The story of our Lord gathering the first of His disciples is encouraging to say the least. I mean, it makes you want to get out there and spread the Good News yourself. The text encourages us to gather more and more people to come and see the one prophesied about in the Law and the Prophets. After all, our Lord makes it look so easy, right? He sees Phillip and says, “Follow me,” and Philip just gets up and follows Him… just like that. Jesus gives no big speech, no persuasive miracle; nothing. Philip, in turn, finds his buddy Nathanael and says, “We found Him. We found the Messiah. It’s Jesus of Nazareth.” Now, Nathanael is a little more skeptical. He says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That said, I do not think this is a slam on Nazareth. It is just that is not where one would have expected the Messiah to come from. And what is Philip’s great persuasive speech to convince his friend? He says, “Come and see.”
And off they go. They go to see Jesus and before Philip can even introduce his friend, Jesus says, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Now, Nathanael is a bit confused, wondering how Jesus even knows him and Jesus says, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” And boom, that is enough for Nathanael. He says, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.” There you go. It is all so simple, so easy. Jesus responds by saying, “You’re impressed by that? Just wait. You will see the heavens open and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Of course, that reference is from a dream Jacob had, recorded back in Genesis 28. It is a vision of a ladder between Heaven and earth with the angels of God going up and down. In that place the promises God made to Abraham are reiterated and a Jacob calls it Bethel, which means, “House of God.”
So, there you have it, a short and sweet text directing us to find the dwelling place of God, the connection between Heaven and earth, in our Lord Jesus Christ. Those He calls follow Him. Those He sees become His disciples. So, we take ahold of this text and begin to think that we ought to be able to do this same sort of thing. Perhaps we overcomplicate what it is to make disciples. We do not need to worry about some intellectual defense of the faith. We do not need to spend our time trying to convince our neighbor to try out our church. When the resistance comes against you, when people wonder how anything good could come from your little church that sings old hymns and recites older lines of Scripture, simply say, “Come and see.” When they want to know what use there could possibly be in prayers and singing and listening to a sermon, just say, “Come and see.” I mean, it worked for Philip, perhaps we ought to give it a try.
Just think about it for a moment. If you were to do this how might it play out? Let us say you have a friend and you have been telling her about your church. It is a place which is clearly important to you. You think about all the people who sit in the same places every Sunday. You can see their smiles, recall their conversations, and you invite them to come. “Come and see,” you say. Come and see this incredible place. Just what might they see? They will certainly see some of the things you see but they will see other things as well. Perhaps they are things you have just gotten used to, so you do not notice them anymore. It is like that comfy old chair in your house, where you no longer see the imperfections. You no longer see the tears at the seams and the fading fabric because it is your chair, and it means more to you than simply how it looks. So, it is with the people in church. Just as you might want your neighbor to come and see your church they might come and see people who look at them with judgment and contempt. They might see the divisions and the obvious sin all around. They may very well see the ugly things you are not so proud of.
Perhaps then you would not focus so much on the people of the church. After all, they have a habit of letting us down. Instead, you might speak about the gifts of the church, the Word and Sacraments which are at the heart of our gathering. Come and see the blessings, the giving of the forgiveness of sins, and the assurance of our salvation. Come and see the promises of life everlasting. What do they see? Well, they will see what you do but I doubt they will be all that impressed with it. We know there are great promises attached to these lowly things, but does your neighbor? They might only see a baby being splashed with some water or a person eating a little carboard-like wafer and drinking a sip of wine. They might see a man speaking about forgiveness, but what use is that to them? They might very well come and see but what they see are just old traditions, rituals and practices that do not mean much to them. They come and see, and they see a bunch of sinners trying hard to look more holy than they really are.
Perhaps, before we go around telling people to come and see, we might want to take some time to get ready. You know, clean up the place, so to speak. If we had a little prep time, we could make sure we are all on our best behavior. We could be extra friendly and make sure we have the good snacks after church… that sort of stuff. Now, I am not sure what to do about the Sacraments, but I could put some extra effort into the preaching. Maybe we could make use of some more imagery or something like that. At least then they would not be let down and you would not be too embarrassed when you say, “Come and see.” Maybe we could coordinate it. Every fourth Sunday will be the time when you invite others, that way we could put our best product forward.
I suppose it would be easier if they could simply see this place through your eyes. I know if people could see what I see as a pastor it would be wonderful. To be sure, there is a little shock at the beginning when you see the sin of your brothers and sisters in Christ. You see all the tears and faded colors, but then, why then, you notice other things. You recognize all the times I go to visit a shut-in and they tell me how one of you has already been there. Or you hear the kind words of encouragement one member will say to another without compulsion but because they really do love them. I see those who give of their time and resources to truly care for their brothers and sisters in Christ. I see the sacrifices willingly made and rejoiced over. What we see when we see these things is the fruit of something greater. What we see is the product of faith. They are acts of love and kindness which usually go unnoticed by the casual observer.
This is because the heart of what we do goes far beyond what one can see. What we can see and what we do see all around us are the faults of mankind. We see the sin and the failure. We see the suffering and hardship. But a perfect and beautiful community is not what it is all about. A sinless and awe-inspiring place is not what you come to church to find. When you play the part of Philip and say to your neighbor, “Come and see,” you are inviting them to see something which is truly life changing. You invite them to see a whole group of sinners gathered in one place; to see broken and hurting individuals, to see old rituals and strange practices. With all of this gathered in one place you get to say, “Come and see the people of God. See their faults and failures. These right here are the forgiven ones, the baptized, those who have heard the call of our Lord and have come to receive His gifts.”
Come and see the imperfect mess that is the Church. Come and see, for you just might find our Lord has already spotted you. For I am sure He sees you. He sees all your sin, all your brokenness, and all your doubts. He sees you and welcomes you. For here He gives you His gifts. He reminds you how you are loved, and you are not alone. He sees you and forgives you all your sins. Now that is something to see.