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January 18, 2015, 9:23 AM

Come and See

1 Samuel 3:1, CEB

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.      

John 1:43-51, CEB

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe[a] because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[b]you[c] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[d] the Son of Man.”

Come and See

First Samuel—in our reading for today—begins with a striking statement that echoes across time to ring as true today as it was thousands of years ago. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” In these days, so often it seems, that the word of the Lord is indeed rare, and vision is so lacking. There are many who try to say they speak for the Lord—televangelists, the religious right, the religious left, politicians looking for votes—but the good news seems so lacking in what they have to say. How our country, how our culture hungers for a guiding vision to unify us, show us the way forward, stop the violence and hatred and prejudice and oppression. Stop the division and polarization that seems to cripple our nation. We understand too well the opening of this story from Samuel, in these days the word of the Lord is rare; there are not many visions.

And that is why the observance day for Martin Luther King, Jr. is so important. Each year as our nation marks his day and his life I try to read some of his works—a sermon, or a letter—as my way of rededicating myself to the work of justice. But even as I marvel at his extraordinary gift with words, the cadence of his voice, the power of his presence, I am deeply saddened by how much work we have yet to do to realize the dream he gave to us, that vision from God which  he shared; that word of the Lord:

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."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

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.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

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."2

This is our hope…

These words have echoed as well across time, reverberating from the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, to even this moment, 52 years later…only we must expand it. We must have a dream that one day little black children, and white children, and brown children, and red children, and yellow children, and gay or lesbian children, and transgendered children, and poor children, and rich children, and differently abled children, and all the labels we can think of will be able to join hands, sit together at the table of fellowship, shall see the glory of God in each other. Here is a vision, a word from the Lord. God speaks. There is a dream.

Isn’t this one of the guiding principles of God that drives this church family? Isn’t this what we are all about—to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God—to be a place where ALL are welcomed! Are we not committed to opening ever wider the arms of acceptance, love, and hope to a world in need?! When we hear Rev. King’s resounding vision, shouldn’t we as a congregation leap to our feet and cry out, “Yes!” “Amen!” “Let it be!” “Let that dream be realized here!”

And we do strive to create that here. We do try to welcome all people, to nurture and love creation, to tear down the barriers, boundaries and walls, to be a people where the table is always open and there is a place for everyone. We aren’t perfect. We still have a lot to learn. We make mistakes, but hopefully, we acknowledge them, seek to make amends, learn, and continue down the path of justice and inclusivity. But there is one thing that we are often lacking—inviting others into this place of vision and God’s word. Evangelism.

So here is the good news even as you shudder under the word “evangelism,” today’s gospel reading is the very model of what it means to be an evangelist—the gift of invitation.  This is still chapter 1 of John, the story of Jesus’ three year ministry is just beginning. And it begins with John the Baptist announcing his witness—he has seen Jesus anointed, baptized, by the Holy Spirit and immediately John called his disciples, his followers, to now follow Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Son of God. Jesus, in turn, teaches his new disciples the language of evangelism, the language of invitation. They ask Jesus where he abides, where does he dwell, and Jesus simply responds, “Come and See.”

Andrew, one of these former disciples of John, is so impassioned by his encounter with Jesus, he rushes to his brother—Simon Peter—and extends the invitation to him to encounter Jesus. And then Jesus moves on to Galilee and meets Philip, our gospel story for today.  Here it is! Philip embodies for us the true work of evangelism. Excited by what he has found in Jesus, overjoyed by this radical new community forming around Jesus that embodies God’s love, Philip rushes to find his friend, Nathanael. He briefly tells Nathanael what he has found (he has found the “One,” and this One was in Nazareth all along). Though Nathanael’s first response is one of doubt, Philip issues the simple invitation modeled by Jesus, “Come and See.” And then it is all up to Nathanael, to accept the invitation or not. No converting necessary. No arm twisting. No convincing. No manipulation. Just invitation—“Come and See.”

What have you found here at First UMC that brings you back? Who do you know that needs a place where Rev. King’s dream, God’s vision, is seeking to be realized? Who hungers for a place at the table? Who yearns for a community that will embrace them without conditions—and love them with all their bumps and bruises, all their doubts and hesitations, all their gifts and graces? Who yearns for being accepted exactly as they are? What is stopping us from inviting them? Come and See.

We must admit, as a people, generally, we are not comfortable talking about this faith stuff out there, in the big, scary world. We get nervous about sharing our faith in a culture that is so hostile to it. We don’t want to ever be associated with that evangelical element that crams their faith down other’s throats, or uses fear and manipulation. But, perhaps what truly stops us from sharing and inviting is that we have never practiced and we really don’t like to do things that we aren’t good at, that we haven’t prepared for, rehearsed.

So let’s practice. I want you to turn to someone near you and introduce yourself…even if they already know your name…we are starting easy. (pause while this happens) Now, I want you to tell them what brand of toothpaste you use—like I said, starting easy, personal but not very much so. (pause) Now share one good thing that happened this week, big or small, just one good moment. (pause) And finally, share with your partner in our little practice session one thing that you like about this faith community, anything at all, just one thing that you like. (pause) That is how it starts. Simple sharing. Evangelism.

In these days the word of the Lord is rare; there are not many visions. But here, in this community, we hold tight to the vision God has shared, across time, with a host of prophets and dreamers, visionaries who shared of a time when ‘every valley is exalted, every hill and mountain made low, the rough places made plain, and the glory of the Lord seen by all." Here we seek to live the Table of Grace where all find welcome and wholeness and healing and acceptance. Here we live the dream a little more each day. Now we need to share this with the world, in simple invitation. “Hey, I have found this place where I am loved just as I am, where I can share my doubts as well as my certainties without fear…Come and See.”  Thanks be to God!

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