In today's Gospel reading from the Gospel of John, we hear the story of Jesus' first encounter with two of the men who will become his disciples. At the time he meets them, they are disciples of John the Baptist. John tells them about Jesus. Then, they decide to find out more, so they follow him. When they ask Jesus where he is staying, Jesus says, "Come and see."
This morning, I want to talk about these words: come and see. And, I want to talk with them particularly in the context of Evangelism. In the Episcopal Church, we have a lot of anxiety about Evangelism. The practice of Evangelism has been misused in some Christian churches, so we have tended to give it a pretty wide berth. In fact, there's a statistic that says that average Episcopalian invites someone to come to church with them once every thirty-two years!
So, this morning, I want to talk about what we mean by Evangelism in the Episcopal Church, and how these words come and see might inform our actions.
My guess is that many of us have had a negative experience with evangelism. Perhaps someone has knocked on your door to give you materials that tell you that you are not saved - and that unless you align yourself with this person's particular beliefs about God, your eternal salvation is in jeopardy. Or perhaps you've seen someone on a street corner, shouting about hell and damnation. While it's possible that those behaviors could fall into the loosest definitions of Evangelism, they are NOT what I am talking about here.
When Jesus says to Andrew and his friend that they should come and see, he's not using coercion. He’s not using power. He doesn't threaten them. He doesn't tell them that they will go to hell if they don't come. Rather he issues an invitation. And after they accept the invitation, they stay and talk and begin to develop a relationship. What Andrew hears is so compelling that he goes off to find his brother Simon (whom we'll come to know by his nickname Peter) and issues the same invitation: come and see.
Perhaps my thoughts turned readily to Evangelism this week because we've been working on the Annual Report for our annual meeting next weekend. As Robin and I made our way through all of the topics to be included in the Annual Report, I asked, "What did we do about Evangelism in 2016?" After several long minutes of silence, we both said, "Huh. Nothing." Later, when I was telling this story to another parishioner, she replied, "Do you mean like standing on street corners and talking to strangers?" Friends, the good news is NO! That's not at all what I mean.
But, during this year 2017, I am going to invite us to consider some simple things that we can do around Evangelism. And those simple things will be related to our words for this morning: come and see.
I have a colleague from my days of ministry in New Hampshire who created a whole process for Evangelism around these words. Charles described it like this: if you have a child who is in a school play, you might well invite your friends to come and see your child in the play. You aren't inviting your friends to join the drama group, or to take a part in the play, or to join the pit band, or even to sell treats at intermission. You're inviting them to come and see your child in the play. And you do so because you love your child and want to share your child's accomplishments with your friends.
To my mind, that's how the best evangelism works. You have found something that gives your life meaning here at Grace/St. Mary's.
Y'all come to church week after week - and it's NOT because you're bored and have nothing better to do on Sunday mornings! Perhaps you have a friend or neighbor or colleague who might also benefit from being a part of this community. Some Sunday, you might invite them to come and see.
There are two key things that distinguish a come and see invitation from other types of evangelism - and they are crucial. The first is that it's not about power. Your invitation doesn't come with some kind of threat or fear. And the second is related. Your invitation comes out of your own interest. If you invite someone to come and see, you do so from a place of sharing your joy - just like the school play analogy.
It was a little horrifying to realize that we had done nothing Evangelism related in 2016. One of my hopes for this year is to have a particular Sunday where we focus on and encourage one another to invite a friend to come and see. Stay tuned.
I want to end with a personal testimony. As some of you know, I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. I was active in that tradition until after I graduated from college. In my new town, I visited the five Roman Catholic churches, and not one of them felt particularly welcoming. A work colleague expressed interest in how it was going - and when I was feeling pretty dejected, she invited me to come to church with her. I felt immediately welcomed in her UCC church, and quickly made their community my new church home. In fact, I joined three different churches as an adult before eventually going to seminary. In each case, I found the church I joined because someone in the congregation that I knew said something like come and see.
As we think about building a strong future for Grace Church, increasing our membership and strengthening our particular branch of the Body of Christ will be one important step. Maybe you'll invite a friend to come and see our backpack ministry. Maybe you'll invite them to come and see the Christmas Pageant. Maybe you'll invite them to come and see a bible study. Whatever it is that brings you joy and fulfillment through being part of this community – invite someone else to come and see.