The Gospel-writer we know as John, tells the story of Jesus first conversation with his would-be-disciples differently than Matthew and Mark. True, many of the characters in their stories are the same, but the tone feels different to me … it’s the difference between Jesus’ call and Jesus’ invitation. And I can best describe the difference this way:
As a child I slept for a while in a small bedroom with 3 sisters … two sets of bunk beds, very tight quarters. I learned early that if I wanted to get into our only bathroom at all on a school-day morning, I’d better be first in line; so I got up with my father before anyone else – it was our “men’s only” time in the bathroom. He would quietly come into the bedroom and lean close to my ear and gently whisper, “Glen, ready to get up?” And that would be enough of an invitation. Then, later in the day, after school, I’d do my chores as quickly as I could, so there’d be time to play with guys in the field behind our house before supper, always at 5:30. When my mom heard my dad come in, she’d call for supper, though if we were in the middle of a game I’d pretend not to hear. But if my father had to call, there was no mistake – “Glen Walter, SUPPER!”
I grew up understanding the difference between call and invitation. A call feels like a command … an invitation, like a choice.
Matthew and Mark’s version of the story is often titled in modern Bibles as “Jesus calls the first disciples.” Jesus, walking along the Sea of Galilee, seeing some fishermen, and calling to them, “Follow me, and I will make you ‘fishers of men’.” And “immediately,” it says in Matthew and Mark, they left their nets and followed – their call feeling like a command. In John’s Gospel though, I experience a different feel; and it’s grounded in the phrase, “Come and see.” We heard it twice in this morning’s reading, first on the lips of Jesus, inviting Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist, “Come and see.” And the second time we hear it, it’s offered by Philip, one of Jesus’ new followers, as he encourages his own friend to “come and see.” Both times I feel an openness, a spirit of welcome, even a promise that, “if you will take the chance to experience God’s goodness, I’m sure it will touch your heart like it touches mine.” But I might be getting ahead of myself here, because there’s a lot going on between the lines in John’s story, and it may be helpful to revisit some of the action.
Unlike the other Gospels, John introduces the first disciples of Jesus not by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but rather on the banks of the Jordan River where John the Baptist is preaching. When the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the One about whom he had been preaching all these years, he points it out to two of his own followers, one of whom is named Andrew, who happens to be a fisherman from the town of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, but who for the moment at least has come to hear and follow the Baptist. There are a few other Galileans with them – Andrew’s brother Simon, who Andrew tells right after his visit with Jesus – and Philip too … in fact, I’ve often wondered if Philip was not the second disciple who leaves the Baptist and visits with Jesus. That makes sense to me, because the next day, when Jesus decides to go to Galilee, he finds Philip and says “follow me” not to a complete stranger, but to someone who has already come and seen God’s goodness. It’s as if Jesus’ decision to head north to Galilee includes an invitation to this group of Galileans to travel along with him, back to where they’ve come from, and beyond their wildest imagination. And so excited is Philip that he tells his friend Nathaniel who evidently is not so easily convinced … well, until Jesus compliments him … and then he becomes almost too enthusiastic.
To me John’s story is about some everyday people not unlike you and me, who appear to take their faith and spirituality quite seriously, and who, when invited and encouraged, are willing to alter their direction, and in that promise come face to face with Jesus. Andrew and Philip felt that invitation from Jesus; Simon Peter and Nathaniel felt that invitation from Andrew and Philip – come and see, come and experience, come and feel the blessing.
As profound as “call stories” can be, “invitation stories” are the inspiration of everyday people like you and me. Call stories can feel so overwhelming at times … so astounding and demanding that we can hardly imagine something like that happening to us. But invitation stories … invitations feel more gentle and encouraging, they give people room to consider and discern, they open the spiritual doors to discovery and delight, they introduce friends to the goodness of God and Spirit of Christ and allow that experience to do the convincing.
As important as call stories are to the church, invitation stories show us how to share the experience of faithfulness with one another. Molly and I, together with OUC’s present leadership, are dedicated to continue shaping a Christian community here that can inspire everyone’s faith and imagination. We’re working hard at building up ministries that everyone here will be enthusiastic about saying to family and friends, “come and see.” We spend much of our time prayerfully looking for and encouraging meaningful expressions of caring and learning, of worshiping and reaching out, of volunteering and giving that will touch and inspire the lives of everyday people. We believe that God is doing a good thing here and that Jesus’ love is shared willingly here.
So we invite you to choose something yourself, here at OUC, in which you recognize God’s goodness and Christ’s love, and imagine yourself saying to someone else, “Come and see, come and experience, come and feel the blessing … then help us build the faith community that will do the convincing. And that’s when Jesus’ promise will be fulfilled – “You will see greater things than these.”
January 15, 2012