“Come and See”
Sunday, January 18, 2015
First Congregational United Church of Christ – Sermon by Rev. Caela Simmons Wood
As you might imagine, our household is a pretty active place. With two kids under the age of five, something is always being built…out of blocks, Legos, old cardboard boxes, rubber bands – you name it. Many times each day, David and I hear small voices say to us, “Mama! Daddy! Come and see! Come and see what we made!”
“Come and see.” Three short words that open up an entire world. They are an invitation, not just to look at something but to be in relationship. The words are offered from one person to another as a gift. “Come and see this thing that is important to me. I want to show you this part of me because I care about you and I want to deepen our relationship.”
When someone you care about says, “Come and see,” you go and see. Oh, maybe you don’t care so much about whatever it is you’re going to see, but you go because you care about the person. If it’s important to them, it’s important to you. So you stop what you’re doing and GO and SEE.
Last weekend about 12 of us went to see the movie Selma. It was absolutely masterful and if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you GO and SEE it (see what I did there?).
So much of the civil rights movement was about inviting people to come and see. When the organizers in Montgomery decided that the time was ripe for Rosa Parks to be arrested and begin the boycott, they invited the rest of the nation – “Come and see,” they said. “See what we live with here in Alabama. Come and see,” they said. “See our strength, our determination as we walk to work, to school, day-in and day-out for 385 days.” Just stop for a moment and think about that – walking or sharing a ride with friends everywhere you go for 385 days. “Come and see,” they said. And white people all over this nation began to open their eyes.
Seven years later, in 1963, Dr. King gathered with other leaders in Birmingham, Alabama. The city was nicknamed “Bombingham” because there were over 50 unsolved race-related bombings. “Unsolved” because none of the white officials made any attempt to investigate. “Come and see,” they said from Birmingham. “See what we live with. See the footage on the nightly news as we are kicked, spat at, screamed at for sitting at a lunch counter. See us on the front page of your newspapers as those who have promised to serve and protect turn hoses and dogs on our children. Come and see.” And white people all over this nation began to open their eyes….and their hearts, just a little bit.
Two years after that, the setting was different but the invitation was the same. This time it was in Selma, Alabama. The issue at hand was the right to vote. Although almost half of the population there was black, there were only a handful of registered black voters in the county. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had been there for several years, teaching nonviolent tactics, preparing the way for a massive action. King and others from the Southern Christian Leadership Organization showed up in early 1965 to see if the time was right.
There is a scene in the movie Selma where Dr. King talks with student leaders John Lewis and James Forman. They are giving him a hard time because the SCLC had failed so miserably in their recent campaign in Albany, GA. King explains that nonviolent resistance means doing things perfectly for a long time and relying on the powers that be to mess up….so that people can see how bad thing are. The sheriff in Albany, Laurie Pritchett, never messed up. This was different, King explained, than Bull Connor in Birmingham, who made a fool out of himself daily. King asks the student leaders, “What I need to know is this: is Jim Clark a Laurie Pritchett? Or is he a Bull Connor?”
They believe Jim Clark is like Bull Connor – that he is likely to overreact, to make things exceedingly difficult for the protestors. And so the people of Selma say to the nation, “Come and see.” The cameras descend as the marchers prepare to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7. And the troopers are there with clubs, and tear gas, and horses. They brutally attack the peaceful protesters. The white people of the U.S. gather around their TVs in their living rooms. And they see. And they are horrified. And when Dr. King issues the invitation to clergy around the nation, “Come and see. Come and march. Come and stand with us,” people of every race and creed respond.
It took three tries, but on March 21st thousands began the march from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery. And a week later, the entire nation watched as Dr. King spoke from the steps of the Alabama capitol, proclaiming, “We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!”
Come and see. Come and see what we live with. Come and see our lives. Come, see, understand, care, do more, do better, pay attention.
These three little words – come and see – are at the heart of the Jesus story we heard from the Gospel of John this morning. The story of Jesus did not spread though billboards or glossy mailers or on the nightly news. The story of what Jesus of Nazareth was doing spread in a timeless way – one person to one person, one invitation at a time. I think it’s telling that Philip says so little to Nathanael about this Jesus. He could have told stories, given a treatise about who he thought Jesus was and what he thought Jesus was going that was new and special.
But he doesn’t do any of that. He says, quite simply, “Come and see.”
It’s an invitation that opens up a whole new world. It’s an invitation that begins a relationship. It’s ancient and it’s simple and it’s real and it still rings true today. Come and see.
This is how Christianity has always been passed on. Person-to-person. A simple invitation. I think “come and see” is so much more effective than, “Have you been saved?” or “Do you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”
“Come and see” is an invitation to experience for yourself. To make up your own mind. Dr. King and the other leaders in the nonviolent resistance movement knew the power of making up one’s own mind. They advocated for legislation because they knew laws could curb evil behavior until hearts and minds began to be transformed. And they used nonviolent methods because they knew the surest way to convince white folks of the evils of racism was to invite them to come and see – and make up their own minds.
And all of this makes me wonder – how often do we invite people to “come and see”? How often do we talk about Jesus or God or our congregation and just say to a friend, “Come and see”?
I’m guessing not all that often. But I also know that an abiding truth of our faith is this: Christianity is passed from person to person. Always has been – always will be. People rarely wake up one day and say, “You know what? I need to go to church today. I’m going to try that one on the corner or look one up online.” I mean, yes, sometimes that happens. But more often what happens is that someone they know, someone they care about says, “Come and see. Come and see what this means to me. Come and see this Jesus who has saved me. Come and see this congregation that sustains and supports and challenges me along my journey. Come and see.”
Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me!” and he did. And all of us here have done that, too, in one way or another. We may all be in different stages on the journey, but we are all looking to Jesus in some way. Philip found his friend Nathanael and said, “Look! We’ve found him! The one we’ve been waiting for is here!” Nathanael was skeptical, “That guy from Nazareth? That backwater town?” And rather than try to explain it all or convince him, Philip issues that simple invitation, “Come and see.”
Who do you know that might need an invitation that would change their life? Or maybe you’re the one who needs to remember that you are still invited to have your life transformed.
The invitation is still there for all of us, all these millennia later. Come and see. Experience this Jesus – a nobody from nowhere who has come to turn the world upside down, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim freedom for those who are imprisoned and recovery of sight to those who cannot see.
It was good news then and it’s good news now. We are all invited to follow and we are all urged to invite our friends.