We forget this important truth about the people we meet; Jesus is following them, calling them, waiting for them to turn around.
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated, Peter).
Come, and See
Imagine how this conversation ends; I’ll give you the first part, and let you think about what comes next. Two couples are talking at church, or at a party, or while playing euchre at one of their houses. One of the women mentions the movie she and her husband saw the night before, starring the most popular actor and actress and directed by the hottest director in Hollywood. Her husband jumps in—of course--and talks about the great action scenes and the amazing photography, and the wife nudges him aside to go on and on about the emotions the movie provoked. Then the husband says, “You know, I’d really like to see it again, and to take the two of you as our guests.” The wife then adds, “Afterward, there’s this great new restaurant just across the street from the theater; let us take you there for dinner, and we can talk about the movie while we eat.” What do you think comes next in the conversation? It isn’t hard to imagine, is it?
Conversations like this take place all the time, all around us.
Bryan and Anna recently recommended a movie to me. “The Two Popes” is the title. I thought it was in theaters, but it showed up on Netflix, and so Donna and I watched it, and it was a great movie. I wouldn’t have known about it—I don’t think—if they hadn’t spoken of it. I’m really glad we saw it and I really appreciate that they recommended it. It was a fascinating movie—not life-changing, but very helpful in understanding. Just imagine—if Bryan and Anna had come to me and invited me to go to see the movie with them, and then to have dinner and to talk, over the meal, about the film.
Andrew is identified in John’s Gospel as the first one called—the first of the Twelve that would walk with Jesus, learning and helping and healing, for three years, throughout Israel and Judea. And like the others, Andrew traveled for the rest of his life teaching and healing and baptizing in Jesus’ name. History records that, after the Resurrection—after the Pentecost--Andrew carried the Good News of Jesus to the north—through Greece and into Europe, along the Denieper River and the Black Sea, all the way to what is modern-day Kiev, in Ukraine, over 1,300 miles away, and into Russia, as well. Eventually, back inside the Roman Empire, Andrew would be crucified for his faith at age 62. How was Andrew invited; how did he begin the adventure of being a follower of Jesus? All Jesus had to say was, “Come and see.”
Let’s pray and then we’ll think, together, about the power of that invitation.
God, we have come to see, to hear, to feel and to be changed. Remind us, this morning, that you are the Creator of the world and the Author of life, the One who imagined us into being and who loves us exactly as we are. Speak into our very souls of Your will for us, and make us bold to walk the path that leads to life, reaching out to all whom we meet and lifting them onto that same path. Keep us in Your mighty hand, and remind us, no matter what we say or do, no matter what we see or hear or feel, no matter what is revealed and what remains, yet, hidden from our discovery, that the glory of this time and of these words is Yours, alone. Amen.
Yesterday, at the memorial service for Bishop Coyner, members of the clergy from around the state—and far beyond—gathered to say goodbye. When he came to Indiana, Bishop Mike brought with him from the Dakotas a great and meaningful tradition--at a Methodist pastor’s funeral, all of the clergy were invited to stand together near the remains and to sing, “It Is Well with My Soul.” It is well with my soul. This tradition ignited the spark of some of the most powerful moments I have experienced as a pastor. When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It is well with my soul. No matter what is happening to me, around me, within my life, God, I know that You are beside me. I feel the love of Jesus in my heart and I am ensconced in the swirling beauty of the Holy Spirit, and so—no matter whether I am experiencing peace like a river or the fear-filled sadness of a storm at sea--I am okay. It is well with my soul.
John had spoken to his own disciples of Jesus. One of John’s disciples was Andrew. We don’t know how they met. Perhaps Andrew had encountered John as John stood in the middle of the Jordan River calling those who came near a “brood of vipers.” Maybe Andrew responded to the call and waded out for baptism, or maybe Andrew was standing nearby, helping others or handing out towels or praying with those who had been baptized. We don’t know, except that Andrew was identified as a “disciple” of John before he becomes a disciple of Jesus. And Andrew was standing nearby when John spoke of Jesus:
‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’
Jesus was passing by and, so, this time, Andrew began to follow Him. Sensing the presence of Andrew and another of John’s disciples, Jesus turned and asked, “What are you looking for?” Andrew responded with a question of his own: “Where are you staying?” Now, we know that Jesus often answered a question with a question, but here was Andrew turning the tables, doing the same to Him; perhaps Jesus was amused, or intrigued, for He said, simply, “Come and see.” You see, Jesus understood that the question He had asked was not one easily answered. What are you looking for? Ask a stranger on the street, “What are you looking for,” and you’ll get deer-in-the-headlights. Ask your co-worker, or your neighbor, or the waiter who brings your entrée— “What are you looking for?”—and look for the anguish in their face. Ask your husband, or your wife, or your kids, and see how quickly their body language changes to obvious discomfort. I shared a message—probably a couple of years ago—and I said then that everybody is looking for something. Everybody is looking for something. Everyone we know, everyone we meet, everyone around us is looking for something. Something to believe in, something to hold onto, something to bring meaning and purpose and fulfillment, something to fill that giant hole that each one has in his or her heart. They don’t know—most of them—what it is, only that something is missing in their lives and they are left seeking it, hoping to recognize it when it appears. Jesus knew the hole in Andrew’s heart. He asked, “What are you looking for,” but Jesus already knew. That’s why He told Andrew. “Come, and see.”
