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Come and See!

Reading: John 1:35-51

Introduction: I’m again grateful for the opportunity to be with you this morning, and again thankful for Murray Sanderson and his collaboration. Murray was sending me emails again this week, the first one containing the lyrics of Michael Card’s song, “The Wilderness.” The words capture the essence of our conversation together last week of God’s invitation to the great paradox in which at times and places where God can seem to be most absent, he is most present.

“In the wilderness, in the wilderness, He calls his sons and daughters
 To the wilderness. But he gives grace sufficient to survive any test.
And that's the painful purpose of the wilderness.

“In the wilderness we wander.
In the wilderness we weep. The wasteland of our wanting, 
Where the darkness seems so deep. We search for the beginning, for an exodus to hold. We find that those who follow him, must often walk alone.


“In the wilderness we're wondering
for a way to understand. 
In the wilderness there's not a way. 
For the way’s become a man, 
and the man’s become an exodus, the way to holy ground. 
But wandering in the wilderness is the best way to be found. Groaning and growing amidst the desert days,
the windy winter wilderness can blow the self away.
And that's the painful promise of the wilderness.”

I especially like the words in the second verse: “In the wilderness we’re wondering for a way to understand. In the wilderness there’s not a way, for the way’s become a man and the man’s become the Exodus. As we continue to think about Revival this morning, we turn to the way that’s become a man, and brought about Exodus – God’s liberation of all creation. The Gospel of John announces the coming of Jesus Messiah into the world with language from the Exodus: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled with us” (John 1:14). The tabernacle was the tenting of meeting Yahweh instructed the Israelites to build in the midst of their own wilderness wandering – a place in the center of the camp where the presence of God, the glory of God would be a constant reminder of their covenant relationship. So John announces that God has been faithful to his promises – he has come to his people once again. We are invited this morning to go out to John the Baptist in the wilderness and see what he sees. Hear these words from the opening chapter of the Gospel of John:

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God's Chosen One. The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’ They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means "Teacher"), ‘where are you staying?’ Come, and see," 
he replied. So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him” (John 1:35-39).

Perhaps you saw the story in yesterday’s Tennessean about the church denomination that happens to be headquartered here in Nashville facing the reality that for the first time in several decades membership in the denomination is in decline. Leaders are searching for explanations – some say it is a matter of demographics: their members aren’t having as many babies as they once did and Sunday School attendance is down by about 500,000. Others say the struggle has been ongoing for the last several years in the wake of a huge internal battle of the authority of Scripture. Still others want to blame the lack of evangelistic zeal among the members. Whatever the causes of the decline, and I’m sure there are a great many complexities, church leaders are praying for Revival – for the growth to return.

I have no idea what the numbers are like among our tribe – I know that studies show church attendance figures in decline for most groups in America. And the article yesterday made me ask the question, “what do we hope would happen if God brought revival to us?” Yes, there is a personal element for us all in revival – God changing my heart, my life, and each of yours. But what do we hope revival will bring to our city, our nation, our world? More people in church buildings like this one on Sunday morning? More baptisms here at Otter Creek? More people and more worship times on Sunday morning? Less poverty and homelessness?

Listen to John the Baptist’s announcement again: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” I suppose we should remember a bit more of Israel’s circumstances in the first century. I’m sure there were all kinds of individual needs among the common people. We see many of them in the ministry of Jesus in the four gospel accounts. But there was also the circumstance of a tiny occupied country. For most of 500 years since their return from exile in Babylon, the land of promise had been under foreign occupation. With rare exceptions, Israel has been subjected to outside rule, the latest being the Romans. Freedom was never really free. People longed for God to break in and restore Israel. The word Exodus was synonymous with revival for them. In John’s gospel, the language and symbols of exodus abound. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” recalls the Passover lamb that for centuries had represented freedom for Israel. But John the Baptizer announces freedom and exodus that is bigger than Israel. It is the sin of the world – the world’s brokenness that this Lamb has come to take away. The singular is important here. This isn’t what we often say when we recite it. John doesn’t say, “Look the lamb of God who takes away our sins.” It is the whole world that God so loves that he gives his one and only son (John 3:16). It is the brokenness of the world that this Lamb has come to take away.

The language and word choices in these next few versesare very intentional as we first hear John the Baptizer describe events that authenticate the Exodus that has come. “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven and remain on him.” Then John repeats himself – “I myself didn’t know who he was, but the one who sent me said to me, “the man on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” The word translated “remain” here is a favorite throughout the gospel. It’s also translated “abide.” It’s used 10 times in 7 verses in chapter fifteen to describe those who are connected to the Vine. It is the language of presence – in this case, God-presence. The Spirit remains – abides with/on Jesus.

