Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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|A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation||
Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
Come and See
Rev. Kathy Donley
Scripture Lesson:John 1:29-46
It seems like Jesus was rarely left alone. Except for the times when he went off by himself to pray, there were always people around him. Sometimes the crowd was large. Sometimes it was smaller. There was a group of people following him, learning from him. We donít know how many disciples or followers, he had exactly, but Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that he named 12 of them apostles.
I would like you to imagine a cloud above your head right now. Itís a word cloud and it has the names of the 12 apostles in it. Can you see it? Now, pick out 3 of those names. Any three you choose. Pick out 3 of those names and say them to yourself Ė not out loud Ė just in your head. If you donít know 3 apostles, thatís OK, just say 1 or 2 that you think might be apostles. There wonít be a graded test. Got it? Ė Names of three of Jesusí apostles. Say them to yourself so youíll remember who you chose.
Raise your hand if Peter was one of your three. Iím not surprised that so many hands are raised.
How about Thomas? Raise your hand if Thomas was in your list. Why did you remember Thomas?
How about #3? How many of you had Judas in your top three?
So thatís the three apostlesí names I thought of.
How many people had Andrew in your top three?
Maybe some of you did, but if so, I suspect this is another one of those times when Emmanuelites are odd-ball Baptists, the exception that proves the rule. Because in my experience, Andrew is not in the top 5 of easily remembered disciples.
Andrew is Peterís brother. Andrew rarely appears alone in the gospel stories. Peter, of course, is all over the place. Peter is the one who climbs out of the boat to walk on the water with Jesus. Peter is the one who says just before the crucifixion, "Not me, I'll never deny you, Lord," and the one who said earlier, "You are the Christ." It's the classic kid-brother syndrome. Everyone knows the older brother Peter, but who remembers Andrew? (OK, youíre right, the Bible doesnít tell us their birth order. Thatís just my imagination.)
And yet, the gospel writers might not have ever told us anything about Peter, if not for his kid-brother, Andrew. It's one of those ironic twists in life that Andrew is the one who brought Peter to Jesus in the first place.
Apparently, Andrew was originally a follower of John the Baptist, until one day when John pointed out Jesus. So Andrew and another unknown disciple go after Jesus. Jesus says, "What do you want?" We need to remember that the gospel of John is written with multiple layers of meaning. Jesus' question works at one level to keep the conversation going, but at another level, Jesus is asking them, "What do you want to get out of life? What are you really looking for?" They reply with another question "Where are you staying?" At one level, they're just asking Jesus what motel he's using while he's in town. At another level, they're asking how he lives, what gives his life meaning, what makes him feel alive. Jesus' answer is succinct -- come and see.
Where are you staying, Jesus? Come and see.
What makes you so alive, Jesus? Come and see.
Can you help me find what I'm looking for? Come and see.
Andrew spends the rest of the day with Jesus and then he goes to find his brother Simon Peter. He says, "We have found the Messiah." Somehow Andrew knew that Jesus was significant, that he could trust this experience, that he could go with what he knew. And so he brought his brother along too. The story of our faith is that Jesus is still inviting us to come and see.
Let me tell you about two contemporary Andrews I've known: One was Ann. She was a college senior when I met her. I was a campus minister at Kansas State University. Ann had been on my mailing list for all of her years in college. I had sent her 2 or 3 newsletters a semester, telling her all about what the campus ministry did and inviting her to come and join us. She never read one of them. She told me later that she tossed them as soon as she took them out of her mailbox. But her senior year, a friend invited her to our weekly supper. She came and to her surprise, discovered a group and a conversation that she'd been looking for her entire college career. She was back the next week with friends. And every week after that, she invited others. Some joined us and some didn't, but Ann was always saying "'come and see."
Betty was an Andrew in another place. She had grown up in churches that had caused her a good deal of pain. As an adult, she was still seeking healing for those scars, and she had found some peace within our church. It took her about 45 minutes to drive to our church, but she did it every Sunday and on Wednesday for choir and sometimes for one more event in a week. After Betty had been in our church for about a year, I realized that we had several families who were also making the 45-minute drive to get to our church, and I realized that she was inviting them. She had invited one friend who had had similar painful experiences with churches in her past. She told Betty that she couldn't go to church because she was afraid that she would cry. Betty told her it was OK because Pastor Kathy sometimes cried too. "Come and see," Betty said, and she did.
