Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
The same phrase from our gospel reading that I’m using as our sermon title today – “come and see” - comes up again just a few chapters later too, in John 4. There Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well, has a remarkable conversation with her, and inspires her to return to her neighbors saying, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29)
Back here in chapter 1, asked by these would-be followers, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” it’s Jesus himself who first says, “Come and see.” But later on Philip, struggling a bit to convince his friend Nathaniel of Jesus’ importance, finally just says to him, “come and see.”
We learn both from Philip and from that Samaritan woman at the well that our job is simply to offer folks the opportunityto meet Jesus; what happens after that is his responsibility. We don’t even have to worry about being the perfect witnesses as long as we invite others to check him out for themselves.
As D.T. Niles has said, “Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” We are only here at all this morning because at some point in our lives a parent or grandparent, a friend, a neighbor, a teacher, someone invited us, through their words or actions, to “Come and see” this Jesus of Nazareth.
It’s a gift we’re privileged now to be able to pass on.
So it’s worth asking the question from time to time: what is it about Jesus that most impresses you? What is it that drew you to him? What inspired you to become his follower? Because these are the things we want others to have a chance to come and see.
And just as we can introduce others to Christ in this way so simple it sounds like “show and tell” from our elementary school days, we can also introduce them to this part of Christ’s body, here at Magnolia Presbyterian Church.
All we really need to do is to help people see what we experience here. Come and see the joyful energy of our kids singing praise songs they’ve learned in Sunday School. Come and see our high school and college students taking leadership roles in our congregation. Come and see how we’re getting the building back in shape, and how happy we are to be able to host a new preschool in the fall. Come and see how much we love and support one another, through all of the highs and lows we experience in life. Come and see us all diving in and building sandwiches for our friends at Tent City 5 on first Sundays. Come and see the feast we put on over at Operation Nightwatch once a month. Come and see what funit can be to be part of this church family.
You don’t have to give anyone a treatise on Presbyterian theology. You’re not required to quote our bylaws or to know the Bible inside and out. We’re all still learning!
Just - “come and see.” To a classmate or fellow parent at your school. To that old friend you keep running into at the grocery store. To your new neighbor in the apartment next door. “Come and see.”
Now let’s be clear here – God save us from any kind of false equation that insists that a large number of people is automatically a sign of the health or faithfulness of a congregation. We can have these things in any size church. And any size church can be unhealthy and unfaithful, too. We’re just called to follow Jesus, and to invite others to do the same. Whether they choose to do so, and certainly whether they choose to do so here in particular – that’s in God’s hands. So I’d hate for any of us to get caught up in the numbers game, or to feel the reason to invite people to come and see is simply to have a larger crowd on Sunday mornings.
But think about the impact we could have – the gentle little ripples that could move out into the neighborhood and beyond - if more people simply knew what we were up to here.
They don’t have to become church members.
They don’t even have to be Christians.
But what a difference it could make if they knew– not wondered or speculated or worried – but actually sawfor themselves, and understoodwhat we were about.
Just as our friends at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound have been inviting us to come and see what they’reabout at their open houses, and I’ve been inviting you to come with me – and some have - to meet the people of God who worship there. Or like I invited you to join me – and some did – for a Jewish worship service at Temple Beth Am last month. “Come and see” what it looks and sounds like to worship God with Hebrew prayers, and jazz music!
I’ve also been doing the same in reverse. Inviting my Muslim friend Aneelah Afzali to join us not just for her big keynote presentation at the “Faith Over Fear” event here next Sunday afternoon but for a regular Sunday morning worship service with us in the fall. My daughter Alina and I also invited a couple members of her youth group to join her when she comes. I’ve invited my rabbi friends to come and visit us too. Simply to see what we’re about here. There’s much to be gained by learning more about each other’s faith traditions and worship practices. And it’s not hard to do. It’s just that simplest of invitations: “Come and see.”
Of course the “come and see” that applies specifically to this congregation is only a tiny piece of the puzzle, right? The real invitation is not simply to meet us, but along with us, to meet the God who made us all.
Some of you will remember that beautiful refrain, the uniting element in everything our confirmation students shared with us last Sunday: God. Loves. Everyone.
I’m afraid there are an awful lot of people who don’t actually know this about God. They may feel unloved or unlovable. Or they may fear God is more interested in judging us than loving us. Or they might mistakenly believe that while God loves them, there are a whole lot of other people in the world that God is against.
I wish they could see what we see.
I wish we could show the world there is a way of being God’s people that is profoundly different from the judgy meanness that more often makes the news. I wish there were a way – don’t you? – to share with our neighbors that faithful Christians can be about kindness and compassion rather than condemning people for their sins, that it’s possible to be a faithful Christian and to respect and admire our Muslim and Jewish neighbors, and while we’re at it, that we can stand in solidarity with our immigrant and refugee neighbors too, rather than seeing them as alien, or less-than, or “other.”
I wish there were ways to do this…
But what if there already are?
What if we were to invite our neighbors to join us now and then for an ice cream cone on our front patio, as we did last week? No strings attached. No hidden agenda of trying to get them to join the church. Just ice cream with a bunch of friendly people.
What if we were to turn our bulletin boards into kind of a church family photo album, if you will, so that anyone coming and going for any reason (for an AA meeting, for preschool, or for that matter just to deliver a package, or make a repair around the building)… what if people walking through our doors could instantly tell what kind of community this is, just by glancing at those photos?
What if we were to continue to bring a whole bunch of food to our friends at Tent City 5 and Operation Nightwatch every month, and not make a big deal about it, but just demonstrate by the quality and quantity of the food, and the spirit in which it’s offered, that we believe God loves every one of those individuals just as much as God loves us. That they too are made in God’s image and precious in God’s sight.
What if people could see first-hand a bunch of high school students who consider church involvement a “get to” rather than a “have to,” and hear them describe this church in their own words, as they did last Sunday? As a welcoming sanctuary for every person, a safe place filled with family, a place to think and ask hard questions, a community that challenges and inspires us to reach out to others.
What if we were to host an interfaith event, inviting church friends from all over Seattle, sure, but also letting neighbors who’ve had no particular interest in church know there are Christians here at this corner, and throughout Magnolia, who support American Muslims, as fellow citizens and fellow people of faith, and who won’t stand by and allow them to be mistreated?
The same God those first disciples encountered in Jesus of Nazareth knows each one of us, and each of our friends and neighbors, just as intimately as he knew Philip and Nathaniel and the Samaritan woman at the well. He welcomes our curiosity and questions, along with our worship. He inspires every act of hospitality or kindness or compassion.
The God we’ve come to know in Jesus is the reason we’d bother to invite anyone into this or any church. And God’s gracious love stands ready to welcome and embrace everyone who seeks him.
All of which makes me want to say - Come and see!