Come and See!
By The Rev. Chris Miller
Sunday, July 28, 2019
Reading: John 1:35-51
When I was about 12 years old, a man came to our door one Saturday morning and invited my younger brother and sister to Sunday School at a nearby church. As a family, we did not attend any church. Both of my siblings had, the week before, attended an afterschool children’s program in that church. I didn’t attend the program but was home that Saturday morning. The man saw me and invited me as well. He said something about coming and checking them out. I did that a few weeks later and that was the beginning of a spiritual journey for me.
When I was in my later years at high school, I invited one of my friends to come along and check out our church youth group. He came and after talking with the adult leader, he began a spiritual journey with Jesus that continues to this day.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, how do you witness to your faith? Is there a way of being a witness to our faith in God through Jesus Christ that is positive, open and inviting? Because at heart I believe that we all want to be positive, effective witnesses.
Now, we know what we don’t want to model our witnessing life after. We don’t like pushiness, arrogance, spiritual manipulation, coercion of any kind – all the appalling values we hope are not part of our personal way of being with one another let alone our church culture.
In his book Vanishing Grace: Bringing Good News to a Deeply Divided World, Philip Yancey drives the point home:
Ask uncommitted people to describe Christians and you’ll likely hear such words as 'smug,' 'exclusive,' and 'self-righteous.' Christians can come across as superior and judgmental, dismissing others’ beliefs while being defensive about their own. When I sense those tendencies in myself, [said Yancey] I try to remember how I feel when someone argues that I’m wrong about something—which gives a strong clue to how others must feel when I present my own beliefs insensitively. I’ve yet to meet someone who found their way to faith by being criticized.
We here at TEMC understand the need to witness. Our weekly worship here is a very significant way of witnessing to faith in God through Jesus Christ — Clear messages that touch the mind and heart with hope, uplifting music that speaks to the connection of our spirit with the Holy Spirit and prayers that connect God’s thoughts and heart with our every day life in this broken world. Isn’t it our deep hope to make an open and honest statement of the gospel — the good news — of the Lord Jesus Christ, which leaves hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it?
Our involvement in the ecumenical Alpha movement is another example. This program is very helpful in encouraging caring, non-judgemental discussion about the meaning of the Christian faith. Those who participate find their own faith deepened and renewed all the while discovering new ways of witnessing to the meaning of their faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this fall you might think about your possible participation in such a program.
It’s probably fair to say that at best we struggle with being a witness. Is it primarily doing good deeds? It is often alleged that Saint Francis of Assisi said, “I will preach the gospel and if necessary, I will use words.” This statement may fit the way he lived but there is no evidence he said anything like it.
Is it primarily what we say — our words? A former missionary to India, Daniel T. Niles described being a witness as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”
Is it more both/and rather than either/or? If we look carefully enough, we don’t have to go far for an answer. In fact, you and I have been invited to “come and see” for ourselves what being a witness is all about.
Listen again to parts of this morning’s passage from John’s gospel in The Message Bible:
John [the Baptist] was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. John looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”
The two disciples heard John and went after Jesus. Jesus looked over his shoulder and said to them, “What are you after?” [What do you want?]
They said, “Rabbi” (or “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
He replied, “Come along and see for yourself.” ….
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Philip and said, “Come, follow me.” ….
Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.” But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.”
When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.” Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Embedded in this passage is, I believe, a constructive way of being a personal witness to Jesus – Let’s call it the “Come and See” way of being with one another.
Number one in our way of being a witness: The messenger, the witness says, “Come and See,” and points to Jesus -- “Here He is, God’s lamb! He forgives the sin of the world.”
There is a message, actually a person, to point to; we don’t have to make anything up. I recommend you listen to or read Rev. Lori’s messages of the last three weeks again or for the first time. You will see that we, as Christians, do not have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to create a new message. The One to whom we point hasn’t changed. He’s still the same One waiting for us and going after us.
I wonder though if it is here at the very beginning that we run into difficulty? We are not sure ourselves that the One to whom the messenger points, “God’s lamb, who forgives the sin of the world” is really the One? You mean, The Saviour? The redeemer for the whole world?
What can I say -- as one messenger, one witness? I can point and say “come and see for yourselves.” I can suggest that taking time outside of the hour spent on a Sunday morning will pay eternal dividends. For instance, read the whole gospel of John in one or two sittings. Read it in a modern English translation such as The Message Bible or the Contemporary English Bible, which we have in our pews. You will be surprised at what you will see and whom you will meet. Then talk with a good friend about what you found.
Let me give you a hint. A few verses earlier in this chapter John gives us this witness: Everybody who receives the Word, who believes in his name, can become a newborn child of God. Everybody – not just those with a particular pedigree or certificate of achievement. Anglican Bishop and writer Tom Wright identifies it well:
Again and again in John’s gospel we will see the ancient people of God, not least their rulers and self-appointed guardians of tradition, missing the meaning of what Jesus is doing, while people on the edges, outside the boundaries, get the point and find themselves forgiven, healed, brought in by God’s transforming love.” Ah! “Here He is, God’s lamb. He forgives the sin of the world.
Sometimes we are the messengers, the witnesses, while all the time we are the messengees (is there such a word?). We are also those on the receiving end of a witness! Always each of us experience those who witness to us pointing us away from themselves and to “God’s lamb.” But when we are the messengers, the witnesses, let us allow Jesus to be the forgiver, healer and redeemer He wants to be and more for us and the whole of humanity.
