Yesterday’s sermon was about pig butchering, but it was really about evangelism. I know that can be a scary word, but it isn’t really. It’s all about invitation for folks to “come and see.” And I am pleased to announce that our evangelism committee, perhaps with this sermon ringing in their ears :), has planned three Sundays of invitation over the next three months:
February 1: Invite a Neighbor
March 1: Invite a Friend
April 1: Invite a Family Member
And, as soon as it gets warmer and we are organized, our evangelism team and anyone else interested will be heading out to the neighborhoods around the church to meet folks, introduce ourselves, and see how we may be a blessing to them. For some folks, we may be a blessing by offering that simple invitation to “come and see” what our community in Christ is like. But for now, here the sermon!
2nd Sunday after Epiphany (Year A) – January 19, 2014 – John 1:29-42
St. Jacob’s-Spaders and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Pastor Evan Davis
I had never butchered a pig in my life. Still haven’t, but yesterday, I watched some people do it! Some wonderful folks invited me over to partake in the festival that is cutting up a bunch of pigs into hamsteaks, bacon, “sidemeat,” chops, ribs, and roasts. I learned you can get fish out of a pig, too – yes, there’s a cut of pork called “fish” and it’s apparently the best cut there is. Y’all probably knew that. But it was new to me.
It was ALL different to me. Y’all know by now, I’m from the apartment complexes of the Richmond suburbs. There weren’t any pigs running around there. Butchering an animal? That is like waayy out of my ballpark. So I was a little apprehensive about going to this. I certainly never would have just shown up at one of these things on my own. I’ve heard about butchering hogs before and I’ve seen someone do it on TV, but it’s never been a part of my experience. I didn’t know anything about it. I thought, why would I want to go to something like this? What’s so good about it? Are they going to put a knife in my hand? How will I know what to do? Where should I stand? What should I wear?
And you know what? There are a lot of people out there for whom church is as weird and unknown as pig butchering was to me two days ago. There are a lot of folks out there with questions like, what’s so good about church? Are they going to make me stand up in front of people? Are they gonna tell me I’m going to hell? How will I know what to do? Where should I sit? What should I wear? What the heck is a “kyrie eleison?” Why do they take shots of wine after they eat the little tiny piece of bread?
I went to go see what pig butchering was like because some nice folks invited me. I went because these people I care about cared enough about me and pig butchering to invite me, and that made me care enough to go to something I’d never even considered going to before. They were excited about it, and they made me excited about it. In church the Sunday before, they’d told me about how they got started doing it and about all the different traditions that go along with it. They gave me such a detailed description of making “panhoss” that I eventually figured out they were talking about Scrapple. I could tell that this mattered to them. They told me what to expect and what I should wear – advice I wasn’t smart enough to take as I showed up severely underdressed and nearly froze to death. But I also felt very comfortable going because I knew they weren’t forcing me. I knew my relationship with them didn’t depend on me attending. I knew that, out of their kindness and excitement, they were inviting me to “come and see” why this was so important to them.
That kind of witness was what it took to get a city boy like me to venture out into unknown territory – a farm! – to hang out with people who were cuttin’ up pigs. And it was awesome! Well, this kind of witness is what it’s going to take to get people who are as unfamiliar with church as I was with pig carcasses to come into this unknown territory – a church! – to hang out with people who sing 300-year old songs and listen to me every Sunday.
Today we hear of such a witness, the witness of John. We hear of John noticing Jesus and offering his witness to who Jesus was and what Jesus meant to him.1 As Jesus walked toward him, John recognized him and was able to point him out. He knew the telltale sign of who Jesus was – he had seen the Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove, and remain with him. John declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (I could talk a lot about what that title might mean, but that’s another sermon!). By noticing Jesus and offering a witness to who he was and why he was important, John influences two of his disciples, including Andrew, to go off and follow Jesus. Why would they have gone off after some random dude otherwise? They were looking for the Messiah, and here John told him he was strolling right past them, so they take off after Jesus. Jesus notices them at his heels, and asks, “what are you looking for?” John’s disciples, in their spiritual hunger, interrupt Jesus, asking, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus replies with the simple invitation for them to “come and see.”
