Come and See

Come and See

John 1: 29-42

Today, our Gospel lesson comes from the Gospel of John.  We haven’t spent much time in John recently, so I want to start by reviewing a little of the nature of this Gospel in the hope that it provides some helpful context when you hear our passage for the day.

As you may know, the Gospel of John is the latest of the Gospels to be written and it was written in a specific Christian community in the late 1st century. At that time, Christians were undergoing painful separation from the Jewish society to which its members had belonged.  You can imagine this group – devout in their faith yet allowing themselves to be reformed as they experience God in new ways.  This community of believers felt alienated by the world in which they existed. They endured expulsion, disciplinary action from the synagogue authorities for their belief in the risen Christ.  For some, this punishment only emboldened their confession of belief while others remained in the synagogues as secret Christians.

So as we read this text with an understanding of this climate of tension, we can see how the Gospel of John was written to inspire members of the community to maintain their belief during a troubled time, rather than to convert outsiders. It was written to encourage, yet had language that all might find attractive. The message through the symbolic presentation of Jesus as Light of the World and Bread of Life as read later in the gospel was and is necessarily attractive to not only believers but also nonbelievers.

The language of this gospel is rich in symbolism and subtle in meaning.  Paradox and irony are common. And, by the time this Gospel was written, ideas about Jesus had started to change already.  As it goes with all stories, details are embellished, or forgotten, but the themes become stronger and understood in new ways.  For this community, their memories of Jesus, their ideas and beliefs because of his ministry, changed after Jesus’ life on earth and John describes this development as the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel focuses on the belief that in Jesus, God entered into human history to save human beings, to love them and to show that love will triumph.  And, when ‘sin’ is spoken of, it is not necessarily meant in a moral sense – but rather, that ‘sin’ is the absence of relationship with God.  Therefore, in Jesus taking away the sin of the world, God’s opens the possibility of our relationship with God, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. So, as we approach this text, though it is certainly grounded in history, we might read the Gospel of John as more of a “spiritual Gospel” rather than simply theological or historical.

Now getting to our reading for this morning, it begins with a telling of the baptism of Jesus.   All four of the Gospel texts tell the story of Jesus’ baptism.  Here in John, as you will hear in a minute, Jesus’ baptism is told from the perspective of John the Baptist, who identifies Jesus as the Messiah.  In the other three Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – the story of Jesus’ baptism is followed immediately by Jesus’s journey through the wilderness for 40 days.   But the Gospel of John tells a different story.  In John, Jesus’s baptism is followed immediately by the start of Jesus’s ministry.    In Mark, Jesus begins his ministry with a mighty command to silence a demon.  Matthew starts off with the Sermon on the Mount and Luke begins with a quotation from Isaiah to proclaim his anointing for God’s favor.  But, John begins differently – it begins with Jesus asking a simple question – ‘What are you looking for?’  And, this – this will be a question I hope we will ponder together, knowing that the response to your answer will be, ‘Come and see.”

As I’ve mentioned, the aim of John’s gospel is that the reader might come to believe.  In Chapter 20, John writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” And, our text today begins to articulate that message – right off the bat, starting in the first chapter.  So, let us ‘come and see’ what God might have in store for us in today’s text.

Our text comes to us from the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 29-42.  Let us listen for God’s Word. Let us pray:

Startle us, O God.  We desire to come and see what you are doing in the world and may we be startled by your love.

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.38When 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?” 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).

This is the Word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

There is a lot going on in this text – a lot to explore – so let’s jump right in.  We start this morning with John the Baptist and I can picture the scene.  I, actually, find it somewhat similar to the scene in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when the father sees his lost son far down the road and rejoices.  Here, I picture John the Baptist seeing Jesus coming from far off – he was watching for Jesus, keeping his eyes peeled on the horizon for him, and when Jesus was a long way off, John the Baptist gets excited and tells all those around him who Jesus is.  The following day, when Jesus finally reaches John on the path, John proclaims, “Look!  Here is the guy I’ve been telling you all about – this is the One!  The Son of God!”  At which point, the disciples of John the Baptist then become disciples of Jesus as they left John’s side and followed Jesus.

Isn’t that interesting? The disciples of John the Baptist left to become disciples of Jesus.  You see, John the Baptist spent his life living into his call, drawing attention not to himself, but to the Son of God – baptizing with water to teach of the One that would baptize with the Holy Spirit.   And, he gained followers with this compelling message.  He travelled from town to town, delivering this message not for his own sake, not for his own glorification, but so that others might know that God is in the world and a relationship with God is, in fact, possible.  He lived his life pointing to the One on whom the dove rests, pointing to the Lamb of God – to the point where those who followed him, would then leave his side to follow Jesus.  And, this is what I find quite compelling – John’s life was spent pointing to someone greater than himself – just as we, the church do.  He didn’t labor for his own sake – not for his own glorification or edification nor did he labor because it was expected of him.  Nor do we.  What we can learn from John is that part of our work, as the church, is to spread the message that there is a greater One than we – that there is One who makes it possible to be in relationship with God and with one another, One in whom our refuge may be found and that this One also invites us to come and see.

