Sometimes it’s the pithiest phrases in Scripture that are the most powerful, the most memorable and the most quotable. When I was a child we placed great emphasis on Scripture memorization. We had Bible drills, contests, memorization requirements for Sunday School classes and we earned badges in our Christian equivalents of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts just for memorizing verses. Among the first verses we learned was Psalm 119:11, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” We were raised to believe that this verse was absolutely true, that the best safeguard against sin was to be fortified by the Word of God, having it embedded in our hearts and brought to our minds in time of need, simply because we had memorized it as children.
All four of today’s Scriptures contain such pithy phrases that I learned as a child. In my childhood circles, every young boy was taught the story of the young Samuel, who first mistook the voice of God for that of his priest and mentor, Eli. But the wise Eli told Samuel to respond, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” We memorized that verse so that if and when God should ever choose to speak directly to one of us, that would be our response, too.
Then there’s Psalm 139:1: “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.” We memorized that verse so that we would be ever aware that God knows the very thoughts of our hearts, and therefore they had better be pure thoughts! That was one of the harder ones for young boys to accept gladly. But we discovered that many other Scripture verses taught the same thing, and that we were in regular need of the confession we say every Sunday, “We confess that have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” Those few words are frighteningly comprehensive!
And then we learned Paul’s statements in I Corinthians 6, “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him;” and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price.” Those are seriously challenging concepts! If we’ve joined ourselves to the Lord, as most of us would claim to have done, then we’re “one spirit with Him” and we’re temples of the Holy Spirit. How aware are we of that fact? How might our lives be different if we lived every moment of every day in the awareness that we’re irrevocably joined to the very spirit of God? I think every single one of us would live differently, without exception.
Finally, there’s the pithiest statement of all in today’s readings, and it may in fact be the most important one. It’s what Philip said to Nathaniel after he had encountered Jesus for the very first time. No doubt Philip was far too young in his understanding of Jesus to launch into any profoundly theological statement about Him. And yet he did manage to tell Nathaniel, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And then, when Nathaniel expressed His skepticism that any good thing could come out of Nazareth, Philip spoke just three more words, the most significant three words he could have said: “Come and see.”
Do those words sound familiar to some of you? They should, because “Come and see” is the theme statement in the Alpha program that we will begin this evening at 6:00. “Come and see” is the simplest evangelistic invitation we can offer to anyone. It stops far short of arm-twisting or trying to win an argument or trying to be a valiant apologist or pretending to be Billy Graham. It’s a pure and simple invitation. But it’s also profound and powerful. It’s precisely what Alpha is all about. It gives all of us the opportunity to be modern-day Philips, persons who are just doing what Philip did, because that’s what it means to have discovered Jesus Christ for ourselves. Our very first impulse should be to go find someone else to whom we can say, “Come and see.”
That’s what Andrew did, as recorded in the verses that immediately precede today’s Gospel. When Andrew encountered Jesus, we’re told by John that the very first thing he did was to go find his brother Peter, saying “We have found the Messiah.” And then John writes, “He brought him to Jesus.” That was Andrew’s version of “Come and see.”
Can we find ourselves in these stories? Should we? Absolutely! There’s no sense at all in which our having discovered the Person of Jesus Christ is something we should keep to ourselves. To do that is to suppress the voice of God to which we should be responding, “Speak Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” God spoke repeatedly to the people of Israel, saying, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). They were not to keep God’s truth to themselves, and neither are we.
God has made His truth even more evident and more accessible by sending His only Son (Hebrews 1:1, 2). And what are we to do with this treasure that’s ours? We’re to go out into the highways and byways and compel others to come in, to “come and see” Jesus. In our Collect this morning we prayed, “Almighty God, Whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the Light of the world: Grant that Your people, illumined by Your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that He may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” That’s the same commission God issued for His people Israel, and now the responsibility has become ours to fulfill it.
