One of the things that frustrates me the most about driving is rubberneckers. You’re sitting in traffic, sitting in traffic, sitting in traffic, inching along, running later and later for your appointment, and finally you see what the holdup is: a fender bender that’s going the other direction on the other side of the median. Your own side is fine – nothing blocking any of your travel lanes. The entire delay is about people slowing down to look at what is going on someplace else that doesn’t affect them.
I hate that. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it, of course. I’m just as bad as everyone else. I remember several years ago when I went out of my way to rubberneck. I was up at the church and Julia was at the parsonage next door. She called me on the phone and said there was a fire down the road – she could see the smoke. I asked her what she wanted me to do, and she said to come pick her up so we could go see. Since we knew a number of people from the congregation lived down that way, we jumped in the car to see what was going on.
As we got closer we saw that the fire was at the Summerland Apartments, which at that time were under construction. So we knew that there was no one from the church involved. In fact, since the apartments weren’t occupied yet, we knew there was no one at all involved. Did we immediately turn around and go back home? Did we immediately get out of the way to let other cars pass? Nope. Well, we did kind of get out of the way – we pulled into the parking lot of a school across the street and watched the firefighters do their work.
We weren’t the only ones. Fires attract a lot of spectators. Anything exciting and out of the ordinary does, from a celebrity eating in the next booth to a herd of deer in the road. It doesn’t even have to be all that exciting and out of the ordinary, as we know from the rubberneckers on the interstate. And like Julia, sometimes people will call someone else and say to them, “Let’s go! Let’s go and see what’s going on! Let’s go and see if we can help!” Maybe it’s fun, maybe it’s tragic, maybe it’s cute, but whatever else it is, if it’s exciting people will invite other people to come and see it.
Sometimes we can lose the sense that Jesus was exciting. Those of us who’ve been in the church for a while are most prone to this, because we’re kind of used to Jesus. Many of us grew up hearing stories about Jesus, about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, or about Jesus walking on the water.
Many of us have a picture of Jesus in our mind’s eye. The church I grew up in had a picture in the Sunday School area of Jesus standing at a door and knocking and the Bible verse that goes with that image. I’ve had that picture of Jesus in my head for a long time, and it is quite familiar to me, and although it may be a lovely picture it just isn’t very exciting to me anymore. I kind of take that image of Jesus for granted.
But imagine you’re someone who has never heard about Jesus. Imagine you’re here in the church today and you didn’t learn all those stories growing up. Imagine Jesus is new to you. Jesus did a miracle with some bread and some fish? That might be interesting – what’s that about? And you say that Jesus walked on water, and he helped another guy to walk on water too? That’s kind of cool. How did all that happen?
Jesus is exciting. You start to get a sense of that in our scripture reading this morning. Listen to the first part of the scripture again, this time from Eugene Peterson’s version The Message. “The next day, John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, ‘Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”
Now as the reader, how can you tell that John said something interesting? How can you tell that the disciples who are there think this is something that matters? It’s the next sentence: “The two disciples heard him, and went after Jesus.”
See, those of us who have two thousand years of church history to look back on and who have some experience in the church may not think this is a big deal. Of course Jesus is the Lamb of God. That’s not new to me at all. I’ve been singing that song “Just as I Am” since I was a kid – “Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
But it’s a new thing for John’s disciples. They probably heard John and kind of looked at each other for a second. “The Passover Lamb? Did he say that was God’s Passover Lamb walking by? Wow! We better check this out!” And so the two disciples followed Jesus.
And the excitement continues to build. Skipping down a little further, still from The Message: “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of those who heard John’s witness and followed Jesus. The first thing he did after finding where Jesus lived was find his own brother, Simon, telling him, ‘We’ve found the Messiah’ (that is, ‘Christ’.) He immediately led him to Jesus.”
“Simon! Simon! There’s a fire down the road! Come and see!” “Simon, there’s an accident on the side of the road across the median. I’ll slow way down and you tell me about it.” “Simon, hurry! I met the Messiah! Yes, even John says he’s God’s Passover Lamb! Come quick!”
For most of us, of course Jesus is the Messiah. No big deal. For Andrew and Simon, it’s the news of a lifetime.
Skipping down a little further, “The next day, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Philip and said, ‘Come, follow me.’ (Philip’s hometown was Bethsaida, the same as Andrew and Peter.)
“Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the one preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!’ Nathanael said, ‘Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.’
“But Phillip said, ‘Come, and see for yourself.”
The excitement has spread. Philip’s from the same town as Andrew and Peter. He’s heard about what happened to them, maybe even talked to them himself. That’s probably why the Bible tells us his hometown. And it sounds as if Philip and Nathanael actually know who Jesus is already, doesn’t it? “Nate, it’s that guy. You know, Joseph’s son. Yeah, the one from Nazareth. Let’s go check it out.”
This is what the gospel is like to people who are hearing it and thinking about it and believing it for the first time. It’s new. It’s fresh. It’s exciting. It’s something that you want other folks to experience, to come and see for themselves.
How many of us still feel that way about Christ and the good news he brings? It may be familiar, and that’s good. I want the Bible and Jesus and the Spirit and all of that to be familiar to us. We may find Jesus comforting. That’s great. That’s part of why God went Jesus, to comfort us, to help us, to give us his Spirit’s support when we need it. We may find Jesus challenging. That’s wonderful. Jesus does challenge our culture, our values, and our loyalties. What is it that we put first in our lives? How do we live out our faith at this time and in this place?
But how often do we find Christ exciting? How often is our experience with God something that makes us want to grab our friends by the shoulder and say, “Come, come and see!”?
It’s not just Christ; it’s not just Jesus physically. The body of Christ in the world today is the church. This group of people right here this morning is the body of Christ. Are we excited about what happens here? We should be.
There are dozens of people that often wouldn’t have a hot meal in the cold winter if it weren’t for this church. I think that’s exciting. There are plenty of workers in BVS and other ministries that could not afford to live here on Capitol Hill if it weren’t for the ministry of this church. I think that’s exciting. Every week we get together and people share about what is going on in their lives, about the things that frighten them or worry them or hurt them, and we support each other through those things. I think that’s exciting. We talk about things that are joyful and that make us happy and we share the good things that are happening to us to help others find encouragement and joy. I think that’s exciting. I’ve spoken to many, many people all over the nation over the years who love this congregation, who tell me about the difference this congregation has made in their lives. I think that’s exciting.
We don’t always think of church as an exciting place, especially if the heat’s up too high or the air conditioning isn’t working or the sermon’s too long. But the church is exciting. I believe that exciting, special, neat things happen here every week, the kinds of things that can make us run out and grab the people that we care about and say to them, “Come on! Let’s go! Come and see!”
We don’t always think of Jesus as an exciting guy, especially if we know him primarily as a gentle comforter or a strong supporter. But Jesus is exciting. Jesus was exciting to those who met him two thousand years ago, people like Andrew and Peter and Philip and Nathanael. Jesus is exciting to people who are meeting him today. The things that Jesus did are fascinating. The things that Jesus taught are challenging. The way that Jesus lived and died and was raised is amazing.
We have exciting things ahead of us here at Washington City. God has done great things to and through this church, and he is not done yet. I don’t know what form those things will take. I don’t know what they will look like, but I know that there are exciting things ahead for this congregation.
There are exciting things ahead in your life, too. God has done wonderful things to you and through you, and I do not believe that God is done yet. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be fun. Go and tell your friends to come and see Jesus. I want you to come with me to come and see Jesus. Come and see. Amen.