Everybody’s looking for something and, yet, we’re scared to tell them, “Come, and see.” We’re afraid of evangelism. We’re scared to tell people about Jesus. I know; I’m a pastor, a sixty-five-year-old man who felt the call to do this work sixteen years ago, and it’s still a challenge for me to tell a person about Jesus. Sixty or seventy, or a couple of hundred people—as many as will fit in here in the sanctuary--no problem. A child—easy. But one adult, or a couple, or my best friend, or one of my kids—now that scares me. And someone told me, last week, why. I honestly am not sure who told me, but I think it was during a great conversation at Grace on Tap when someone said it. I guess I’d always thought it was about not being weird—that is, we don’t talk about our faith because we don’t want to stick out or be any more uncool than we have to be. But it isn’t about that. It’s about the questions they might ask. That’s what it is. It’s about me telling them a little bit and them wanting to know more, about what might have confused them in the past, about what the Bible says, or why the prodigal son’s brother was such a jerk, why the priest walked by but the Samaritan stopped. We’re afraid they’ll ask us a question and we won’t be able to answer the questions they will ask and, so, we will be exposed, laid bare as not-so-smart-after-all or, worse, as the hypocrites we’re already afraid that we are.
Well, let me tell you something—two things. Two things that will help. The first thing is, I can guarantee that someone will ask you a question you can’t answer. I know it’ll happen; you see, it happens to me all the time. People ask me questions every week, probably, and I have to answer that I don’t know, or that I’m not sure. And then I go figure it out and I get back to them. I’m no Bible scholar and an average Christian, at best. Even when I went to seminary, I worked full-time, about sixty hours a week, and it showed in my grades. So—I can promise you this: you don’t have to know the answers, because the people who ask me always seem to appreciate it when I say that I don’t know the answer—like it’s okay not to know--and then I tell them I’ll try to figure it out so we can talk more about it later. When you tell someone who doesn’t know that you don’t know, either, you give them a gift. It’s okay to not know. But, now that they’ve asked, then let’s care enough to think about it, to read, to ask someone like me, and go back and tell them what you’ve found, even if it isn’t very much. Not knowing is okay. Saying so is a gift you give them.
The second way I can help is by being here so if they ask you, you can ask me and, together, we can figure a lot of stuff out. Or you can bring them to me and the three of us will work on it together. And that’s a gift, too—a gift to them, a gift to you, and a gift to me.
You see, what evangelism really is, in its essence, is three parts of good stuff. The first part is to pay attention—to really notice when God does something in your life. The second part is to be open about it. You don’t have to wave a flag, or go tell everybody just how blessed you are, or wear a big cross as jewelry—not that there’s anything wrong with that--but let the real evidence of God’s goodness shine through in your smile, or your laughter, or your relief, because others will notice and ask—"why do you smile so much?” “How do you stay calm when the world is going to hell in a handbasket?” “Why are you still okay when the storms of life come?” And then tell them—don’t brag or boast or tell them that God has picked you to be the favorite. No; just give a humble nod to God’s love, and mercy, and grace. And, then, part three--invite them to come and see for themselves. Invite them to your house to see the new baby, to the hospital to see how much better your mom is, to dinner at your house to celebrate the recipe you learned when you were at Hearts and Hands, to see what your kids made on Art Night. Invite them to church to hear your favorite preacher! Or me. Invite them to come and see the things that have made a difference in your life, because they are hungry for change in their own lives, but they can’t put it into words. Don’t scare them by asking, “What are you looking for?” Put them at ease; just invite them to “Come, and see.” Invite them to go to lunch with you, after.
We forget this important truth about the people we meet, sometimes; Jesus is following them, calling them, waiting for them to turn. All of the time. Just the same way Jesus followed each of us. Prevenient grace, we call it. Grace just waiting to be discovered, realized, grace that people don’t even know is already at work in their lives. Jesus is seeking people, everywhere and always. Jesus wants them to sing, someday—and sooner, rather than later— “It is well with my soul.” When sorrows like sea billows roll, still, it is well with my soul. Don’t you want it, too? Don’t you want the people around you--the people you meet, the co-worker who just got served with the papers, the friend who just got the bad diagnosis, the mail carrier who wipes away tears as she delivers, the unmarried waitress who is just starting to show, the kids in the foster care system, the parents of our preschoolers and the parents of the Academy and the Corvette Clubsters and Rupert’s Kids, and the folks who come to Union Chapel, day and night, to gather for support with others who are also addicted—don’t you want them all to sing with open hearts, “It Is Well With My Soul?” When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. That’s what Jesus wants. And Jesus called on us—on you and on me--to help them to be by His side, simply by saying, as He said, “Come, and see.” Shall we bring them near to Him, so that they may see—so that they may be found—sooner rather than later? Shall we do it now, today instead of tomorrow, so that they may find the peace and the joy and the hope that reside in the love of Jesus even one day sooner than they might have found it otherwise—isn’t it a blessing to give them even one additional day of the singing; “It is well?”
