A dear friend of mine recently moved to New York City. She is a gifted actress, recently graduated from UVA, and is working in a legal office by day and acting in a play by night. Every few months she sends long, gossipy emails about her new life filled with stories of life in a small apartment, working in a big city office, the auditioning process, and of course celebrity sightings.
Recently, she went to see Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner. After the play, they went around to the back door in order to catch a glimpse of the stars exiting the building. My friend was at the back of the pack of people, and I’ll quote from her email to tell you what happened next,
We were reconciling ourselves to trying to get pictures of the famous people by waving our camera in the air over our heads (which yielded a surprisingly awesome picture of JG) when a little door immediately behind us opened and a bodyguard-ish type person poked his head out. We looked around in surprise, as we were the only people who noticed him, and he holds the door open and out sails MATT-freaking-DAMON. Matt Damon. Matt Damon saw the show the same night we did. And of course, OF COURSE we didn’t take his picture/speak to him/tell him we loved him because we were too busy squealing at each other and yanking each other’s arms and squealing some more. I am way too easily starstruck to be an actor.
I tell this story, because I think her experience parallels the experience of those who followed Jesus in our Gospel reading today. People had flocked to be baptized by John. They were fascinated by him, drawn by his message. While they were excited to see him, they were also expecting to see him. Seeing Jesus, however, was a huge surprise. A few of the disciples start following him around, star struck in their own way. He senses they are behind him, turns around and asks them, “What are you looking for?”
And they become completely flustered. This was not just a movie star they were following, this was God. Even if they did not realize that consciously, they sense there is something wonderful about Jesus. They cannot pull themselves together, and instead ask the Messiah, “Um, uh, where are you staying?”
Jesus next issues the most important invitation these people will ever receive. He invites them to “Come and see.”
Come and see. Jesus does not give them a direct answer. He does not lecture them. He does not bombard them with theological arguments or grandiose pronouncements about himself. He simply invites them to come and see for themselves.
The experience of knowing Jesus can never be fully explained or taught. In order to know Jesus, one has to encounter him.
This invitation to come and see is repeated an additional three times in the Gospel of John. Soon, after Jesus offers his invitation, Philip is talking to his friend Nathanel who asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip says, “Come and see”. Next, after Jesus engages with the woman at the well, she goes and tells her friends, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” Finally, when Jesus has come to visit a grieving Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus’s death, he asks where the tomb is, and they invite him to come and see. Ironically, it is they who will really see and understand when Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for these star-struck followers of Jesus to be issued an invitation to come and see? I can assure you, Matt Damon did not invite my friend to follow him around, and even if she had, I don’t know that she would have gotten much out of it.
Following Jesus, however, is another matter. To follow Jesus, to observe Jesus as he went about his daily business, was a chance to observe God. To follow Jesus, was an opportunity to engage with the God who created all of us, to understand what his love means for us. To follow Jesus was to learn about how to be fully human.
Thankfully, Jesus’ invitation to come and see is not limited to those encounters recorded in the Gospel of John. We, too, are invited to come and see. To come and see what happens when we begin to pray more regularly, or study scripture, or serve the poor. We’re asked to come and see what Jesus was doing in Biblical days and what Jesus is doing today.
And while it may not feel like it, our annual meeting is another chance for us to come and see what Jesus is doing in our midst. The administrative part of church life may not feel as uplifting or spiritual as the ritual or fellowship part of the church life, but Jesus works amidst those decisions, too.
As we choose our leaders for the next year, and engage in conversations about issues relevant to our life together, we have the chance to discern where Jesus is working in this church and in the greater community.
So, come to the annual meeting and listen very, very carefully. You may hear Jesus invite you to come and see.