Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, January 19, 2014

Come and See
[Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42]

            A few weeks back we concluded our service with the song, “Will You Come and Follow Me?”  Being a Christian is not a “static” identity, or a diploma to hang on the wall – but rather a dynamic JOURNEY of faith which leads us deeper and deeper into the heart of God.

Jesus issues an active invitation: “Come and See” to two of John the Baptist’s followers, who then WENT, SAW and STAYED. The first was Andrew who quickly went and found his brother Simon, and said: “We have found the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.”  When Jesus looked at Simon, he said:  “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas, translated Peter, which means the Rock.”

A lot of deep theological meaning is packed into this short account by the Apostle John of how Jesus encountered and called his first two disciples.  So let’s step back and look with a wide angle lens at how John tells Jesus’ story.

Troy Miller, a Bible commentator, reminds us of a game on shows like Sesame Street that had 4 squares and a jingle that sang:  “Which one of these is NOT like the others; in other words which one just doesn’t belong?”

As we look at the four Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Gospel of John is dramatically different.  The other three are “Synoptic Gospels” [relating the basic synopsis of Jesus’ life and ministry]– but John comes at the story of Jesus’ life with less focus on the details about WHAT happened and more focus on what the events in Jesus’ life actually MEAN or SIGNIFY.  He probes beneath the surface and interprets the events theologically for Jews and Gentiles alike. His Gospel begins by telling us that Jesus was with God and was God from the very beginning. John begins with the end in mind, and does not withhold the “messianic secret” as the other Gospel writers did.

He looks at the story of Jesus’ life and concludes – “Aha!”  THIS IS THE ONE WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME.  This Jesus was with God and was God, but was sent into the world as God’s WORD and God’s LIGHT and God’s PERSON to bring to earth what has been present in heaven forever.

Commentators call this a HIGH Christology. John sees Jesus not as the best of all human beings, but as truly divine and preexistent with the Creator.  This view permeates the entire Gospel of John.   Whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke take great pains to show Jesus’ human lineage, John’s focus is on Jesus divine lineage.

The passage we are focusing on today from the first chapter of John takes place on two different days.  First, John the Baptist narrates the story of Jesus’ baptism and interprets its significance.  In the other Gospels, we hear the story narrated, but we don’t get inside the mind of John the Baptist as we do in this Gospel.

The Apostle John tells us what John the Baptist says about Jesus’ baptism.  Although they were cousins, John admits that he did not know Jesus as the Messiah until that day when he saw the Spirit descending on him from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  John said that God had told him in advance that his own work was preparatory. When the Spirit descends and remains on someone that would be the ONE who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  John also identified Jesus on that occasion as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

John admits that he came baptizing with water so that the Messiah would be revealed to Israel.  That one ranks higher than himself and even his own disciples should follow that one.

The next day John was standing with two of his disciples, one named Andrew.  When Jesus walks by, John exclaims: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples hear John’s words and follow Jesus. When Jesus turns and sees them he asks:

“What are you looking for?” (v. 38) Let’s put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes.  What WERE they looking for?  John simply said:  “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  What do you think they wanted to find? Was it simple curiosity?  Or as followers of John the Baptist, perhaps they had repented of their known sins and had opened their hearts to God, but were still seeking something more, something deeper. Most people are.

What are WE looking for when we come to worship and ponder God’s words each Sunday?  What are we looking for? What is the deepest desire of your heart?  What do you hunger and thirst for that food and drink don’t satisfy?  Are you seeking meaning, or healing? Are you seeking relief from pain or past regrets?  Are you seeking purpose, direction, clarity? Are you seeking rest? or understanding? The disciples didn’t directly answer Jesus, but instead said, “Rabbi” – which means Teacher—“where are you staying?”
Perhaps they didn’t know how to answer Jesus’ first question. They honestly couldn’t put in words what they were looking for. Most of us can’t. To put in words the deepest yearnings of our hearts isn’t easy. We simply feel a void, an emptiness, a hole…

Since they couldn’t put in words their deepest desire, they wanted to spend more time with Jesus… they wanted to hang out with him. He drew them like a magnet. They asked:  “Where do you live?” “Where are you staying?” They needed more of Jesus, and perhaps had a thousand questions.

Do you need more of Jesus?  I do.  The good news for us is that Jesus invites us into his residence and into his presence, wherever he is.  I think we come to church on Sundays wanting more of Jesus. We need to bathe in the waters of our own baptism, refresh our own vows, receive the energy to face another week, another day, sometimes another hour, if hours pass painfully.

