Invitational: Come and See
My mom watches my nephew Sam every day after school. He gets off the bus at her apartment, and he hangs out there til his parents get out of work. I’ve sometimes been around when he gets out of school, and I like to ask him about his day. But the conversation usually goes like this: “Sam, how was school today?” “Fine.” “What did you do today?” “I don’t know.” “Did you have gym?” “No.” “Music?” “No.” “Art?” “Yes.” “What did you do in art?” “Painted pictures.” You get the point. Pretty much, you have to drag information like this out of Sam. It is certainly possible it was indeed a typical day at school. But it is also possible that there was a parade or a concert or he got an award or the President visited, and his description of the day’s events are likely to be the same. He tolerates school. But despite how easy the learning is for him, or maybe because of that, he doesn’t love it. And he’s probably not going to talk about it much more than he has to.
Some years ago at our conference camps, like Casowasco and Aldersgate and Sky Lake, they began giving out beads, color-coded, to children at summer camp. Throughout the week, you might get a blue bead if you go swimming, or a red bead if you help build a campfire. You might get a special bead if you participate in a cookout, or a counselor’s bead if your counselor sees you doing something really thoughtful and selfless. You might get a white bead for Christian leadership if you help design a worship service. The idea behind the beads is two-fold. First, the beads encourage children to try new things. It’s amazing what the incentive of a bead does! But it also helps kids tell the story of camp to their families when they get home. Sometimes, after a week at camp, a conversation with a parent or church member might sound like a conversation with Sam about his day at school. How was camp? Fine. Did you have fun? Yes. The beads can help kids remember and tell the story. I got this bead because of this cool thing that I did. The beads are a tool to help kids share their experiences.
That’s kind of the idea behind “Show and Tell.” Do they still do Show and Tell? For many of us, our very first experiences of public speaking were in bringing some object to school – a special toy, a souvenir from a trip, a favorite book – and then telling our classmates about it. Letting kids bring something they love already helps kids be comfortable getting up front and sharing. They’re just talking about what they know and love already. Easy.
I’ve been thinking about this – talking about what we love, telling our story, show and tell, as I’ve studied our gospel lesson for today. Over the next few weeks, as we think about what it means to be invitational, we’ll be looking into a few stories where Jesus invites people into a life of discipleship. And as we watch Jesus invite people into relationship with God, invite people to follow him, we’ll think about how we both respond to Jesus’ invitation and invite others to journey with us. Today, we turn to the gospel of John. We’re at the beginning of the book, still in chapter 1. We find that John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples, two who had been following John and learning from him and his teaching. John sees Jesus walk by, and says of him, “Look, here is the lamb of God.” Seemingly just at this word, John’s disciples realize they’re meant to follow after Jesus. When Jesus sees this, he asks them what they are looking for. They call him teacher, and ask where he is staying. And Jesus responds, “Come and see.” They do. And this is how Andrew and one other become disciples of Jesus. Andrew, then, invites his brother, Simon Peter. He says to him, “We have found the Messiah,” and he brings Simon Peter to meet Jesus.
The next day, Jesus sees Philip, and says to him, “Follow me.” And Philip finds his friend Nathanael and tells him, “We've found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.” Nathanael wonders if anything good can come from Nazareth, apparently thinking that it is a place that produces nothing interesting, and Philip responds, “Come and see.” The scene ends with Jesus revealing that he already knows Nathanael’s heart, and presumably, Nathanael, along with Philip and Andrew and Simon and at least one more – they’ve all become followers of Jesus. I notice that Jesus doesn’t give a lot of information and details in this story of call, this story of invitation. He doesn’t need to know what the disciples believe and he doesn’t give them a set of his beliefs. He doesn’t quiz them or test them. He doesn’t give them a lot of instructions. He just says, when they’re curious about him, “Come and see.” Check it out! Come take part! It’s such a welcoming invitation. The message Jesus communicates is that not only will he share with them, but they’ll even get to take part, to participate, engage with whatever he’s all about right away. Come and see!
