Come and See

This sermon was given by Rev Sue. You can read it again here:

To be honest, it has been tough. We’ve been living in the wilderness with no proper food. It is literally freezing at night and we’ve not had much in the way of shelter either. But it’s worth it. I had had it up to here with the way things were – there were Roman troops throwing their weight about, King Herod was just a puppet of Caesar, and the religious leaders weren’t much use. They could tell you exactly how far you could walk on the Sabbath, but had no interest in us, the ordinary people, as long as we kept the rules. And they spent their lives arguing about the details. Then along came John. A big man, deep voice. He really told it like it is. He even dared to criticise the soldiers for extorting money from civilians. But unlike the Pharisees, he had an answer. Just like the prophets in the scriptures he told us to change our ways, but more than that he promised us hope. I wanted some of that, so I was one of the ones he baptised. He held me right down, under the water, until I thought my lungs would burst, then told me that my life would start again – preparing the way for God’s Messiah.  All those centuries people had been waiting for someone to be their king, to bring leadership and freedom and justice. And to think it would happen in our lifetime! And I would be there at the beginning!

Then the day came. Andrew and I were standing talking to John, and he was saying something about doves and the Holy Spirit that I couldn’t quite follow. And then suddenly John stops talking and says “Look here is the Lamb of God”. We were amazed. You know how every day you are expecting something to happen, but you still can’t quite believe it when it does? Like before your wedding day? Without thinking, we just got up and followed the man. He was Jesus, John’s cousin. We had seen him around but didn’t think he was anyone special. Then he turned around and looked at us, and we realised how very wrong we had been. Those eyes. It was like he was looking into my soul. He spoke to us. “What are you looking for?” A reasonable question, really when two men follow you down the street, but truth be told, our words would not come out. Andrew found his tongue first. “Teacher” he said “where are you staying”. Not a profound reply, but we needed to know. We weren’t going to lose him now. “Come and See” he replied. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I remember, so we stayed the rest of the day. And the next day. And, truth be told, the next three years.

Come and SeeCome and See. Sometimes we say things like “seeing is believing” but the fact is that I might look at something, and you might look at the same thing, and we see different things.  (Illustration). John the Baptist looked at Jesus and saw the Lamb of God. The fourth gospel tells us that he was the only one who saw the Spirit descending like a dove and resting on Jesus. So, what made that individual spiritual experience something on which John would sake his reputation, and ultimately his life? Firstly, he knew his scriptures. Only the day before the religious leaders had been quizzing him about how he saw himself. Was he the Messiah? Or Elijah come back from the dead? Perhaps by that very debate he became clearer in his mind about his own role as the forerunner of the Messiah. John had been studying, praying and waiting for the One sent by God – he had no idea that it would be his own cousin, but in that moment of revelation all became clear. Spiritual experience as confirmed by all that he had learnt from his childhood onwards, and he knew that he had seen the Messiah. A bittersweet experience, perhaps, as the next day he lost two of his disciples who found a new master.

The disciples, unable to articulate what they were looking for, were invited to “Come and See”. Not a brief visit and a quick chat, but a three-year experience of immersion in the company of Jesus, hearing his words, marvelling at his miracles and observing the way he interacted with people. A medical student begins by sitting in classrooms, reading books, but nothing will quite prepare her for seeing the first operation. We can understand in our heads, but until we have actually seen something with our own eyes it remains a theory. It’s like going on holiday. The pictures in the brochure never quite convey the reality.

But not everyone can use their eyes to see. John Hull was an academic at Birmingham University, specialising in the training of Religious Education teachers. When he was only 13, he developed cataracts in both eyes. The operation the doctors performed restored his sight, but over the years his sight continued to deteriorate, until in 1983, at the age of 48 he became completely blind. His work relied on reading, not just English texts, but Greek and Aramaic as well. Not many people could help him by reading the books aloud. Three weeks after the final, unsuccessful operation his son, Thomas was born. John never saw him.  He struggled with depression as he slowly and painfully found ways of coping without sight, but eventually he came to terms with his condition, and wrote his best known works about what he had learnt. I first encountered his book in a Lent study group, where it helped me to see the world differently. Later, the book was made into a television programme of the same name.

John tells us that looking after his son required ingenuity. He wrote

Thomas was three years old a month ago. He knows that he has to treat me differently. Ever since he was tiny I have trained him in the expression ‘Show Daddy’. He knows that this does not mean the same as ‘Give it to Daddy’, which means ‘surrender it up’. By contrast, ‘Show Daddy’ means ‘put whatever you’ve got in your hand into my hand and you will get it straight back’. From the earliest days, I trained him, so that, if I lightly tapped him on the back of the hand, he would immediately put into my hand what he was holding, and I would return it. If it was something which he should not have had, I would still return it to him immediately, and only after an interval would I begin on the ‘give it to Daddy’ line. We then developed this with books. I would say, ‘Is there a car?’ and if he said that there was, I would say, ‘Show Daddy’. He would then take my outstretched finger and place it on the picture of the car.

Learning to follow Jesus is more than an intellectual exercise, more than a succession of spiritual experiences. It’s a new way of looking, of seeing ourselves, others and God’s creation as God sees us. No longer having his eyes to see, John Hull had to learn to see in a different way. He writes:

Increasingly, I do not think of myself so much as a blind person, which would define me with reference to sighted people and as lacking something, but simply as a whole-body-seer. A blind person is simply someone in whom the specialist function of sight is now devolved upon the whole body, and no longer specialized in a particular organ.

Whole body seeing is about stepping out of the picture ourselves, to drop the lens of our own assumptions and to let Christ show us what he wants us to see.  It is seeing those around you with the eyes of compassion, not judging them for their failures. It is relating to creation as a precious gift, not something to exploit. It is looking for the shoots of new growth in situations that to others appear meaningless and empty. It is seeing Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine. It is seeing with through the eyes of Christ.

A well-known rhyme tells us ‘Two men looked through prison bars, one saw mud, the other stars.’

It is a choice. It is your choice. Jesus invited those first disciples to “Come and see”. Will you accept his invitation?

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