Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
19 January 2020 + Epiphany 2 / Lectionary 2A
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
You HAVE to see this! Think about a favorite vacation – perhaps overlooking the stunning vistas of the Grand Canyon, or standing in the shadow of the towering monuments of Washington DC. For me, most recently, it was getting to see the various historic sites in Atlanta associated with Martin Luther King, Jr, who we commemorate tomorrow – the house where he grew up on Sweet Auburn, Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father pastored, and the tomb where he and Coretta are buried.
It’s one thing to know these places exist, or even to see photos of them. But it’s quite another thing to be up close and personal. To experience something like that in person is larger than life and awe-inspiring. It takes your breath away. Even your best photographs or stories when you get back home don’t quite capture what it’s like to be there in person. You just have to see it and experience it for yourself. Come and see…
Jesus’s first words in John’s gospel are a question, posed to two of John’s disciples whose curiosity has been piqued: “What are you looking for?” They want to know where Jesus is staying. And Jesus’s response, as Jesus is inclined to do, is ambiguous: “Come and see…” But it’s also an intriguing invitation. “If you want to know what I’m up to, you’ll just have to come and see and experience it for yourself…”
John’s gospel hinges on a couple keywords: seeing (horaō) is one of them. But, as we should come to expect in John, this isn’t about visual sight, seeing with our eyes – but about perceiving, or recognizing, something through the lens of faith. It’s about an experience to be had and something to be discovered by becoming an active participant in what’s going on. So what is Jesus inviting us to experience?
That’s where another key word in John’s gospel comes in: “Where are you staying (menō)?” Many biblical scholars are fond of the English translation abide. Here, it shows up as stay and remain. And here again, it’s more than just a state of physically dwelling with someone. Abiding is one of John’s favorite and most used concepts, and it has to do with the special relationship Jesus shares with his Father, and the relationship Jesus’s followers share with him, with God, and with each other.
“Where are you abiding?” the disciples ask. “Come and see…come and find out!” So they came and saw where he was abiding, and they abided with him that day. Jesus’s invitation to come and see is an invitation to experience relationship and abide in community.
It’s interesting that the two disciples that initiate this conversation are never explicitly identified – but there’s a reason for that anonymity. Unlike the other gospels, there’s no “formal catalogue” of the twelve disciples in John, and there’s not even evidence there were only twelve (Gail O’Day). The circle of disciples and community of Jesus’s friends and followers is so much bigger and more inclusive and expansive than that. In John, Jesus calls his disciples “friends,” and the anonymity of the unnamed disciples is an invitation even to us. This is a wide open invitation to come and see and experience!
Speaking of unique experiences, two things happened to me this past week that I never thought would happen: I saw my first ever Star Wars movie in full, and I’m using Star Wars as a sermon illustration. In the latest installation of the saga, The Rise of Skywalker, one member of the Resistance (the good people) encourages another: “They [the First Order/bad people] win by making you think you’re alone.” Her point being: We’re not alone in this fight. There are more people on our side than we realize. Come and see…
Recently, during the Milwaukee Film Festival, I had the opportunity to see a different kind of film – the documentary Gay Chorus Deep South. After the divise 2016 election, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir teamed up on a tour through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina – not exactly where you’d expect a gay, interfaith choir to wind up. For many in the chorus, the tour was deeply personal, including the conductor, Tim Seelig, who himself had been fired as choir director at his former church in Texas after he came out as gay.
But it was those who came and saw the concerts that moved me the most: people who thought they didn’t fit in and who weren’t used to seeing a whole lot of people like them where they lived who suddenly experienced the overwhelming message of welcome and affirmation and love from coming and seeing the chorus – who sings in one of their more emotional pieces, as though directly those those who feel like they don’t belong: “You have more friends than you know.”
You have more friends than you know. The concert-goers came and saw, and they experienced it to be so. For many, I imagine it was a life-giving and even life-saving experience.
That is precisely the invitation of Jesus: It’s something that has to be seen and experienced. Come and see. Come and experience the deep, abiding love of God. Come and experience the community of friends who support us and fill in the cracks when we most need it.
We don’t have to fight a war in a galaxy far, far away, or be a young gay kid in the Deep South hearing a moving chorus of affirmation for the first time, to know what that community is like. In ways big and small, we have that community all around us, in this place, around this font.
In a few minutes, we’ll make a public affirmation of our baptismal covenant, and at the end, we’ll promise to support and pray for one another in living out our baptismal promises and calling. Because these are not just promises we make on our own, but promises we live into together.
Come and see… Jesus’s invitation holds the promise of experiencing the kind of life God intends for us. Life lived in community, surrounded by those who love and support us. Life nurtured and sustained by this meal. Life that lives not for itself but in service to others.
John’s gospel ends with another invitation. The risen Jesus appears on the lakeshore, tending a small charcoal fire, with fish and bread on it. And he calls to his disciples, “Come and have breakfast.” I love that line, not just because I love breakfast, but because it’s another invitation to experience, to come and see.
Jesus’s ministry in John’s gospel ends as it begins: with a gentle, intriguing, enticing invitation. An invitation to abide in a community that is more expansive and inclusive than we can comprehend. An invitation to abide in the love of God that calls us to a holy and filling meal and that makes a place for us here.