Keeping it Real
Sometimes, when I think about God, I am blown away by the idea of God’s power and might. As we sing in children’s church, our God is an awesome God, who reigns in heaven above with wisdom, power and love.
When I read about creation, God’s awesome ordering of the dark and jumbled chaos into our beautiful world teeming with life, when I look into the sky at night and see the stars and read about new galaxies being discovered 30 billion light years away, when I think about the vastness of eternity, outside of time and space, I feel very tiny and insignificant, like a grain of sand in the Sahara, like a drop of water in the Pacific.
But I think of that insignificance in a good way. Partly because I just like thinking! I like ideas! I like the idea of the vastness of God and the smallness of me in comparison - it is as it should be, I think.
But we can’t always live in a world of ideas. I try, believe me, but I know that those ideas have to connect to real things, to things that are touchable and livable, things that can be experienced by all of me - my mind and my heart and my body.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John works like that, too. It starts out with a cosmic set of ideas - in the beginning was the Word, full of grace and truth, through whom all things came into being and who came to give us life - and then begins to narrow and narrow its focus until we get to this scene we read today in which certain people are walking and talking together in Palestine.
We go from a huge concept that begins outside of time to a particular experience in a particular time and place, an interaction of particular people, as we are introduced to Jesus and see how he begins his ministry.
That ministry begins with just a small thing. Jesus asks them a question. What are you looking for? These are the first words Jesus speaks. What are you looking for? What is it that you are seeking? What do you want?
And, basically, even though they don’t answer directly, it is clear that what they want is to just hang around with Jesus, the one who has been identified as the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world. (What a huge idea that is!)
Perhaps they are simply curious. Perhaps they are seeking salvation. Perhaps they want a new teacher. Perhaps they want to know what it means for someone to be the Lamb of God and want to be connected to such a huge idea.
Whatever it is, they do go and hang around with Jesus, they experience him, because he says another small and simple thing: Come and see.
He doesn’t explain himself. He doesn’t expound on his philosophy to see if it resonates with them. He simply says, come and see.
And they do.
And their experience with Jesus, whatever it was, leads Andrew to invite Peter to come and see for himself this Messiah they have experienced. And so just a small thing - come and see! - brings Peter, the rock upon whom Christ will build the church, into relationship with Jesus.
It’s all about witness, invitation, and experience.
John the Baptist shares the amazing sight he saw at Jesus’ baptism and that’s how Jesus meets his first disciples who, by the end of the story, will carry the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. He simply invites them to come and see and lo, together, they take off on a epic adventure.
We go in these few verses from the cosmic to the particular, and from big idea to personal experience, and from experience to witness, and, because we do know how this story is going to turn out, from witness to the transformation of the world. A great big loop from vastness to particularity and back to sweeping expanse again.
But this chain of events all starts with something small and simple. A question and an invitation. What are you looking for? Come and see!
Now, don’t get nervous, but I have to tell you something: This is how evangelism works.
Experience, followed by sharing, followed by invitation. This is how the disciples came to Jesus. Later in the Gospel of John, the woman at the well will also have an experience with Jesus that prompts her to invite all her neighbors to come and see, too. It’s even how I came to be an Episcopalian - someone invited me because of their own experience at their Episcopal church.
It’s actually pretty simple - but the effects are pretty awesome.
Jesus is inviting us too, here, today, to simply come along with him and see what God is doing in the world.
As much as I love church history and doctrine and theology and ideas, as much as I love the idea of my small self being connected to the vast eternal, all of that has to be based on and connected to something real: experience. Seeing and comprehending what God is up to in the world around me. Because I have to be able to see and recognize it and experience it in order to share it, in order to invite anyone else to experience it with me.
Last week at youth group we talked about how God inspired the writers of the Bible and wondered how God speaks to us in our every day lives, which is another way of thinking about experience, and I gave them some homework. I asked them to pay attention this week to try to notice God’s speaking in the world, to see what God is saying to them as they go through their days.
Because that’s the first step in experiencing God at work in the world: developing the ears to hear and eyes to see God, to tune ourselves in to the channel through which we can experience God. Which means we have to be out in the world experiencing life so that we can experience God in it.
And then, only then, can we tell about our experience and invite others to share it.
It is a small thing, tuning in to God, but it yields awesome results. God loves to take small things and do something wonderful with them.
So, what are you looking for? I hope you are looking for God, who has come to be among us and to give us life through Jesus, the word made flesh who invites us every day to simply come and see, to come and experience life and love and grace and redemption.
For in seeing, we will be changed, and then we can change the world.
How’s that for a big idea?