Have you ever thought of how we appear as a congregation to others?Imagine a stranger in Alva, walking into our church one Sunday morning. I’ve heard some very positive comments from people who say they feel welcome, they feel included. They have the impression of a caring community. Welcome to church, not a building, but a way of engaging; We’re good at chatting to people – finding out about them, making conversation and telling them about ourselves, what Alva is like to live in. Sometimes, though, perhaps we’re involved in conversations with one another and a stranger may slip into a seat where they feel isolated, an outsider looking in.
Welcome to church, not a service, but a way of serving;
Do we see ourselves as others see us? In our conversations with our friends, can we draw in the stranger, so they feel included, able to pick up the clues – can they identify with something topical or could they be included in something useful to know like there is coffee, tea, chat and fellowship after the service?
Welcome to church, not an institution, but a path to adventure;
A stranger is always going to appreciate warmth and smiles, interest in themselves, the newcomer, and our congregation can always engage in talking about the church organisations, offering invitations to come along and join in: try something new. And if our stranger should ask “What if I don’t like it?” You can answer, “Just come as our guest. You don’t need to be a member to come to our group.”
Simply use Jesus’ own words: “Come and see.”
Come and see: the title on your Order of Service. It’s a quote from Colin’s second reading. Did you notice? Jesus was responding to a question from two of John the Baptist’s disciples. They asked, “Where do you live, Rabbi?” and in reply, Jesus offered this invitation, “Come and see.”
Colin read from John’s gospel, telling us about this relative of Jesus, John the Baptist. The preceding section to today’s reading describes how the Jewish authorities questioned John the Baptist, asking him, “Who are you?”
He explained that he was not the Messiah, and in answer to their next question, “Why do you baptise?” he responded, “I baptise with water, but among you stands the one you do not know. He is coming after me, but I am not good enough even to untie his sandals.”
Do you notice, he didn’t answer either question directly?
Let’s imagine that we’re listening in now to the rest of John the Baptist’s conversation.
“People have taken to calling me John the Baptist because of my offer to baptise people in the River Jordan. The day after Jesus had come to me for baptism, I saw him coming towards me and I said, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ It is a strange title for a man, ‘Lamb of God’. I’m not totally sure what was going around my mind when I said it. I had been thinking about Isaiah’s prophesies about the Messiah, about lions and lambs living peaceably together, and also thinking about the Exodus and the Passover and about God being a shepherd as well. But when I said it, it felt right.
Next day I was with Andrew and another of my disciples and I saw Jesus walking along the road. I said to them: ‘There is the Lamb of God’…. And they looked at me, puzzled.They must have been curious about Jesus because they both left me and followed Him down the road. They came back later and told me what had happened. He’d taken them to where He was staying and they spent the afternoon talking with Him. After that, Andrew went and found his brother, Simon, telling him that they’d found the Messiah, and he took Simon to meet Jesus. Jesus really is the Messiah, and now that He’s here, I wonder if my job is done. I am happy that my disciples have decided to follow Him for He will always be so much greater than I am. Jesus has begun His public journey. I am glad I was in at the beginning of it. I look forward to hearing about what He does next.”
In the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, John has a huge respect for Jesus and tremendous humility in his approach.
As we heard in Jim’s sermon last week, Jesus and John would have known each other well as they were growing up. Their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth were good friends and would meet up at family celebrations with their children or at times of stress when Elizabeth would be able to advise Mary. She was the one whom Mary went to when she learned of her first pregnancy and they would be a comfort and support for each other throughout their lives.
Each time the families met up, John would see how, as Jesus was growing, more and more, He reflected God’s way to live His life and it was how He treated others. This insight in John grew over the years until he realised that Jesus WAS the Son of God. He had watched Jesus grow from a young boy to manhood, developing His own style of applying God’s care to how He treated others.
John’s two disciples noticed that closeness to God in Jesus the afternoon He invited them to join Him where He was staying. They would have felt Gods care around them and transfusing through them as they talked and listened to Him.
