The Preaching of the Word
First Presbyterian Church

116 South Loudoun Street, Winchester, Virginia 22601
Charles Marshall Webster, Transitional Pastor
Baptism of the Lord Sunday
January 10, 2016

“Come and See…an Invitation”

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
Gospel Reading:  John 1:29-42

Text: “What are you looking for?…Come and see.”     John 1:38b, 39b


          Like us on January 10, 2016 the disciples in today’s gospel reading stood on the threshold of a new day. They knew things would be different, but not the degree of difference or in what way. Neither do we. Our challenge today is to trust the expectant heart and keep our eyes focused on God who will guide us through the days ahead as he has in the past.

What can we expect with the arrival of your transitional pastor? We will certainly carry bags of mixed expectations as we envision our future together. That means we can expect the challenge of diversity that must be honored and valued as we minister to the needs and hopes of our members, community and world. We can expect to celebrate our history, including the recent ministry of your beloved pastor Rich Reifsnyder that will live on as part of our heritage. And with the times of joy there will be times of grieving as we let go of old relationships to embrace new relationships. We may also grieve interrupted visions, unfulfilled dreams, unfinished business or simply that loss of what we loved so much.

We will move forward continuing our current ministries with the outstanding ministry of pastors Dan and Maren with whom I have great respect. As we journey together we will make new discoveries about ourselves, and we will re-discover some of the attributes that make this congregation unique and strong. On the way, patterns and themes will emerge and we will begin to create new meaning out of our history, as well as new direction for “the living of these days.”

What can you expect from me as your transitional pastor and head of staff? You can expect me to be human. Shortly after arriving at a new congregation I went to the supermarket for groceries. As I was pushing a cart up the aisle and reaching for a can of baked beans, an older woman coming from the opposite direction stopped and stared, and then declared, “Mr. Webster, I’m surprised to see you here,” and after a pause, she added, “But I guess ministers have to eat, too.”  Yes, I eat… and I laugh and cry and get hurt feelings just like we all do.

You can also expect me to be your pastor, along with Dan and Maren. You can expect me to serve God and you with energy, intelligence and imagination. You can expect me to preach out of a deep faith in a loving God. You can expect me to pray with you, to cry with you in times of trouble, to counsel you, to provide spiritual guidance, to rejoice at baptisms and weddings and to mourn at funerals. And you can expect me to love you. In more than a few congregations, as I was in the process of saying goodbye, members have said to me, “I didn’t really know what this interim time was about or why we had to do it, but I never expected that you would love us.” Yes, you can expect me to love you.

You can also expect me to be a partner in ministry with you and as a colleague with your excellent church staff and officers. I have a wealth of experience in ministry, but I am always learning and I’m counting on learning as much from you as you might learn from me. The early disciples gathered together for support and prayer and that’s an invitation for us all as well. You can also expect that I will not be your next installed pastor. My calling and my task is to be your transitional pastor.

There’s one more expectancy. What can we expect from God? In the midst of our journey God is here! God is faithful. God is love.  And God is calling us today to move forward in faith. Let us hear what the Spirit is saying in today’s gospel reading.

Today’s gospel reading includes a simple story. It happened the day after the baptism of the Lord. John the Baptizer is standing with two of his most loyal disciples when Jesus walks by. I see John taking these two friends by the arm and gazing long at Jesus. It is a holy moment. John exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” and “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”

That sounds so simple, and yet it describes one of the hardest and most beautiful experiences any of us ever has. It is the hard and beautiful experience of letting go and moving on. You have to remember John and these two disciples of his have been through wars together. You didn’t get to be a disciple of John the Baptizer unless you shared John’s passionate conviction about what is right and what is wrong. You didn’t get to be a disciple of John without sharing his commitment to God’s way in the world, even if that meant standing against the tide of popular opinion.

Loyal friendship can be built on many different things. But no friendship ever gets much deeper than a friendship built on passionate commitment to the same cause. It may sound simple when these two disciples leave John and follow Jesus. But I see it as a hard moment in the lives of these friends. Together they face the fact that the time has come to let go and move on. And that is never easy, is it?

