Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

 Discerning the Heart of God
Jesus’ Invitation to Come and See

Sunday, December 28, 2008

 

 

John 1: 43-51

 Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder


The passage we have selected for the first Sunday after Christmas concludes our study of the first chapter of the Gospel of John during the Advent/Christmas season this year.

 

The Gospel of John begins with a prologue that emphasizes the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, full of grace and truth.

 

Then John tells his version of the story of Jesus’ call of his first disciples.

 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ first two disciples had previously been disciples of John the Baptist. John the Baptist saw Jesus and said to two of his disciples standing with him, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” (John: 35)

 

John the Baptist’s disciples followed Jesus. When Jesus noticed them, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

 

The disciples said to Jesus, “Rabbi. Where are you staying?” Jesus said to them, “Come and see.”

 

This happens in the paragraph before our lesson of the morning. In the lesson we’ve heard read this morning this happens:

 

Jesus finds a man named Phillip. He invites Phillip to follow him.

 

Phillip finds Nathaniel and tells him about Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth. Nathaniel is skeptical and says: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip answers him with these words: “Come and see.” (Sound familiar?)

 

Jesus recognizes and affirms Nathaniel. Nathaniel believes. Jesus says, “Do you believe because I recognized you? You will see greater things than these. You will see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending.”

 

Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples is: “Come and see.”

 

Phillip’s invitation to his skeptical friend Nathaniel is: “Come and see.”

 

Jesus’ promise to all his disciples is: “You will see greater things than these.”

 

You will notice that there is a lot of emphasis on seeing in the Gospel of John’s telling of the story of the call of Jesus’ disciples. Later in the Gospel of John, in a chapter near the middle of the book, the Gospel of John will tell a long story – 41 verses – about a person born blind who receives his sight and authorities of the temple who are not physically blind but who still can not see what it is most important to be able to see.

 

Why this emphasis on seeing – Come and see?

 

John’s Gospel was written just after Christians Jews had been expelled from the synagogue. This was a very big deal in their lives, because it would have meant loss of relationships with their families and friends. Since most businesses were family businesses in those days, being expelled from the synagogue and becoming unclean, probably meant the loss of jobs and income. David Rensberger, a scholar who specializes in the study of Johannine literature, says expulsion from the synagogue would have meant familial, social, financial and religious dislocation.[i]  

 

So one of the questions the Gospel of John asks is the question of why some people can see that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Messiah, the child of God and Sovereign of Israel, and others can’t?

 

When your family has just been ripped apart because you have been excommunicated from your faith community because you believe Jesus is the Word of God become flesh, one of the questions you might find yourself asking is why your loved ones do not see in Jesus what you see.

 

If you have just been forced to stop worshipping at the house of worship you’ve been worshipping at all your life because you believe Jesus is the Messiah, one of the questions you may find yourself asking is why the religious leaders and the congregational council running the place can’t see what you see.

 

This is a question that has come up again and again in the history of the church ever since. Why is a new truth so clear to some when others can not see it at all? Why do some people see things that other people can not see? Why do some Christians see things other Christians can not see?

 

Copernicus was a Catholic priest, Galileo was pious Christian, and Darwin was a theologically educated Anglican. Modern science was introduced into the world by people of faith who studied the universe because of their Christian commitment to truth and learning, but many Christians of their times could not see science as anything but a threat. Some still can’t. Why could they see and others could not?

 

In the 18th and 19th centuries Christians like John Wesley, John Newton, and John Wilberforce saw very clearly that slavery was incompatible with Christian teaching, but many Christians, including church authorities, did not. The abolitionist movement split denominations in two. Why could not others see what Wesley, Newton, and Wilberforce could see?

 

In the 1950 through the 1970 some Christians saw that the ordination of women was consistent with the spirit of Jesus, but still today the majority of Christianity does not ordain women as clergy and only about half of Protestant denominations do. Why can not others see that the equality of women is a clear implication of the teachings of Jesus when it is so clear to others of us?

 

Today some Christians see very clearly that honoring gay and lesbian committed relationships and the full inclusion of LGBT people in ministry is consistent with the arc of the biblical story, but the majority of the Christian churches still can not see it. Why can’t others see what is so clear to some of us?

 

This is the one of the fundamental questions being asked by the Gospel of John. How is it that different people can see Christ so differently?

 

John’s point in the story of the call of the first disciples is that you can not see Jesus for who he is from a distance. The invitation is to come and see. You see Jesus for who he is only by coming with him or to him.

 

“Come and see,” Jesus says to the first two disciples. “Come and see,” Phillip says to Nathaniel, who can not see who Jesus is because of his own prejudices about Nazarenes.

 

You can only see Jesus by coming with him or to him.

 

As long as discussions about Christian faith and ethics remain abstract and distant, we will almost always get it wrong.

One theologian who has paid especially close attention to the "sinned against" is Gustavo Gutierrez. He too considers himself one who is creatively retrieving Christian doctrine and is no admirer of the modern self or culture wars. The difference in his theological emphasis from those preoccupied with the either/or questions of progressivism or traditionalism is profound.

“We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer”[ii]

In the early 1980s, Gutierrez came to the Boston area for a semester as a guest professor. The Boston Theological Institute held a reception to welcome him. At this reception, a professor from a neighboring seminary carried his little cucumber sandwich and coffee over to Gutierrez, who was seated. "So," he asked, "what is theology, Dr. Gutierrez?" Gustavo Gutierrez looked up and said mildly, "It is a matter of the stomach." The professor who had asked the question looked puzzled. "The stomach?" "Yes," replied Gutierrez, looking at the sandwich held by his questioner, "You do theology very differently depending on whether your stomach is full or empty." [iii]

 

 

www.foundryumc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] David Rensberger, Johannine Faith and Liberating Community (The Westminster Press, 1988),  25-29.

[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (Macmillian, 1972), 17.

[iii] http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3664/is_/ai_n8936329