It must have been an extremely moving experience to realise they were in the presence of God, and as more and more disciples came to be with Jesus, their strength, individually and as a group grew and developed.
So much time has passed – it’s over 2000 years since John the Baptist was proclaiming Jesus and all His amazing teaching. His style of leadership was not what some people had hoped for – He was no conquering hero, taking on the corrupt king of that time or waging war with the Roman army of occupation that was settled and living in His country. His style was tailored to the individual, a spiritual experience which filled the person with the “presence of Jesus”.
His disciples began to assist and eventually, after His crucifixion, took over the spreading of His word. They travelled further and further afield, gaining faithful followers wherever they went. These were people who helped to spread Christianity throughout the world as we know it today.
Modern technology has had a huge impact on so many aspects of our lives. Word can spread so fast, images appear on our screens within moments of being sent from the other side of the world.
To our present day society, as a tourist out and about, the inclination is to capture the moment with our mobile phones, whatever the setting. It can be historical buildings or ruins, breath-taking mountainous scenery, a shoreline with ocean waves beyond or a busy city street with famous shops and iconic buses passing by. The days of photographs carefully set up with the subject, either animal, vegetable or mineral centrally positioned and the photographer nowhere to be seen, have been ousted by the “selfie”.The trend is to stand with your back to the subject and snap your smiling face in the foreground of the shot.
It’s a moment in time captured in the camera’s huge bank of images, there ready to be scrolled through whenever the owner wishes to reminisce or share with others. However, it is just that – a moment in time captured.
How many memories will the picture awaken? What experiences will that person be able to recount? How long did they spend taking in the scene?
How much would they be able to tell you about the ancient monument or landmark, how the beach was for building sandcastles was the sea warm/ safe for swimming, the mountains and how it felt to climb some of the lower slopes, or which were the best shops for holiday bargains or delightful souvenirs? I repeat, it’s a moment in time captured, something fleeting, impromptu, “seizing the moment”, not taken as the conclusion of an enjoyable experience like a visual diary entry, something to be remembered in detail by the photographer.
At home, I have a crate full of hundreds and hundreds of photographs I’ve taken over the years, since I was about 12 when I got my first camera, a Brownie box camera which was particularly good for taking pictures of people, up to my present Canon PowerShot SX160 IS, more sophisticated, certainly, but in my hands, performing the same cameos of cherished memories. (I’ve only recently got the type of phone which can take photos and I’ve never attempted a selfie...yet!)
However, I digress, that afternoon, Andrew and the other unnamed disciple went with Jesus to where He was staying and spent the rest of the afternoon with Him. Then, later, Andrew went to find his brother Simon and took him to meet Jesus. That was quite a while that they stayed in Jesus’ company and during that time we can only imagine what questions they might have asked. No doubt, Jesus illustrated His teaching with stories. After all, that was his trademark style that He used for one or two up to crowds of listeners.
These disciples spent time, absorbing the experience of being in the presence of Jesus, the Messiah, Saviour, the Anointed One, drinking in every detail, every feeling and interaction that they could. Compared with the crowds Jesus often addressed, these two were able to internalise it all, they were given the chance to feel something so moving, so special and life-changing because they’d been personally invited and there exclusively in the presence of Jesus.
We may never have the opportunity to feel that incredible “audience with Jesus” experience that Andrew, Simon and the other disciple had, but we should always have the belief that we can bring a sense of God’s care into our meetings and time spent with others by our treatment of strangers. It comes very naturally when we are among friends, but if we always bear in mind how we feel as a stranger in another group’s company, it makes it much easier to think of how to treat a stranger.
Let us pray.
When you came to Earth, your teaching was quite revolutionary. People had expected a completely different style of leadership. We thank you that today we understand your message and we try to live our lives as you would want us to. Help us to be ever mindful of others, those who need our support in some way. May we be generous with our help, not counting the cost or the time or the effort we put into our Christian mission. We pray that by our example, we encourage others to follow in your ways. This we ask in your name.