Filed under: Sermons | Tags: church, disciples, Jesus, John the baptist, witness
Why are you here this morning?
The question many church folks are asking these days is: “why aren’t more people coming to worship with us?” Churches try to offer exciting new programs and different worship. You’ve tried sending letters. We’ve made worship a part of confirmation requirements.
But really, I think we need to begin with: “why am I here this morning?”
If we don’t have any good reasons, if we aren’t convinced by our own answers, how can we expect that anyone else would be?
The women’s Bible study this month talked about worship. In the midst of the study was the question of how – and whether- we have invited new people to come to our church. We were asked if we have ever told anyone what worship means to us. Most people said “no”- that it’s much easier to simply invite someone to go to church with them, rather than really talk to them about what church means. The fear was in being too pushy and preachy, especially to new folks in the community.
But I wonder, what good does it do to ask someone to come to church, but not explain the reasons for the invitation? Would you ever ask someone to come to a new restaurant with you but stay silent on the details? Think of the difference between: “Come with me to Olive Garden this Sunday for supper. It’s where I go.” and “Hey, have you ever been to Olive Garden? I’m going this Sunday and would love for you to join me. They have the best cheese ravioli, it’s what I order every time, but they have all these other amazing dishes, steaming hot, with cheese oozing all over your plate, and the salad, and soup, and breadstick… oh my!”
What if we actually told other people what worship and a community of faith meant to us with such passion that their mouths began to water? That they became hungry to see what we were so excited about?
We have examples of those who have invited others to Jesus in John the Baptist and the disciples. In the Gospels, their witness is concise: maybe it’s the minimalist invitation that is most comfortable to us. Their conviction, however, is firm. They are sure that there is something special about Jesus, and don’t want anyone to miss out.
Last week, we heard about Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Matthew. This week, the Gospel of John portrays John the Baptist as the one who points the way for others to come and see Jesus as the Son of God. We move from an account that focuses on Jesus and John in the water, and God’s affirmation from the sky, to the response of faithful people: first John, then others, whose invitation to come and see Jesus would change the lives of those who took it up.
John the Baptist sees a dove from heaven coming down to alight on Jesus. This sign tells him that Jesus is the Son of God. He tells even his own disciples that Jesus is the lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world. These disciples follow Jesus, stay with him, and then invite more of their friends and family to come and know Jesus for themselves.
The refrain we hear throughout this passage, and as the story continues to include more disciples is “come and see.” The pattern in this gospel is that some know Jesus by what little they have seen, then they invite others to come and see Jesus for themselves, and these people remain with Jesus, coming to know him fully and joining in his work.
John the Baptist is the first to point his disciples to Jesus. Jesus invites them to “come and see.” After an afternoon together, they have seen enough to want to invite others to meet this teacher. Andrew goes to his brother Simon Peter and tells him he has found the messiah, and brings Simon to Jesus. Later Jesus will call Philip, who will tell Nathaniel: 25″We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
When Nathaniel seems unsure, Philip will simply say, “come and see.”
Word and witness of Jesus spreads among those who meet him. They each have an experience of Jesus that leads them to share with others a witness that this Jesus is the son of God, the messiah, the promised one they have been waiting for.
Jesus’ disciples will remain with him throughout his ministry. They will learn from him, witness miracles, and be the intimate circle with whom he shares his last supper and final words. Then it will be their time. After Jesus’ ascension, they will be the ones who carry on his ministry.
Their continued witness and their continued invitation has passed through the generations so that the church today spans the continents. Our community is a witness to the power of that simple witness and invitation. We are gathered here this morning because someone once said to us, “come and see.”
For me, one person who invited me was my grandmother. It was she who encouraged me to ask my parents to reconnect to a church as a reached confirmation age. It was she who would sing the old hymns to me, read the Bible with me, and let me tag along as she visited the elderly and homebound with the love of Christ. She bore witness to Jesus’ impact on her life. She pointed me towards the church, where I might better see Jesus for myself. What kept me in church through high school was a whole community of other adults, whose experience of remaining with Jesus gave them life. They continued to find room for me to use my gifts, so that I could continue to come and see Jesus better.
I hope the invitation to come and see is present on our lips in many situations. It’s important to invite people to church. Here is where the Word and Sacrament, gifts of God and means of grace, come to us. Yet there are many other times when it’s important for us to share the refrain to “come and see.”
This week, our community mourns the tragic death of a young person: Alexa. In the midst of the shock, the anger, the questions, I hope there is also the voice of witness. I hope that as our young people gathered to hear this news, some could say, “come and see”: the Jesus I know is with us in our fear and our grief. “Come and see” that God gives life even when we die. My God is not ashamed of our tears, my God knows what it is to suffer, my God is with me- and with you, even if you’ve never come to God before, God has come to you, and comes to you now.
Our experience of God, in regular times, in tragic times, in joyful times, convinces us of who God is. From the glimpses we’ve seen of God, we can move out to invite others to have their own experience of God.
May your answer to “why are you here this morning” include your experience of Jesus, Son of God, who comes to you in this place, in the Word and Sacrament, and through these people.
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