Sunday, January 20, 2008

Come and See

Mark Twain once told an aspiring writer:  Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” 

That’s the standard advice to all writers:  Show, don't tell.  If you want to show disappointment, you don’t say, “She opened the birthday present but felt disappointed at what she found.”  You write, “She ripped open the paper, her breath quick with anticipation.  But when she pried the box open and looked inside, she let out a scream. ‘You said you’d get me diamonds, not a CD by Neil Diamond!”

Something like that. 

The idea is that you can tell people things, and they’ll slowing nod off, but if you show them, they’ll follow you.  Which is why preachers throughout the ages have used visual props and illustrations.  Only I don’t have any, so I’ll just stand here and talk.....

But Jesus had the right idea.  

When he walked past John the Baptist who was still out there baptizing, John said, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  And then two of John’s disciples went off to follow Jesus.  When they got to Jesus, however, and asked, “Rabbi, where are you staying,” he did not answer, “Oh, I’m staying over at the Hyatt Regency.  What’s it to ya?”

Jesus said, “Come and see.”

Come and see.  Come -- that is physical activity.  See -- use your eyes and take in what is before you.  Don’t just believe my words -- see for yourself.

I have been meaning to use that line ever since I got ordained.  You’d be surprised how many times people say to me, “Where’s your church?”  And I usually say, “Oh, it’s St. James’ in Hyde Park. You know, on Route 9 across from the Vanderbilt Estate.”  Then, about five minutes later, I usually slap my head and say, “That would have been a perfect time to say, ‘Come and See!’”

And it would.  Or how about when people come up to you and say, “What do you Episcopalians believe anyway?”  Or “What’s your church like?”  Or any question about your faith.  Sure, you can go into a half-hour long theological treatise about atonement but -- I don’t know -- doesn’t work too well for me.

OR, you could answer, “Come and See.”

Which, of course, is a risk.  They might not come, OR they might not see what you want them to see.  

I remember doing an Easter Vigil with a baptism many years ago.  It was in a church with incense and bells and the whole works.  The church was darkened for much of the service.  When we got to the baptism, I got a chance finally to look in the eyes of the grandparents, who were Baptists.  Instead of pride and love, I saw horror as they gaped at the acolytes with their candles and the thurifer.  At the end of the service, one of them said, “I was waiting for them to bring out the animal sacrifices!”

More importantly, you could tell people that we Christians are all about loving our neighbors, but if what they see when they come is people fighting about what color the pew cushions should be and being cruel to each other, they’re going to believe something else about us.  

Scripture doesn’t really say what those would-be disciples saw when they went with Jesus that day, but it must’ve been good since they stayed with him the rest of the day.   And then Andrew, ran out and brought his brother Simon. 

“We’ve found the Messiah!” he yells -- but better yet, he brings Simon to Jesus.  And Simon, of course, becomes Peter, the Rock.

So, what will people see when they come to St. James’?  That is the question.  Love?  Care for others?  Bickering?  A little bit of everything?  Maybe we can’t be the judges of that.  Maybe the best we can do is love those whom God has given us and say to the rest, “Come and See.”