Sunday, January 19, 2014

Come and See

John 1:29-42
January 19, 2014

            No travel writer has made me want to get up and go more than Rick Steves.  His show on PBS, Europe Through the Backdoor, not only offers his viewers glimpses of the most famous travel sites in Europe, but you also see the places that don’t always make the tour maps.  Steves, in his sweet, nerdy way, shows that it’s possible to not only visit a place, but when you visit Europe through the backdoor you are able experience the real people and their real lives.     
            In one episode Rick and his crew, his producer and his cameraman, were in Portugal.  They left Lisbon and drove north up the coast to a town called Nazare.  Nazare is a beach town and during the summer, it is packed with tourists from all over Portugal and all over Europe.  But Rick is traveling in the off season, so tourist business is down.  Women of the town who have rooms to rent in their homes stand along the main thoroughfare into the town and hold up signs that are written in five different languages, advertising their open rooms.  Rick stops and speaks with one woman who assures him that she has good rooms, and then she beckons him to follow her home.  Come and see.
            So Rick and his crew in their car follow this woman who is on foot through the narrow streets of Nazare.  It seems that they follow this woman for a long time, but she just keeps laughing and beckoning them to follow her, come and see. 
            When they finally reach her home, she shows them the room and it’s absolutely lovely.  It’s spacious, clean and probably a lot homier than any hotel they might have stayed in.  This is what I love about Rick Steves.  He’s a seasoned traveler, but he’s not afraid to try something most of us would never dare.  He was willing to take a chance when this woman invited him to come and see the rooms she had for rent.  Come and see.
            To me it is the “come and see” aspect of this first passage that makes it so interesting.  John’s gospel always manages to surprise me in its distinct differences from the synoptic gospels.  Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels all record Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  But John’s gospel does not give that account.  Instead we read John the Baptists’ testimony to Jesus and to his identity.
            If we were to read this chapter in full, we’d see that it takes place over a few days.  Our part of the passage starts on the second day.  John sees Jesus coming toward him and declares “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  The day before John was questioned by religious leaders who wanted to know who he, John, was.  They wanted to know the full scope of John’s identity.  But John tells them about another one.  John tells them that he is not the Messiah, but there is one who is the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. 
            Knowing a little more about what happens on the first day explains more fully John’s remarks on this second day.  John says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Then he goes on to say, this is the one I was telling you about yesterday.  He may be coming after me, but he ranks far ahead of me.  I didn’t know him, but this is why I’ve been baptizing.  And I saw the Spirit descend on him and remain there.  The one who told me to baptize told me that this is how I would recognize the Messiah.  This is the Son of God.
            We move to the third day.  This day John is standing with two of his disciples.  Jesus walks by, and as he does, John proclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  When John’s two disciples hear this, they leave John to follow Jesus. 
            Now we come to the crux, the heart of this passage.  Jesus sees them following him, and he asks them, “What are you looking for?”  They call him “Rabbi” which the gospel writer translates for us readers as “teacher.”  They ask him am unexpected question, at least for a moment and a meeting like this.  The men ask, “Where are you staying?”  Jesus responds not by giving them directions or details.  He just says, “Come and see.”  And he leads them from that point on.  Just like that woman from Nazare who leads Rick to her home with “Come and see,” Jesus leads these new disciples with “Come and see.” 
            What we have to understand about John’s gospel is that it is a gospel of many layers of meaning.  Every question in John’s gospel means more than what it seems.  When John’s disciples ask Jesus “where are you staying?” they’re not just asking him about his place of residence.  They’re not looking for a house tour or a place to hang out for a few days.  They want to know about his relationship with God.  It’s almost as if they’re saying to Jesus, “Look our teacher, John, has proclaimed you to be the Lamb of God, so we want to know for ourselves.  If you are indeed the Lamb of God, the rabbi, the teacher we’ve been looking for, then what is your relationship to God?  Are you in intimate relationship with him?  Are you staying with God?  Teacher, where are you staying?”
            Now think about the other call narratives in the first three gospels.  Jesus goes to his earliest disciples and calls them away from their work, their previous lives, even their families.  He gives them a hint as to what they will do as disciples.  But in this narrative, the first disciples hear John’s testimony and follow.  When Jesus asks them about this, their response is to ask a question about his relationship to God.  Jesus doesn’t give them definitive answers.  He just invites them to come and see.
            Discipleship is something that you will have to experience for yourself.  You will have to follow me to witness and know my relationship with the Father.  You will have to follow me to experience who I am and what I have come to do.  If you want to be a disciple, you will have to follow me and experience it for yourselves.  If you want to be a disciple, you must come and see.
            So that’s what these new disciples did.  John’s witness has done what it was meant to do.  It has pointed them in the new direction God is taking.  They leave John and follow Jesus.  They go and see.  And from there other disciples join them.  At the end of the passage we have before us today, Andrew tells his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah.”  Simon comes to Jesus and Jesus gives him a new name.  “You are to be called Cephas, which the passage explains is translated ‘rock’.” 
            And if we were to keep reading till the end of the chapter, we would also learn that Philip and Nathanael join Jesus as well.  All of these disciples decide to come and see Jesus for themselves.  They follow him so that they can witness and experience for themselves who this man is, this Lamb of God, this Son of God, this Rabbi, this Messiah.  Nathanael pronounces him both Son of God and King of Israel. 
            Come and see.  Jesus beckons us to follow and see for ourselves what discipleship is all about.  I find it interesting that in this passage Jesus is called by a variety of names.  In the first chapter of John’s gospel he is called by at least eight different names or titles.  That’s just the first chapter alone.  Jesus acknowledges them all.  We know that none of these names fully reveal or define the fullness of who Jesus is.  They cannot convey the glory of Jesus and what he will do.  But each person sees Jesus and recognizes Jesus in the way they most need.  John sees him as the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world.  John has been baptizing people in preparation for this Lamb.  The disciples, wanting to learn, wanting to understand, see him as Rabbi, then as Messiah.  Nathanael, who is startled by how Jesus knows him, exclaims that he is the Son of God, the King of Israel.  They all name him in the way they understand him.  And Jesus is all of these names and more. 
            His invitation to come and see invites people to experience him and understand him in the way they need the most.  I often hear the expression that Jesus meets us where we are.  This passage exemplifies that statement.  Jesus meets all of these early disciples where they are.  Their names for him reflect their understanding of him.  I have a picture in my head of Jesus accepting each name they give him, extending his hand and inviting them to “come and see.” 
            Today and tomorrow, many of us will observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  Today as I picture Jesus extending his hand to the disciples with the invitation to come and see, I can’t help but think of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in August, 1963.  The power of that speech comes not only from his substantive message and his call for justice, but for the picture he paints with his words; a picture of an America we still have not achieved. 
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

            Come and see.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

            Come and see.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

          Come and see.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.[1]

Come and see.

           The picture that Dr. King painted with his words was not just of a better America; it was a small glimpse of what the Kingdom of God must be.  When Jesus invited the disciples to “come and see,” it wasn’t just to sample discipleship.  It wasn’t an invitation to a Meet and Greet with God.  Jesus invited the disciples to come and see for themselves the incarnate love of God.  Come and see the Lamb of God, come to save them.  Come and see that with the coming of Jesus, comes God’s kingdom.  Come and see.  As Jesus invited them, so he invites us. Let us experience for ourselves God’s love and true power.  Let us experience for ourselves the glorious and new thing God is doing right here in our midst.  Come and see the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.  Come and see.  Come and see.  Let all God’s children say, "Alleluia!"  Amen.

[1] “I Have a Dream” Speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

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