The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
There’s been a lot of talk over the past few months about my son Kyle’s upcoming birthday. Mostly, Kyle has been the one talking about it a lot over the last few months. Not only does this occasion make us think about presents to buy and cake to bake, it also helps Lindsey and I remember that cold day in January in Paducah, Kentucky, when Kyle was born.
I remember how I couldn’t wait to share the news when each of my children were born. I called both sets of parents, sent text messages to friends, and posted pictures to Facebook as soon as I could. By the time I returned to work I had a picture album that I brought to the office to show everyone.
Making an announcement like that is a unique experience. It is news that we simply have to share; and we never think or care about how people will respond. So many other times when we convey information to other people we wonder how they will respond to it. But not so with a birth announcement. We’re so happy and so confident our baby is the most beautiful one ever born, that we share the news without much thought.
I’d like you to take a moment to think about a time in your life when you felt compelled to share news without thinking how anyone would respond. Perhaps it was when you bought your first car or house; when you became engaged; etc.
There’s a wonderful example of this in today’s Gospel. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he finds Philip and calls him to follow. And he does. And not only does Philip follow Jesus but just as importantly, he is compelled to go and tell someone else about Jesus.
Philip tells Nathanael, who, apparently, seems like a guy with quite a negative attitude! Nathanael, if you recall from today’s gospel, makes a smart aleck remark about nothing good coming out of Nazareth – a town that people view from afar with disdain and prejudice, as if the people from there are less than human or at least unworthy of welcoming to their town. (Which just might be a sentiment one could still encounter in our world today....ahem...say, perhaps in relation to Africa and Haiti...ahem.)
Surely Philip knew that Nathanael would react negatively to his invitation. We can assume they were apparently good friends; after all, aren’t good friends usually the first recipients of our good news? Philip probably figured that he would scoff, or make fun of him, or ignore him all together. But Philip goes and tells him anyway. Apparently this news was too good not to share, especially with such a good friend.
And I think what's just as admirable is Philip doesn’t throw up his hands in exasperation in response to Nathanael's dismissive remark. He doesn't retort something back, as I think I might. Or get defensive, as I know I would. Or walk away hurt or angry, vowing never to share anything with Nathanael again. No, he doesn't do any of these things. Instead, he just takes it in stride and answers, "come and see."
The good news of the story is that Nathanael overcomes his prejudice and bigotry. If his heart had proven completely hardened against the people of Nazareth; if he held so tightly to his worldview and infantile understanding of God, he would have missed out on the salvation that had just entered his life.
So, Nathanael goes and sees…albeit reluctantly. And his life is forever changed once he too meets Jesus.
“Come and see.” Such simple, open, and inviting words. Words, I think, that sum up the Christian calling. “Come and see” is the only fit response when you encounter Jesus and fall in love. These are the words we are compelled to share with others who are seeking something more from life.
Now, my initial impulse was to let this message conclude with a comment about how we need to invite people to our church. That our worship experience should compel us to go out and invite friends and neighbors to join us on Sunday mornings. More importantly, that we should be compelled to invite without any regard for how people would respond.
And while that message is true, it actually misses the more important point of the gospel. You see, Jesus was never concerned about filling the pews or getting warm bodies into the temple or putting more coins in the offering plate. To suggest that these should be the primary goals of our Christian life would be downright disrespectful to the truth of the gospel and Christ himself.
Don’t get me wrong, as a leader of a congregation, I like the idea of higher attendance, warm bodies, and more offering in the plates. And those are things that I work on. But as your pastor, my primary responsibility is help you identify God’s active presence in every aspect of your life.
Once we understand that God is as organically a part of us as our skin, or our eyes, or our hearts, then we can embrace the love of a God who created you and leads you through life.
And once we embrace God’s love and presence in our lives and encounter transformation ourselves, then we have no choice but to tell others about our faith and invite them to experience and embrace the love of a God for themselves.
As a leader of an organization I do want you to go and invite people to become a part of this church. But as a follower of Christ, what I want more is for you to go and invite people to meet Jesus and be transformed by him - to come and see.
It’s one thing to invite people to church; for many people it’s even harder still to talk about our faith. But, in the end, we don’t have the choice -- the news is so good that we simply have to share it, especially with the people we care about. And if they aren't interested, or dismiss what we're saying, or make some smart aleck response, like, “What good could come from Cross of Grace,” that’s okay.
We know that the good news of God's love for us and all the world can be hard to believe. We can understand that this news is so good it may seem too good to be true. So it's okay if they're not sure or walk away. It's not our job to convert, just to invite.
“Come and see.” Over time, with practice, these are words anyone can say. Philip said them. We can say them. Maybe not right away, but over time, with practice, these are words all of us can say... and eventually might even enjoy saying. Because sharing something that matters to you with someone that matter is, as Philip found out, is what life is all about.