The Incarnation was not just a Christmas story that was nearly lost in a blip of time ultimately lasting only 33 years. The Epiphany was not just the discovery of a King of the Jews by three Wise Men from the East. The Cross of Christ on which He gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world was not just a one-off, something trapped in a fleeting moment on one Friday afternoon. God’s Son, our Messiah, was sent by the Father to redeem us from our sin and to prepare us for eternity in His presence. How can we hold this inside ourselves, or limit our response to stopping by on Sunday morning to say a brief, “Thank you?”
We’re persons entrusted with the extraordinary message of salvation, the most monumental truth known to humankind. We have the word of reconciliation, of abundant and eternal life, of emancipation from the clutches of sin, and of certainty with regard to our eternal destiny. How can we keep all that to ourselves? Why would we not be eager to do more, to share our faith with the people we meet on Monday morning, many of whom may never have had the opportunity to hear about our faith, much less to have heard from our own mouths Philip’s invitation, “Come and see?”
What does it mean to be a Christian, to name ourselves after the Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? We have a glimpse of what it meant to Philip and Andrew. Their immediate response to Jesus was recorded in John’s Gospel for our benefit as examples of how we, too, should be actively sharing our discovery of Jesus with others. The Christian faith is not a philosophical system to which we’re adhering. It’s a life-transforming, experiential reality that gives profound meaning to this life, however long or short it may be for any of us.
The longer our lives may be, the more opportunities God provides for us to share the Gospel. What we’ve found in Jesus is meant to rearrange our priorities, to govern our use of time, to strengthen our commitments more to things eternal and much less to things temporal. If we sing “Turn your eyes upon Jesus... and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace,” then we need to be willing to surrender some of those “things of earth,” things that sap our time and energy, and replace them with living out our faith and sharing it in every way that we can.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, said, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel!” That became his consuming passion, his entire commitment, because it came with the realization that he had been bought with a price. All that he had was owed back to the One Who died for Him. We’re living in a time of dark desperation, a time of fierce division, a time when the search for lasting values is being abandoned in favor of instant gratification. But as Christians we’re called to be different: to have a different focus, to live according to a different set of values that we should be eager to share with others.
The other day we met with the Outreach Pastor of an area church who also has taught a plethora of courses at Trinity on outreach to various non-Christian cultures. He has a broad range of experiences, a deep commitment to challenging ministries, a strong personal faith, a comprehensive knowledge of his field and an engaging, charismatic personality. And yet he said that the entire key to the church’s successful outreach resides not in him but in a single resource: the people themselves!
When we returned home from that meeting I read an article by Fr. Phil Ashey, President and CEO of the American Anglican Council, in which he was reporting the results of a survey he had taken among Anglican clergy (ACNA) regarding obstacles to church growth. The largest percentage of clergy responded that the most significant obstacle was their congregations’ attitude or actions. But the specific comments revealed that it was not a matter of what their congregations were doing wrong as much as what they were not doing at all. One pastor wrote that his congregation suffered from an inward focus, not being willing or even desiring to reach outside the church’s walls, but believing that outreach was the job of the church staff. Another pastor cited “busyness among parishioners with a lack of urgency for sharing the Gospel.” Others offered similar observations.
Not all of us are called to be missionaries, or evangelists, or pastors or teachers or theologians. But every one of us is called to be a faithful witness to the truth of God in Jesus Christ, to share that truth with our friends and with members of our own families who may have wandered off in quest of some other way. The absolute minimum that this requires is a willingness to be like Philip, to say to others, “Come and see,” and to “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that He may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”
When God does call us, we’re to say with young Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” We’re to live in obedience to a God Who has searched us and known us, as David wrote in our psalm. We’re to live as those who are temples of the indwelling Holy Spirit Whom we have from God, recognizing with Paul that we’re not our own, but are those who have been bought with a price and have been made “one spirit with Him.” And if we live in that light, then we’ll be eager to say to all those who cross our paths, “Come and see.” Their eternal fate depends on it, and it may also depend on us, our witness, and our personal invitation to see Jesus.
If you happen to be here this morning without Him, this now becomes your personal invitation: “Come and see” this Jesus, the Savior Who’s waiting for you to answer His call, “Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth,” “the Messiah,” “the Son of God, the King of Israel.” “Come and see,” and be blessed.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen