There is a whole lot of seeking and finding going on in this Gospel text. It begins with John the Baptist and his crowd of followers, so immediately we are surrounded by people who are seeking something, and wonder if they’ve found it in John. John said repeatedly, “NO! I’m not the guy you’re looking for! I can’t stress that enough!” Then one day, as Jesus happened by, John blurted out, “Behold the lamb of God!”
Not surprisingly, this got the attention of some of John’s followers. Two men, one of them being Andrew, followed after Jesus to try to find out more. Why had John called this character the “Lamb of God,” and what did that even mean? There they were, still seeking, still hoping to find what they’d been looking for. Jesus noticed that he was being followed, turned to Andrew and his companion and asked, “What are you looking for?”
Over the past decade or two, much has been said and written in the church about “seekers.” Churches who talk about “seekers” are talking about those who are interested in church—are intrigued by the apparent mystery that they believe the church might be guarding or the answers it might provide for the spiritual longing in their hearts—but who have not yet found the answer, and therefore have not yet committed themselves to Christ. Big mega-churches often have what they call “seeker services” that focus on the spiritually inquisitive nature of seekers, try to address their questions, and bridge the aesthetic gap between church and culture through contemporary worship. It’s interesting to note that while Jesus says elsewhere that the Son of Man came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), our passage this morning suggests that it’s the lost who are doing the seeking!
In youth ministry, where a large part of a leader’s energy is presumably spent on “seekers,” since most teenagers would be labeled as such, scholars and experts talk about transportation. No, I don’t mean they spend time dealing with the logistics of physically getting kids from one place to another (although goodness knows I used to spend a lot of time doing that, too!). Rather, they’re talking about the idea that what “seekers” are seeking is to be moved. They even use words that describe this desire without realizing it, when they do drugs in order to “get high” or listen to music that “rocks.” Such words communicate movement. What they want is to be transported; to be part of something larger than themselves—so much larger, in fact, that this something is able to move them from one place to another. Faith can provide that through a reconciled relationship with God in, through, and as Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit! But as these young people “seek” fulfillment, they try shoving pegs of all shapes and sizes into the God-shaped hole they feel inside. These pegs include drugs, sex and other adrenaline-producing experiences; but they also include changing social circles, religious exploration, and trying on personalities like some people try on shoes.
One of the greatest “seeker” songs of my generation is U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” This song, released in May of 1987, describes the inner angst of one who has spent his life seeking. And he’s looked everywhere: the natural world, the love of a woman, walks on the wild side, religious practices, and even Christian theology, but the recurring line throughout the entire song is, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
When our Lord noticed that he was being tailed, he turned to his pursuers and asked them, “What are you looking for?”
Could he have possibly asked a more apropos question? “What are you looking for?” he asked, not just because they were trailing him down the road with an inquisitive look in their eyes, but because he sensed that they were seekers. And their response was to answer his question with one of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
Don’t we also ask the Lord this question? “Where are you? Where are you staying, so that I know where to find you? Where are you staying so that I can see your work in the world? Where are you staying so that I can tell the difference between your Kingdom and the kingdoms of this world? Where are you staying—and is the answer that you’re staying with me?”
And Jesus’ reply—and could he have possibly given a more apropos answer?—was “Come and see.” So Andrew and his friend went and saw, following Jesus to the place where he was residing that day. But along the way to that place, Andrew took a little detour to inform his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah.” Apparently, Andrew was already convinced! Maybe by John’s words about the Lamb of God, maybe by Jesus’ having asked the right question: “What are you looking for?” Either way, Andrew was sufficiently excited—sufficiently convinced, even, that the strange man who had invited him to “come and see” was the Messiah—that he grabbed his brother Simon and dragged him along. While the author does not relay their conversation, you can imagine Simon saying, “You found the Messiah? Who is he?” and his brother Andrew replying, “Come and see.”
Come and see is, in the Gospel of John, the ultimate invitation. It’s given twice in this morning’s reading (three times, if you invent a little dialogue like I just did). Jesus invites Andrew and his comrade to “come and see”, and then the next day, when the group had traveled to Galilee, Jesus met two more future disciples. Jesus found Philip, and then Philip found Nathaniel. The dialogue between the second pair was rather amusing. Philip said to Nathaniel, “We found the one written about in scripture. His name is Jesus bar Joseph, from Nazareth.”
Nathaniel was skeptical. He said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” in much the same way that we who live near Pittsburgh might ask, “Can anything good come from Cleveland?”
Interestingly, Philip’s response was “Come and see.”
