A Sermon from the Church of
Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 15, 2023 (Epiphany 2A)
My first car was a used 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit. It was bright red with a five-speed manual transmission and black vinyl seats, which would get so hot in the summer, it was basically like sitting on top of an incinerator. Despite its obvious flaws — the dents, the way it ran — I was so proud of that car. I would wash it and lovingly detail it way beyond what it deserved. I mean, I would even scrub the tires. And nobody who owned a car in New York City scrubbed the tires.
I remember when I first got the car, after spending way too many hours shining it up, I wanted everyone I knew to come out to the street to behold this automotive beauty. Family, friends, neighbors, girls (there were no girls), but I wanted everyone to come and see my pride and joy.
In this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus invites some of the first potential disciples to “come and see.” Not out of a vain desire to be popular or because he had some shiny new object to show them, but because he wanted to transform their lives. He wanted them to come and see a life bathed in the Spirit, a way of living that offered freedom and joy, one that provided salvation and hope. He wanted them to come and see what it meant to live in loving relationship with the living God. Which certainly transcends my desire to impress people by the way I Armor All’ed the dashboard.
But this brief interaction speaks to the invitational nature of our faith. Jesus doesn’t compel people to join his movement or even condemn them if they don’t. He simply invites them to come and see. He lovingly and gently encourages them to join him on the journey of life and faith. Just as he does for each one of us.
Here at Bethesda, as we seek to live into this invitational approach of our Lord, we have embraced a way of being church called Invite, Welcome, Connect. It’s a way to invite people to come and see all that takes place within these walls, to warmly welcome all who enter our space regardless of background or where they live or where they may be on their spiritual journey, and to connect people to programs and ministries that enable them to love and serve the Lord in this place. And it all starts with Jesus’ invitation to come and see. That’s the foundation upon which we build relationships with God and one another. We invite, we welcome, we connect.
But this invitational posture isn’t just an institutional responsibility. It’s incumbent upon each one of us to invite people to come and see what’s happening at Bethesda. It may be a friend or a neighbor or someone who used to come here, but I encourage you to invite others to come and see. Not because we simply want more people in our pews — which we do — or because we want more people to watch our livestream — which we do — but because we want people to come and see Jesus. To encounter the one who loves them unconditionally and will walk with them through all the joy and pain and laughter and tears that make up the human condition. We want them to come and see Jesus, because the peace that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ is not something to hoard, but to share.
After Jesus invites Andrew to come and see, Andrew then brings his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. “We have found the Messiah,” he tells him. Andrew’s immediate response is to share what he has seen with someone else — in this case his brother. And we’re called to do the exact same thing. To share our faith with someone else. Now, I know Episcopalians aren’t always great at inviting people to church. There’s some apocryphal statistic that says the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 21 years. And, I know some of you are thinking, ‘Phew! I don’t have to invite anyone for another 12 years.’ And some of you are thinking, ‘I’ve actually never invited someone to church.” But invitation is how the church grows; it’s how our faith is passed on; it’s how we share the love of Jesus with the world.
So, here’s a charge for you: invite someone to church. Think about who you might invite to come and sit with you. And if asking someone to join you for worship feels like a bridge too far, invite them to a lower threshold activity like the upcoming organ recital or a Men of Bethesda gathering or a St. Mary’s Guild lunch or just to join you on a walk of the church grounds. In other words, it doesn’t have to be an eight-hour service on Good Friday. Not that we offer one of those…
But I encourage you to think about ways of living into the invitational nature of our faith. Not just by extending invitations to others, but also recognizing that Jesus extends this invitation to you. Jesus wants you to come and see. Over and over again he invites you to come and see what the abundant life of faith brings to your very soul.
The thing is, Jesus wants us to lay aside the myriad distractions of our lives and to go deeper with him. Imagine Jesus reaching out, grabbing you by the arm, staring intently into your eyes, and saying, “Come and see.” This is an invitation not in the abstract or for someone else, but very clearly for you. In this moment, in whatever is going on in your life. Come and see Jesus. Again and again. Come and see Jesus.
Come and see Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture. Come and see him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Come and see him as the Messiah, the anointed one of God who fills us with hope and fulfills all our expectations. Come and see him as the Savior of the world, the one who draws us into eternal life. Come and see him as the Son of God, who reveals and makes known the divine presence in our very midst.
Come and see, and then accept his invitation to follow him. To live your life as a disciple of Jesus. It’s not always easy. It often puts you into conflict with the powers and principalities of this world. But following Jesus is the place where true freedom resides. The place where you can let go of the many demands and pulls of this world, so that you can faithfully and humbly and doggedly follow the way of Jesus, the way of love. Come and see. And experience first-hand the life-transforming power of faith in Jesus Christ.