Rev. Teri Peterson
16 January 2011, Ordinary 2A
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).
Many of you know that I did not grow up in the church—my grandparents were de-churched and my parents were secular humanists who believed that religion was a crutch and we could be good people without buying in to some pre-scientific mythology. The world could be explained by science, morals were perfectly possible without religion, and the purpose of life was to do your best to make the world a better place. My parents also believed their children should make their own decisions about these things when we were old enough to do so—that was their answer when asked about why other kids went to this thing called church.
It’s hard for many people to grasp—the idea of growing up completely unchurched and unaware of the whole God-concept. I never felt like there was something missing, like Christmas was meaningless because it was about family and giving instead of about the baby Jesus, or like my family was bad because we didn’t go to church. I didn’t know Easter was about anything other than bunnies and chocolate until I was probably 15. The whole Christian story was completely alien to me.
However, I was a voracious reader. I was planning to somehow double major in music and literature, and I had come to realize that there was a whole background story that I was missing when I read great books or important authors. So I decided to read the Bible, straight through from beginning to end. It was quite an undertaking, and at first I thought it was completely insane. Which, you have to admit, some of it is—especially when you read it alone, with no context and no community to help you understand. By the end, I knew it wasn’t just a story, but I still didn’t understand the whole church thing…or, if I’m honest, most of what’s in the story either.
It wasn’t until my first year in college that I joined the church. People ask me all the time why I did that, why then, why there, and how on earth that happened. It’s like I’m not just an anomaly but some kind of freak of nature. And that’s true, especially among Presbyterians, I am something of a freak of nature. Not because I didn’t join until I was an adult, and not because college was my seeking time. Instead, my freakishness comes because of how I got there.
It was holy week, 1999. I needed to go to a choral concert to fulfill a class requirement. A friend invited me to a “concert” happening during the service on a Friday night. I went, and I wrote the paper, and I tried not to be weirded out by the fact that I had just gone to church. But then my friend invited me to go to church on Easter morning. This sounded like the worst idea ever, so naturally I called my mom to ask for her advice—which ended up being even more startling than the fact I’d gone to church on Good Friday. She told me that relationships are about experiencing things with other people and sometimes about compromise, so I should go. Being a mama’s girl, of course I went.
I don’t think my mother knew what she was getting either of us in for. I don’t think my friend who invited me knew what was going to happen. I know I had no idea. I just turned up at 11:00 on a Sunday morning, because someone I knew invited me and someone I trusted encouraged me, and my life was literally changed forever. I was back the next Sunday, and then only 10 days after my first ever visit to a church I was sitting in an Inquirer’s Class not all that different from the one we’ll have here starting in two weeks. I wasn’t about to join the church, I just wanted to know what it was all about. Except, of course, within a month I had taken the plunge, been baptized and joined a church, all in what now seems like a whirlwind but then seemed just like the right thing to do. It was the beginning of a journey that has taken me all over the world, through lots of encounters and conversations and educational experiences, all the way to this place and time where I can tell this story to you.
All because someone I knew invited me, and someone I trusted encouraged me.
Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t call anyone in this story? The first two disciples start following Jesus because John, their teacher, tells them about Jesus. The third comes because his brother invited him. Someone they trusted told them about Jesus, and off they went to check it out. And what did they find? An invitation to Come and See. Not answers, not a roadmap, not assurances of heaven or threats of hell. They found an invitation to a journey, an invitation that would change the course of their lives forever. They found themselves part of a story with roots extending through time and a future they couldn’t even imagine.
I wonder how often we’re willing to tell this story, or at least our part in it? I’ll be the first to admit that talking about my faith or even my church makes me super uncomfortable—when people ask me what I do I sometimes tell them I work for a non-profit, to avoid the inevitable conversations that come with saying I’m a pastor. But I don’t think this is about talking to strangers. This is about people we know, people we trust. Do we invite them to come and see—come and see what’s going on in this part of the Body of Christ, come and see God, come and see a story, a journey, a community that we believe has value and can help make the world a better place? And if we won’t, what kind of story does our silence tell?
Now, I know I’m newer to this whole church thing than most of you, but I’m still Presbyterian and therefore allergic to this word I’m about to use. But remember that the root of the word is Good News—we believe we are part of a story that is good news even in the midst of a world filled with bad news. That’s right…it’s time to talk about evangelism. I know it’s a scary word, and if we could reduce it to four letters and outlaw saying it in polite company, we would. But it’s not scary—it’s about good news. Evangelism is not standing on street corners or telling people to Come To Jesus Or Else. It’s not knocking on doors or pushing your views on people or even insisting they come to your church.
It’s an invitation, offered to someone you know, an encouragement to someone who trusts you. It’s about relationship, storytelling, and a journey.
I think it’s telling that we don’t think twice before recommending books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen or restaurants we’ve enjoyed, yet when faith or church is involved we so often keep silent rather than offer a simple invitation or encouragement. That silence speaks volumes, and it often says that avoiding discomfort is more important to us than the journey is. I’m just as guilty, maybe more guilty because this is my job. But it’s not my job because I’m a pastor—it’s my job because I’m a Christian, and part of our calling is to invite people to come and see. Come and see God at work, come and see what’s happening in the Body of Christ, come and see a story that extends through time and has a future we can’t yet imagine. Come and see what God can do through you, and through us together.
Have you all thought of a story of God at work in our congregation? My invitation to you this week is to share that story with someone who is not sitting in this room. It doesn’t have to be a sales pitch—just a story and an invitation to join that story. John the baptist, Peter’s brother Andrew, my friend, and my mom all had it right. No pressure, no threats, no promises—just an invitation, just an encouragement…God will do the rest, in God’s way and in God’s time.
May it be so.