The same word appears just a few verses later when John the Baptizer sees Jesus and announces him to his disciples. “Look, the Lamb of God,” he says to two of his own followers. The men start following and Jesus turns and asks them what they want. They ask him, “Where are you staying” – that’s our word again. Jesus responds, “Come and see.” They go and “remain/abide/stay” with him.

When you read on in the rest of this first chapter the words “Come and See” are soon repeated, not by Jesus the second time but by disciples he has called to follow him. Jesus calls Philip to follow him and Philip finds Nathanael. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asks. The response is, “Come and See.” Come experience this person for yourself. Come and see – and remain. Those words describe the rest of the Gospel of John – the writer’s invitation to come and see Jesus – see the signs that he performs, see and hear the announcements of the one who claims the very name of God that came from the burning bush to Moses in the wilderness: I AM. I AM the Bread of Life – far more filling than the manna that fell to Israel in the Wilderness. I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life. I AM the resurrection and the Life. I AM the true vine. Even in the conversations like that with the Samaritan woman who wonders if God will again revive his people and send a Messiah, Jesus says, “I AM.”

If you remember the story in the Gospel of John – most people don’t remain – they don’t stay. The words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood are too hard to swallow in chapter six. By the time you get to chapter 12 only a few have remained. But at the crucifixion scene we hear once more that the new Passover lamb has done all that it came to accomplish. And after the resurrection he looks at his followers and breathes the breath of new life and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” God has taken away the sin of the World.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had two learning experiences that rocked my world in unexpected ways. The first was the class I took last weekend, in which we were given a reading about neuropsychology and conflict. At the bottom of the first page of that article were these words: “The truth is that human beings are 98% emotional and 2% rational.” We went on in class to discuss the chemistry of our brains and the reactional hierarchy the brain works through in almost any circumstance. There is that immediate first response of fight or flight when we are surprised by a new circumstance. Then there is a complex layer of emotional responses that the brain goes through before finally arriving at the possibility at least for reason and rational response.

I sat there last Saturday wanting to just run out of the room! Then I had a series of reactions to my religious upbringing, to being rationally taught that evangelism and response to Jesus and life in a worship assembly is all about right thinking and reason, because you can’t trust the emotions. And my emotions were getting the better of me! And I remembered these stories – stories filled with emotions and people reacting out of their emotions. And yes – there is obvious appeal to reason along the way. But we never could check 98% of ourselves at the door of our faith. If the Lamb of God came to heal the brokenness of the whole world, he most certainly came to heal the brokenness not just of the 2% of me that is logical but the other 98% as well!

Then I sat down with a small book that’s only 165 pages long, written by a woman whose other books I’ve read have been wonderful collections of prayers and daily devotional readings (Phyllis Tickle, “The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Baker, 2008). This book is about revival – about the way in which we can look back through history and find a stunning reality that she describes this way: “Every five hundred years, the church cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale.” She moves not only through Christian history but the history of Israel, and it’s amazing. Go back 500 years and we’re on the cutting edge of the Protestant Reformation. Go back another 500 years, and you have the great schism between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Another 500 years and were at the Council of Chalcedon and critical decisions about the nature of the Godhead and the splitting off of the Coptic/Armenian Church. Five hundred years before that and we are at the time of Christ. You can keep going – the end of the Old Testament and return from exile; the beginning of the reign of Kings – the Exodus – Abraham. The timing is not exact. And she does not suggest at all that along the way there have not been other times and seasons of revival. But some revivals are local and regional – some change the world as we know it.

The suggestion of the author in this book is that we find ourselves living in the midst of another rummage sale! The discontent so many are feeling is bigger than questions about worship style. The wilderness is more than global economic crisis, and it’s not fixable by sitting down to a carefully reasoned debate over religions of the world and which one is really the only true religion. If we are indeed living in the midst of one of these grand God moments, then I believe the words from John’s gospel give us a very helpful place to start the search for revival.

The truth of the testimony is in the invitation: come and see! Come and see the Word who has become flesh and tabernacles with us. Come and see the Spirit of God abiding on his children. Come and see – come experience the living God! And bring all of your humanity with you – this is not “Come and think, come and reason with us.” It is about the healing of the world, and about the Spirit of God descending on his people, bringing transformation.

When people experience us – do they experience Jesus? The gospel writer believes that if we come and see we will follow. And if we follow we will run to others and say, Come and See!

Delivered at Otter Creek, January 18, 2008

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