‘Come and see’
Jesus saw some people following him and asked them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They asked him where he was staying and he said, ‘Come and see’. And so they did and they stayed there all day..
It sounds a bit like just an everyday record of what happened. But this is John’s Gospel, so every word has layers of meaning that we shouldn’t miss. When the writer says something about ‘seeing’ we know that he means more than just looking with your eyes. When he talks about someone ‘staying’ it’s more like ‘abiding’, more like the kind of being there that implies commitment and love, that’s more than just being present physically. And in any religious book we know that if someone asks ‘What are you looking for?’ they don’t just mean ‘Do you need directions to the Post Office?’. They mean to ask you what you are looking for in life, what you are really searching for, what you long to find and know. This passage comes right at the beginning of the Gospel, and it’s about Jesus calling the first disciples. And I guess should see that this is about Jesus calling not just the first disciples but us too, disciples in the twenty first century, disciples in Taunton, at the United Reformed Church, in 2017… calling you..
I remember that when I was on the trip to India that I told you about on Christmas day, when I slept right by the cows in the shed, on the first evening of that trip it seemed that the whole village came by the house where I and my companion were staying. At one point there were people absolutely crammed into the open porch of the house, sitting on the floor. Occasionally someone would, through a translator, ask us something about the UK or about our lives, but mostly they had just come to look, for many of them at the first Western women they had ever seen up close, women with short hair, without husbands, who had travelled far. They wanted to look. The children were bravest and would come and sit on our laps or show us a reading book or touch our faces. Through all our time there were often people who came by the house to see us, or they just put their sleeping mat outside the bedroom and slept there waiting for us to get up, or brought us food to taste to see what our faces did.. The house was open to the whole village and anyone could come and mostly there was food to share and people to meet. But of course the important part of the visit was that I, and my companion in the house, were the ones who were really there to look. We were encouraged to be ‘endlessly curious’, to look not just at the surface of things, but to be there until we could join in the life of the house, share in the cooking, play with the children, listen to the stories of peoples’ lives. We were there to see. And we realised at the end of our visit that many of our first impressions had been wrong. We needed to ‘stay’ and wait – and not just revel in being seen, but learn to see deeply too.
In that setting I could imagine more vividly how it might have been to go and see where Jesus stayed. By inviting people to ‘come and see’ Jesus wasn’t inviting them to appraise his two-up two-down or rate the caravan in the front yard. He was inviting them to come and spend time with him, to live with him for a bit, to look at him until they could see what he was really about. I wonder if this small vignette could help us see again what it might mean for us to be disciples of Jesus.
We tend to think that being a disciple, or being a Christian, means that you have to believe certain stuff or do certain things, sign up to a creed or commit to a lifestyle. And we think of it as though it’s something you might do one particular day in your life, like opening a bank account or joining a society or a club. But this story helps us see it a bit differently. Jesus is saying something more like ‘Come and spend some time just being with me, looking at who I am and what I’ve said and what I’ve done. Come and spend some time with people who are trying to live close to me. Come and just stay for a bit and see what happens.’ This not a joining instruction so much as an invitation. There’s a place, there’s a household, there’s a gathering. Just come and sit on the porch and look. What would it be like to see being part of the church as like sitting on the porch and looking at Jesus, staying there for a bit until we can see more clearly?
Rowan Williams (him again..!) says that a really important bit about this passage is the bit about ‘staying’. Think of it, perhaps, as ‘abiding’, as in ‘Abide with me’. Being a disciple of Jesus is not something that happens in an instant. It takes time… all day, every day… It’s worth sticking around for longer than a quick glance. If you ‘stay’ and look for Jesus and for what he means, over time, then you will find that his home becomes yours and his ways yours. He can be more to you than a stranger to gawp at occasionally, but can be the one with whom you take up residence and whom you welcome into the household of your life. But it takes time. We need to stay with him.
The great black American poet Maya Angelou once said, ‘I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian’. I think, ‘Already? You already got it? I’m working at it.’ Being a Christian takes some time, some willingness to stick around and stay with Jesus in the household of faith, being curious and open, waiting until you can make a bit more sense of it all and join in each day just a little more. Staying with Jesus is to be in a welcoming place, where we can take the time we need. There always a place in the porch and you can stay there as long as you need to before stepping into the house. I wonder if it helps you to think of faith like this – as an invitation to come and see?
A bit later there is an opportunity to say the words of a covenant prayer – a prayer that’s very important to Methodists, but it turns out came from the writings of one of the first ministers of this very congregation. Its words belong to us too! They are words to say if you are ready to sit on the porch for a while and to see what happens. They are words that say ‘I’m going to stick around’ and see what God does with me and my life. One thing that sometimes gets lost is the sense that the porch is always full of other people too. Sticking around to see Jesus is going to mean sticking around with a group of people. This has its downsides too of course. Other people can be hell. But they can also be trusted and loving companions as we live – as we abide – with Jesus.
At our church meeting after this service we will hear that there are some people who are saying that this is the place where they have already met Jesus and the God who is revealed in him, and where they want to ‘stay’. But I imagine that all of us, perhaps particularly near the beginning of a new year, might welcome a chance to say in response to Jesus’ invitation, ‘Yes, I am here and I will stay. I will be part of this community for good and ill, living with God here, for as long as it is God’s will’.
There used to be a tradition in Congregational churches that one Sunday a year every single member cancelled absolutely everything to get there and the people renewed their covenant with God and with one another. This might be a moment a bit like that for us. Jesus has said to us, ‘Come and see’. And we’re here and we’re staying. God bless us and our church, and our community and the Lord we serve. Amen.