Scripture: John 1:35-42
Let’s just say that the “philigopper” on your car breaks. You go out one morning, put the key in, and nothing happens. You open the hood and notice the philigopper is leaking gop, so you know this is serious. Your car has always run like a dream, and besides regular maintenance, you have never had to go to a mechanic before. But this isn’t a job for any regular mechanic; you need one that specializes in philigoppers, a philigoptimist. You open the Yellow Pages or Google “philigoptimists” in La Grande, OR.” Wow, there are six different philigoptimists in the area! You know this will be an expensive job that is very detailed and time consuming and you want it done right. What do you do next?
Well, I know what I would do; I’d start calling my friends. I’d call some of you and ask you if ever had your philigopper go out on your car, and if so, who did the repairs. (pretend to call one of the members of the church.)
There is an issue of trust in the midst of all of this. If your friend tells you which shop took good care of him when their philigopper went out, you are more than likely to go to there, too. If your friend says that the new movie showing at the theater is awesome, you have a better change of changing your schedule and go see it. It even counts with restaurants. We are making our plans to travel to Arizona for Spring Break and trying to decide if we are going to go through Nevada on the back roads or stick to the interstate through Utah. We may have been swayed to go through Nevada because Linda Fratzke said there is this little restaurant in Wells that has awesome homemade food. Our trust and friendship in Linda may have swayed how we travel in March.
But what about when comes to church? Or even talking about God for that matter? I’ll be the first to say that we live in era and part of the world that you are probably more likely to be asked about where you get your philigopper fixed than you are to have someone call you up and ask you about what church you go to. In some ways, this seems almost counterintuitive. Spirituality is at an all time high, people are looking for God, people are looking for answers to life’s questions, but for some reason people want to find that path on their own, as an individual without a community. It’s like fixing your philigopper without a manual or help from someone else who’s worked on one before. But on the flipside, it can be hard to talk about God, our faith, Jesus, and church. If the phone did ring and a friend was asking you about who this Jesus fellow was, you might be apt to say, “Let me have you call my pastor.” You know, call the expert, even though you have everything you need to talk about what Jesus is doing in your life.
I believe our scripture from the Gospel of John offers up to us what any of us can say, a simple invite to those times when we haven’t been asked about our faith, because I believe it goes beyond waiting for someone to ask us. The invitation is to “Come and see.” And I think the entire gospel is a “come and see” gospel. Do you remember the very beginning of John, where the Word was God and the Word was with God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? God didn’t wait for our invite. Jesus is God stepping across the cosmos right into our lives, right in front of us, inviting us to “come and see.” Why would God want to do this? Because God wants to be known by us and has become known by us in Jesus Christ.
It begins when John the Baptist sees Jesus walking by, points to him and says to his disciples, “Look, there he is—the Lamb of God!” They follow Jesus and he says, “What are you looking for?” A simple question with profound implications. Everyone is looking for something: salvation, identity, love, to get out of church soon enough to get to their favorite lunch spot. Some are looking for fulfillment, purpose, answers to life’s question. Their reply may seem odd, “Where are you staying?” But I think their question points us to a deeper meaning, they want to know if this guy is legit, if he really is the Lamb of God. “Come and see,” is Jesus’ response. Come and get to know me. Come and find out for yourself. Ask questions. See me at work. Come to the conclusions on your own. Live with me. Be in relationship with me. Simply, come and see.
Even the interaction between Philip and Nathanael shows how uncomplicated it is. We don’t know their relationship, but they must have been friends for Philip to go share this good news. Philip comes and tells Nathanael that the one scripture has promised is here! And he is from Nazareth. Now, Nathanael’s response can seem a little snooty, but it is a legitimate question. “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael knew his scriptures and the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth. It seems like an unlikely place for the Christ to call home. But do you see what Philip does? He doesn’t try and convince or cajole. He doesn’t even answer Nathanael’s question. No, he invites Nathanael to join him on this faith journey and answer the question himself. Here is a friend inviting his friend to come have an encounter with Jesus himself. Come and see and have your own experience of and testimony to God who has come to him in Jesus Christ.
What does this mean for us? Well friends, first and foremost, it means we invite our friends to come and see. It isn’t our job to answer every question. Like Philip, we must recognize that questions are an opportunity to help the people who are curious venture into the ranks of those who are willing to come and see. Our job is not to think for people; it is only to invite them. This means that those you are inviting to “come and see” are those who know you and trust you, whether family member, friend, or neighbor. In this day and age when people are looking for authenticity in every aspect of their lives, an invitation from someone who they already know and trust will go further than anything anyone can offer.
But I also believe these “come and see” invitations are to be given to those who haven’t called you up to ask you about God. God came across the room, so to speak, in Jesus Christ so he could live with us and we could live with him, to be in a new, whole relationship with him. And in that relationship, God is inviting us to walk across the room to invite people to “come and see.” I think Philip was excited to invite Nathanael into a relationship with Jesus. And it is something we need to be excited about, too. Now, I’m not saying stand on a street corner and scream Bible passages at people. I’m not saying clobber your friends and family with Jesus. What I’m saying is pray and be guided by the Holy Spirit. Those times for invitations will come.
A couple years into our time as your pastors, I was asked, “If I invited someone to church, what would I be inviting them too?” It’s a good question. If you hadn’t noticed, we are a little older, we don’t have a praise band like a cool church should, we don’t have a bunch of programs. But notice what God’s invitation, Jesus invitation, and Philip’s invitation is all about. Or what that invitation isn’t all about. It isn’t an invitation to accept a certain dogma or doctrine, a certain music style, or even an invite to a church. It is an invite to a relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. To dwell in God and have God dwell in us.
So, what would you be inviting people too? Let me answer that question with a story. Do you all remember Autumn and her two daughters? A couple of months ago, she was trying to sell her house and she called us to see if we were able to help her with a couple of things now that she is hundreds of miles away. When I thought we were almost done talking, she asked, “Keith, why isn’t your church full of people? It should be packed.” I went on to ask her what she was talking about. She shared that when she had moved to La Grande to go back to school at EOU, she checked out a couple of the “big” churches and felt ignored by the people. Yeah, they had all the programming for the every age and whatever style of music worship service that a person could want. But they didn’t seem to want to get to know her and her daughters. So she took a chance on First Pres, mostly because she liked the architecture. But she was shocked when she got here. Never had she felt so welcomed at a church. She said, “The church loved on me and my daughters like we were family.” She didn’t find a program, she didn’t find a praise band, she didn’t even find a small group for divorced moms like they had at one of the other churches she checked out. She got a glimpse of God. She found the love of Christ in and through you.
And Autumn hadn’t been invited by anyone. Just think what would happen if we all invited a friend to come and see and experience Christ here? Because Christ is here! Ultimately, he is the one doing the inviting, because he wants to be found by you, by your friends, by your family. “Come and see” calls the Christ. And his invitation becomes ours. “Come and see” is our invitation to the world. Join the journey and invite others on the journey as well, for in the quest itself, there is life to be found in the one who journeys with us. Because along the way, he promises that we will get glimpses in and through him of what every person is looking for: the very heart of God. Amen.