Sunday, January 15, 2017

"The Great Invitation: Come and See" - Sermon, January 15, 2017

Community United Methodist Church, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: Come and See”
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 15, 2017
John 1: 29-42

        What are you looking for?  What are you after?  It was a question that my mom or grandma often asked me when I was younger whenever I started rummaging around the kitchen, usually looking for a snack since I seemed to be hungry all the time.  But it’s also one of those questions we get asked when rummaging around our office, our house, garage or shop, or around the church when someone sees us trying to find something we misplaced, or something we need right at that moment (which can sometime result in a stress-laden tirade filled with colorful language).
Sometimes that search can be quite frustrating and feel like it’s going in circles, and sometimes in a rare instance, I won’t be able to find something leading to more frustration and a little more colorful language.  In fact, when I got back to the office a couple weeks ago, I kept looking for one of my extra phone/iPad chargers that I had in my office that I took when I made a trip to Reno last month, but still haven’t found it.  Luckily, I had two other phone/iPad chargers.  However, it didn’t mean I wasn’t milling around the office like a headless chicken when I got back.
        However, we might also be looking for something else, something deeper, something that is not material.  Perhaps, when we hear Jesus’s question in our Gospel lesson this morning, “what are you looking for,” perhaps we are looking for a relationship with God, a community, answers to life’s greatest questions, or just answers in general.  As we continue with our series, “The Great Invitation” we encounter the first disciples in John’s gospel this morning, who are invited by Jesus to come and see when they approach him and ask where he’s staying.  As we talked about last week, the great invitation is an invitation to a deeper relationship with God, a deeper level of discipleship by following Jesus closely through study, worship, small group participation, our actions, and sharing that word of good news with others, and inviting people we know into a relationship with God and into community.  We are essentially inviting people to follow Jesus.  No matter where we are on our faith journey, this is an invitation to come and see what following Jesus is all about. 
Last week, we were invited to think about what it means to be a baptized believer and where the heavens open for each of us, such as when we first encountered God or when we first decided to follow Jesus.  But this morning as we just heard in John’s gospel, two of John’s disciples, my namesake Andrew being one of them, who are curious and want to know more about “the lamb of God" that John describes Jesus as.  So they set out after Jesus and when they catch up to Him, he asks them “what are you after?" However, Jesus doesn’t tell them, “leave me alone, let me go home and relax," but instead invites Andrew and the other disciple of John’s to “come and see for yourselves” and they sit and learn all day, ultimately becoming followers of Jesus (Jn. 1: 39, MSG). Of course, when Jesus says to “come and see,” he is also inviting us to come and see for ourselves what following him is all about.  Our great invitation is to come and see what Jesus is showing us, even in today’s world. 
What are some experiences in your life that led you to follow Jesus and why do you follow Jesus?  It’s also a good question to be asked and a good question to think about, as everyone will have a different experience and perhaps a different reason for following Jesus.  Following Jesus has different meanings, yet this time is a great invitation to have conversations with each other to flesh those questions out, basically inviting each other to come and see why we follow Jesus.  One of the reasons I follow Jesus is because it keeps me grounded, as Jesus provides an example of how we should live and relate with others, through love, service, peace, and and mercy.  And trust me, it’s not always easy to love, especially when I’ve been hurt by someone or whenever I see something happening that just makes me angry.  But following Jesus helps me to stop, and think about what he would do and how he would handle any situations, not to say that turning tables over is out the question.  Even when I was in a spiritual desert ten years ago, I knew something was really missing when I took a break from the church and thought I lost my faith.  Even then, Jesus will still invite us to come and see, even when we think we’ve lost our faith.  Jesus sets a prime example of how we should live, but he also invites us and others to come and see for ourselves what following him and learning from him is all about. 
What are you looking for?  Or, what are you seeking when you are looking for Jesus?  Some other questions worth pondering over.  Again, people are seeking different things in life and when it comes to a relationship with God by following Jesus, you'll get different responses if you ask why people follow Jesus.  When Andrew and John’s other disciple ask Jesus where he stays and Jesus invites them to come and see, Jesus also invites each one of us to come and see for ourselves what following him will be about.  For example, Jesus’s invitation to come and see entails the following:
If you want to know the word made flesh, come and see Jesus. If you want to know what love is like, come and see Jesus. If you want to experience God's glory, to be filled with bread that never perishes, to quench your thirst with living water, to be born again, to abide in love, to behold the light of the world, to experience the way, the truth, and the life, to enter into life everlasting, . . . if you want to know God, come and see Jesus.[i]

