Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
January 14, 2018
Lessons: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people, as stewards of the good news of Jesus Christ, invite others to “come and see” and encounter Jesus in worship and community.
Key Scriptures: Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Dear fellow preachers, teachers, and disciples, this week’s gospel lesson brings us some good news and some news that is, well, somewhat tough to hear but really, really important.
The good news is that you and I have been named and claimed by God in baptism—not because of anything we did or because we have some special status, but simply because God loves all of creation and desires all of us to be part of the family and to live our life to its fullest. This fact is one takeaway from last week’s gospel lesson (Mark 1:4-11). And this is very good news indeed!
Now for the news that may be somewhat tougher to hear and more difficult to embody. We are called to call others, to invite people to “come and see” Jesus for themselves and to encounter and experience Jesus in our worship and various expressions of the Body of Christ (i.e. our faith communities). Yes, dearly beloved, we are called into a life of discipleship and evangelism. Oh my — there’s that “E” word, the one that involves risk and putting ourselves out there to others. Plus, it seems to have become more of a challenge to listen and hear and respond in our noise-polluted and frenetically paced world. Making things worse, the church no longer enjoys a place of privilege in culture (at least north of the Equator), and so the call to be evangelists and disciples can seem quite daunting.
And, what if the modern response to Philip’s invitation to Nathanael goes something like this: “Can anything good come out of St. Hildegard’s by the Gas Pump?” Ouch! A flustered budding evangelist might take this legitimate question as a direct attack against his or her beloved Velveteen-Rabbit-of-a-congregation. You know the place; it’s where their family has sat on the fourth pew from the rear on the pulpit side for three generations, where they have warm fuzzy memories of singing in the cherub choir and enduring Confirmation filmstrips, and where they now completely overlook threadbare carpets, musty basements, antiquated bathrooms, and dusty trophies from bowling and golf tournaments more than 30 years ago. It’s our personal faith home—without the HGTV renovations and regular upgrades.
Not all congregations fit this bill, I know, but quite a lot fall somewhere on the “Velveteen Rabbit” church scale. If you never read this classic children’s story, go back and take a gander at it with fresh eyes and think outside the box about how this may apply to where we are as “church” today.
That beloved threadbare rabbit had been cast aside, as have many of our congregations and church buildings. They may look real and special to us, but how do they look and feel to others? Do guests and newcomers sense the presence of the risen Christ when they walk through the doors? Does the energy and commitment to the gospel and to mission fill the space with kinetic energy?
When people seeking Jesus find him reflected in the lives and witness of his people, then some of the threadbare and outdated furnishings can be overlooked (ditch the trophies and filmstrips anyway). And the threadbare nature of the church will seem less important when folks can feel the Spirit’s wind blowing through the community, where the word is taught and proclaimed in fresh and real ways, and where Holy Communion is offered as if Christ really is right there at the table.
“Can anything good come out of St. Hildegard’s by the Gas Pump?” Of course! With Jesus there is an abundance of good news, and there’s always hope. We are called to invite, but it might be a good idea to take a look around us and make sure that we are ready and well-equipped to do so. Remember, the velveteen rabbit became real in the end, and by the love of God in Christ Jesus, we become the very real Body of Christ on this earth, too. This, my friends, is the good news and invitation we share. Believe it and then invite others to come and see, too. Blessings on your preaching and teaching, beloved children of God!
We are called; this much is true. To live out our call, however, we have to know what it is we are inviting others to come and see. Today spend some time reflecting on what it is that makes your worshiping community a place of welcome and peace, a place where others can grow and flourish. We also need to take a good hard look at our contexts and see what guests and newcomers might see through their eyes. Are there things that need to change? Consider providing worshipers with half-page handouts with questions like these and seek their feedback, or provide sticky notes to collect information.
You might also make this the week to kick off some “come and see” temple talks where you invite congregants to share how they see Jesus in your particular expression of Christ’s body. Practicing invitation in the safe confines of community helps prepare others to practice when we are sent into the world.
Invite your youth to tour your church building and grounds. Have them look at everything through the eyes of a friend they might bring. What might be attractive? What might be off-putting to a guest or newcomer? What might prevent them from inviting someone to “come and see”? What might encourage them to invite others? Make sure they feel comfortable expressing the truth in love. Be sure to find a way to share their observations with congregational leaders. Your youths’ views and participation are valuable. Make sure that they know how much they are valued.
The story of Samuel’s call to serve God is ideal to share with children. Recount the story briefly and remind the children of how much God loves them and that God calls them to serve. They have valuable contributions to bring to the community. Invite some of the worshipers to affirm the gifts of the children (give them some advance notice so they have time to prepare). Invite the children to help collect the offering and to help with communion by giving blessings or assisting in some other way. Let them offer the sending blessing. Finish your time with this important verse from Samuel’s call story: “As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19). Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Jesus calls us to invite others to come and experience life in the Body of Christ. To do so, we must first equip ourselves and prepare our congregation to welcome others. Doing so is both an act of stewardship and love and care of neighbor.
Stewardship at Home
You don’t have to invite others to worship in order to help them experience Jesus. Consider this week how you might invite someone to join you for dinner at your home or for an activity or service/mission event through your congregation. Think about and discuss with others how you can practice radical hospitality and welcome. Pray that God will provide opportunities for you to invite others to encounter Jesus. God will provide!
Photos: Wendy Kelly, eiji ienaga, and Narcah, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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