Come and See! A Sermon for the Epiphany Season
Pastor Fred Strickert
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
The British novelist and poet Thomas Hardy wrote: “There is a condition worse than blindness, and that is, seeing something that isn’t there.” And yet, who of us hasn’t done that? I mean, we think we see something so clearly only to find out that we haven’t seen clearly at all.
Peter had been away on a business trip and last week the one thing she wanted more than anything else was to get home to spend the holidays with his wife and two children, as also his parents who were driving over to his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where when he closed his eyes, he pictured the beautiful roasted Turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, then sitting back on the sofa to watch the holiday football game, and then at half time holding his young son in his lap and reading him a story. The flight from Boston was running late and he needed to change planes at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Now it’s not exactly a place you want to be if you expect to be on time, hassle-free for that departure.
Peter had 35 minutes to make his connecting flight and, luckily, only had carry-on luggage. He raced from one terminal to the other. Opposite ends of the airport, of course. He arrived breathless at the counter, only to be informed that his flight to Cedar Rapids was indefinitely delayed—the first snow storm of the season. He was furious, ripping the boarding pass from the seemingly unapologetic agent’s hand, and turning in disgust, only to see looming before him a kiosk for Mrs. Field’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. If he has to be stuck in this God-forsaken airport, he’ll at least have Mrs. Field’s Cookies to keep him company.
Peter gets his bag of cookies but, of course, he can’t find a seat because everyone has been delayed. He finally sees an empty one at a table with a woman with two children. He motions to the woman, “Can I sit?” The woman says sure. Peter takes out a book and begins to read and reaches his hand in the bag for one of his delicious cookies. Well, the woman across from him with the two kids reaches her hand in the bag and takes three cookies, one for herself and one for each of her children. Well, I don’t have to tell you that Peter was in no mood for this woman now to be eating his cookies. But he doesn’t say anything, trying to compose himself. He puts his hand back in the bag for another cookie, and the woman with the two kids puts her hand back in the bag and takes three more cookies, one for herself and one for each of her two children. Peter is about ready to fly to Cedar Rapids on his own without a plane by this point. He is so angry. Finally there are three cookies left in the bag and Peter defiantly puts his hand in the bag and takes a cookie. And the woman across from him with the two kids puts her hand back in the bag and takes the last two cookies, and gives them to her two children.
Well, thank God, they’re now finally calling the flight as ready to depart to Cedar Rapids because any longer and Peter would have lunged across the table at this woman. He stands up and he crumples the bag in front of her, gives the woman a dirty look. He’s talking to himself the whole way to the plane: “What kind of crazy world is this. I get stuck in this God forsaken airport with this crazy woman eating my cookies.” He finally gets on the plane, puts his carry-on bag on his lap to get something out of it and what does he find but his bag of Mrs. Field’s Cookies. Yeah, the whole time he had been eating the woman’s cookies.
There is a wise maxim that says: We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. And it’s similar to what Thomas Hardy wrote about seeing things that aren’t there. We are so conditioned to view the world through subjective filters that often we miss the truth that stares us right in the face.
One of the problems we face in this place is the multiplicity of narratives. Different sides have different narratives of events and they believe so strongly they are right, that nothing can convince them that they are eating someone else’s cookies.
Come and see, I write to my congressman whose voting pattern demonstrates he just doesn’t get it.
Come and see, I write to a college administrator who just can’t believe that it is safe to send students to walk these streets.
Come and see, I write to someone who is sure the wall and checkpoints are only for security and are not disruptive to life.
Come and see, I write to an email to someone in my home congregation who just can’t understand that Christians and Muslims can learn together in our Lutheran schools.
Come and see is the theme of the first chapter of John when Jesus begins to reveal himself in the world. John the Baptist was one of the most powerful preachers in history. Yet words are not enough. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he announces. And in the middle of his sermon half his congregation gets up to go and see what he is talking about. This is a message about accompaniment. John’s interpretive words are important, but the disciples need to see for themselves. The education is complete when they experience it for themselves. So they leave John and follow.
Yet seeing on the surface is not enough, either. So when Jesus asks “What do you seek?” they do not answer, “The Messiah” or “the true teaching” or a vision that projects God as merciful and forgiving.
They answer with a question, “where are you staying?” Instead of predetermining what they are going to see by their presuppositions and expectations. They ask ‘where are you staying?” And Jesus says, “Come and see.” And they came, and they saw, and they stayed. And it wasn’t just a thirty-minute stopover for photos. If many Biblical scholars are right this time notation referred to the 4:00 PM stoppage on Friday afternoon before Shabbat. So we’re talking about a nice long weekend hanging out with Jesus. This is a beautiful example of accompaniment.
Come and see.
So what did they see?
Jesus explaining his teaching in a logical way.
Jesus engaged in intense prayer.
Jesus resting calmly and peacefully.
Jesus accepting them with open hospitality.
But when the Andrew reached home, he couldn’t wait to find Simon Peter, We have found the Messiah. And he offered a simple, Come and see.
And in the section following, there goes Philip, finding Nathanael, and offering, Come and See.
And then Jesus heading across to Galilee and saying to the guys, Come and see. And they came and they saw a reality totally different from anything they had imagined, and totally different from what they expected, and a surprise from what they always thought they had been seeing.
Come and see & stay awhile—that’s what accompaniment is all about.
THE GOSPEL: John 1:29-42
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?” 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).