A few of us attended a District Day with our Bishop last week, and enjoyed a time of worship and praise. One of the musicians said, “worship is not a spectator sport.” Everyone cheered in agreement. Unfortunately, we then proceeded to try to sing songs where no music and no words had been provided. Most people mumbled awkwardly. You could tell exactly where in the room the people were who knew the song already. I know we sing new songs here, but I try to give you a fighting chance with some words or music or a tune you already know! Indeed, we became just spectators.
It made me think of a lecture I heard last month from Lutheran priest Nadia Bolz-Weber. She shared with us how, at her church, when you walk in the door, you’ll find a number of folders set on a table that contain instructions for how to help with a different part of the service. You might see, for example, the gospel lesson in a folder, or the call to worship, or words to say to collect the offering, or a folder with instructions for helping to assist with communion. Anyone can participate in the service. So if you are there for the first time, and you want to help, you can walk in, pick up a folder, and find yourself reading the gospel lesson that day. That’s something they really focus on in her congregation. Removing barriers to participation. Although you can always learn more and attend classes and workshops and trainings – which are good things for your growth as a leader and for your spiritual development, the clear message that you’ll get at her church is that you are invited to take part right way, that you don’t have to be “special” or holy or ordained or certified to take part in worshiping God, to take part in serving your neighbor, to be part of the community of faith.
I told you before that it’s a challenge to get Sam to tell us about his day at school. But it isn’t that Sam is reluctant to talk about everything. Like many children his age, he gets pretty enthralled by the latest thing that he loves. For a while, it was all Pokemon. Sam could spend hours talking to you about Pokemon, and showing you his cards, and looking at his books about Pokemon. Hours. Lately, it’s Skylanders. Anybody familiar with Skylanders? It’s a video game with matching toys and books and things to purchase, of course. And Sam will say to me sometimes, “Aunt Beth, I want you to ask me any questions you might have about Skylanders. Anything you want to know.” He’s completely serious. I try to explain to him that I know so little about Skylanders I can’t even ask good questions, but he’s so sincere, so eager. He loves this thing, these Skylanders, and he wants to draw you in to the world that he loves. For something really important to Sam, he’s totally ready to say, “Come and see.”
Have you ever felt that way about something? What do you love so much that the best thing you can think to do is share it? Imagine a new parent or grandparent and the enthusiasm with which they’ll show you pictures of a new baby. What else do you feel like that about? Because that’s how Jesus feels about the invitation he offers. “Come and see!” he says. He hardly says anything else at all before he’s inviting, inviting, inviting. He can’t wait to have you become part of the story.
What about you? What brings you such joy, such excitement, that you can’t help but want to show and tell about it? What brings you such happiness that you want to tell someone all the details about it? What makes you want to invite someone else to come and see what you have experienced? I believe that among us we have experiences of God’s love and grace and movement among us that are worth sharing. I bet, if we let ourselves get going, we could spend a lot of time talking about how God has been good to us, how following Jesus has shaped our lives. I bet many of us could point to some aspect of our lives and say, “because of Christ,” because of God’s love, because of following Jesus, because of church, because of Apple Valley, and then share a story about God at work in us.
When we talk about being invitational, that’s what I’m interested in. I want to hear about what God is doing in your life. And I am praying that you are so moved by what God is up to that you just have to say to those around you, “Come and see.” Next week, I’m going to be asking if there’s anyone here who wants to do a bit of Show and Tell. I’ll be asking if there is anyone who might be willing to talk about something God is doing in their life. I thought about asking you to do it right now, today. But I’m giving you a heads up. I won’t call on anybody. Please don’t skip church next week because this sounds scary. I’m just going to extend to you an invitation, an invitation to share with us a minute or two about what God is doing, or has done in your life that needs sharing. It’s kind of a practice, to remind us of how good it is to share with others about what we love. So I want you to think about that this week. What has God done in your life – what is God doing – that you need to share like you need to share the newest pictures of the precious children in your life? God is at work in us, in our world today, and at work here at Apple Valley. Jesus calls to us: “Come, and See.” Amen.