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Come and See (w/audio)

. Posted in Sermons

John 1:43-51

 Sermon:

Here is a story about a man named Nathanael who came to Jesus. Through his doubts and skepticism he came to him. But he came to him nonetheless.

And he came to Jesus first of all because he was invited by his friend Philip. That is how we all come to Jesus. We are invited by people who have come to know him and follow him. That is how we all come to Jesus. Parents or other caring adults tell us of him. And they make sure we are taken to the place where we hear of him and find his living presence in worship and prayer, in fellowship and service, in ancient words and stories that tell us who Jesus is and who we are in relationship with him.

We come to Jesus because a Philip comes into our lives, and in one way or another invites us to “come and see” Jesus – to come and see him in a community of people who share their lives with one another, forgive one another, and love one another; to come and see him in some place where love is shared by people of faith (perhaps in a ministry of compassion like that of Room in the Inn where some of us will be on Tuesday night; or perhaps in some risky place where people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who we remember this weekend, stand up for the forgotten and advocate for those who are denied justice in the name and power of God; or perhaps in a hospital or nursing home or just someone’s private home where people reach out to others with a love that seems to come from somewhere else). We come to Jesus because someone, someone like the someones who are here in this place of worship now, says to us, in one way or another, “Come and see.”

And, like Nathanael, we come to Jesus in spite of our doubts and misgivings about him. Nathanael wondered out loud with Philip who was extolling Jesus, that he was the one “whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote”: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That was Jesus’ home. Nazareth was a little place of 200 to 400 people. The Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, never mention Nazareth, much less associate it with a coming Messiah. It was a nowhere place with nowhere people. Anyone from there couldn’t be who Philip thought he was, Nathanael thought. So Nathanael dismissed Jesus. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Surely not.

It’s easy to categorize people. To put them in a box. To rule them out. There are the people who look differently. Who act differently. Who think differently. Who are weird to us. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Sarah Silverman. She’s a comedian and an actress. And a pretty outrageous one at that. She’s Jewish as well, although she considers herself more of a cultural Jew and not a very religious one. But, as Christian writer Shane Phipps recently wrote, Sarah Silverman is reflecting Christ’s message better than most Christians.

She was recently the victim of what is known in the social media world as a “Twitter troll.” A man “viciously attacked her with the ugliest of responses.” But instead of blocking the man on her Twitter account or lashing out with her own ugly responses in return, as is all-too-typical these days, Sarah Silverman chose to respond with love and understanding. “Her choice led to an honest and quite touching exchange between the two,” Shane Phipps wrote in his article. Before she responded to him, Sarah Silverman took some time to look through the man’s Twitter feed and found out a little about him. She learned that he was suffering from severe pain related to a back problem, something she herself had experienced. And she also learned that he was a “depressed loner” who didn’t have the resources or the support network to get help. So Sarah Silverman began an effort to get the man the help he needed.

It’s easy enough to categorize people from a safe distance—to label them, to put them down, and ultimately to dismiss them.

I don’t know how many of you saw the story in this last week’s The Commercial Appeal about Stan Bronson, who died recently at the age of 89. Those of you who are associated with the University of Memphis or its athletic programs may have known him. Stan Bronson was a person with special needs from birth, and in fact when he was born his parents were told by the doctors that he would probably not live beyond the age of 6. Well of course he did. At age 29, and this was back in 1958, his mother took him to meet the University of Memphis football coach Billy “Spook” Murphy. She was desperate and crying when she came to the coach. Her 29 year old son needed something to do and a place to go. And she wanted to know whether Stan could spend some time hanging around with some of the Memphis teams.

“Just show up tomorrow,” Murphy told Stan.

So, as columnist Geoff Calkins put it, “Stan Bronson showed up that tomorrow, and he showed up the next tomorrow, and he showed up for 56 years of tomorrows after that.” He became a beloved fixture of the university community through the years, eating his meals at the cafeteria, hanging out, being a friendly presence. But his claim to fame was with the baseball team. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Stan is the longest-serving bat boy in history.

People label and categorize to keep people at a distance. Nathanael heard about Jesus being from Nazareth, and he figured there couldn’t be anything special about him. Not from that little, nothing town. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

But what Nathanael had going for him was the willingness to be open. What Nathanael had going for him was the willingness to go and see this Jesus. Not to dismiss him out of hand. So, when Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see” Jesus for himself, to see whether in fact it was possible for anything good to come out of Nazareth, he wasn’t afraid to “come and see.” Like all of us, he had his prejudices. He had his preconceived notions. He figured Jesus was just another Jew from a backwater town. But Nathanael was willing to have his prejudices challenged. He was willing to have his preconceived notions exposed.

So he accepted Philip’s invitation to “come and see.” Sarah Silverman could have written off that angry, vulgar Twitter follower as a jerk. Spook Murphy could have dismissed Stan Bronson as a useless “retard.” Nathanael could have blown off Philip’s testimony as so much religious rubbish. But he didn’t. None of them did. They were open. They were willing to come and see. And that made all the difference.

We come to Jesus because we are willing to be open. We are willing to have our prejudices exposed. We are willing, even with what we have always known to be true, to “come and see.” That is what Nathanael had going for him – his willingness to “come and see,” his willingness to be open to what he had not known or believed before.

But he had something else going for him. It was his honesty. It was, as Jesus said, that he was a person in whom there was no deceit, in whom there was no guile. As the old gospel/revival song has it, we come to Jesus just as we are. And here at this table where we will be invited to come to partake of the meal that Jesus offers us in the symbols of his body and blood, we come just as we are. No pretentions. No airs. No need to be something other than what we are.

People have sometimes asked me through the years how to pray and how I pray. And my first answer is always to be yourself. Be who you are. God knows you. God knows your sins and failures. God knows what you are going through. So, when you are seeking to be open to God, there is no need to screw yourself up to be something that you are not. There is no need of pretending. Let it all hang out! Honesty is not only the best policy, it is the way we come to God. It is the way we come to Jesus.

Nathanael may have been skeptical. He may have been a doubter. But he was honest. There was no deceit in him. And that was finally what paved the way for him to come to Jesus, to experience the power of being known, and to come to the place where, as was the case with Jacob at Bethel that we read about in the 28th chapter of Genesis, he would experience the angels of God ascending and descending to earth—except it would be in Jesus, the Word made flesh. His experience of heaven coming to earth in Jesus would come through his honesty, through his lack of deceit.

Openness, honesty, and someone to say, “Come and see”—that is what led Nathanael to Jesus. And it is what will and does lead us to Jesus as well.

—William E. Warren, Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown, January 14, 2018

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