Come and See – a Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
I first stepped foot on the property when I couldn’t even walk. My father had taken me to meet the man who saved his soul, and the place that rescued him from a life of uncertainty. It was here that my father grew to know God and learned what he wanted to do with his life.
I started attending Silver Lake Conference Center in the summer before I entered 4th grade. I had been looking forward to being away for a week at camp for years. I remember when the camp brochure came out that spring, sitting down on the floor and pouring over my options for days before making up my mind on which camp I would go to.
I also remember asking my dad over and over again what I would expect as a camper. He just said “wait and see,” further piquing my curiosity and anticipation.
After 7 years as a camper, I became a counselor at Silver Lake and then later a dean – leading a conference of my own.
Over the years, people have often asked me what was so special about Silver Lake, why I kept going back year after year. I could have given them a thousand reasons. I could have told them about the spectacular setting in the hills of Northwestern Connecticut. I could have told them about the amazing sense of authentic community felt there. I could have told them about how it is a safe place for young people to be themselves and explore their relationship with God and their peers. I could have told them about worshipping at the shores of the lake, or in the small chapel next to a waterfall, or about communion in the round with 200 people passing the bread and cup serving each other.
But I didn’t.
Instead of telling them all these things, I usually offer up an invitation – Come and See. Come and see for yourself. Experience the magic that happens in what we in Connecticut call God’s Backyard.
Come and See.
The story of how Jesus came to acquire his disciples is always one of invitation, rather than coercion. We read in today’s gospel lesson how two of John’s disciples were following after Jesus as he walked down the road. I imagine it was like two young girls following Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift trying to get an autograph. Perhaps the two disciples were whispering to each other, “you ask him,” “no, you do it,” “no you,” and so on. Jesus probably overheard them, so he turns around and asks, “What are you looking for?”
Stunned by Jesus actually talking to them, I can see them stammering, “uh…Teacher? Where are you staying?” in an attempt to get invited to hang out.
And instead of telling them, Jesus offers up an invitation – Come and See. And so they go and hang out with Jesus. In doing so, one of them has a revelation – an epiphany – and Andrew runs off to find his brother to tell him he has found the Messiah, and invite him to come and see. Simon follows Andrew, meets Jesus and is transformed into Peter.
If we keep reading in John, the next section continues this motif. Jesus heads off to Galilee and encounters Phillip, inviting him to follow. Philip spends time with Jesus and realizes that he is the one the prophets spoke of. He runs to find his brother Nathaniel, and invites him to Come and See.
And then there is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4. After spending time with Jesus, she realizes that he is Christ and runs off to her village, inviting the people there to Come and See.
Come and See.
A simple invitation from Jesus ripples outward as Andrew invites Peter, Phillip invites Nathaniel, the Samaritan woman invites her neighbors. Over time this invitation has rippled across the world for people to come and see that Jesus is the Messiah. All this from three simple words – Come and See.
Not from a threat, but an invitation – Come and See.
Not, “have you given your heart to me?” Not, “do you know the four spiritual laws?” And certainly not, “do you know where you will spend eternity?”
From a simple, “Come and See.”
As simple as these three words are, however, I believe many of us – including myself – find it hard to share our faith outside these walls. These days in our culture, sharing our faith is at best unwelcome and all too often comes across as manipulative and offensive.
I remember I was in the Milwaukee airport when I encountered a street preacher standing in the middle of the concourse asking people if they had found Jesus. Being the smart aleck that I can be at times, I responded, “I didn’t realize he was lost.” I was then told that I would be going to hell for that comment and should repent or else face eternal damnation.
Probably not the best way to share your faith. Scaring them into believing.
But notice, Jesus employs a different method. No coercion. No threat. No intimidation. Instead Jesus says something that is second nature to anyone wanting to introduce a friend to a new movie, book, or band – Come and See.
I have a hunch that there is another reason that we feel uncomfortable sharing our faith, besides that it can feel pushy or manipulative. I think that beneath our nervousness about not wanting to offend is something of a more basic inhibitor – we haven’t been trained to talk about our faith, let alone share it.
I was reminded this week that sometimes we pastors live in a fantasy world. Our fantasy goes like this: inspired by excellent worship, and even more our excellent preaching, you will leave church this morning making all kinds of connections between faith and your everyday lives, want to share your faith with your friends, and invite your friends to church.
You see what I mean? While it is a wholesome vision, it is really a fantasy. A fantasy because adults are typically anxious about engaging in activities in which they don’t feel competent. Most of us get nervous about learning a musical instrument, singing in public, or learning a foreign language if we haven’t already been trained to do these things.
If you take me out of my role as a pastor, I have huge anxiety about sharing my faith with others – and I’m a professional! If I’m nervous about sharing my faith, it’s no wonder that people in the congregation – most who have had zero practice or training in sharing their faith – have so much trouble doing so. It is a sheer fantasy for me to believe that suddenly, without training, people will begin talking about their faith with others.
So far in my short time here at St. John’s I have seen this start to change. Beginning in small groups such as the book study on Unbinding the Gospel, people have started talking about their faith. Hopefully this trend will continue. Next week, three of our Confirmands will come forward and share a little about their understanding of faith. During Lent, we are hoping that some of the authors of our Lenten Devotional book will offer testimony to how the Spirit moved them in the process of writing their entry. And as we gear up for camp this summer, I hope that we can find some people to share the way God has affected them while at St. John’s Camp.
As we talk about our faith within these walls, we hear stories of the way that God has transformed our lives. This transformation is visible to all we know. When they ask what has happened to change us, how are we to respond?
Jesus models a response for us. Come and See.
Come and see what we do at St. John’s.
Come and see the way the Spirit moves in our lives.
Come and see.
After returning from a week at Silver Lake this past summer, I returned to my summer job at another camp. One of my co-workers asked me what it is about that place that brings me back every summer and sends me home transformed.
You’ll just have to come up and see.
image found here