Sermon Jan. 14, 2018
Come and See: Invitation to Mystery
Have you ever met someone who makes you feel like your souls are connected? That’s what soul mates are, isn’t it? But what about friends or colleagues? Have you met someone with whom you felt a special connection, which cannot be explained? For me, one such person is my friend Shawn in Montreal. The first time we met, he happened to sit next to me at a school meeting. I invited him to St. James United Church because I was preaching for the World AIDS Day service. He came, we went out for lunch after the service, and that was it; we started being drawn to each other with a kind of invisible force. We became close friends very quickly. When you experience this kind of connection, it is difficult to pinpoint what was it about them that we were drawn to. Sometimes we are drawn to people because they have the same taste in music or other things; but that is not necessarily true for a lot of relationships I have experienced. Shawn definitely doesn’t listen to the same music as I do. It is not only in our relationships that we are guided by an invisible force. Sometimes we feel very comfortable at a place or in a group.
Let’s go to our gospel text and meet Philip and Nathanael. Philip was called by Jesus, recognized in him the promised Messiah and followed him. He could not contain his joy that came from the conviction that he had found the messiah, so he went to his friend Nathanael to tell him about Jesus. This is the whole concept of evangelism, isn’t it; one cannot contain one’s joy at hearing the gospel of Jesus/ the Good News, that one goes out and spread the news. Sometimes when you discover an amazing new restaurant or shop in town, you want to tell your friends and neighbors about it! In two kingdom parables, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed and yeast. God’s kingdom grows and expands like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a big tree where birds come and make nests. God’s kingdom also expands like yeast that leavens the flour.
Now back to Philip and Nathanael; Philip tells Nathanael that he found the messiah, but Nathanael’s initial reaction is skepticism full of prejudice. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Oh, the shock! So inappropriate and politically incorrect! Yes, Nazareth was considered quite an undistinguished place, but we know today that we’re not supposed to say that out loud! To this prejudice, Philip doesn’t argue or pick a fight. He simply says, “Come and see.” This is quite a wise response because the force that drew Philip to Jesus, and generally the matter faith is not something we can debate, argue, or convince each other into entering. It is something we cannot explain; it has to be experienced. Come and see. But Philip is not the only one who said, “come and see.” In verse 39 of the same chapter, Jesus says the same thing to his followers who asked him, “Where are you staying.” Faith has to be experienced. It cannot .be explained, debated, or convinced. Nathanael had to experience for himself; this is how he discovered Jesus, not because his friend Philip said he was the one, but because he experienced Jesus.
God calls us constantly. Once I told you that my theological professor calls it “the heartbeat of God.” God sends out signals, heartbeats so we may perceive God’s presence. In 1 Samuel chapter 3, we read about young Samuel being called by God. Samuel’s mother Hannah was one of the two wives but was barren. One day, she was praying in the temple out of distress, silently but her lips were moving; so, Eli the priest thought she was drunk. But after hearing her story, he sent her away with a blessing. God heard her cry and gave her a child, and Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to the Lord, and Eli raised him. In today’s scene, the child Samuel hears God calling him but doesn’t know that it is God calling; he thinks it Eli the priest. First Eli just says, “I didn’t call you. Go to bed.” But after this continued, he realized that God was calling the boy and instructed him to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” It was the period in Israel’s history when they had no king to rule over them because, as God’s people, God was the only ruler for them. During this period, God called leaders called the judges to lead their people from foreign invasions and suffering. This boy Samuel will grow up to be the last judge of Israel before the Israelites cry out for a king. Samuel the last judge of Israel anoints the first king of Israel Saul.
Just like the boy Samuel was called by God and needed practice and guidance to recognize God’s voice, just like the first followers of Jesus who were called to follow him, God calls us too. But what are we called into? We are called into something that cannot be explained, debated, or convinced. All Jesus could say to his first followers, according to the Gospel of John, was “Come and see.” All Philip could say to Nathanael at his skepticism was “Come and see.” When Nathanael realized that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for, Jesus promised him, “You will see greater things than these.” The mystery of God is called mystery because we do not know where God will lead us. All we can do is to “come and see” and experience first hand what mystery or mysteries God leads us to.
During this Season of Epiphany as we see and meditate on the light of God being revealed to us, listen for God voice saying, “Come and see.” And just as the young Samuel answered, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”, let us answer to God’s call and invitation to mystery with open hearts. This whole year is ahead of us, full of possibilities. Open up to God’s voice and see where the Spirit leads us. And at the end of this year, we might be able to look back and say, “God has led me to unexpected and wonderful places in my life.”
Rev. Sunny Kim