By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: John 1:35-49
This morning launches a new sermon series: “20/20 Vision.” It is, of course, a new year and so it seems an appropriate time to focus on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This morning we’re going to consider: what does it mean to “come” to Jesus; to see him for who he is?
You know all preachers have a particular style. But this morning, I’m going to do something out of my norm. What I’m about to do would make my seminary preaching professor roll over in his grave. The dearly departed Dr. Kendall McCabe was adamant in making a distinction between preaching and teaching. But this morning, I am going to blend them because there is just so much incredibly wonderful stuff in this passage of scripture from John, I want you to be able to feast on what John proclaims. So, this morning’s bible story begins…
John 1:35 The next day John [the Baptist] again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?"
“What are you looking for?” This question is, in John’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks. So we know they are important. In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, they are only two small words: tis zeteo. That tiny two-word phrase in Greek (tis zeteo) can actually be translated three different ways: who, what and why. So our journey with Jesus begins (as it did for the very first disciples) by wrestling with the question Jesus asks of us: What are you seeking, who are you seeking, why are you seeking?
Friends, the decision to follow Jesus can only come with our own recognition that we don’t have all the answers, we don’t create our own worlds, we’re not self-made men and women. There is something we need beyond ourselves – something we are seeking – and Jesus scratches that itch, so to speak. So I want to invite you to turn to the insert in your program and I’m going to give you just a couple minutes to reflect and write a response to these questions. Feel free to spend more time on one than the other. If you are an internal processor, this is an invitation to a moment of quiet reflection. If you are an external processor, you’re welcome to find another external processor and talk about this with them. Our decision to seek Jesus, to follow Jesus, must begin by wrestling with the question: What are you seeking? Who are you seeking? Why are you seeking?
Let me share with you a little of my response to that question. I was raised in the church and have always believed in God and Jesus. But in my early adulthood I had some experiences – the death of my mother to cancer and a disastrous pastoral assignment – that made me terribly aware of how little I could control in my life. I felt vulnerable and exposed. It is a frightening moment when you realize that, despite all of your best efforts, much of life is out of your control. Some people never get there. I’ve known people who live everyday fearful and anxious and frustrated because they cannot accept that reality and that is a reality that would be emotionally devastating were it not for the recognition that there is one, reliable constant that nothing in life can ever strip me of: the loving presence of God. In good times and bad times, in health and in sickness, in life and even in death, no brutal curve ball the universe tosses out can ever separate me from God. That is my answer to who, what and why I seek because as I deepen my awareness of and connection to God’s presence, I can live from a place of increased joy, peace, compassion and generosity rather than fear and anxiety. Friends, I hope you’ll reflect more on this question this week. The decision to follow Jesus isn’t just some holy default setting our parents gave us by taking us to Sunday School as children. It is a conscious decision and a recognition that the who, what and why of our seeking can’t be found in us or anyone else apart from the presence of God made incarnate in Jesus.
Moving on with our story…
They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39 He said to them, "Come and see."
Notice the disciples ask Jesus where he is staying. The Greek word in that phrase is one of the most important words in John’s gospel. It can mean, in English, stay, remain or abide. So these disciples aren’t just asking Jesus about where he’s hanging out. This is an inquiry about being with Jesus. This question is not a geographical question; it is a relational question.
Later in John’s gospel, Jesus will say to his disciples, “Abide/stay/remain in me as I abide in you… Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit because apart from me you can do nothing.” Friends, as you hear me say over and over, Christianity is not a belief system; it is a relational system. It is about being in an abiding relationship with God through Christ and how that relationship impacts all of our other relationships.
