David A. Davis
Our text from John’s gospel this morning comes from the very first chapter. Here in John, right after John the Baptist comes on the scene, he points to Jesus coming toward him so that his own disciples could see “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Two of John’s disciples then followed Jesus. They asked Jesus where he was staying and Jesus said, “Come and see.” One of those disciples named Andrew went and found his brother Simon and told him that they found the Messiah. As soon as Jesus saw Simon, he announced that Simon would now be referred to as Cephas, which when translated is Peter. All this naming and calling and looking and seeing continues in the last part of John, chapter 1, which is our reading.
[John 1:43-51 is read]
Jesus found Philip. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found him about whom Moses… and the prophets wrote.” Nathanial wondered how anything could come out of a podunk, nothing town like Nazareth. Philip said, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him he praised him as one of strong character and faith. Nathanael wondered how Jesus knew anything about him at all. Jesus told him, “I saw you.”
Nathanael — in a way that was something more than the Samaritan woman, who said after meeting Jesus at the well, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” — Nathanael — in a way more like Mary, who when in the empty tomb turned and said to the Risen Jesus, “Rabbouni” — Nathanael — in a Thomas kind of way after Thomas saw the scarred hands and side, and said, “My Lord and my God!” — Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Jesus responded to Nathanael’s acclamation and told him, “You will see greater things than these.” And with the reference to the angels of God ascending and descending Jesus must have been hearkening back to Jacob, and Jacob’s dream, Jacob’s ladder, the angels ascending and descending. For in that dream, God affirmed to Jacob God’s promise, God’s covenant, God’s intent for greater things. God to Jacob. Jesus to Nathanael. Jesus to Andrew. Jesus to Peter. Jesus to the disciples. Jesus to the church. Jesus to us. “Come and see.”
Of course, the “come and see” in John’s gospel is all about the life, the teaching, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. John is often understood to be the gospel of signs, the seven signs of Christ’s ministry: miracles, healings, feedings, raising Lazarus from the dead. And the very last verse of John’s Gospel? “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Come and see all that he has done.
In the other three gospels, when the devil comes to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus is taken to see stones that could be turned into bread. Jesus is lifted to the highest point of the temple in the holy city and told to throw himself down. Jesus is taken to a very high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world.
In John’s gospel, Nathanael, Andrew, Peter, the disciples, the church, the reader, the followers of Jesus are taken to see all that Christ has done. Miracles, healings, feedings. Come and see lives saved, lives transformed, a kingdom unfolding in the hearts and minds and lives of people. Come and see, not mountains and temple tops, but humanity transformed, forgiveness on the loose, wholeness unleashed, abundant life on the rise, servanthood unbound, righteousness afoot, justice rolling down. Greater things. Kingdom-like things. Come and see what God’s people dream about, and work toward, and speak to, and pray for. Come and see God’s people live!
The remarkable part of the “come and see-ness” of John’s gospel is how people-based it is. Jesus and Nathanael. Jesus and the 5,000. Jesus and the paralyzed man by the pool. Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus and the man born blind. Come and see… people. Lives. The “come and see-ness” of John’s gospel, it may not always come with a name, but there is a face. Not just faith-based, it’s face-based.
And the “come and see-ness” of the gospel has an extreme present tense to it. Jesus said to Nathanael early on, “You will see greater things than these.” And he did. He did then see greater things. In real time. The “come and see-ness” of the timeless gospel of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist pointed to him. He pointed to everyone else whose lives were forever touched, forever transformed, forever made whole. The timeless gospel. Greater things in real time.
The “come and see-ness’ of the gospel. It raises the question of the “come and see-ness” of your life and mine, the “come and see-ness” of all who know themselves to be the body of Christ. In real time, who else does Jesus have to point to?
On the morning of the special senate election in Alabama, the editor of Christianity Today penned an essay entitled “The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election.” The editor of theologically conservative magazine argued right from the beginning that the biggest loser bar none was Christian faith. He wrote, “When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.” The present issue being addressed was how the far evangelical right lined up and endorsed a candidate of questionable background and moral standing pretty much in the name of Christian faith.