Betty and Ann had an ease about inviting people that I donít find in myself. I wonder if you feel that way too. We do have a slightly different task than Andrew did. Andrew could introduce people to a physically present, living, breathing, walking and talking Jesus. We cannot do that. So sometimes, we try to do that next best thing, which is to invite people to come and see a community of people whose lives have been influenced or even transformed by Jesus. We arenít Jesus, but hopefully, like the John the Baptist, we point to Jesus.
This week I asked you to answer a couple of questions. Several of you did that. If you took the time to send your thoughts, thank you. I appreciate it. My first question was about your favorite thing about our life together. Your answers sounded like this:
∑ We have the opportunity to actually talk about our faith and struggles. We know each other well enough to feel safe in our exploration and to express our deepest needs. No other place does that.
∑ It is a community which nourishes the soul, through music, sermons, book discussions, classes and just exchanges with caring, concerned people.
∑ Itís hard to choose just one. The weekly worship which includes solid sermons and deep prayers woven together with beautiful music and visuals. Sunday School classes are great opportunities to experience something not offered in the media and to explore topics with other seekers. I am also drawn by a vibrant, dedicated congregation that is taking on many projects - mission, building rehab, Karen, Sunday school, advocacyÖ.
∑ My favorite thing is the balance between lighthearted social interaction, meaningful relationship building, personal reflection and growth, and sharing in each othersí joys and sorrows... The dance of the community where we do all of these things together.
∑ The most exciting thing about our EBC congregation is its diversity - age, race, views, sexual orientation, socio-economic, ethnic, etc. There is nowhere else that I can work, socialize, and have deep discussions with such a variety of people. And there is more than tolerance that allows for this. There is love and a genuine caring for each other.
These are all wonderful, thoughtful answers. And without being smug or patting ourselves on the back too much, I think we honestly resemble these descriptions.
As your answers came in, I began to realize why inviting people to come and see is complicated. First, because we donít have a living breathing Jesus to introduce them. And even when people met Jesus, even when he made an instant connection with them, which he seemed to do quite often, even then, the relationship took time. Todayís text says that Andrew and the other disciple spent all day with Jesus. They hung out together, got to know each other. Then they spent the next 3 years traipsing all over Galilee together.
The things that we value most, the things which nurture us spiritually and bring us closest to Jesus, cannot be picked up at a church like you might pick up at bottle of milk as you swing through the grocery store. If we invite people to come and see, we need to invite them to come more than once, we need to help them into the relationships and the experiences that sustain us, the invitation needs come out of our relationship with them.
There's always a risk in extending an invitation. People might turn you down. They might suspect you have a hidden agenda. They might think you're out of step with the rest of the world. But you know what? They might come and discover a wonderful something life-giving too.
The next time I invite someone to come and see, Iím going to include a couple of caveats Iíve learned from other churches. One thing I want people to know is that we arenít all hypocrites, but none of us is Jesus and so they can expect some healthy conflict. I just recently learned of a Baptist church that has a wonderful church covenant. Maybe the best line in that covenant is this: ďWe will accept controversy as a reality of life together and an opportunity for growth toward maturity.Ē We donít have a covenant like that, but I think you can invite your friends to come and see a church of Battling Baptists who have honest passionate disagreements and still love each other.
A second caveat comes from the House for All Sinners and Saints. This is a Lutheran church in Denver where Nadia Bolz-Weber is the pastor. Some of you have read her books or heard her speak. Two or three times a year they have a brunch for newcomers. At these brunches, church members speak and share what is valuable to them about the community, much like some of you did in your answers to me this week. They say all those important things and then Nadia speaks at the end and what she says is this, ďIf you become a part of us, at some point this church will disappoint you. Or I will fail to meet your expectations or Iíll say something stupid and hurt your feelings. Itís not a matter of if, itís when. Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints. We will disappoint you.Ē
Thatís true for us too. We will disappoint you. If you invite a friend to see a movie, it comes with a rating and a warning label. Maybe churches should too.
But Nadia says a bit more. She says ďWe will let you down. Please decide on this side of that happening, that you will stick around. Because if you leave, you will miss the way that Godís grace comes in and fills in the cracks of our brokenness. And itís too beautiful to miss. Donít miss it.
"Come and see." It's what Jesus said to Andrew. It's what Philip said to Nathanael. It's what Jesus says to us. May we find the courage and love to say it to someone else.