Next, notice that Jesus responds to their question with an invitation: come and see. Again, this is an invitation to experience Jesus; to check out what it means to “do life” with Jesus. And even today, Jesus is still issuing that invite. And again, it is an invitation to spend time with Jesus, to abide with him. Now, this three-word phrase, “come and see” appears repeatedly in John’s gospel. It is about more than visual sight; it is an invitation to experience and comprehend. And in response, these disciples pretty much drop everything and follow Jesus. From this point on, Jesus will be the focus of their lives. Again, this is an invitation Jesus issues to us also: Come and see. Come and see and experience what it means to “do life” with me [Jesus says]; to be wrapped up in my presence wherever you go and whatever you do so that everything you experience is seen and experienced through the eyes of Christ and it will paint the world in a whole different light.
But how do we cultivate this abiding relationship? Well, through spiritual practices which increase our awareness of Jesus’ presence and our sensitivity to his guidance and direction in our lives. If you would like to learn more about these spiritual practices that open us to the presence of God, let me know. We will be doing a group study beginning in Lent called “Companions on the Journey: Foundational Spiritual Practices.” We’ll meet together once a week for six weeks to explore, together, ways we can increase our awareness of Jesus. To “come and see” means more than a quick, passing glance. To see Jesus is to abide in him. It is an invitation to come and see and stay a while.
At this point I’m going to skip down in the gospel story to verse 43:
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me."
44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Friends, our relationship with Jesus is not one we are called to keep to ourselves. And notice, Philip’s journey with Jesus had only just begun. He didn’t know Jesus well. And it’s the same for us. You don’t have to be an expert in your knowledge of Jesus to invite others to experience Jesus. Christianity is an invitational faith. Now, notice I didn’t say a coercive faith. When Nathanael challenges Philip, Philip doesn’t try to argue with him. He simply invites Nathanael to experience Jesus for himself. To be a follower of Jesus means to continue to invite others to come and see for themselves. So I want to invite you, once again, to pull out your program insert and to take just a moment of quiet reflection and consider: where are the places, what are the contexts in which you are most aware of Jesus’ presence? Hopefully, one of those contexts is here at church. But I hope there are other places as well. Maybe it’s through a not-for-profit program where you serve those in need; maybe it’s through a neighborhood Bible study. Maybe it’s through a quiet walk in the woods. But take a moment and think: where are the places, contexts, and events when you are most aware/most tuned in to the presence of Jesus? And who can you invite into that space, that place, that experience with you?
Continuing with the story…
John 1:47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 48 Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."
Now what happens in this interaction between Jesus and Nathanael is that Jesus is being humorous, even a bit sarcastic because, when people are deceptive, they try to hide what they are really thinking. But Nathanael isn’t one to do that. When Philip tells him Jesus comes from Nazareth, Nathanael says what he thinks of that possibility: it’s ridiculous. Apparently Nazareth must have been the armpit of the Galilee. Nathanael is not deceitful; he speaks what he believes and thinks but he is shocked when Jesus, before they even have a chance to shake hands and introduce themselves to one another – that Jesus reveals an intimate knowledge of Nathanael’s character.
Friends, I don’t know about you but in my relationships I am sometimes apprehensive and cautious with people. They may want to be my friend now, but what might happen if they discover our theological or political views are in conflict? What might happen when they discover I have an annoying quirk or habit? What might happen when I say something stupid and embarrass them? What might happen when they discover that my aspirational values and my actual daily behavior don’t always line up? In short, will they still want to be my friend once they really get to know me? Well, here’s the good news. Just as Jesus knew Nathanael intimately before Philip ever introduced them, Jesus knows each of us intimately. In fact, that’s a theme all throughout John’s gospel. Even what we may hide from others, Jesus already knows. And you know what; Jesus is still inviting you to come and see and follow him. Jesus still wants to be in a relationship with you.
To follow Jesus we need to let our guard down and really let Jesus into our life; we need to engage in spiritual practices – things like prayer, reading scripture, caring for the vulnerable – to engage in spiritual practices that enable us to remain in the presence of Jesus day by day, day after day.
So what does it mean to come to Jesus and to see him as he is? It means…
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