January 7, 2018: Going viral

January 5, 2018

Gordon United Church Sermon January 7, 2018

Reflection: Going Viral January 7, 2018
John 1:35-51

I wonder how many of you remember Faberge Organic Shampoo Commercial with Heather Locklear from the 80s that went: “You’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on and so on…” It’s the original form of viral marketing. It’s also what happened between John the Baptist and his followers, and then those new disciples and their friends…and so on, and so on, and so on. Honestly, that’s the sermon in a nutshell. We are introduced to Jesus; he invites us to “Come and See” what being with him is like; then we tell a friend, and they tell a friend, and the community of faith grows, even among those who are initially skeptical. It’s a simple and as profound as that.

Let’s just break it down a little bit.

Step 1: Someone recognizes Jesus’ significance and tells others about him. This is a person who has something of a following of his own, but he doesn’t use that influence to build up his own community, but to point toward Jesus. Every one of us has a circle of influence – people who trust us, know us, respect us, like us. These people naturally become the “friends” we can invite to “see” Jesus. Seeing and knowing are major themes in John’s Gospel. Did you notice how many times the word “see” came up just in this one reading? For John, to truly “see” Jesus is to “know” him, and the only way to “know” him is to see where he lives, where he abides. Yep, it’s the same word used when John talks about the Word made flesh coming to lives with us. Where does Jesus abide? “Let’s go see”, says John’s invitation.

Step 2: Inviting people to meet Jesus today. After all, the Galilean carpenter whom Andrew, Peter, Nathanael and Phillip met isn’t around in the flesh any more. So when we invite people to have an encounter with Jesus, to come see where he lives, what might that invitation look like?

For some, it is an invitation to prayer. In some cases, it’s been whittled down into what’s sometimes called “the Sinner’s Prayer”. To meet Jesus is to say a few simple sentences acknowledging how we have fallen short of God’s hopes for us, and to invite Jesus into our hearts. The answer to the question: “Where does Jesus abide?” is then “ in the heart of any repentant person who invites him into their lives.”

For some, it is through the reading of the Gospels. It is hoped that in reading the stories of Jesus, we will come to know him. For many, Jesus lives in the “living word” of the Biblical texts.

For others, an invitation to meet Jesus is an invitation to worship – and especially to an experience of the sacraments. For some it is in the wine and bread shared and the water poured that we are most able to connect to Jesus. Add in the music, the prayers, the Scripture, the sermon, the silences and worship itself becomes an embodied encounter with Jesus. The holy experience of worship is where Jesus abides.

For yet others, it is in the community of Jesus-followers, the church. To invite someone to meet Jesus is inviting them to become part of a group of people who worship and serve together in Jesus’ name. Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit, his stand-in after his ascension, and the church would be empowered to act on his behalf. As the apostle Paul put it, the church itself would be his body in the world. So to invite someone to “Come and see” Jesus is to invite them to be a part of a community of faith and action.

And for others, an invitation to come see Jesus is to invite people into the place where people are the most vulnerable, the most in need. Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel that whatever we do for “the least of these his brothers and sisters” we do for him. So those seeking Jesus might well be led into the places where people are hungry or lonely, imprisoned in body or spirit, sick or despairing. To invite someone to meet Jesus may then be to invite them to be with those whom Jesus asked us to serve.

What’s interesting to me in John’s Gospel is that the invitation is NOT an invitation to come and be taught, to come and be indoctrinated. It is an invitation into relationship, always. To see Jesus is to experience a relationship with Jesus, whatever that might look like. In John’s time, it meant walking with Jesus in the flesh, living and working and sleeping and witnessing next to him. In our time, it may mean all of the above.

The brilliance of the words, “Come and see” is that we’re not trying to argue anyone into anything. Faith is as much a choice about relationship as it is about intellectual assent to any particular set of ideas. The invitation to “come and see” gives people the freedom to make a decision about whether they want to be part of something through their own encounter and experience, not because someone convinced them intellectually that it was a good idea.

Step 3: Dealing with the skeptics.
That leads me to the last point which is about dealing with the skeptics. The only thing that will convince a skeptic to change his or her opinion is their own direct experience. Arguments won’t cut it; they never do. I can’t think of anyone I know who has ever become a follower of Jesus because they reasoned it was the intelligent, logical choice for them. People come to Jesus because they have an experience: in prayer, in worship, in community, in relationship, in service. They have an experience that tells them that there is something good and true about this Jesus and his Way of Life.

Doesn’t Nathaniel remind you a bit of some of your friends and family members today? He’s decided he knows everything that’s worth knowing about some upstart preacher from Nazareth – after all, how could anything good come out of that unclean city? Nazareth is full of gentiles and traitors and people who compromise with the Greek-speaking establishment. People from there are just no good. He sounds a lot like people who believe they know everything there is to know about churches: they’re corrupt, hypocritical, judgmental, rigid, hateful, full of pedophiles and abusers. People who go to church are either naïve or stupid or too old-fashioned to be able to live in the real world.

Yet, because his friend invited him, Nathaniel the skeptic “came and saw”. He encountered something, someone, who spoke with knowledge and authority, and who knew him and valued him for who he was – so much so that he honoured him as “Son of God” and King! That is a huge leap! It is reminiscent of Thomas the Doubter, who on seeing the resurrected Christ declared “My Lord and my God”.

There’s a reason why viral marketing works. You see something you like, and you share it with a few people, and they share it with a few people, and suddenly whatever it is has “gone viral” reaching hundreds, thousands, even millions of people!

Like the old Faberge commercial, I’m going to ask you to “tell two friends, and so on and so on and so on”; but instead of telling your friends about Jesus, invite them into the experience of Jesus. Invite them to “come and see” for themselves. Come to worship, come to the community dinner, come to Messy Church, come to Our Place, come to receive the sacraments, come to quiet and prayer, come to a place of belonging, come to the Scriptures and find life in them. There are so many ways to come to Jesus. It is up to us to extend the invitation; the rest is up to them and the Spirit of God. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Yes it can; so tell your friends: come and see!

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