[John 1:35-51 RSV] 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39 He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter). 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." 44 Now Philip was from Beth-sa'ida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathan'a-el, and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46 Nathan'a-el said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 47 Jesus saw Nathan'a-el coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" 48 Nathan'a-el said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." 49 Nathan'a-el answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50 Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these." 51 And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Happy New Year, this is the first sermon of 2018. The New Year is a totally arbitrary date set, and yet it holds a lot of meaning for us. It comes right after thanksgiving and Christmas seasons and is seen by us as a time to turn over a new leaf and to start new things. Part of me thinks we do this because it is so cold and dreary we have very little else to do with the month of January. No matter the reason it started it is a time when many of us think about self-improvement and growth.
One thing we could do better as a town and community is get better at knowing each other. Many of us have known our friends here at church for many years if not decades, however the community and even our church community is constantly changing so it is always a good skill to be able to meet and form friendships with new people. It is part of being a friendly church, but more than that it is about evangelism because if everyone you know already knows about Jesus who are you going to share the good news with?
So today we talk about how to meet and talk to new people. This is an important skill at every age and was taught to me by my father—who could walk into a restaurant knowing no one and walk out considering all of them his friends. I learned from him by just watching him do it enough, however I first was introduced to a systematic approach, (thus more teachable) by Pastor Steve Olson who used to be at Gethsemene Lutheran Church in Dassel.
Pastor Steve is a great networker—he was good at remembering who people were and then specific traits about them. He shared some of his secrets in a program to senior high kids. He introduced the acronym “Wheat.” Well Wheat stands for Work, Home, Education, Ambitions, and Travel.
He would then ask these questions in his first conversation, he would start out by asking about their work, or if they had retired what their work had been. He then pictured them doing that job. The mental image he told us was to help us remember what this person did. It is much more dramatic and memorable to picture someone teaching a class then it is to remember they are a teacher so he would picture them there. Then he would ask them where home was. People of course split between where they grew up and where they lived now. In either case you add this image to your mental picture—maybe in the background. So now you have someone teaching kids outside their house. Then he would ask about education, their ambitions and where they liked or wanted to travel. Each of these were added to the picture, until he has a mental image for the person. Then when he met that same person again he had this mental image to recall these things about the person. Can you imagine how valued you feel if someone remembers that you like to travel to Texas every year? It feels good because you feel known!
Pastor Olson and some others have perfected these techniques so they almost never forget a face. I have not perfected any of these techniques so like you I have looked at someone and thought, “I know I have talked to them before but what is their name?” While you and I are trying to remember if they went to our high school or they were our waiter at Applebees last week, people with a good system can come up with this whole list of information about them. Now most of us do not do it in such a systematic way, we just kind of meet people and gradually get to know them. But sometimes it is scary to meet new people because they may say, “actually I have gone to this church for 10 years, or even we met last week remember?” when we clearly didn’t remember. I was once greeted by a lovely woman at the Saint Paul conservatory—and I knew I knew her…but I couldn’t place the face. When I finally fessed up she said, “We are cousins--don’t you remember I married your cousin six months ago!” I didn’t, but in my defense they had dated for 6 months before the wedding and I only see that cousin about every two years. So I had literally met her once at her wedding and she looked a lot different in her wedding dress! How nice it would be to have that mental image that some people construct because it helps us get an idea of who they are. In fact the whole point of the mental image is to limit the possibilities of who they are. The scary thing about people we have never met before is that we don’t know anything about them, they could be anything! We look at them and they could be a crocodile hunter from the outback or a garbage collector from Texas. Well I am going to guess that those two will act a little different, and we would talk to them differently. So when we see a stranger we have no idea how to react to them. So this mental picture helps us know who they are and limits the possibilities. Thus limiting the possibilities actually helps us deal with them.
Now if we are honest with ourselves we do this not just with a mental house we put them in, but with many other clues they give us. What they wear, how they talk, both syntax and vocabulary, along with things like how they hold themselves. Thus at times these mental houses or other clues lead us to judge people without knowing them at all. You can almost hear Nathanael today trying to construct a mental image for Jesus. What does he do? Oh a prophet, excellent! How about where he comes from? Nazareth? Everyone I have ever met from Nazareth is a no good hill-Billy. What are his ambitions—die on a cross, his travel plans, wander around Galilee for a year then head to Jerusalem. Nathanael has his mental image of Jesus and it is the image of a guy he doesn’t want to know! Yet how wrong he was! Jesus was the man he would spend at least a year following around all of Galilee and Jerusalem.
Yet his mind was not changed by Phillip making some sort of great argument about how great Jesus is. It is hard to argue with someone who has made up their mind like that. Nathanael has announced very clearly that his mind is closed and he does not want to even consider the possibility. Yet Phillip quoting exactly what Jesus has said to him just verses earlier says, “Come and see.” This is a great way to open up dialogue and avoid shutting it down. If someone has closed their mind to something you can argue till you are blue in the face about how wrong they are, however often it will do no good, instead they need to see for themselves. They need to experience something for themselves.
We live in a world with a lot of closed minds, people have made up their minds and there is nothing that anyone can say or do to change that opinion. Don’t confuse me with the facts. I know what I believe! We could decide to hunker down with all those people who think, look and act like us because then we would not have to worry about changing anyone’s mind or having our minds changed. Yet today we are invited like Nathanael to come and see. We are invited to experience God’s living son in our life this year. To make that mental image of Christ in our head and then consult it daily—to recognize Jesus in our lives and hear how God calls us to live. We are called to come into worship, read about Jesus and then invite him into all of our decisions. When we know the Spirit moving in our lives we are called to go and meet others, to go and get into their lives and invite them to come and see what God has done.
Is that not what we do with children like Ty here? When we have children of course we want them to be safe and taken care of, but part of why we have kids is to show them all the cool stuff that we have experienced in our lives. We might make them memorize their multiplication tables but we invite them to explore what a joy it is to do math problems. I don’t know why I assume you will show him the joy of math—educational hazard I guess. But you will let him discover how these numbers dance around the page and make the equations work. Because we who have experienced the world, look at our kids and say, “come and see” because what we have discovered is so worth looking into.
In Christ, our goal is not to defeat the enemy for Christ or get rid of all opposition by yelling them down or defeating them. Our goal is not to close off debate but turn and tell them “come and see.” Come and see this year. Join a committee or group in the church. Meet people. Hey, I gave you tools from Pastor Steve, an expert. So you should all be better at meeting new people. Invite them along with you to come and see what God is doing in your life and the life of the church.