Sermons That Work

I Recently Went to See…, Epiphany 2 (B) – 1997

January 26, 1997


[Note to the Preacher: select a movie or movies you have recently seen in place of my movie illustrations.]

I recently went to see the movie The English Patient. The story depicts humankind at our best and out worst. It was an excellent movie and has received wide acclaim. I recommend it as a thought-provoking and well executed drama.

I also went to see the movie Michael. I can’t recommend it to you for theological content, but it was a creative and entertaining story. Hollywood’s archangel isn’t my archangel, but Michael did make me laugh and examine a few personal perceptions.

Recommendations about are something many of use on regular basis. We listen to the critics, we listen to our friends. We either accept these recommendations or reject them. We also make or listen to recommendations about books, restaurants, lawyers, physicians, stockbrokers, car dealers, the list goes on and on.

We generally recommend things that we enjoy, that we know something about, that benefit us. We say: “Come and see,” “Try it, you’ll like it!” “This will be good for you.” “You’ll enjoy it.” “Come and see!”

We hear this same message from Philip in today’s Gospel. Philip says to his friend Nathanael, “Come and see. We have found the one promised by Moses and the Prophets.”

When Philip invites Nathanael to “come and see for yourself,” it occurs to me that there are numerous people, places, and events that we recommend and invite our friends, family and acquaintances to “come and see.”

Reflecting on this Gospel lesson, the most important recommendation or invitation that we might ever make is the same one that Philip makes to Nathanael: “Come and see the Lord.”

There must be countless people that you and I know or encounter on a daily basis who are looking for the love, joy, peace, hope, forgiveness, and salvation of the Christian Gospel. People who are looking for some Good News in the midst of all the bad news. We all have neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members who are awaiting the invitation or our recommendation to “come and see!” Just as Nathanael had been eagerly awaiting the same invitation, there are those around us, people in our lives, who are awaiting our invitation.

Who are the Nathanaels in our lives? Who might be awaiting just such a recommendation from us?

A friend of mine tells the story of a Sunday School membership drive at his church. All of the children were encouraged to invite their friends to come to Sunday School on the following Sunday.

In one of the primary grades, a teacher used the story of Philip and Nathanael to involve the children. She paraphrased the story and talked about Philip bringing his friend Nathanael to church. She finished the story by asking them to be Jesus’ helpers and to bring a friend, “a Nathanael,” to church next week.

The children were enthusiastic. The program worked well and there were many visitors the next Sunday. However, there was one small child who came to class with a terribly sad face and told the teacher: “I tried and tried. I looked all week, but I couldn’t a Nathanael anywhere!” (1)

Who are our Nathanaels? Who are the people we know who are waiting for a recommendation? An invitation?…not to a movie or a restaurant, but to “come and see!”

If we, ourselves, have discovered the Good News of the Gospel, if we have encountered the love, forgiveness, peace, fellowship, and salvation as a member of God’s faithful people, then we have a recommendation, an invitation, to make. Surprisingly, it might not be to “come and see” at this church where we are gathered today. Some folks need to “come and see” in the Presbyterian church, the Lutheran church, the Baptist church, the Methodist church. We simply might need to direct them there and that’s alright. This may sound strange coming from an Episcopal priest, but we are not all meant to be Episcopalians. BUT we are all meant to “come and see” and encounter God’s saving grace. Like Philip, the responsibility for the recommendation rests with each of us.

There is a story told of three young friends who had received an invitation similar to Nathanael’s to “come and see.” With mild interest they pulled into the grassy parking lot. They entered the huge tent where a revival meeting had already begun. The assembled crowd was midway through the opening hymn. The tent was packed and it seemed there was no room for the three to sit. As they turned to leave, an usher spotted them and led the young men to three empty seats in the front.

We don’t know what became of the usher, but we do know that one of those three young men committed his life to Christ that night, just as Nathanael had done in today’s Gospel. The man’s name is Billy Graham. Had that usher not taken those three young men to a seat up front, they might not have heard the Good News proclaimed.(2)

Who are the Nathanaels in our lives awaiting the recommendation to “come and see?” Who are the Nathanaels among us today, looking for a seat, hoping for a smile and a kind word, in search of unconditional love and forgiveness, seeking a spiritual friend and Christian fellowship? Who are the Nathanaels among us today? Might we open our eyes and reach out to them. Might each of us be Christian vessels of love and peace and forgiveness as was that unnamed usher who many years ago found seats for three young men.

Might we also be like a British missionary named Elizabeth. She remembers two great disappointments as a young girl. I would imagine most of us have at least that many ourselves from our teenage years.

The first sorrow for her was that her hair was black and straight, when all the popular girls wore golden curls. The second sorrow was that while all her friends kept growing, she ended up short.

Years later God called Elizabeth to the mission field in China. As she stood looking at the people to whom God called her to minister, two things became apparent to her. First, each and everyone of them had long, straight black hair. Secondly, each and everyone of them had stopped growing at exactly the same moment she had.

She said she bowed her head and prayed, “Dear Lord, You know what You are doing! Thank you.”(3)

God can and will use each of us, all of us to invite our Nathanaels to “come and see.” And that which we might perceive to be imperfections, limitations, or liabilities might prove to be just that which God needs to share the love of Jesus Christ with our Nathanaels.

We never know what our actions, our body language, our looks, or our words might produce. AND since we are already in the habit of recommending movies, restaurants, and books to all sorts of people, might we also recommend the faith that is within us by sharing the love and the joy and the peace of Jesus Christ with our friends like Philip shared with his friend.

Who are our Nathanaels? Seek them out, as Philip did, and invite them to “come and see!”

(1) Copied.
(2) Copied.
(3) Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Moments Together for Couples (Regal Books, 1995)

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