1 Samuel 3:1-19 (11-20); John 1:43-51
“See for yourself,” Philip tells a skeptical Nathanael.
Philip cannot contain his excitement over meeting Jesus, recognizing early on that Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth, is the one about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets spoke about. Nathanael’s assumptions render him unable to imagine the possibility, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Imagine the equivalent of Nathanael’s quip in contemporary culture. For some it might be, “Can anything good come out of Washington, D.C.?” For others it might be bias against religion or particular forms of religion that could be a stumbling block to recognizing the divine. “Can anything good come out of ___________?” Fill in the blank based on your own context. In some communities it will be neighborhoods that come to mind. For others, it will be certain professions. In some places there are entire categories of people deemed God-forsaken, written off as “trailer trash,” “thugs” or the like.
For Nathanael, Nazareth, a small, backwater town (or “backhoe town” as one of my children used to say), was no place for God’s chosen to call home. Philip doesn’t argue. In our day of constant debate accompanied by the relentless need to be right, Philip’s response is worth noting. Philip doesn’t defend Nazareth: “Have you ever even been to Nazareth? It is beautiful this time of year. Lots of lovely people in Nazareth.” Nor does he chide Nathanael for his biases or call him out for his lack of cultural sensitivity. He simply says, “Come and see.” Don’t believe me? Come see for yourself.
Philip issues an invitation, not unlike Jesus’ invitation to Philip a few verses back, “Follow me.” In the earlier part of the story prior to the appointed verses for this Sunday, to those disciples of John who are curious about where Jesus is staying he says, “Come and see.” No sales pitch. No promises of what they will discover. No cajoling or guilt or reward or expectations. Just an invitation, no strings attached. How often do we receive or extend such genuine invitations?
We receive invitations to events that are really summons. There will be a price to pay for not showing up. (Some family gatherings fit this category. The office holiday party in some places does too.) We receive invitations that come with the expectation that we bring something to the event: food, a friend, our best behavior. We get invitations where we are sure to be asked to give something once we get there: money, advice, praise. There are even those invitations to “parties” that are really occasions where we will be sold something: clothing, skincare, a time-share.
How often do we simply say or hear “come and see”? You may accept or decline. You may come exactly as you are. No need to get changed, bring a hostess gift, RSVP even. Your cynicism, skepticism, biases, assumptions are all welcome as well. You can stay as long as you like or leave without notice. Maybe everything you have ever heard and believed about Nazareth will be confirmed. No one will attempt to convince you otherwise. Come and see.
What might happen if we church people emulated Jesus and Philip in this story and stopped being defensive and started being invitational instead? Honestly open to whatever opinion others may have about us, about Jesus, about the church, about Christians. Nothing good can come out of Christianity. “Come and see.” Christians are judgmental and exclusive. “Come and see.” All they do in church is ask for money. “Come and see.” Worship is boring. “Come and see.” The institution of the church is irrelevant. “Come and see.” No one will speak to me. “Come and see.” People will judge me for how I look or talk or think or believe. “Come and see.” I am beyond redemption. “Come and see.” No one ever really changes. “Come and see.”
Like Philip, we are not to cajole or convince or sell or sugarcoat. We are to share our experience of following Jesus Christ and invite others to come and see Jesus for themselves. How often do we unabashedly tell others about Jesus and his impact on us and then invite them to get to know him, too? No guilt. No empty promises. No expectation that their experience will be identical to our own. No need for them to confirm our choices or beliefs. No requirement that they agree with us. No defensiveness or debating. Just: Come and see Jesus for yourself.
There are some things in this world that I so love, I want others to love them too. The Bible. The church. Worship. Jesus. (Maybe not in that order.) Books. The smell of chlorine mixed with the humid air of an indoor swimming pool in the wee hours of the morning. My pets. My children. My quirky family. (Maybe not in that order.) Coffee. Red wine. Butterscotch ice cream. Green beans cooked with fatback. (Probably in that order.) Yet, everything I list can only be experienced to be appreciated (or not). I can describe their qualities, wax elegantly about why I value them, defend them until I am blue in the face — but if anyone has any chance of loving the church, my children, coffee and, yes, Jesus, they first must come and experience for themselves what I have come to know and love. Even then, I can’t control their experiences or evaluations or responses to any of the above, from worship to my aggressively loving Golden Retriever.
What I can control is whether or not I honestly invite others to experience those things, people and places I can’t imagine my life without and that begins with Jesus and his body, the church.
I confess that my greatest challenge to following Philip’s example comes within my own household. I desperately want my children to follow Jesus and be a part of a community of faith. Some of my reasons for that desire are completely selfish, I realize. I want them to have the support, encouragement and network of people that comes with that connection. Knowing they have such a community will relieve me of some stress as they move through life’s various stages. (It is all about me.) However, I also believe that they will have life and have it abundantly, regardless of their circumstances, if they accept Jesus’ invitation to come and follow him. But I can’t make them, or anyone for that matter, accept Jesus’ call. I can’t convince them of the truth of the gospel or the goodness of God. I can, however, haltingly attempt to live that truth and goodness so that they might glimpse enough of it to be open to my invitation to them to come and see Jesus for themselves, despite all their assumptions about Nazareth.
- What are some of your assumptions that might prevent you from being open to God’s presence? Are there people and places that you have a difficult time imagining God working in or through? Why?
- When is the last time you invited someone to come and see Jesus? How did it go? What keeps you from doing so?
- What are the assumptions you run up against when you are open about your faith or beliefs? How do you respond to those assumptions when they are voiced?
- In the reading for this Sunday from 1 Samuel, Samuel needs Eli’s help discerning God’s voice. Who has helped you hear God’s instructions? How have you helped others discern God’s call?
- How do you follow Jesus daily? Do you think about following Jesus throughout the day? As you make decisions or interact with others?
- Take a look at other passages where Philip is mentioned in John’s Gospel (John 6:5, 7, John 12:21, John 14:8). What characteristics do you notice about Philip? Can you relate to him in your own faith journey?
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