The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Come and See
“Come and see.” “Come and see.” Man, was Philip asking for it. “Come and see” is a dangerous thing to say; it is risky. And of all people, Philip chooses Nathanael – his incredibly skeptical friend, his somewhat prejudiced friend. This is the man he invites to meet Jesus; this is the one he invites to “come and see”.
Let's backup. We shouldn't be too hard on Philip. It's not really his fault. One is not born saying “Come and see”. “Come and see” is learned. That is some learned behavior.
See, it's really Jesus' fault. He started it. It was what Jesus said to his first disciple, Andrew. Andrew showed some interest, asked some questions, and Jesus said to him, “Come and see”. So you see, Philip is not really to blame. “Come and see” is Jesus' thing. It is what Jesus says. Philip is only repeating what he hears.
But as I was saying, Philip is taking a risk here. Clearly excited about this Jesus' fellow, his new-found Messiah, he finds his friend Nathanael, who is, for some reason, just hanging out under a fig tree, taking it easy, I guess. Philip goes on to tell him about Jesus, how he is the fulfillment of Israel's hope, the one about whom the prophets wrote. So of course he tells him about Jesus. Philip is convinced he has found The One. And Nathanael is his friend. He understandably wants to share the Jesus' experience with his friend.
But things don't start that well. Nathanael is, let's say, not interested. His response to Philip's excited witness, to Philip's life-changing news, is, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It's a rhetorical question. Nathanael knows those people from Nazareth are the worst.
So, OK, rough start. And it gets worse before it gets better. However, it should be noted that Jesus is surprisingly well-behaved in this story. Throughout the Gospel of John, actually throughout all four Gospel, Jesus offends a lot of people. He tells them to eat his body and drink his blood – which they take very literally. That doesn't go well. He insults his family. He is accused of being crazy and also demon possessed. He kind of, it seems, goes out of his way to insult as many religious leaders as he can. His own neighbors try to throw him off a cliff. He talks so much controversy, angers so many powerful people, that he find himself condemned to death on a cross. Jesus has a way with words.
Philip is taking a huge chance here. As Jesus proves many times, he is not controllable. Apparently, neither is Philip's friend Nathanael. That Jesus actually opens their meeting with a compliment, must have invoked a huge sigh of relief from Philip. That feeling does not last. Nathanael, clearly carrying quite a lot of prejudice into this relationship, responds to Jesus by saying, “Where did you get to know me?” Who do you think you are? You don't know me.
You know the rest of the story, at least you should, we just read it; it is in your bulletin. After the rocky start, Nathanael comes around. He follows Jesus. He becomes one of his disciples. Philip's risk pays off. Nathanael sees what Philip hoped he would see. The Jesus who changed Philip's world, changed Nathanael's world too.
But it was a risk. Because as soon as Philip invited his friend to “come and see” Jesus for himself, Philip lost control of the narrative, of the message. Because Jesus was out of Philip's control. And because Nathanael was out of Philip's control. When Philip says “come and see” he has no idea how things will turn out. He only has his experience and some hope. He doesn't know how his friend will respond to the invitation. What if he can't see what Philip sees in Jesus? Or what if Nathanael thinks Philip is crazy or naive or foolishly following a charismatic nut?
Or worse. What if Nathanael sees the real Jesus? The Jesus who says many offensive things that offend many people? Who is accused of being a drunk and a glutton? Who touches untouchable people? Who dies a dishonorable death as an enemy of the state?
And what if Jesus sees the real Nathanael? The Nathanael who is pretty prejudiced and skeptical and kind of aggressive and seems to not take compliments well?
What if Nathanael actually does “come and see”?
Perhaps the scariest thing about evangelism, sharing our Good News, is that it makes us vulnerable. It is risk. We, like Philip, have to expose something very special, very dear to us, if we hope to invite others to experience our Jesus.
Today is our Parish Annual Meeting. You obviously know that since you showed up here at 9am. I suspect you are here today because you have, in some way, experienced Jesus here, at St. Andrew's. For you this community is a special place. This church plays an important role in your relationship with God. St. Andrew's is special; St. Andrew's is dear to you.
And because of that, you probably overlook some of our quirks. There are perhaps individuals with whom you do not click, but that is fine. There are maybe even things you would do differently if it were up to you, but you are used to the ways things are done and it is really no big deal. This place is your spiritual home. Not perfect but you find Jesus here. These people are your spiritual family. Not perfect but you love them.
But let's say you have a friend who does not know Jesus. And maybe that friend is skeptical. Maybe your friend is the kind of person who is a little prejudiced and likes hanging out under trees. I guess what I'm trying to say is: would you invite your friend to “come and see”?
Would you dare ask your friend to come to this place that is so special to you? To this place where you come to experience Jesus? Knowing that once you do, you lose control of the narrative, of the message. No longer will they just take your word for it, they will have their own experience. And maybe your friend will not see what you find so special about this community, this church. And maybe they will never come back.
Or, perhaps even scarier, maybe they will stick around long enough to see the real St. Andrew's. To see our quirks. To hear the complaints. To sit with that someone at coffee hour you normally try to avoid. Maybe they will find out that we are not perfect.
“Come and see” is a risk because you never know what the person you invite will see when they come. Once they walk through the doors, you entrust them to this community. Evangelism is tough because it requires us to be vulnerable. It requires us to trust our friends and family members, and our own hearts, to the other imperfect people with whom we share our church.
And we have to trust Jesus too. We have to trust that Jesus is still able to change hearts, that Jesus is still touching lives, that he still has the words that change worlds. When you invite someone to “come and see” Jesus, you have to trust that your experience is not unique, that others might actually see what you see.
I tell people to “come and see” what Jesus is doing at St. Andrew's. And, trust me, I know we're not perfect. But I also know that I experience Jesus with you, and in you, and through you. And I am willing to risk that others will too.