Breaking News: Episcopalian says “Evangelism”… Come & See!

January 19, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

2nd Sunday after Epiphany – RCL Year A

Isaiah 49:1-7, 1 Cor 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

If you were here on Christmas morning you heard me talk about God breaking into our lives with the coming of Jesus into the world. I shared my own tendencies through the years to keep my life “safe and unchanged” within the comfort of darkness. But Jesus’ presence was God’s way of turning on a new light, and once we are exposed to this light, the world appears differently and we are called to respond differently in it.

Now, with the Christmas season behind us, we face the weeks between Epiphany and Lent. It’s a time in the church year when we focus on the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah. This is a central theme of the Gospel of John, where Jesus is explicitly revealed, right up front, as the one who was sent by God and was with God from the very beginning.

In the first verses of Genesis, when darkness covered the face of the deep, God said, “Let there be light; and there was light.” And now, in John’s gospel the creation story is retold:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… In Him was life and the life was the Light of all people. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (Jn 1:1-2,4-5, NASB).

I like this translation, found in the New American Standard Bible because it makes clear that the state of darkness is one of not understanding. It’s not about the darkness overpowering the light, but about the light providing a new way of seeing the world. We need this light to move forward – to see our way toward God.

In today’s gospel lesson from John, the text shifts from the imagery of The Word, to reveal the real person of Jesus being seen and understood as the one for whom John the Baptist has prepared the way.

John has been baptizing people, calling them to repent and turn toward God. Now, he sees the one he has been waiting for. And upon seeing him, and discerning that this is the one whom the Spirited has remained upon, John reveals Jesus’ identity to others.

John first RECOGNIZES Jesus as the one whom God sent to reveal God. And in recognizing Jesus, John relinquishes his own authority and hands it over to the one who ranks ahead of him.

You see, John had his own followers, yet he knew that his ultimate role was to lead them to recognize Jesus. We are told that two of John’s disciples were standing there as Jesus walked by and John exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Having heard this, the disciples shift their allegiance and begin to follow Jesus.

Jesus turns to them and asks “What are you looking for?” and their reply seems rather odd to us. They say, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

This phrase actually shows a level of commitment. In those times, when one was learning under a Rabbi, they would stay together. So, although the disciples weren’t answering directly the question that Jesus posed, their response infers commitment.

And Jesus replies, “Come and see.”

SEEING is important… Jesus is showing things in a new light, and he invites others to come out of the darkness of unknowing to see the world in new ways.

It says that the disciples went with Jesus and remained with him that day. And after this short time together, not unlike John’s recognition of Jesus, when Andrew later went to tell his brother about Jesus, he no longer referred to him as Rabbi or Teacher; he now called him the Messiah.

This new light created a new recognition of who Jesus is.

So, step one in our journey of revelation is to RECOGNIZE Jesus as the Messiah.

Step two is RESPONDING. The “Come and see” of Jesus was followed by action – the disciples went with him. And in the verses immediately following today’s reading, it says Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Then, Philip responds – not only by following Jesus, but also by SHARING Jesus with those around him.

He went to Nathaniel and said “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote…” So, in that act we see that Philip RECOGNIZES, RESPONDS and then SHARES this revelation of Jesus with others. And when Nathaniel expresses doubt, it is now Philip’s turn to say, “Come and see.”

Philip immediately begins living out his life as a follower of Jesus by being one that brings others to know him. Inviting them explicitly; saying, “Come and see for yourself.”

evangelism-is-not-a-dirty-word-squarePhilip is a prime example of what it is to be an evangelist. That word isn’t used much in the Episcopal Church. Like a lot of words, it’s got “baggage.” For some, it evokes images of street-corner preachers or tele-evangelists… where J-EE -SUS is a three or four syllable word. But the basic premise of evangelism is simply sharing Jesus with others – being a witness to the experience of Christ in our lives.

Later in the Gospel of John, we see Philip again. Some Greeks approach Philip saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew and the two of them went and told Jesus.

A few years ago, shortly after coming to Atlanta, I heard a sermon preached on this passage by a bishop from our partner diocese in Africa. What he pointed out was that Philip and Andrew didn’t question those seeking Jesus; they didn’t ask “what do you want with him?” They didn’t exert control as his disciples. Instead, they simply led them to Jesus.

In the same way, we have the ability to make Jesus available to those around us. It doesn’t have to be on street corners, it can be right inside these walls. It can be in the halls of our schools and our offices; in restaurants and shopping malls; it can be anywhere in our daily lives.

It happens whenever we show others, through our lives, that we are seeing the world in a different way; a way that doesn’t allow the darkness of life to continue. To be a witness of Jesus is to live a life that demonstrates love for one another, not only by showing compassion for those who are marginalized, but by working against the structures that collude to perpetuate injustices and prejudices that devalue other children of God.

Certainly Martin Luther King, Jr. was this kind of evangelist! But it doesn’t only happen in great movements, like the fight for civil rights. Small actions speak volumes, too.

After a preliminary Growth Forum meeting this past week, Annette Broomfield, who leads that forum, sent a devotional written by Keith Honeyman in Cape Town, South Africa that conveys that point:

“I daydream about making a ‘big splash’ for Jesus. As a small boy I loved throwing stones into water to make splashes or to see how many times flat stones could be made to skip. Large splashes are great, but even the smallest pebble creates visible ripples that radiate outward…

Our smallest signs of faith and love – a kind word or smile, a helping hand, turning the other cheek, tiny gifts given freely – can create ripples that radiate outward and carry the love of Christ into the lives of many.”

As we embark on this new year, in response to the recognition of the Light of Christ, one way we can create these ripples is to share our faith and our community with others. In doing this, we are saying “come and see” and the light spreads.

  • Every time we invite someone to Christ Church, whether it’s to see a Christ Church Players production, for Sunday worship, Kid’s Night Out during the summer, or through the Men’s Group events, to name just a few – we are saying “Come and see”.
  • Every time we put our name tag on as a sign of hospitality and welcoming, we are saying “Come and see.”
  • When we open ourselves in service of this community, to serve on the vestry, to participate in a forum, working with children and youth, being a Path-to-Shine mentor, singing in the choir, serving as a greeter or usher, and myriad other ministries of this church, we are saying “Come and see” and the light of Christ spreads.

As it spreads, we will see new life emerge – not just in new members, though that’s wonderful, but in new ministries and new people stepping up to be more actively a part of this faith community. And with these ripples of change, some, like John the Baptist, will have to let go of our own ways of doing things. And by doing this, we open ourselves up to see and experience Jesus in new ways.

John came baptizing with water so that Jesus might be revealed.
We continue to baptize and be baptized so that Jesus may continue to be revealed.

In response to this baptism, I ask – what new ripples will you put out into the world and into this church community this year? There is much to do and, as the saying goes, “many hands make light work.”

Or, with the Gospel of John’s image of Jesus in mind, “many hands make LIGHT work!”

And through the Revelation, Recognition and Sharing of Jesus, I believe that God’s life-giving light will continue to show in all that we do here at Christ Church, in our communities, and around the world.

One Response to “Breaking News: Episcopalian says “Evangelism”… Come & See!”

  1. Barbara Alexander said

    One thing I love about the Episcopal Church, and there are many, is that everyone on Sunday morning, is hearing the same lessons we are, that connection is so important in this world we live in.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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