St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene Episcopal Church—affectionately nicknamed "Two Saints"—is a diverse, joyful, and progressive congregation in the heart of Rochester, New York. We are an inclusive community of people, a family in faith who want to hear God’s word and follow Jesus in our daily lives. We feel strengthened by our diversity and by our unity in the breaking of the bread. Together we strive to be loving and forgiving towards ourselves and others. We try to honor all of God’s creation and not to be the instrument of our own or another’s oppression. We reach across our differences to embrace and support each other in nurturing corporate faith life. Together we use our talents in ministry to the urban community that encircles us, with God's guiding hand and blessing.
A Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany B
Text – John 1:43-51
Two thousand years ago Jesus issued an invitation. “Come and See.” Down through the centuries the invitation is still the same, “Come and See.” What would it be like to hear these words spoken to you let’s say, as you were standing in the line at Wegmans? I can honestly share with you that I might be taken aback. I might remember those childhood warnings not to speak to strangers, to not accept rides from strangers, and definitely not to take candy from strangers. Or would these words pique your curiosity, make you feel a bit of excitement? Now suppose the context were different, say that of the workplace. “Come and see this new movie with me,” or “Come and see this new art exhibit.” Maybe you might feel grateful that someone thought enough to ask you to join them.
“Come and see” are simple words of warmth, assurance and yes, an invitation to be a part of a group. Such was the case when I was beginning my discernment for ordination. A previous Commission on Ministry in another diocese thought I might be called to the religious life and that I should explore one of the monastic communities to be found in the Episcopal Church.
The Society of St. John the Evangelist located in Cambridge Massachusetts and the oldest monastic community in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition was holding a “Come and See” weekend. It was a full immersion into the life of the monks of this order. The invitation included following a monastic schedule of prayer, work, and recreation. The Prayer part consisted of taking part in the Monastic Hours of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Eucharist, Evening Prayer and Compline. One hour in the morning was spent in one’s room doing Lectio Divina on scripture. Labor consisted raking leaves in the cloister and polishing the woodwork in the refectory. Come and see was an invitation to be in community with the brothers if only for a few days. It was hoped the invitation would lead some to commit to the life of the monastic community on a deeper level.
All are invited to respond to the invitation to “come and see.” How are we responding to this radical bidding to see what Jesus might be up to in this time and place? Another question to ask is, “What are we called to “come and see?” Let us look at a portion of John’s gospel for a possible answer.
John’s entire gospel is about encounters with Jesus the Christ. The encounters run the gamut from the call of the disciples, to meeting a secret admirer, Nicodemus at night; to the meeting of the Samaritan woman, to the woman caught in adultery, and to the man born blind. The people Jesus encounters have great faith, no faith and everything in between the two extremes. Jesus even deals with Peter’s all too humanness and Thomas’ doubt.
The invitation to “come and see” happens in an early section of this chapter where John the Baptist is with two of his disciples and he exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Upon that declaration, the two disciples of John the Baptist leave to follow Jesus. Jesus asks the two, “What are you looking for?” The two disciples reply to Jesus’ question with a question, “Rabbi, (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?” Jesus tells them, “Come and see.”
Andrew takes that invitation and runs with it to his brother Simon. The invitation continues when Jesus goes to Galilee and asks Philip and the others to follow him. Philip finds Nathanael who sarcastically replies with, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s amazing the invitation didn’t stall at Nathanael!
How often when do we hesitate to extend an invitation to “come and see” because there is a little of Nathanael in each of us? How often do we think that certain places are filled with people who have nothing to say to us or that we can learn from? Such was the case with Nazareth back in Jesus’ time. Nazareth was so insignificant that it is not mentioned in Hebrew Scripture. We might find ourselves asking a similar question as to whether anything good can come from the ghetto, the barrio, the migrant camp or from any other marginalized group or neighborhood or country you can imagine. We see how that kind of exclusionary thinking played out this week.
And this brings me to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s life exemplified this idea of invitation to come and see what the United States could be if it lived up to the idea (and ideal) that all persons are created equal. I am sure invitations were extended by King and the Civil Rights Movement to diverse types of people from many walks of life to come and see what a truly free society could look like if freed from the slavery of small minds and hearts. The more I think about it, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that is often quoted at this time of year was and is an invitation to come and see a new beloved community. Dr. King’s words still invite us to come and see a world where the sons and daughters of former slaves and the sons and daughters of former slave owners can sit down together at the table of harmony as a beloved community where the content of one’s character matters more than skin color.
Come and see.
Jesus was the first evangelist. Jesus used these simple words of invitation as a means call new disciples. We can use them now not to mercilessly proselytize that our way of belief is superior to some other belief. Our invitation comes with no strings attached and no threat that one refusing the invitation will not be saved and will be doomed to hellfire. No, it is not that kind of invitation. It is an invitation that we offer others so that they might come to see what Jesus is up to in our neighborhood and in this community, that we call Two Saints. It is an opportunity, a rare opportunity to experience the blessing of radical welcome, to experience an intentional, multicultural community where deep and lasting friendships across barriers of difference are possible.
Part of that requires us to say to those we meet in the course of our varied and busy lives, “Come and see.” We must have the certainty and ease that we are capable of extending an invitation to join our faith community. You know my favorite saying is, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Church growth is based on how well we extend ourselves. Being the source of the invitation to come and see will mean moving out of one’s comfort zone, to cross borders to be with others. It will mean taking a holy risk.
David Lose again says it better than I can: It’s not the size or reputation of the church; it’s not the beautiful or simple building; it’s not the service times, style of worship, or quality of the music; it’s not even the brilliant preaching of the minister. All of these things have value, but the number one reason people give for coming to church for the first time is someone invited them personally. Just as Philip said to Nathanael, that is, someone said to them, “Come and see.” Which means that the future of the church depends greatly on ordinary everyday Christians summoning the courage to invite someone to come and see what they have found in the community of the faithful that is their congregation.
Your homework is to begin to become comfortable inviting people to come to church with you. Don’t be so afraid of a negative reaction, or of hearing a “no” keep you from asking. Begin by sharing your favorite thing about Two Saints, then invite others to “come and see” what it is you enjoy about Two Saints.
United Christian Leadership Ministry will convene the 5th Annual Martin Luther King Celebratory Service on Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 4:00pm at the Pentecostal Miracle Deliverance Center, 923 Portland Avenue in Rochester.
Please support this event with your presence. The Rev. Alan Dailey, a visitor to Two Saints, will be the Preacher for the Service. The Praise Teams from First Church of God and Pentecostal Miracle Delivery Center will be participating to render inspired songs of praise.