As the disciples left John’s side and followed Jesus, he asks them, “What are you looking for?”  They respond by asking where he is staying and Jesus invites them to, ‘Come and see.’  Come and see.  Now, something interesting about this text is that the English language doesn’t quite capture the meaning of the disciples’ question ‘where are you staying.’  The Greek work used for ‘staying’ is the same word that is used in several other places and it is translated in many different ways.  The Greek word is ‘mevnw (pronounced: mennow)’ and it is found throughout the Gospel of John – in chapter 1, verse 32, John the Baptist recognizes Jesus when the Holy Spirit ‘remains’ – mennow – upon him.  In chapter 6, verse 27, after Jesus provides enough bread to satisfy the crowd, he encourages the people to work for the food, which ‘endures’ (mennow), not simply food that perishes.  In chapter 15, Jesus promises that he will ‘abide’ (mennow) in those who ‘abide’ (mennow) in him.  In other words, wherever Jesus ‘stays’ (mennow), people have the opportunity to believe. So, when Jesus asks the new disciples what they are looking for, they respond by indicating that they want to know where Jesus abides, remains, endures – not simply where he plans to rest his head that evening.  And, this is what makes his invitation to ‘come and see’ far more dynamic than simply inviting them to see where he would be, physically – Here, for the first readers of this text and for us, the invitation to come and see goes beyond the bounds of the incarnate.   Jesus is inviting us to participate in God’s transforming activity in the world – and, it is there, in this work, where we abide, remain and endure with him.

And, this is the exciting part – Christ invites us to come along with him on the journey.  He invites us to join him and to care for others, not simply to sit and listen to him preach – but to listen to the voices of the widows and the orphans, to hear the cries of the suffering and respond with active and transformational love – for it is in this space where God abides.   This is not a passive or inactive place where Jesus invites us – this is a road, which stretches on, and along the path, hungry crowds feast on bread and fish, Samaritans help strangers who have been beaten, Freedom Riders speak up for justice, and communities like ours gather together to demand for supportive housing for all – and God abides.

As you know, tomorrow is a national holiday in which we commemorate the ministry and life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  And, this week, as I have pondered this text, prayed over the words and poured over the meanings, I was once again struck by Dr. King’s words.  He said,

“Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God; and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation and irrational emotionalism.  We must have time and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.”

‘It comes through the tireless effort and persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.’ Isn’t that extraordinary?  When I hear these words of Dr. King, I can’t help but hear Christ’s invitation to ‘come and see.’ Dr. King doesn’t frame this work with God as if it can be completed or that it is a burden.  The Gospel of John, nor Dr. King suggest that the work means that we meet one need, feel satisfied having achieved that goal and spend the rest of out days resting on our laurels.  Rather, we can’t help but delight in serving and continuing to serve.  We are invited to walk along the road with Jesus, together, and we are to invite others along the way to join in the work. Our call is to follow Jesus – not to remain in one place.

In response to God’s love for us, we are compelled to go and see and we are mere participants in the work of Christ – and, what is amazing is that in that space, when we’re working for justice and healthy change, we discover the peace of God.  We discover that we don’t need to be fearful of not doing enough.  We don’t need to fear failure.  We do not do this work to prove anything because, the fact is, that as people heeding Christ’s invitation to come and see, we are not the primary actors in this work – we are invited to come and see – we are invited to participate in God’s transforming work in the world and in doing so, we point to the One on whom the dove rests, the source of our love, the source of un-ending peace.

On April 3rd, 1968, the evening before he was assassinated, aware that a threat had been made on his life, Dr. King preached at the Church of God in Christ headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee.  Extraordinarily, in closing, he said this:

“I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Friends, the work we have done thus far is something to be celebrated – and, we are still being called to come and see. There is talk of this being a transitional time in the life of this congregation and therefore, being a time to wait and see – but, rather, we as Christians, are a people called to come and see.  Like the work done to usher in civil rights and justice in our country, like the work to feed the hungry, like the work to house the homeless – the work is ongoing and it is the work of Christ in the world.  Like John the Baptist, our participation points to the One on whom the dove remains.  We have nothing to fear – if we were to perish tomorrow, we shall not lament.  For we are able to participate in this work and in doing so, we are transformed for we know the peace of Christ.

The Gospel of John tells us that we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God poured out upon us.  We are asked, “What are you looking for?” and in our desire to abide with Jesus, we are invited to ‘Come and see.” We are knit together into a larger community of followers of Jesus – and, this is more than mere membership in a community or church.  We abide, remain and endure with Christ and in doing so, we can’t help but participate, invite others to join us and as a community and delight in doing the work of God’s will – for, in doing so, we will see the glory of the coming of the Lord.