I read an article, recently, that said kindness is the new evangelism. Kindness is the new evangelism. But I just don’t think so; I think that kindness has always been the best evangelism, the most effective, the most important. How better to gain someone’s attention, trust and interest than to show them kindness? No, what is different today is that kindness is so rare in the world. But kindness is the essential first step of bringing people into the presence of the love of Jesus. Kindness is Christianity at its essence; kindness is hospitality, extended to wherever we find ourselves. Hospitality does not happen only where we live, where we work, where we worship—the places that are under our control. Hospitality happens wherever we are when we choose to show kindness. The hospitality of kindness is our means of evangelism.
We pledge ourselves to radical hospitality. Radical hospitality must not end at the exit door, or the end of the sidewalk, or when a car pulls out onto Haverstick or Driftwood. Radical hospitality extends as far as our arms—and our words—may extend. Radical kindness, too. If hospitality isn’t radical, it isn’t hospitality. If kindness is less than radical—well, why bother? You see, real hospitality means to provide space—wherever we find ourselves--in which strangers can express their culture, singing their own songs and dancing their own dances. Hospitality learns from our own experience, not just here, but everywhere we have ever been; if we have ever been the outsider, then we know, and we care for the other who finds himself cast out for being “too different”—the foreigner, the immigrant, the addict, the queer, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, the refugee, or sick, or disfigured, the ex-convict, or widowed, or orphaned, or persecuted. It is the radical hospitality of the radical Jesus that we are called to give, everywhere we go; it is radical kindness. For Jesus gave radical hospitality, even in this story. They were following Him and He turned and asked, “What are you looking for?” The responded with a question of their own: “Where are you staying?” They asked Him where He was staying—what was His residence, where did He live, even temporarily, what was His home—and He answered them, “Come, and see.” And, so, He welcomed them in. Andrew hustled to find his brother, Simon, the one on whom Jesus would build his church, but Andrew didn’t do so badly for Jesus, himself. You see, we never really know who the guest who arrives is, or may become to us.
One last story of radical hospitality—kindness in the name of Jesus. This one comes from the Church of the Resurrection, in Kansas City, Kansas, a Methodist megachurch where Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor. I was there for a conference back in 2009, when Adam told this story. A young man showed up for worship one Sunday morning, in their 2,400-seat temporary sanctuary. He had long hair, looked rough, and shouted curses and obscenities from time-to-time. Week after week, he came, and before long he seemed to have his own section of the church, in the back, to the preacher’s left. Anyone who made the mistake of sitting near learned to move away, and especially if they had small children. But then a few of the regulars reached out. They started sitting near the young man—nearer and nearer until he became the center of a busy section of the church. It was then that they learned, of course, that the young man had Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition that often comes with ticks and involuntary words, often loud and, just as often, curses, all unintended, all uncontrollable. Suddenly, it became more acceptable to the people around him. They talked with him, welcomed him, encouraged him. That’s when they learned he was a musician—a rock singer, strongest on the guitar but capable of helping out on other instruments, too. And he could sing—it was powerful. While we were there, Adam introduced him, brought him out, guitar and all, and a drummer showed up, and some other musicians, and he sang. A rock song that, when he handled it with his own style, became an anthem to Jesus. Even as it was accompanied by two or three F-bombs that he just couldn’t help. He brought the house down. But, if it had not been for the kindness shown—the radical kindness, for it is hard for some folks to accept that much difference—if that radical hospitality had not been rolled out, that pastor and his congregation would have never known the treasure that lay right there in their midst.
Can you imagine the joy of this church full, wall-to-wall, crowding the new building, crowding this sanctuary over and again each week, full of loving friends, multiplying the love, magnifying the hospitality, reproducing the passion, accelerating the spread of the message, intensifying the outreach, enfolding the neighborhood, lifting the children, engaging the parents, welcoming the outsiders, redoubling the reach of ministries in the name of Jesus? They’re all around you, all around me—the ones who wait to fill it, who wait to join us, who, while they wait, are dying just a little bit each day, every day, dying—dying to be seen, dying to be heard, dying to be known, dying to be loved, dying to be accepted, dying just to hear three little words from your lips. Won’t you say them—please, over and over: “Come, and see!”