is to take up your own cross. It certainly would be easier to write a book, and don't forget this is all coming from someone who just wrote a book. . . we are all in need.
Let us pray. . . Almighty God, help us to see, help us to accept the invitation, help us to actually go where you lead, and see what you would have us to see. Let us be strong enough in our faith that we can also simply invite others to do the same, knowing that seeing love is enough to kindle hearts to become loving disciples, through Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 1:35). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2] Teems, David. "January 14th: "Love is a lot of Things but Blind Ain't One of Them." To Love is Christ: 365 Devotions. ©2004 Elm Hill Books, Nashville, TN.