On Friday night a few of us gathered in the Fellowship Hall to empty ourselves of our own busy agendas and hang out with Jesus and each other.  We were quiet, restful and reflective in God’s presence. I can only speak for myself, but my spirit was reinvigorated.  Then a few of us gathered on Saturday morning, along with many others: students and faculty from St. Pauls High School and Christians from churches all over Robeson County to distribute over 6 tons of food to people who really need it and really appreciated it: needy neighbors in St. Pauls, Shannon, Lumber Bridge. God’s love was flowing and spilling all over the place at St. Pauls High School from about 7:30 a.m. until it was all cleaned up by about 1:00. It was a sight to behold and a gift to serve there.
I saw Jesus in a guy named James. God paired us together. He had strong arms to carry the food and a heart to serve.  James wore sun glasses, works construction and hasn’t seen his daughter, Isabel, the love of his life in 2 years. He showed me a picture of her on his phone.  A nasty custody battle apparently, but James attended the VERTICAL Church in Lumberton last Sunday morning for the first time and heard about the Second Harvest Food drive at St. Pauls High School and showed up to help. Imagine that.  He was singing along with the Christian rock and hip hop songs playing in the parking lot and said, “How can you not be happy on a day like this!”

Jesus says:  “Come and See!”  My house, my heart is your house and your heart. Come spend time with me.  COME BE WITH ME! Andrew and another disciple did. They may have spent the night.  They went to Jesus’ residence at about 4 in the afternoon and remained with him that day.

Andrew is the first evangelist and did what was natural:  he went and told his brother, Simon, “I found the Messiah.” Come and see. It’s that simple.   And that profound!  We can’t share what we haven’t experienced. When we taste the goodness of God in our own lives, it’s almost impossible to keep it to ourselves.  We want to share the recipe for joy and deep inner peace.

The Mission Statement our church adopted about a year ago is also that simple.  We want to EXPERIENCE THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS CHRIST IN OUR OWN LIVES. That’s number 1.  Unfortunately, we first must recognize and be honest when we are NOT EXPERIENCING THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS CHRIST. The mission statement means absolutely NOTHING, if all we can see in one another’s lives is BAD NEWS.  It’s important to be honest about how things really are.

2013 was a painful year for St. Pauls Presbyterian Church.  We lost key people. Some died; some have been humiliated; some are in chronic physical pain and emotional distress; some are choosing to attend other churches with bigger youth groups or contemporary worship services. Some of us are going through the motions of Christian ritual on automatic pilot. In the past, some members left in anger, some in frustration, some not of their own choosing. They haven’t come back. Maybe they will never come back. We are hurting. Let’s admit it.  Attendance is down. Discouragement is up.

I believe with all my heart that the good news of Jesus Christ is REAL and AVAILABLE and God’s love flows here in St. Pauls Presbyterian Church.  If you COME and SEE, and TASTE and EXPERIENCE good news for yourself, the word will spread like wildfire.  Our faces will show it.  Our hearts will overflow with it. We will invite our friends.

I invite each of you to take the notecard from your bulletin and write on it either what you DESIRE… or what you NEED from Jesus this year.  It may be a class, like a Bible Study, a Book Club, a regular time for prayer, an opportunity to serve others, grief support, marriage enrichment, or it may be something less tangible like “inner peace” or a “healed relationship.”  You might need to learn how to say – “No” – or learn how to “commit and say YES.”   You might need a 12-step support group or a new job or the resolution of a long-standing problem. Whatever it is, WRITE IT DOWN (don’t put your name on it) and BRING IT TO JESUS by putting it in the offering plate this morning.

Jesus says:  Come and see where I live and who I am.  Please hang out with me; rest in my company; let me be a conversation partner if you have nagging unresolved questions. Don’t stand on the sidelines of your own life. Get to know the Lamb of God who takes away YOUR SINS and gives YOU ABUNDANT LIFE. If you experience abundant life in Jesus, your face will surely show it.  Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we come to church to be with YOU & learn from you. It’s not the preacher or the teacher but it’s YOU, O Lord, who embraces and erases our sins, replacing them with a reservoir of over-flowing joy. Empty us, so you can fill us! Help us NOT BE AFRAID of the dying process, for abundant life awaits us, when we let go and leap over the cliff and into your love! In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.