Sermon; Epiphany 2; John 1:29-42
I have a friend who sent me a book entitled, Jesus was an Episcopalian (and you can be one, too). In short, this is a book about the Episcopal church and how our particular branch of the Jesus Movement relates to worship, history, politics, the world, and much more. She uses this book for her inquirer's class – working especially with newcomers and people who want to take a fresh look at their faith.
As a rule, we Episcopalians don't evangelize very well. We aren't good at talking to people about our faith, church, or denomination. And again, I'm generalizing here. But one of the ways we view our faith is through the saying, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” That is, “The rule of prayer shapes the rule of belief.” Put another way, “How we pray is what we believe.”
I bring this up because, in my experience, when people have asked about the Episcopal church there has been a lot of himming and hawing. Descriptions such as, “Catholic-lite,” “via media,” “A little bit Catholic, a little bit Protestant,” “We're not told what to think,” “We don't have to check our brains at the door,” “It's complicated,” and others, come up in an attempt to explain the Episcopal church and/or Saint John's. And then, frustrated that we can't offer a simple description, we say something like, “Come and see.”
Has anyone else had this experience, or is it just me?
So we offer a “come and see” invitation which is supposed to answer all of their questions, as well as get us off the hook for trying to explain our faith and church. Or maybe we think we can pass this new person off onto the Rector who CAN answer all questions. But the reality is that this whole thing is complicated. Our faith is complicated. Our church can be complicated. And I'll tell you that one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do is to sit down with a non-practicing Buddhist exchange student from South Korea who would sit with an open BCP on Sunday and say, “Explain this to me.”
It's complicated, so come and see.
Come and see how we pray. Come and see how we reach out to the wider community. Come and see how we feed the hungry. Come and see how we offer a quiet, safe place to be with God. Come and see how we teach our faith. Come and see how we live our faith.
That invitation to come and see isn't a way to get people in the door so we can hit them over the head with the Constitution and Canons, or with a list of approved doctrines and disciplines. The invitation to come and see is just that, an invitation to come and see if this is where you want to be.
“Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”
Jesus didn't tell them what they were doing wrong. He didn't make them sign an oath of faith. He didn't quote the Constitution and Canons. Instead he said, “Come and see.”
When we say, “Come and see,” we don't expect to have all the answers in our first meeting. I don't think Jesus did either. But this is the first step to understanding what we are all about. It was the first step to seeing what Jesus was all about.
Wouldn't you love to know what was said at that first meeting? John doesn't say anything about it other than that those first two disciples stayed with him the rest of that day, and that it was about 4 o'clock. Here's what I think happened.
John the Baptist points out Jesus as the Lamb of God. The two disciples go to Jesus and ask where he's staying. Jesus says, “Come and see.” They follow him and Jesus begins to lay out the plans for his ministry.
Come and see good news given to the poor. Come and see captives released. Come and see the blind regaining sight. Come and see the oppressed go free. Come and see the scattering of the proud. Come and see the powerful lowered and the lowly raised up. Come and see the hungry fed. Come and see the kingdom of God being proclaimed to the people.
I think that when Jesus answered the question of, “Where are you staying?” he didn't say, “Come and see” to show them the cute little B&B in Bethany that he had booked for the weekend. Instead, Jesus had a much broader, longer view of the question.
“Where are you staying?”
Come and see me stay with the poor. Come and see me stay with the captives. Come and see me stay with the oppressed. Come and see me stay with the hungry. Come and see me live in the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Our annual meeting is next week. We will have a budget to look at, numbers to review, and reports to read as we do the business of the church. But the business of the church only tells a part of the story.
Come and see where we've been. Come and see where we might be headed. Come and see how we minister to people both inside and outside our congregation. Come and see how we live into our mission.
Jesus' answer of, “Come and see,” wasn't a cop out, but a way to begin to explain to a few disciples the complicated depth of his mission. Our answer to people about our church of, “Come and see” isn't a cop out of trying to avoid giving an answer, but an invitation to see how we experience God and live into our mission today.
Faith and discipleship are difficult and complicated things to explain to people. When we have those conversations, don't be discouraged that you don't have all the answers. Just follow the example of the very first Episcopalian and invite them to come and see.