The editor went on to criticize quite thoroughly people of faith on all sides whose witness in the political arena falls short of the gospel they proclaim. He writes at end of the editorial:
The way forward is unclear, for to love one’s neighbor in a democratic society means that Christians must participate in the public square to seek the common good. We cannot forsake our political duty, and that duty will lead believers in different directions. It’s just that when we do engage in politics, we so often end up doing and saying things that make us sound and act like we don’t care about the very values we champion. Perhaps the first step is for Christians Left and Right, when they stand up to champion a cause, to stop saying, ‘Thus says the Lord’ and ‘Lord, I thank you that you have not made me like these other Christians,’ but frame their politics with, ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
It seems to me his was a call for the “Come and see-ness” of the gospel of Jesus Christ. People like us, in the sinfulness of our humanity, are more interested in something more akin to comeuppance when it comes to faith and public life. Jesus isn’t interested in comeuppance. He’s calling for “come and see-ness.” Jesus calls us to a “come and see-ness” in the witness of our faith in life public and life private. Jesus calls us to a real-time Christian life worthy of his gospel, of his witness, of his pointing. Where else does he have to point?
On the night before he was murdered, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his infamous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis. The end of the sermon was unforgettable.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
Dr. King and his dreams. Dr. King and angels ascending and descending. Dr. King and greater things. Just a bit early in the sermon King tells the story of the letter he received from a young white girl after he had been stabbed in New York City. Reports circulated afterward that if Dr. King had sneezed he would have died from the wound so close to his heart. The 9th-grade girl wrote to him, “I am simply writing to you to tell you I am so happy that you didn’t sneeze.” Dr. King then went on in the speech with a litany of sorts, a riff on how he too was happy he didn’t sneeze.
He was happy he didn’t sneeze because of all that he had seen between 1960 and 1968. He preaches:
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have seen when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters… If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel… If I had sneezed — if I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill… If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there… If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering… I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
Maybe the mountaintop for Dr. King, maybe the glory of the coming of the Lord, wasn’t just a spiritual vision, or an out-of-body mystical moment of prayer, or a godly moment of seeing visions and dreaming dreams. Maybe the mountaintop was in the glimpses, in the seeing Christ at work in hearts and minds and lives and people. Hoping against hope in a harsh and brutal world and yet still experiencing the “come and see-ness” of the gospel in the lives of God’s people. Being blessed to see the greater things, to see all that Jesus has done, is doing, in real time. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
If that editor at Christianity Today is even partly correct, that no one will believe a word we say perhaps for a generation, then Nassau Presbyterian Church, we better be paying more attention to how we live, and how we act, and what the world perceives when they come and see. The face-based part of life in the body of Christ here and now. How you and I together look to seed transformation and allow forgiveness to set us free and crave wholeness for all and commit to abundant life in the power of the Holy Spirit and a selfless servanthood first and righteousness that comes with feet on the ground and hands getting dirty and crying out for and looking for and pointing to the everlasting stream of justice. Come and see how God’s people live!
How they stick up for the most vulnerable, how they never give up working for those the world deems “the least of these,” how they yearn to speak truth in the face of power, how they pray for the sick and care for the dying and sit with the grieving, how they commit even more to teaching children and young people that there is, in fact, a more excellent way. That way of love.
Come and see how God’s people live! How they recommit to use their voice for others who have been too long silenced. How they have to figure out over and over again that, actually, your Christian faith ought a play a role in the jokes you tell and how you refer to other people, and Christian faith does make a difference in every relationship, the most intimate to the most public, relationships at work, relationships on the street, relationships where you have all the power, relationships where you have none. That “love your neighbor” and “turn the other cheek” and “the last shall be first” are not listed as optional in the gospel.
The “come and see-ness” of the gospel of Jesus Christ in real time. Where else does Jesus have to point?
© 2018 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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