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Come and See Greater Things

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John 1:35-51

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).

 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

I have many questions about this text, but my first is when two of John’s disciples start following Jesus, and Jesus turns and asks them, “What are you looking for?”  That’s a strange question, if you think about it.  If you were being followed by two people, would you turn around and ask them, “What are you looking for?”  I think I’d ask, “Why are you following me?  What do you want?”  But no, he asks, “What are you looking for?”

The disciples respond with proof that they have not thought this out, are not able to articulate the slightest thought of why they are following.  I imagine their response sort of like: “Who, me? Oh, I don’t know. . . .  Um . . . where you staying?”  One writer calls this “Truly a low point in disciple repartee.”[1]

On the other hand, maybe they weren’t asking about his lodging for the evening.  Where are you staying didn’t necessarily mean sleeping—it could mean remaining, abiding.  They were asking, Where is home?  Where is the center of your life?  And will I be welcome there?

 Jesus answer was simple:

Come and see.

Come and see what I consider home.

Come and see who I consider family.

Come and see what it means to follow me.

Come and see for yourself.

 

The next day Jesus meets Philip and says to him simply, “Follow me.”  Philip immediately goes to his friend Nathanael and says to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  According to scholar Anna Carter Florence, Nazareth was “an obscure and insignificant backwater town with nothing to offer anyone, a place where dreams die instead of being nurtured.  Nathanael is not interested in following just anyone claiming to have a new idea, least of all one from Nazareth.”[2]  Nathanael, in short, is a skeptic . . . which means many of us can relate to him.

Philip doesn’t argue with Nathanael.  Perhaps he knows his friend well enough to know that arguing will get him nowhere.  Instead, his response seems to echo the words Jesus spoke earlier.  Philip says simply, “Come and see.”

I think those are three of the most powerful words in the entire Gospels, right up there with the other important three-word sentences, Jesus is Born, and Christ is Risen.  Come and see.

Maybe we should write those three words above the doors to the sanctuary: Are you looking for a church where you might be welcomed as you are?  Come and see.  Are you looking for meaning, for purpose, for it all to make sense?  Come and see.  Do you wonder if Christianity has any relevance to your life today?  Come and see.  Come and see for yourself.  We don’t have all the answers.  In fact, we have lots of questions, ourselves.  But we’ll add your questions to our questions and we’ll all “Come and see” together.

Maybe we should write those three words on the front of our Bibles.  Come and see.  Come and see what others saw when they went looking for God.  Come and see how others interpreted the events in their lives.  They may have gotten it right, or they may have gotten it wrong, but come and see for yourself.  Come and see if there might be a different way of reading scripture.  Come and see if you might discover grace instead of condemnation.  Come and see if you might find direction for your life, motivation for your ministry, rejuvenation for your work.  Come and see.

Maybe we should write those words on the doors of our homes, inside and out, so that every time we come home and every time we leave we will remember the invitation.  Come and see God at work in your own family.  Or come and see God present with you in the quiet, empty rooms.  Whether you are entering or leaving, come and see God in those you meet.

Maybe we should write those words on the dashboards of our cars, on our bookbags or briefcases, on our office desks or work stations or tucked in the pocket of our uniform.  Come and see.  Come and see what God might do.

Maybe we should write those words on the top of our church budget.  Come and see the ministries you are supporting with your pledge.  Come and see what a difference your money makes.  Come and see what good generosity does to your own soul.

Come and see.

In the Gospel account Jesus isn’t the only one who says “Come and see.”  When Philip tells Nathanael that they have found the Messiah, and Nathanael says “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip repeats Jesus’ words: “Come and see.”

This week many of us—I dare say most of us—watched the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States.  And I want to ask the question Jesus asked: “What were you looking for?”  In some ways, it was not an unusual inauguration—gee, another old white guy is president!  In other ways, it was quite unusual—the first female Vice President, who is also a woman of color.  No matter who you voted for, we all can celebrate this milestone, this glass ceiling shattered.

Is that what you tuned in to see?  An historic event?  Lots of things in the past few years have been historic.  Did you tune in for Jennifer Lopez’s hair or Lady Gaga’s dress or Garth Brooks’ inability to sing the word “amazing” without taking a breath in the middle?  Did you tune in to see what “your side” said about “the other side?”  Did you tune in to see what “the other side” is already up to on their first day?  Or did you maybe—just maybe—tune in looking for hope?  Or looking for reasons to begin looking for hope?

I found some in the words of the amazing inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman.  I know you’ve heard them more than once, but I need to repeat just a few lines. She said:

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious

Not because we will never again know defeat

but because we will never again sow division.

I’m sad to admit that I can’t say I believe the last line, that we will never again sow division.  We’ve gotten really good at it!  But I do believe the other parts:

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

That’s what I was looking for when I tuned in.  Come and see that even as we hurt, we hoped.  It is true for us as a country and as a community.

Now let’s look again at our scripture passage.  When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”  Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

I have to pause here to ask: Is Nathanael the most easily impressed man in the world?  Three verses earlier he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Now—forgive me—but one parlor trick, and he’s convinced?  Nathanael, I could relate to you as a skeptic, but Jesus says he saw you under a fig tree and you suddenly believe?  Any two-bit palm reader or self-proclaimed psychic can do better than that.  Or is it because he said you were an Israelite in whom there is no deceit?  Flattery will get you everywhere, I guess, if that’s all it takes for you to suddenly pronounce that this stranger is the Son of God and King of Israel!

Perhaps Jesus agreed with me (just a little) because we are told that he responded, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than these.  Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”  Yes, I would agree that seeing the heavens open and angels come down would be greater proof of Jesus’ identity than Jesus seeing you under a fig tree!

As I said earlier, I love those three words, “Come and see.”  They are a powerful invitation.  But they are powerful because Jesus’ message is not just “Come and see,” but “Come and see greater things.”  Bigger things.  More important things.  Things that matter.  Things that can change the world.

What greater things do you need to see?  Do you need to see a greater purpose in your life?  A greater strength in your suffering?  A greater reason to believe?

Think about the angels.  According to many scholars, this is an allusion to the story of Jacob’s dream, where he sees a ladder connecting heaven and earth with angels descending and ascending.  In response Jacob declares: “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  “Jesus seems to be inviting Nathanael to come and witness the ongoing connection between heaven and earth that is centered in Jesus’ own being.”[3]  Surely the Lord is in this place—this place, this person, this Christ.  This is none other than the house of God—Jesus is the house of God.”

Nathaniel came to Jesus as a skeptic and followed him as a disciple, for even if he didn’t understand it all, he knew that he had found the one he was looking for.  But even more than that, he had been found by Jesus.”[4]

Come and see greater things.

Come and see and be found. Amen.

[1] Florence, Anna Carter. “Preaching the Lesson.” Lectionary Homiletics. January 20, 2008.

[2] Lectionary Homiletics, January 2000 issue.

[3] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2021/01/come-and-see-lectionary-reflection-for.html

[4] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2021/01/come-and-see-lectionary-reflection-for.html

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