There’s a lot of witnessing going on in this passage, as the word about Jesus began to spread. Not the Jesus who had been crucified and risen on the third day and who now sat at the right hand of God, but rather the Jesus who, at that point, hadn’t yet performed a single miracle, or taught anybody anything. Still, there were people who were seeking something, and Jesus apparently had a “certain something.” That’s what made this early recruitment campaign such a success. People would ask, “What’s all this I keep hearing about that Jesus guy?” And his disciples would respond, “Come and see.”
The Samaritan woman at the well says it, when she runs to tell her townspeople about Jesus: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (John 4:29). At the end of the gospel, Mary comes and sees that the stone has been removed from the tomb (John 20:1). Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved come to the tomb after hearing Mary’s story and see for themselves (John 20:3-5).
One preacher remarked that he had been involved in the Christian youth organization known as Young Life. Each week, over 200 teenagers met together for fellowship and study. The day of the meeting, they wore ribbons that said, “Young Life Tonight.” When people asked, “What’s Young Life?” group members answered, “Come and see.”
Come and see. That is the invitation that we receive from the Lord. Who am I? Come and see. Where am I? Come and see. What am I doing in the world? Come and see. You’re all here this morning because at some point in your life you decided to come and see.
Of course, it’s not enough to answer that call just the one time. And in fact, you answer that call every time you worship, every time you open your Bible, every time you bow your head in prayer. What do you need to hear from me? Come and see. How are you going to grow in faith today? Come and see. How do I need you to serve me today? Come and see.
We receive that invitation every single day—and often many times in a single day! But as often as you have received that call, and as often as you have answered it, how often have you offered this invitation to someone else?
According to one study, only 21% of all church-goers extend an invitation to anyone to join them for worship in a given year. But here’s an even more distressing number: Of the 21% of church-goers who invited someone to church, only 2% of them invited someone who had no church experience. In other words, even on the rare occasions when people are invited to church, it’s either because they used to go and haven’t in a while, or because we’re stealing sheep from other congregations! As a result, 70% of all non-Churched people have never been invited to church in their entire lives. Now here’s the tragedy: of those un-Churched people, 96% say that they might attend church if they were invited!
This is not an occasion where we can sit and say, “If they’re so willing to come to church, then those people need to quit with the excuses, get off their lazy rear-ends and get in here!” Right? They said they might be willing to come if invited.
“Come and see” can be a life-saving invitation. What if your neighbor asked a question like, “How can I learn to live a life that means something?” and you answered, “Come and see.”
Who can help me break this addiction? Come and see. How can I ever forgive myself for the things I did when I was a stupid kid? Come and see. How can I go on, now that my husband has died? Come and see. How can I find spiritual peace in a world filled with violence or anxiety? Come and see. What will happen to me after I die? Come and see. Why do bad things happen to good people? Come and see. Who is this Jesus guy, and why should I care? Come and see. What could the Bible possibly have to say that would be of any relevance to my life? Come and see. What could possibly make my wretched life worth living? Come and see.
“Come and see” can be a life-saving invitation. Jesus invited his first disciples in this way, sure. But then his followers went out and told their friends, their neighbors, their family members, “Come and see.”
Allow me to suggest an action plan—steps that each one of us needs to take.
Step One: Ask God the question, “Who do you want me to invite?” (And then chuckle when you hear the answer, “Come and see!”)
Step Two: Write down the names that come to mind. If anyone pops into your head—anyone at all—assume that God has given you those names! They have become your responsibility!
Step Three: Pray for each of the people on your list! God has put them on your heart and on your written list, so pray for them. Whether you know their needs or not, God knows them, and knows that you will pray for them, which is why he has given you their names!
Step Four: Invite them to worship with you! Tell them that your church worships on Sunday mornings at a particular time. Tell them one thing that excites you about your church. Then tell them, “Come and see.” Chances are they will. And if they don’t respond the first time you invite them, invite them again the next week, “Come and see.” And the week after that, “Come and see.” They really can’t hurt your feelings by saying no, and you really can’t hurt their feelings if all you’re saying is “Come and see.”
By taking these steps, you will be imitating the ministry of witness that Andrew and Philip used—brand-spanking-new disciples who didn’t even really understand what being a Messiah meant, let alone the fact that they still hadn’t heard Jesus teach anyone anything, or seen him perform a single miracle! These guys didn’t know anything about Jesus at all except one thing: that they had been seeking, and had been found. And that’s the good news that we have to share with the seekers in our neighborhoods, the seekers in our families, the seekers in the check-out line at the grocery store. Perhaps they feel like they still haven’t found what they’re looking for. Perhaps these seekers are subconsciously asking the question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” So, in the name of Jesus Christ, tell them, “Come and see.”