        These are a few examples of what Jesus brings us, mostly what we see from John’s gospel, but following Jesus as 21st century disciples also has its challenges.  As the hands and feet of Jesus in today’s world, we can invite others to come and see, but sometimes it feels like extending the invitation is like trying to climb one of the higher mountains out here, in which our invitations might be met with skepticism and even suspicion.  One group that has been doing some extensive research on church attendance and religion in our culture is the Barna Group.  It’s not hard to see that religious engagement in America is on the decline. A 2014 study by The Barna Group found that 48% of people born between 1984 and 2002 and 40% of those born between 1965 and 1983 do not affiliate with any particular church.[ii] And for many churches, including our own, who have a desire to reach out to and develop relationships with younger generations and anyone seeking Jesus for that matter, we have our work cut out for us.  As David Kinnaman and George Barna put it, “the younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is.”[iii]
        This is definitely some sobering information and easy to lament.  However, despite these figures and detachment from the faith, I actually see it as an opportunity to engage, to share our stories and our faith,  and to invite people to come and see why we follow Jesus.  You see, I am NOT going to give up hope, as I still believe that we can connect with people, except it takes being authentic, being real, being honest, and willing to listen, and listen intently!!  We can learn a lot from each other, as I find myself learning a lot from the younger generations, but I also find a lot of valuable wisdom from generations who came before me, as the generations before me first invited me to come and see.  Yet as I will keep harping on, our actions need to match the story we tell because when people come and see what we are about or what following Jesus is all about, whether it’s out of curiosity or because we intentionally extended the invitation, people are going to have expectations based on what they heard.  On the other hand, George  Barna and David Kinnaman point out that “even though the cultural trend is toward less church-friendliness overall, the vast majority of [adults who do not attend church] still have at least some level of personal experience in a church,” something that might provide a glimmer of hope, and an opportunity for us to extend the invitation to come and see.[iv]
        One of our goals as a church this year (and beyond) is to reach out to many of our families surrounding our congregation and in this area.  This is where The Great Invitation really helps us think about how we engage and invite others to come and see what following Jesus is about.  We can spend our time engaging in these demographic and sociological studies, like the Barna Group has done, but for us as a community of faith, the best thing we can do is to be out and about in our community, being willing to share our stories with others who we encounter and get to know.  And if we want to dig a little deeper, we can be like Jesus and ask people we engage with what they are looking for, except we also don’t want to come across like we are trying to make a sales pitch either.  People can spot fakeness very quickly!!  Simply asking what people are looking for can lead to some wonderful conversations, but we need to be real, we need to be authentic, and we need to be honest, especially when we extend the invitation to come and see, to come and follow Jesus.  It is even more interesting to hear what people have to say when we intentionally listen to what they are looking for. 
One of my friends in Denver, CO, Rev. Jerry Herships is pastor of AfterHours Denver in the Rocky Mountain Conference UMC, which is a church that is quite unconventional in what you would expect to see when it comes to church and when they invite others to come and see.  AfterHours meets in various bars around the Denver area on Monday nights for worship.  Yet what is unique, besides meeting in bars, is that AfterHours engages with and intently listens to the homeless community around Denver, as a good part of their worship service is a hands-on time of making sack lunches and collecting socks and other clothing items.  When Jerry serves Communion in City Center Park during the week and as volunteers hand out sack lunches, they are not only embodying the hands and feet of Christ in the world by feeding the hungry and providing clothes for warmth, they are also inviting people to come and see, showing and sharing the love of Jesus, especially to a community that is oftentimes looked down upon and ignored.  
Along with rolling up their sleeves and engaging in service, the people who participate in AfterHours also provide an essential community.  In Jerry's book that was published in 2015, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus, Jerry writes that
Most people I know who don’t go to church aren’t looking for a lot.  They want community, they want to do good – maybe help make the world a better place.  That’s kind of it.  But it’s hard to find a community that you like and that pushes you to be more like Christ – a church that pushes you when you get lazy about following God and that will also give you hope and hold you up when you’re about to fall.  It’s not easy, and honestly, it’s easy to give up.  And that’s just the people who are actively searching.[v]

