Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Come and See

Epiphany 2B
Come and See

To understand the homily today, you need to recall that I am from the desert – the low desert, the land of sand and dust devils and heat mirages, the land of crickets and cockroaches and sun that bleaches your clothes as you’re wearing them.

One summer, we went on a driving vacation. We drove across the desert with the windows wide open because there was no air conditioning. We drove across the state border and into Arizona. We drove past cactus and jack rabbits, and sand dunes and then through the cities of Yuma and Phoenix – and we drove and drove clear up into the White Mountains – and the air got cooler and it smelled different. And then, there were streams of water that went crashing down hill over rocks that were slippery wet with moss and there were trees – pine and quaking aspen – with leaves that were already turning golden yellow. And we stopped and got out and I could barely breathe it was so beautiful. I wanted to call all of my friends back home and tell them that they must come to the White mountains of Arizona and see the water and the trees and the color. “Come and see!” I fell in love when I was ten years old with quaking aspen - an almost mystical love that continues to this day. I can close my eyes and breathe in that clear cold mountain smell, and feel refreshed and energized

To understand the story, you need to understand that I am from the desert – the low desert, the land of sand and dust devils and heat mirages, the land of crickets and cockroaches and sun that bleaches your clothes as you’re wearing them.

A second parable - this past November, I was privileged to travel to an international conference held in Nazareth and Jerusalem. On that trip, our group traveled through the desert outside Jerusalem to Jericho, which is really only 17 miles! It’s amazing to think about, because it seemed like a much longer bus trip than seventeen miles. The desert we drove through was barren – really, no plants I could discern from the bus. There were washes where summer rains flooded down, and there were field workers and there were crops growing by the miracles of irrigation. When we arrived, I was not well, and so as the rest of the group traveled to Ramallah, I stayed in Jericho at a very nice hotel – that got almost no tourists. When I felt better, I went out for a walk, and ended up walking through the streets of a small farm village – that looked for all the world, like the small town I grew up in. The desert was the same. The irrigation methods were the same. Even the pink gold light of a desert sunset was the same …. I could hardly stand it. I needed to call my dad and tell him. “You’ve got to come and see!” I found out what it would cost to bring my entire family to this hotel in the outskirts of Jericho – for a family vacation! I wanted them to be there, in that place, on the other side of the world, in the place where Jesus had walked, in an environment that was so like the environment in which my family has lived.

Come and see! It’s really important, isn’t it? Remember making that phone call – “Mom, Dad, the baby’s born! You’ve got to come and see your new grandchild. This is the most beautiful baby ever! This baby will capture your heart.” All of us want the people who are important to us to come and see what’s important in our lives. “Come see our new house.” “Come and see my roses!” “Come and see our new Prius.” “Come and see the mural we painted in baby Ella’s bedroom.”

We also say, “come and see” when we have met someone who is incredibly unusual. I would like to share with you three examples of this.

Sometime last year, Louise invited me to come and see a family friend – a young woman named Anna Balzer “You must come and see her,” Louise said. Even when that meant being at Albany High School at 7:30 AM, to sit in those high school desks at the back of a social studies classroom. “Come and see.” So I did. I heard a young 26 year old Jewish woman who went to Israel when she graduated from the School of Journalism at Columbia – and that trip changed the course of her life. She now documents human rights abuses and works closely with the International Womens’ Peace Service. I was thoroughly unprepared for meeting this dynamic, articulate woman whose heart had been so captured by the people of the Holy Land. I was changed.. I wept because I heard stories I hadn’t heard before, and I saw pictures that I hadn’t seen before – and Anna said to the entire class – “don’t believe me – go and see.” And my heart was captured by Anna, and so I did. I traveled to Israel and to Palestine to see for myself what checkpoints and separation barriers and settlements mean for the people living there, and the people I met have captured my heart and changed the course of my life. Louise invited me to come and see Anna, and Anna invited me to come and see the people of the Holy Land. I am profoundly glad that I said yes to Louise and yes to Anna.

Another story. I was at Diocesan Convention, and a clergy friend of mine said that he had invited a Catholic doctor who did healing prayer to come to his church down on the peninsula, Church of the Transfiguration – and would I come to this prayer meeting and see this man, Dr. Issam Nemeh. Dr. Nemeh had done healing prayer for his wife, who suffered terribly from vertigo and had not found any remedies that worked – and now, she was well. So, I said yes. I will come and see. And I invited a friend to come and see with me. I don’t know much about Dr. Nemeh, I said. I only know that my friend invited me – and so will you come too? And so we did. We went and saw – and both of us experienced the healing power of prayer in a new and profound way – and our hearts were captured all over again by the overwhelming love and grace of Jesus. My friend and I are both profoundly glad that we said yes to this invitation to come and see.

Third story. This weekend, we celebrate the person and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on Tuesday, a man who is a part of Dr. King’s legacy, Barack Obama, will be sworn in to the presidency. Dr. King was born into a family of preachers. He went to college and then a seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected Senior Class president by a student body composed mostly of white men. Martin attended Boston University where he received his doctorate. The new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his first parish in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 and by 1957 he was in the thick of the civil rights movement. For the next eleven years, he traveled more than six million miles and gave 2,500 speeches for justice in any town, village or city that needed his spiritual and moral leadership. Dr. King was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 when he was only thirty-five years old. He was the youngest person to ever receive the Peace prize. He was awarded $54,000 for the Peace Prize and he gave that hefty sum to the civil rights movement. 250,000 people converged on Washington, D.C. to hear his "I Have A Dream" speech. So many people said, "You have to come and see. You have to come and see and hear this man. You will be amazed. Your heart will be captured when you see and hear him."
I know that my heart has been captured by the Spirit of Jesus and his peace and justice living within the heart of Dr. King.