We have it harder than John. Jesus isn’t simply walking past us down the road. Or is he? We haven’t seen the Holy Spirit swoop down from heaven like a dove. Or have we? Can we see Jesus in our lives? Where have you noticed God, or felt the presence of God, in your life this week? It’s a hard question for us. I ask this question to our church council members just about every month and now you know how they feel! Think of your faith – what do you notice about it? Maybe you notice your questions about God. Maybe your hopes about God, your anger, your confusion. Pay attention to that. And connect that to the church – can you search for God honestly, here? Can you ask your questions and share your struggles and doubts among these your sisters and brothers in Christ? Do you hear in this place of a God who loves you in your questions, who is present with you even when you cannot feel that presence? A God who comes not just in mountaintop spiritual moments but in the flesh, in the most unlikely person you meet, in failure and suffering? A God who comes in the cross? I hope so.
And then, can we actually tell someone about our faith and our questions and this place where we encounter God together? These folks knew why pig butchering day was so important to them and they were willing to share it with me. Do you know why this place, this fellowship, this Christ, is important to you? And can you share that with someone else? John shouted out to his disciples, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Andrew testified to his brother Simon, “we have found the Messiah.” There are a lot of people out there asking “Jesus, where are you staying?” There are a lot of people desperately searching for God. Can we share where and how we experience God, or just share our questions? Either way, that’s our witness.
Everything takes practice, including and especially living our lives as baptized followers of Jesus. We have to practice to be practicing Christians, so we’re going to practice offering our witness. Seriously. I’d like you to take about one minute, turn to your neighbor, and share with her or him one reason why you come to worship here today, and why you come back. Say you have a friend from work or some other part of your life who isn’t part of a church community and she asks you why you come here, what would you say? Go ahead and share that with your neighbor – you have one minute, starting now. [Sharing time.]
Pay attention to what you named. Notice it. Right there’s the beginning of your testimony about St. Jacob’s. Now, you may not have been able to name any reason at all why you like being a part of this church, and if that’s the case, well, that’s an important observation and we’ll talk about that. But assuming you did, here’s the final leap. Think about what you just named – why you’re here today. Is being a part of this congregation important enough that you want people in your life to experience this too? When something is important to us, we invite people we care about to join us! We’re really good at invitations, actually. These folks invited me to their barn to watch them cut up pigs. They felt I just had to experience that. You invite people to try that new restaurant that was sooo good, or to see that movie that blew your mind, because you wanted them to share in that feeling it created.
And your relationship with that person does not hinge on their accepting. You’re not going to stop talking to them if they don’t see that movie. You are simply opening the door to them to experience something that ‘s important in your heart, knowing that their experience will be their own. Well, that’s evangelism! There’s nothing more to it. It is noticing and sharing God in your life and God in the Church and inviting people you care about to taste what you’ve tasted. It’s inviting them to encounter the Christ who’s made himself known to you, making clear that you will still love them if they’re not ready for that yet. There is no coercion in Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” Our invitation is for people to “come and see” for themselves, to renew a relationship with God that is not predetermined, a journey that will take them down an uncharted path.2
Evangelism, scary as it can sound, isn’t rocket science. If we can be Ambassadors for hog butchering, for new restaurants and the latest movie, we can be Ambassadors for Christ. Amen.
1The focus on noticing, sharing/testifying/witnessing, and inviting is suggested this week by David Lose, “Notice, Share, Invite,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3002 (accessed January 18, 2014). He also suggests the exercise of actually sharing a bit of our faith with our neighbors that I am using today.
2Peter Woods refers to Jesus’ words “come and see” as an invitation to an “unprejudiced, undetermined encounter,” in his article “Come and see…Ordinary 2,” http://thelisteninghermit.com/2011/01/13/come-and-seeordinary-2/ (accessed January 18, 2014).