        I believe that there are people who are actively searching, but like others, I too am seeking ways to engage and not necessarily trying to attract people through programs or advertising.  That just doesn’t work the way it used to.  But more importantly, we need to “invest in relationships” even before people “decide to follow Jesus.”[vi] As we saw in the text, Jesus invested in a relationship with Andrew and the other disciple of John before they made the decision to follow Jesus.  And that's a big part of what Jerry's church does and what we can do too.
So here at Community UMC, what do we want people to notice about us if we invite them to come and see? What do we want people to see if they take us up on that great invitation?  From what I’ve seen in my six months here so far, I see a community deeply engaged in service through the Community Supper on Wednesday nights, C.A.N., Rotary, P.E.O., helping at the PCIRC, the volunteer fire department, the Plumas District Hospital Volunteers Thrift Shop, involvement in the local theater, star follies (which I'm in this year), and other organizations and groups that help make our community and world a better place.  I see a vital and active music ministry in our choir and bell choir.  I see a community of faith that loves one another and respects one another and a community that might not think alike, but still loves alike nonetheless. 
At the same time, I also see room for us to engage deeper in our discipleship through small groups, which can simply take the form of three or four people meeting together to check-in with each other weekly by asking “how is it with your soul,” or it can be in the form of book discussion since we have a nice library on the Fellowship Hall stage.  Or, if you’ve been on a three day weekend experience like the Walk to Emmaus, Chrysalis, Cursillo, or Tres Dias, there are opportunities for reunion groups, which are also not limited just to people who have participated in such a weekend.  We're also starting a group called Fellowship 6 as a means of getting to know each other better. Such engagement in small groups within the church can push us to be more like Christ and push us when we start feeling lazy about following God, but also helps everyone we encounter to come and see what we all may be looking for.  And after the participation we had in the children’s Christmas pageant, we have the seeds planted to engage with the children we have right now, a chance to share with them what following Jesus is about if people are willing to help start and lead a mid-week gathering for kids, which allows them to be kids, but also so that they can come and see what following Jesus is about. 
I could go on and on, but when we extend The Great Invitation for others to come and see, I want to invite you into discussion about what people outside the walls of this building will see if they take us up on our great invitation to following Jesus, or what we want people to see when we invite them to come and see.  And as we think about what it means to invite people to come and see, I also want us to think about why each of us follow Jesus.  As we go into this new week, who do you find yourself having the most conversations about faith with?  And, where have you seen the face of Christ and heard the voice of God?  These are all things to think about in sharing our own experiences with the people we encounter because they will no doubt have questions about why we follow Jesus and why we are Christian.  Just be real, be authentic, and be honest when you share about your faith and experiences of faith. Finally, invite those you know to come and see and to be a part of this Great Invitation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] Lewis, K. (2017) Commentary on john 1: 29-42 by Audrey West. Available at: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3114 (Accessed: 12 January 2017).
[ii] George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Austin, TX: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), 12. 
[iii] Barna and Kinnaman, 17. 
[iv] Barna and Kinnaman, 21. 
[v] Jerry Herships, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus (Louisville: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2015), 96.
[vi] Ministries, D. (2017) Come and see — preaching notes. Available at: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/come-and-see-preaching-notes (Accessed: 12 January 2017).

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