Just was we are swept off our feet by the magnificent beauty of the mountains, and the simple miracles of irrigation and water in the desert, so we are often swept off our feet by the good hearts and faith of people that we meet. People like Anna Baltzer and Dr. Issah Nemeh and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. The hearts of Anna Baltzer and Dr. Nemeh and Dr. King had been captured by the dream of God’s reign on earth. Our hearts are captured when we see the greatness of God living in such people.

It is with these images that we approach the gospel story for today.

Today’s story is one of five “come and see” stories. There is only one “come and see” story in the text for today so I am going to tell you all five “come and see” stories from the first chapter of the Gospel of John.

The story goes like this.

John the Baptist was out in the wilderness. Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist. As John baptized Jesus, the Spirit of God came down on Jesus in a special way. I’m not sure exactly what happened – but I do know that the heart of John the Baptist was captured by Jesus. And what did John the Baptist do? John the Baptist went and found his own disciples and said, “Come and see. Come and see.”

One of those disciples was named Andrew. Andrew spent the whole night talking with Jesus – and something happened. Andrew encountered this spiritual giant, this immeasurably wonderful person and Andrew's heart was captured that night by Jesus of Nazareth.

The next morning, at the crack of dawn according to the text, Andrew went and found his older brother. Andrew said to his older brother who was named Simon Peter, “Simon Peter, you’ve got to come and see. You’ve got to meet this Jesus.” So Simon Peter came and met Jesus. We know that Peter’s heart was captured and transformed.

Peter then went to Phillip and said, “Phillip, you’ve come to come and see.” Phillip did. Phillip’s heart was transformed. His heart was captured.

Phillip went and found his co-worker, Nathaniel. He said, “Nathaniel, you’ve got to come and meet this Jesus of Nazareth.”

Nathaniel came and saw and Jesus said to Nathaniel. “Nathaniel. I saw you sitting under your fig tree yesterday.” Nathaniel said, “How did you see that?” Jesus said, “I know your heart.” Nathaniel recognized him as the son of God.

In all of these stories, there were hearts that had been captured by Jesus Christ. Those people then went out to their friends and said, “Come and see.”

I would like to talk about your heart being captured, my heart being captured. Not captured not like a robber who gets caught and put in jail. But captured like a woman’s heart is captured by a man’s. Or captured like a grandfather’s heart is captured by a grandchild. Like my heart was captured by the beauty of the quaking aspen and the Jericho sunset and the greatness and goodness of Anna Balzer and Dr. Nemeh and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some of you know Lillian Coons from when she was able to come to church, which was before my time here – and George, Lillian’s husband, still comes to church. But Lillian now lives in a convalescent home – and when I first went with George to visit Lillian, I was near tears to see how he held her hand, how he whispered to her, how he told her he loved her – even though she may well have not heard anything he said. George was even kind of mushy with Lillian. That is real affection. It’ even kind of mushy! And when you see George and Lillian together, even now, you know that George’s heart has been captured by Lillian – and I suspect vice versa as well.

Like a man’s heart has been captured by a woman’s, like a grandmother’s heart has been captured by a grandchild, like a girl’s heart was captured by the beauty of the mountain trees, the hearts of these disciples had been captured by the beauty and magnificence of Jesus Christ. Their hearts had been captured by his life, his love, his kindness, his knowledge of God, his way of life and loving.

What I am suggesting to you this morning is that the very essence of evangelism is that people’s hearts have been captured by Jesus Christ and you go and say to your friends and family, “Come and see. You have got to come and see what difference this man has made in my life.”

This is one of the reasons that I have had people throughout the last two years offer their own stories about the difference that Jesus makes in their lives – the difference that belonging to the community of Jesus followers makes in their lives – the difference that God makes in their lives. Because these stories are a way of saying to each other and of practicing being able to say to someone else – come and see. You’ve got to come and see.”

This is at the heart of what draws us together. It’s behind the invitation to sit on Vestry, or to be part of a working small group, or to arrange the flowers behind the Altar. But we don’t often say that out loud. We don’t often say – "will you consider Vestry because I want you to come and see the power and goodness of Jesus at work in our lives?" Because it’s easy to get confused and to think that Vestry or one of the committees is about making sure that the church continues to function well. If that is all that it is – you are going to burn out and get discouraged when things don’t go well, or when there are major disappointments. But when the gospel – the good news of Jesus is placed squarely in the center of the circle – and everything we do is an invitation to come and see and taste the goodness of God at work - then there is a boundless spring of energy. That is why I have insisted on praying together and have attempted to insist on reading scripture together at each these meetings – because the true work is not fixing the windows or the sidewalk or making sure that there are Sunday School teachers. The true work is the invitation to every one of us to come and see Jesus – and to let your heart be captured by the same dream that captured his heart – the dream of the Kingdom of God.

You and I are hungry for that. People outside the church are hungry for that. For hope and goodness and healing and change from the inside out. We are hungry to have our hearts captured by the greatness and goodness of God, expressed in the life and love of Jesus. We are not particularly hungry for more work that is disconnected from the Spirit.

So, when and if you decide that you would like to check out the life of the church by taking part in one of the many opportunities for work and relationship that is offered on the insert – I will help you organize the life of those committees around meeting the Christ – in prayer and in scripture. Your work will flow easier. Your decisions will be guided. And your hearts will be captured and energized. Come and see!