Saturday, January 17, 2015

Close Encounters of the Jesus Kind (Epiphany 2, 18 January 2015)

Close Encounters of the Jesus Kind
Reflections on John 1.43-51

18 January 2015

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist at Saint Faith's on the 18th.

If I ever were exiled to a desert island and were permitted to take only one book of the New Testament with me, then I would most likely choose the Gospel according to John.  Of the four gospels I consider John to be the better story-teller.  Today's reading from the Gospel is one of four stories which I hold particularly dear.

  • Philip, Nathaniel and Jesus

  • The Samaritan woman at the well

  • The blind man born blind

  • Mary at the tomb

All four stories have a common pattern.

  • Someone has a close encounter with Jesus

  • which leads to the person to bear witness to another person about the encounter,

  • then invite the other person to have her or his own encounter with Jesus 

  • and then entrusts that person to God.

In the summer of 1979 I was an seminarian intern at Bethesda Hospital, a mental hospital run by the Christian Reformed and Reformed Christian Churches in the United States.  As the only seminarian intern who had a teaching certificate, I was assigned to the locked adolescent ward where most of the patients had been remanded by the courts for psychiatric evaluation.  It was a difficult experience.

  • I had been staying at my old fraternity house where I met a young man who had participated in a high school student trip to Germany in 1976 on which I was a chaperone. 

  • Several times he and I chatted about the difficulties I was experiencing.  When he asked why I continued, I simply said that the gospel expects me to be serve those who are in prison and those who are in need.

  • Three years later, when I was assigned to a suburban parish in the Denver metropolitan area, where I met the young man's parents.  They thanked me for bringing him back to faith.  In our conversations, they said, he had had an encounter with Jesus and that had led him to renew his Christian discipleship.

My encounter with Jesus had led to his encounter with Jesus and the result was unexpected on my part.  I had planted, but God gave the growth.

  • My friends, now is the time for us, as a congregation, to follow Philip's example.

  • Where and when have you encountered Jesus in the past week, in the past month, in the past year?

  • Have you shared the story of this encounter with anyone?

  • If you shared this story, did you issue an invitation to 'come and see'?

  • The rest we leave in God's hands.

This is evangelism:  bearing witness to our experience of Jesus and inviting others to 'come and see' --- no debates, no pressure, no coercion --- just telling our stories as invitations to others to have their own close encounter with Jesus.

To borrow from the Canadian Blood Service:  Faith --- it's in us to give --- and it's in God's hand for it to grow.

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