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We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

“Come and See”

John 1: 43-51

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, Jan. 15, 2012

God, you call us out of the world to be your people and send us back to the world as your disciples. May our hearts and minds be open to recognize your call to us to live in ways that reflect your vision and purpose. You are calling us, O God. We are listening. Amen.

 I was glad to receive a phone call from a friend in Korea early this month.  She called me to wish me a happy new year.  Since I had not talked with her for a long time, I asked how she had been doing.  She said that she had not been well recently.  She had had a nose bleed for almost a month.  She had no idea what was wrong; her doctor could not explain it.  She had to visit the clinic almost everyday to stop the bleeding.  But the medical treatment seemed to work only for a few hours.  Of course, she found the experience quite stressful because she had to spend most of her day lying down, in spite of the needs of her busy job at the office. 

Being so sick and tired of visiting the clinic, one day she decided to try something different.  Instead of going back to the clinic, she stayed home and prayed all day long to God for healing. Her prayer was answered.  Her bleeding stopped that night and has never reoccurred since.  Needless to say, she was so happy to get back to work after the holidays.  In the end, she said to me, “Isn’t that amazing?”  I took a moment and said, “Well, of course, it is.  I am glad to hear that you are okay now.  But, you know what?  I am more amazed by your belief that God healed you as soon as you prayed.”  I hoped that my blunt response did not offend her.  We are both Christians but after listening to her explanation of her faith, I found that our understanding of God is quite different from each other.

In the Gospel reading today, among the first of Jesus’ disciples, we meet Philip and Nathanael.  Jesus finds Philip and invites him to discipleship, “Follow me.” (v. 43) Then Philip finds Nathanael and bears witness to Jesus, just as Andrew did with Peter earlier in verse 40. Philip’s witness is in two parts. First, he identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of all Scripture. Second, he identifies Jesus by naming his father, “Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (v. 45)

However, Philip was surprised by Nathanael’s response: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (v. 46a) Philip does not argue with Nathanael. Instead, he extends the same invitation to Nathanael, “Come and see.” (v. 46b) Philip invites Nathanael to see for himself that the fulfillment of Scripture is indeed embodied in this human being, this son of Joseph from Nazareth.

When he sees Nathanael coming to him, Jesus greets him as an “Israelite,” indicating Nathanael is a model of faithfulness. Jesus may be praising Nathanael because he accepts Philip’s invitation even though he has questions.  After his short conversation with Jesus, Nathanael is moved by his recognition and confesses his faith, saying, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  In response to Nathanael’s confession, Jesus does not criticize the grounds of Nathanael’s faith, but suggests that Nathanael is only at the beginning point of his faith. The “greater things” Nathanael will see will be occasions for deepening his faith.

According to John, Philip follows Jesus because he comes and sees the fulfillment of Scripture from the son of Joseph of Nazareth.  In contrast, Nathanael follows Jesus because he comes and sees Jesus’ insightful recognition of him.  Each accepts his call to be a disciple after they “come and see” Jesus. Each one becomes a disciple based upon his own experience of Jesus.  Each of them experiences something different in Jesus and bears witness in his own way. Each disciple comes to Jesus with different expectations and needs and sees his or her expectations and needs are met.

My friend who called me from Korea the other day believes in Jesus Christ because she expects him to listen compassionately to her prayer and work a miracle.  When things turn out the way she wants, she experiences Jesus as answering prayer with a miracle.  When things do not turn out the way she hopes, she ignores the experience or blames God or her own lack of faith.  My experience is different.  I do not believe that Jesus is “divine or a miracle worker,” but I meet him first of all as a human being like you and me. He came to us as a little baby born of Mary on the first Christmas, not as a superhuman riding the clouds from heaven; this sweet little baby lying in a manger grew up to be a radical subversive preacher; he was the friend of sinners, not the religious elite of his day; his friends were ordinary folks like fishermen, political dissidents like the Zealots, social outcasts like the tax collectors or prostitutes, foreigners like the Samaritans and the disadvantaged like widows and children.  Everyday I “come and see” Jesus working with people in desperate need of acceptance, forgiveness and help.  These experiences of him eventually led me into ministry.

One Sunday morning last month, as many of you know, we were pleasantly surprised to have a dozen unexpected guests join us in the morning service.  They were members from my former pastoral charge, Beverley Hills United.  I was deeply honoured by their surprise visit.  That Sunday, I was reminded of my six-year-long journey with them as a newly ordained minister.  

Like many urban United Church congregations, Beverley Hills United had a proud history: it had once accommodated over 500 worshippers on Sundays along with a big choir of a hundred and the Sunday School packed with over 150 children. As time went by, the demography of the neighbourhood changed drastically.  A once predominantly English speaking White population in the neighbourhood was replaced by new immigrants who had no idea of the United Church of Canada. 

 When I arrived in 2004, I found the people at Beverley Hills United deeply distressed following the failure of five-year long, exhausting, amalgamation talks with a neighbouring congregation.  What was next?  They were anxious about their future.  They had a huge building and a multi-million dollar property; they did not have enough cash or people to maintain it; there was no more possibility of amalgamation.  In the following year, they formed a joint task group with the Presbytery to explore various options for their future.  Over the years, the whole congregation engaged in a series of conversations with the task group through many meetings and workshops.  One of the options they considered seriously was to sell the property to a developer and build a high rise residential complex with a moderately sized sanctuary for worship on the ground floor. 

As their minister, I walked with them, first of all, listening to them with compassion, and then challenging them with respect.  It was not an easy journey; tension was real and emotions ran high. To make a long story short, I felt affirmed when they decided to welcome a thriving ethnic congregation, Ghana Calvary Methodist United Church, to their building and voted overwhelmingly to transfer the whole property to them for just one dollar in 2009.  I appreciated their decision because it was historical, exemplary and courageous.  I was certain that they were able to “come and see” God’s challenges for them in that time and place and to transform their fear of loss into the courage to follow Jesus’ footsteps embracing God’s call in their midst.  Beverley Hills United was officially closed in June last year.

Today, Philip and Nathanael invite us to engage in active interaction with Jesus, saying, “Come and see.”  Philip and Nathanael have their different needs and expectations met when they encounter Jesus.  Now, let us bring our own needs and expectations to Jesus.  Then, we will see “greater things,” even as Jesus promised. Let us celebrate and enjoy the variety of God’s grace in Jesus Christ we all “come and see” today and in the days ahead. Amen.

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