“Come and See”

October 23, 2011


Exodus 14:10-13

John 1:35-42


The new Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson movie, The Big Year, opened a week ago. It’s about three guys involved in the ultimate birding competition—the goal of which is to see the most bird species in a year.

I haven’t seen it yet, but I read that the movie opens with three rental cars screeching to a halt in south Texas. Owen Wilson steps out, lifts his binoculars - and gasps. So does Jack Black. And Steve Martin.

Then we see what they see: a sky boiling with birds. Hundreds of thousands of birds.

I’m not a birder, but I used to marvel at the crane that dwelt in the wetlands outside of my home in Connecticut. And I’ve been thrilled each winter since moving to Iowa to see bald eagles soaring above my house.

I’m not a birder, but I do have my own copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds. And I own a nice pair of Bushnell binoculars which I use occasionally for a better look at all that fills the sky.

It might be that people who own those field guides and binoculars express a spiritual hope through them. It is the hope that that we might see—really see—and in seeing might come to know something more fully. It is the hope that what is distant and unclear might be brought closer and into sharp focus.

We desire to see and to know what we see.

Peterson’s bird guides were designed, the introductions tell us, “so that live birds could be readily identified at a distance by their field markings.” These guides give expression to the hope that we might see and know that which is at first unfamiliar.

This speaks of the hope that we might “see” and know the living God, however obscure that God might presently seem.

“Come and see,” Jesus responds when questioned by the curious.

“Come and see,” the psalmist wrote. “Come and see what God has done.”

“Come and see” is the invitation I want to give to you as we as we move toward November and December, with all of the countless activities that fill our lives at the end of the year.

“Come and see” is the invitation I want to give to you as we look with hope toward a new year.
Come and see.

Look! Remember that wonderful word we learned when we first started to read? It is a word that shouts, a word that points a finger.

Years ago now Robin and I were out walking when a short summer shower created a beautiful rainbow, perfectly arching across the landscape. A boy who was outside as we passed his home was yelling to the rest of his family who remained indoors: “Come out! Come out! Hey! Come out here!” he cried.

The rainbow was wonderful and he wanted to share it with his family, who either didn’t hear or didn’t care.

Finally in excitement, in frustration, in joy he turned to us, simply pointed, and said, “LOOK!”

Don’t miss this. Come and see.

Come and see what God has done.

For the Hebrew people, “What God has done” was best seen in looking at the Exodus from Egypt, in calling the enslaved descendants of Abraham and Sarah into freedom and new life.

Our Christian vision focuses on what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth, leading from death to life, calling us into God’s new creation. And it is this Jesus who speaks to us, “Open your eyes! Look around!” In places and at times to numerous too mention the God who created this world is still active, still giving life to all takers.

It is not necessarily an easy life that God offers. But it is life, the real thing. This is the genuine item, not the virtual alternative offered by denial, by greed, by hunger for power.

It’s strange how the psalmist writes of God’s love: “You have tested us, tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water.”

These are the acts of a loving creator? This is how a benevolent God shows compassion?

What an amazing affirmation of faith! Listening, we get the sense that God is present even in the suffering of individuals and nations.

Now, I have a hard time with that. I don’t think that God is author of suffering. And yet I do hope that in the painful places of our world and our lives, God is present; that there is something—even someone—who will work to bring good out of evil, life out of death.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of such a faith:

In recent months I have become more and more convinced of the reality of a personal God. . . . This is a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life. Perhaps the suffering, frustration, and agonizing moments which I have had to undergo occasionally as a result of my involvement in a difficult struggle have drawn me closer to God. Whatever the cause, God has been profoundly real to me in recent months. In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give.[i]

The final result of the suffering of the Hebrew people, the psalmist writes, is that God “brought us out to a spacious place, a place of plenty.” “No” is not the final word. Beyond all that would destroy and tear down comes God’s “Yes” to us and to the world.

Once again, in our time, we have to be invited to come and see because, well, because usually we don’t see. We watch TV, entranced. We stare into computer screens. We look past other people. We miss the rainbow, the sunset, the child growing up, the smile. We miss the opportunities to make life better because we are so focused on our hurts and not on the healing that we have received.

Come and see. With open eyes, with open hearts, come and see what God has done.

The Psalmist gives this invitation in the context of worship and giving.

Thousands of years ago, this unknown poet invited the people to worship God: “Make a joyful noise to God,” is how we often translate the ancient Hebrew words that begin Psalm 66. But today it all sounds so tame.

We would do better to say SHOUT! SHOUT with joy to God.

That’s the kind of feeling the psalmist has about worship. And I recognize that this is not exactly an Iowa Congregationalist feeling. Nor is it always my feeling. It is not reserved.

It is a blatant call to worship—for no reason in particular. Not because of what we might get and certainly not because worship will keep us safe—we are invited to worship simply because God deserves our praise.

Now, throughout the week we are invited to worship many different things. This hour on Sunday sets us aright; it works on our priorities and helps us to see what’s really important.

Who’s in charge? Your professor? Your department head? Your supervisor? The dollar? Ourselves? We are reminded again who is in charge: the living God, whose power, the psalmist says, causes people to cringe.

Yes, worship puts us in our place, our proper place as creatures before a loving Creator—which explain the temptation to avoid worship.

Still, we are invited to worship the God who holds nothing back, to shout for joy before the One who gives us life.

The worship of God leads to giving. One of the great insights of American Protestantism was to include the offering for the ministry and mission of the congregation as a part of the worship of the people. Worship finds its fulfillment in the act of giving, when we bring the gifts of our lives and our labors and place them before God.

We don’t talk a lot about “sacrifice” in the United Church of Christ. What we sometimes call an “altar” is actually only a simple table on which we place our gifts. And the word “sacrifice” can sound a little primitive to our modern ears. It is, however, a good word. It means “to make sacred” and suggests that something belongs to God. Sacrifice involves giving up something valued for the sake of something having a more pressing claim.

What do you value?

What is even more important?

In bringing our lives and our offerings before God we are thrown back again on our creaturehood. We are created by a generous God and all that we have—let me say this again—all that we have is a gift from God. “All in the heavens and on the earth is yours, and of your own we give to you,” is how the ancient biblical prayer puts it.

When Jesus was asked, “Where are you staying?” he didn’t say, “At the house down the road,” or “In the next town.” No, Jesus simply replied, “Come and see.” What Jesus offered was more than information. He offered an invitation.

This invitation asked for a commitment from those who received it. They weren’t allowed to think it over, check their calendars, and get back to him. They were invited to follow with their lives.

Come and see.

Open your eyes and look around at what is happening in your life, in this congregation, in this town, this world. What has God done in response to suffering? What has God done that moves you to worship? What has God done that you just don’t understand?

And, as important, what might God yet do among us and through us?

Come and see.

As we look toward a new year, as you are invited this week to make a new pledge to support the ministry and mission of our congregation in that new year, see what God has done is doing, imagine what God might do, and give out of gratitude. Give generously from all that you have and all that you are—for it is all a gift from God.

Come and see.

[i] Martin Luther King, Jr., in A Testament of Hope, pg. 40.