Jesus calls his disciples–and us, too
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
“Come and see.” I love those three words from John’s gospel. Those words, and this entire story from chapter 1, seem to me one of those passages which speak particularly to us as Episcopalians. “Come and see” is an invitation to engage in the great mystery of life and love, an invitation to begin, or in most of our cases I suspect, deepen a journey, even if we don’t know where we’re going, and an authentic example of how to welcome and be welcomed.
Just as the first week in Epiphany is about the baptism of Jesus, the second and third weeks of this season show us the calling of Jesus’ disciples. Here, after John the Baptizer identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, two of his followers take his cue and begin to follow Jesus. They ask him where he lives and hear him offer that invitation to “Come and see.” One of the two turns out to be Andrew who brings his brother Simon to Jesus. As the circle of encounters widens we see the call of Philip and Nathanael to discipleship.
And so across the pages of John’s Gospel there are women and men, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable, people of all shapes and sizes and varieties that Jesus meets. And to each one, in one way or another, he says the same thing: come and see. Come and see God do a new thing. Come and see as your future opens up in front of you. Come and see the grace of God made manifest and accessible and available to all.
We see in the call to Philip and Nathanael a call to explore and to come to understand for ourselves the one doing the calling. Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and Philip responded, “Come and see.” The call to discipleship which comes from God through Christ is a call to encounter the divine. It is a call to experience the forgiving love of God, to listen to God in scripture and in prayer, to enter into relationships which the church can offer, to take part in the work of the community of faith. Come and see.
Wherever we consider ourselves to be in our spiritual lives, the call to “come and see” is also our call to go deeper, to grow deeper. It is our call to the consistent, daily spiritual exercise which can tune our hearts and our senses to God’s voice. At our diocesan convention in November, Bishop Curry’s takeaway message was “go deeper.” Both Bishop Curry and speaker Jay Sidebotham exhorted us all to take our spiritual growth seriously and to commit ourselves to daily spiritual practices. And so, wrapping my invitation in these three wonderful words, “come and see,” I urge us all to read scripture daily, to pray daily, to practice forgiveness daily, to practice hospitality and generosity of spirit daily. They said (and Sidebotham studies these things) that vital churches, those that are growing, are the ones where the individuals are growing spiritually. They are also congregations where folks see that “this is a place where I can grow.”
If you’re not aware, we provide little booklets called “Forward Day by Day,” which offer a brief meditation on a portion of each day’s daily office readings. These are great for helping us learn and reflect on some scripture. If you don’t like books, the Forward Day by Day app is available for your phone. That’s just one way. Committing yourself to participation in some sort of Christian formation through this congregation is another way.
Taking steps in the direction of this call to come and see brings us ever deeper into relationship with the One who brings God and God’s life to us. As we live more and more toward that call each day, we come to penetrate something of the mystery of who God is and to know God on the way as we do the things God calls us to do. If we listen and follow, step by step, day by day, we find our way to that place, where, as Frederick Buechner says, our deep joy, and the world’s deep hunger meet. That’s the place where we abide.
For these fisherfolk in today’s gospel, for all of us no matter what our stage of life, Jesus is not only the Word become flesh. Jesus is the Way become flesh. Following Jesus is a daily journey.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about the journey of faith with these words:
If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it
lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer the question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy.
Those first disciples were not called to go somewhere in particular—they were called to go anywhere Jesus might lead. They were not called to renounce this thing or that thing, but to be able to walk away from anything and everything, for only then would they be free—only then would their lives fully belong to Jesus. (cont. on next page)
If we continue on the adventure of discipleship, we will find the relationship becoming ever deeper and stronger. We will eventually find ourselves less focused on what Christ does for us and more and more aware of who Christ is to us – the friend, the Guide, the comforter, and source of strength. The promise of Jesus to Nathanael and to us is that anyone who hears his call to discipleship and responds with earnestness and expectation will begin to know God not as a casual acquaintance but as a friend.
Andrew and Philip could not keep this encounter with God to themselves. The words, “come and see” are the heart not only of John’s Gospel but Christian evangelism, as we are called not to cram our faith down another’s throat or question their eternal destiny or threaten them with hellfire, but instead simply to offer an invitation to come and see what God is still doing in and through Jesus and the community of disciples who have chosen to follow him. What an authentic way to offer good news! To say friend, I do not have all the answers, but I know that God has somehow been made real to me as I worship, study scripture, pray, and serve among this fellowship. Why don’t you come and see?
And so for you, whether it’s the first step or the next step, take it, and come and see. The journey awaits. ◊
—The Rev. Brad Mullis