“Come and See!” are familiar words, especially this time of year as friends or family stop by and we want to show them something we received or experienced as we celebrated Christmas.
Stopping by one of our daughter’s homes for the first time since all the family gatherings, the first words we heard from the grandchildren, even before the boots and coats came off, “Come and See!” what’s in my room. Their enthusiasm had no room for patience and we needed to join them right now.
To fully experience what they wanted to share, we needed to stay with them for awhile, so they could show us everything. Not only sharing what they received, but how it worked and what it did.
I have heard similar enthusiasm from some of you as you shared news of places you went, things you did, presents you received with others in our faith community. Invitations to “Come and See,” the photos, the gifts, or other evidence of a great Christmas, all lifted with voices of joy.
Suggestions to go see “this movie,” or try out “this restaurant,” or “visit this store if you are in the market for one too,” dotting many conversations over the last few weeks.
This morning’s passage from John has elements similar to these experiences. John the Baptizer is with his disciples and friends the day after he witnesses the heavens open, the Spirit of God descend like a dove and remain on Jesus, and the voice of God declare this is His Son. John the Baptizer tells those gathered around him that he did not know Jesus, but it was the one who sent him to baptize with water who told him that, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
We know John knew Jesus. They were cousins, John leap in his mother’s womb when Mary, expecting Jesus, came to visit his mother. Likely they attended many family gatherings as children, playing and talking together. Unlikely John was looking for the Messiah in his own family context. Maybe not even thinking about family as he lived in the wilderness, growing in faith and preparing to answer the call on his life to pave the way for others to recognize the Lamb of God, the one sent to take away the sins of the world.
John was focused on living the life he heard God call him to live; trusting on the promises which were the basis of his faith. He was living his faith without recognizing the man Jesus as the one who he called others to prepare to see, until that moment he experiences Jesus as the Son of God as Jesus comes to be baptized. John lived the head knowledge of faith which allowed him the personal experience of faith in that moment. Allowed him to notice God in that time and place.
I was asked last week if there is baptism in the Jewish faith. I had to admit I didn’t know, so I looked it up. Cleansing, washing is part of the Jewish faith. It is baptism for the purpose of repentance for a special transgression, as is the case chiefly in the violation of the laws of purity; and is also to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God. John and those at the river as Jesus came for baptism experienced God in a way they could not have foreseen.
Once he recognized who Jesus was, what Jesus was called to do, God’s promises made flesh, John was so excited he couldn’t contain himself, and he began to tell everyone, not only is the Lamb of God coming, He is here, He is Jesus!
John continued to diminish his own importance, to lift up the importance of Jesus, to point Jesus out to his own disciples as well as all those who would listen. By the information we have, he didn’t become hurt and angry when people, including those closest to him, began following Jesus. Once John experienced God among Us, his joy and enthusiasm could not be restricted and he kept answering God’s call on his life to point others to Jesus, to the best of his ability.
Living our faith, even when it seems we haven’t had a personal encounter with God or that it has been a long time, develops our ability to experience God in our lives. It can come in a heaven opening God speaking to you moment. It can come to you in the whisper of someone you love, or in witnessing how someone is trusting God with what seems overwhelming, unfair, tragic circumstances.
The disciples who leave John to follow Jesus, don’t instantly have a personal experience. We don’t hear God’s voice telling them, “Great choice, glad you get it.” We hear Jesus inviting them to “Come and See.” They accept the invitation and take time to stay with him awhile. Just as we needed to stay with our grandchildren awhile to fully experience what was bringing them joy, they need to stay awhile to experience Jesus.
Like John, Andrew’s reaction following this encounter is to invite others to come experience Jesus for themselves. His first invitation is extended to his brother, Simon who accepts. Jesus recognizes Simon, and immediately renames him Peter.
Lives were changed in these encounters with Jesus. So much so John is open to continually inviting others to look to the One who is greater than he is, that those who leave John to follow Jesus mark the exact time they made that choice: 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and Simon receives a new name and new path in his faith journey.
Our personal experiences with God are as life changing and as important to telling God’s story of lifting the sins of the world, as are these recorded in scripture.
God equipped John the Baptizer, John the writer of this text, Andrew, Simon Peter, and generations of disciples with the experiences they need to recognize God, even if only with limited understanding. Empowered and equipped through the Holy Spirit they tell us their stories of personal encounters with God. Many of us have heard those stories from our parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, pastors, youth leaders, co-workers, and others.
The stories in scripture, joined with the stories of the moments we experienced God in our lives and the lives of others are how we can answer the invitation of Jesus to “Come and See.”
Jesus does pose a question to those considering following Him. “What are you looking for?” It is a question we need to answer for ourselves as we consider what following Jesus the Christ means in our faith journey. If we are looking for a comfortable place, where everyone agrees with us, where we know which seat we will occupy, can quote what the format of every worship service is, and where our membership has privileges we may not be ready to answer His invitation. If we are looking for a clearly written or articulated outline of where this decision takes us, I don’t think it is what Jesus offers.
Jesus does not offer a without challenges, hurt, and sorrow invitation. He offers a journey which reveals the living God to us and to others through us. He offers us an opportunity to stay with him wherever he is; to “Come and See” God working. If we accept the invitation we need to keep moving forward. The days behind us are not the good old days. Once we encounter Christ we are changed. Every time we encounter Christ we are changed.
We know it was at 4 o-clock in the afternoon, on Saturday, as we held the hand of someone recovering from a life-threatening illness, or 1:05 a.m. in the morning as we heard the cries of the newest member of our family, or 10 p.m. at night as we listened to the pain of a teenager trying to find their way in a world that doesn’t seem to recognize their potential, or 8 a.m. in the morning as we sit with someone transitioning to be with their Lord, or 11:15 a.m. as a child gives us new insight into a Bible story we have heard more times than we can count.
As John recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God in his baptism, we will notice God in many ways in unexpected places when we are faithful to the journey and actively looking. As John and Andrew enthusiastically shared their experiences of God with them and invited others to “Come and See,” we can invite others with our stories.
Some of you may feel you don’t have a story to share or the skills which allow you to share it. You are a follower of Christ, a part of the Kingdom of God. That equips you. You don’t need a degree in public speaking or story that involves a dove descending from the heavens.
Your story is the one someone needs to hear.
Your way of framing it is the important way.
It may be that you tell the story solely through the decisions they see you make and the way you respond to others, and they ask you the question equivalent to, “where are you staying?” opening the way to your sharing how you stay with Christ.
John started with his friends, Andrew with his brother. Not in judgmental, this is how your path is the wrong one, way, but in a “Come and See,” how my life is changed because I met Jesus.
Sharing your story may not be met with instantaneous response. The one with whom you share may not answer your invitation to an event or worship service the same day as Andrew did. They may not recognize what is clear to you for a long time. Remember Peter denied Jesus after journeying with him for three years.
As we continue this faith journey together, to look at the lives of others who have responded to the invitation to be disciples, we need to remember that a disciple shares the good news of Jesus Christ with someone else. Inviting others in the most authentic way we can to come and see the Jesus we have seen. To do so effectively we need a good understanding of why we made a decision to follow Jesus.
We need to share our story and trust God to work within us and others to develop the storylines which fit God’s purpose. We need to be patient with people and give them the time and space they need, just as Jesus is patient with each of us.
As we move back into a week of school and work, and maybe some recreation, I encourage all of us to watch for God in our lives and in the lives of others, to share our faith stories when given an opportunity, and to invite others to share a prayer with us, to come to an event, or to a worship service, as we continue to answer the invitation of Jesus to “Come and See.”