Number one in our way of being then: The witness says, “Come and See,” and points to Jesus -- “Here He is, God’s lamb! He is the One who forgives the sin of the world.”
Number two: When a person begins to follow, Jesus Himself says in the depths of their hearts, “Come and See. Ask your questions. Let me help you find out who I am.” If that’s how Jesus treats people, with respect and dignity, then you and I must treat people the same way.
What will lift that unease off our shoulders about being a witness is to realize that “God’s lamb” will take the initiative in further discussion with the people we love and talk to – family, friends, acquaintances.
The initiative is first of all God’s, not ours. The initiative belongs to Jesus. Just as he called his first disciples, he continues to call people to follow him today – still, as always, an act of grace. Always, He is the good shepherd going after his lost sheep. Always loving and going after everyone. Jesus said later in John’s gospel in chapter six, “No one is capable of coming to me on their own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.” And still later in the Gospel of John Jesus prayed with loving concern for these who have been given Him, “I spelled out your character [God] in detail to the men and women you gave me. They were yours in the first place; then you gave them to me.” To be a witness may not be quite the struggle we think it is if we realize to whom it is we point and who is the initiator, the architect of grace, of healing and of redemption in our lives. We can then relax in that knowledge.
When Jesus sees John the Baptist’s disciples following Him, He asks, “What do you want?” “What do you seek?”
What a penetrating question for those disciples! “Are you seeking for more security than John offers or a new cause to engage in perhaps?”
And can’t you hear Jesus’ underlying questions: “Do you really have any idea of what I’m about? Who I really am? Do you realize the cost of leaving John to follow Me?” He is still asking us the same questions today!
John’s disciples don’t answer immediately but come back with their own question “Where are you staying?
Far more than a street number is involved with this question. They are really asking, “Where is Your dwelling place? Where did You come from? What is Your purpose? Can we come to know You?”
Here is Jesus’ way of being with these people, “Come and see.” Ask your questions.” He says. “Let me help you find out who I am.”
I find Dallas Willard’s comment illuminating in this discussion. “If Jesus knew of a better way to live than following him, I'm sure that he would be the first one to tell you to take it." (Eternal Living]
Number one: The witness says, “Come and See”, and points to Jesus -- “Here He is, God’s lamb! He forgives the sin of the world.”
Number two: When a person begins to follow, Jesus Himself says, “Come and See. Ask your questions. Let me help you find out who I am.”
Number three in our way of being a witness: When we talk with one another, our witness needs to include at some point that this Jesus also has forgiven “my” sin. He has taken my brokenness, my hurt and pain, my grief — He has taken on himself all the sin and brokenness of the world for He was crucified on a cross for the love of His broken people.
Like another witness in Psalm 66, who also said then, “Come and see”, our witness today can also say as he did, “Come and hear…let me tell you what God has done for me.”
Here is the intensely personal arena of life, where each of us finds ourselves first -- as those on the receiving end of Christ’s grace before we are the messengers. It is challenging to be a contemporary witness without possessing a living, up-to-date personal message. Is not what matters that Jesus the “lamb” so permeates our spirit through the power of God’s Holy Spirit that being a witness is like what happened to Philip? Jesus found Philip and called him to come and follow him. And he did follow. Along the way Philip sought out his friend Nathaniel and told him about finding Jesus whom Philip said was the One they were looking for — the Messiah, The Redeemer.
Nathaniel wasn’t quite sure if he should believe his friend especially when Philip remarked that Jesus came from Nazareth. Nazareth was not a place of any significance. Nathaniel could hardly think that Nazareth was the kind of place someone like the Messiah would be born. Philip did not argue with him but simply said, “Come, see for yourself.”
Nathaniel was not disappointed when he met Jesus. What captured Nathaniel was that Jesus saw into his thoughts, into his soul. Nathaniel was a person who called it as he saw it. To use an old cliché, he called a spade a spade! There was not a false bone in his body. Jesus saw that in him and told him that straight out.
Nathaniel shot back at Jesus, “Where did you get that idea about me? You know nothing about me?”
“I saw you under the fig tree”, said Jesus. That meant something to Nathaniel. The fig tree was a symbol of peace and a place where you would sit under its shade and meditate about your life and its meaning. I think what thoroughly surprised Nathaniel was that he believed Jesus knew the thoughts of his heart. Jesus saw his secret unspoken longings, his dreams and hopes, all that he wished for. No wonder, Nathaniel believed Jesus was God’s promised Anointed One and no other! Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
There are many ways God knows us and touches our lives. And there are various ways we might witness to our own faith in Jesus Christ.
Let me conclude with a story from a little book called Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery. It was published in 1974 by a Dr. Richard Selzer who wrote out of his experience as a surgeon.
In a section titled “Lessons from the Art”, Selzer wrote:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, Clownish [in appearance]. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on.
The surgeon had followed with religious fervour the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumour in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private.
Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-
mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?
The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent.
But the young man smiles.
“I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze… Unmindful (of me), he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.
Friends, I can do no other but confess and be ever so grateful that I continue to experience a similar accommodating kiss of God’s faithful, gracious love in all my broken humanness. I would not be here otherwise.
May this be so for you … as well as for me. Amen!