Come and See

MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Idylwood Presbyterian Church

January 19, 2014

John 1:29-42

Come and See 

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’*

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed*). 42He brought Simon*to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter*).

~ 

Today’s text is a story about call. Every year on this Sunday in January, the lectionary (that is, the schedule of scripture texts used by many churches) gives us a story about Jesus calling his disciples. One of the better-known tales has Jesus sidling up to a group of fishermen and saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” at which point they drop their nets and follow. But here in John’s gospel is a story with a different twist. Jesus doesn’t call these folks to be his disciples. He doesn’t say, “I have a job for you.” In fact, the story isn’t really about what Jesus wants from them, but what they need from him. He asks them, “What are you looking for?” And they say, “Where are you staying, teacher?” …which is a strange thing, answering a question with a question, and a weird question at that. But he seems unfazed and responds, “Come and see,” knowing that where he is and who he is cannot really be explained, it must be experienced.

He can’t tell them everything that is to come.
He can’t tell them about the crowds of people who will follow them wherever they go,
or the 5,000 people who will be fed with a few bread and fish.
He can’t tell them about a blind man who regains his sight
or a little girl who gets up from her deathbed.
He can’t tell them about water into wine and the anger of religious leaders at the message they spread.
He can’t tell them about an arrest and a trial and a cross and a borrowed grave.
He can’t tell them because they wouldn’t believe him. But he also can’t tell them because if he did, they might never take that first step.

People often ask me how I came to be a minister. When did I feel the call? When did I decide?

My call into ministry came very gradually. After we got married, Robert and I were asked to help with the junior high ministry at our church. Then over time I was invited to teach adult Sunday School, and become a deacon in the church. With each step into deeper service, my faith grew, and I loved the work I was doing.

I remember a lunch with the Associate Pastor—we were teaching a class together and had gotten together to plan—in which I asked him how he’d decided to go into the ministry. He saw through my question instantly: “Why do you ask? Are you feeling called to be a pastor yourself?” He knew I was asking not about him, but about me. Sort of like asking “Rabbi, where are you staying?” as a way to get at something deeper.

But even that conversation was not so much a pivotal moment as it was one more step on a long, slow journey into this pastoral vocation I now call home.

I feel a bit sheepish, actually, when people ask for this story. It’s not very flashy or interesting. But it’s a story of the way our lives usually work. Very few of us put in place big fixed plans for our lives, then methodically carry them out. Our life is a series of “come and see” experiences. Whether we are finding a career, or a life partner, or a college to attend, or trying a new hobby, or a new volunteer opportunity in the church, or even just a new hairdresser, we can research and explore the options and write the pro and con list and consult friends and experts and of course, Google. But sooner or later we have to take a chance—go on that first date, write that resume, go to the audition or try out for the team.

St. Augustine, that great father of the early church, is quoted as saying, “It is solved by walking.” I’m not certain what he meant by that at the time—maybe he was one of those types who did his best thinking while on his feet rather than sitting quietly or kneeling in prayer. But here’s what it means to me: people sometimes ask me to help them figure out their purpose—their unique call in life. Augustine’s words remind me that our call isn’t something we think through and then start doing. Rather, we learn what it means for us to follow Jesus by following Jesus.

It is solved by walking. By doing. By experimenting. By trying and risking. By coming and seeing where the rabbi is staying that day.

But if Augustine is too high-falutin’ for you… You’ve heard the phrase “look before you leap”?

Jesus seems to be saying, “Leap… so you can look.”

And what a view we experience when we take that first step! Have you noticed how many different names for Jesus we get in this text?

Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, Teacher, Messiah, Anointed.

When we take that first step, when we get past our paralysis and “come and see,” we experience a God who is way more complex and daring than anything we could imagine.

*          *          *

Above my desk I have a line from a Mary Oliver poem. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

It’s a line that’s inspired many people, and has been a personal touchstone for years. It reminds me that this life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. This is the only life we get on this earth.

But the quote can also feel very paralyzing. That’s a big responsibility, to think about our lives as something grand and irreplaceable.

Tomorrow we honor the Rev. Martin Luther King. And it’s always risky to talk about Dr. King in a sermon, because people can so easily dismiss it: “I can never be MLK.” Maybe not. But there was a time when Martin Luther King Jr. was not Martin Luther King Jr. There was a time when he was not the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he was not a man who met with Presidents, he was not a man whose arrests made the national newspapers, he was not a man whom hundreds of thousands of people piled into buses and drove across country to hear speak in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. He was simply a 26 year old parish pastor in Montgomery Alabama who was asked to join a bus boycott and said yes

“Come and see,” they said. And he did. He took a step into the future that God had waiting for him.

God only knows what awaits us when we take that first step.

Gary Haugen, President of the International Justice Mission, an organization that works to end slavery and human trafficking around the globe, spoke to a group of Presbyterians recently about how “safe” we often live, to our own detriment. The church is complicit in this. We try to keep people safe, he told the gathering, when what people desperately want is to be part of something dangerously adventurous and meaningful.

Haugen told the story of when he was ten years old, going to Mt. Ranier with his father and brothers. At the base of the mountain there is a visitors center situated in a beautiful meadow. From the visitors center a set of paved trails winds up the beginnings of the mountain until the paved trails end and there’s a big sign written by lawyers telling you all the bad things that can happen to you if you go beyond that point up the unpaved trail.

At ten years old, Gary told his father, “You know, I think I’ll just go back down to the visitors’ center.” His father tried to persuade him, “I know it will be hard, but I think you’ll be glad you came.” “No, no,” insisted Gary, “I’d really rather spend the day at the visitors’ center.” And he went back down. He spent hours in the visitors’ center watching films about other people hiking the mountain loop again and again. This is what the church so often has become. People who come to the visitors center to hear about other people going off to do interesting, adventurous, and important things. But inside a lot of us are wishing we had gone up on that mountain.[1]

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 

Come and see.

[1] Thank you to Andrew Foster Connors of The Well preaching group for the story.

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©2014 MaryAnn McKibben Dana. These sermon manuscripts are provided here for personal use, and are not to be redistributed or otherwise reproduced without permission of the author.