When you look back across you life so far, you realize that you have been letting go and moving on for as long as you can remember. One way to do this is to remember that every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old before we can move on with the new—not just outwardly, but inwardly.[1] Think back over the endings in your own life: from home to kindergarten, from junior high to senior high, from college to career. You may be at a point in your life when you see your children or grandchildren going through major transitions. Some endings may have been large and terrible – a death or a divorce in your family, while others may have been insignificant to everyone except you, like your pet dying or your special friend moving away. Some endings were physical; some involved family, some involved responsibilities or jobs. Some endings may be hard to describe: they have few outward signs but they may leave long-lasting scars, the ending of innocence or a trust, or the ending of a special relationship.

As you will quickly learn about me, I bleed True Blue, Duke Blue. The Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina is one special place where I had to let go and move on. As a youth I was blessed with several academic scholarships and then when my class at Duke had only two players on basketball scholarship, Coach Chuck Daly offered me a walk-on place on his first freshman team at Duke, and I would soon practice with the varsity that went to two final fours. But I discovered what all of us keep discovering in different ways as long as we live. Great as any experience or any accomplishment may be, there comes a time when you have to let go and move on. From Brownies to Girl Scouts, from home to college or a job, from one job to another, from some warm and secure and friendly place to a new place where you honestly do not know how things are going to work out.

And the hardest times to let go and move on, for all of us, are those times when life gives us no choice in the matter. You may love being who you are and where you are, with this kind of life, and this family, and these friends, and these opportunities. But life has a way of changing all the rules of the game on you, whether you like it or not. Nothing in life stands still. There are some good times that don’t last forever. Sooner or later you realize that the time has come to let go and move on. And that can be very hard.

As I see it, that’s what is happening when these two loyal friends leave John the Baptizer and follow Jesus. It’s what John wants; it’s what they want. And it may hurt like blazes. And it may be scary, too. But it is the right thing, to let go and move on. And then Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?”

How would you answer that question right now, today? Are you looking for a great adventure? Do you want to be the president of a company? Or do you want nothing more than a little security, a little fun out of life, and some people to love who love you in return? What are you looking for? If your goals are reasonable, the advice I heard, “You’ll have to work hard” may be good counsel. Everyone needs to have a set of realistic goals to shoot for, and there is much satisfaction in working hard and accomplishing what we set out to do. Very little worthwhile is ever accomplished without people who are willing to figure out what they want and most importantly, to discern what God wants of them, and to pay the price of hanging in there to do the work.

But somehow the question of Jesus cuts a lot deeper than that. Even if I have realistic goals, and even if I am able to accomplish them beyond my wildest dreams, I know the time will come when I need to let go and move on. And the question will still be there: “What are you looking for? What do you want now?” As far as I can tell, there is never any end to this longing in the human heart. There is always something else. That’s why our Lord’s question is so important for us today. “What are you looking for?”

Listen to the way these two friends of John the Baptizer answer the question. They have now decided it is time to let go and move on. They have just made the switch from one great teacher to another. They have made up their minds to follow Jesus, and Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” They call him, “rabbi,” because he is their new teacher. “Rabbi,” they say, “where are you staying?” They are not asking for his street address. If they are going to follow Jesus, they have a right to know where he is leading them. “Where are you taking us, Jesus? Where does this road lead? Where does this journey end? Where is that permanent, solid, dependable place where you live, where you abide, where can we abide with you? That’s what we want more than anything else.” That is so like us, isn’t it? Ask what we want and ten times out of ten it is something permanent, something lasting, something we can be sure of, and something that won’t slip through our fingers. “Lord, where are you staying?”

           Now hear the Lord’s answer. Jesus says, “Come and see.” On the face of it, Jesus gives them a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. According to the story, Jesus leads them down the road and up the path to whatever house it is where people have opened their doors and offered their hospitality to Jesus and those who follow him. According to the story, these two new disciples stayed with him that day, and who knows; maybe they stayed with him in that same house that night, and maybe the next night as well.

But everyone knows that Jesus didn’t stay very long. Soon it was time to leave this particular house. Soon it was time to let go and move on. In fact, Jesus once told his disciples that the “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has no permanent place to lay his head.”[2]All Jesus has to say to anyone who follows him is “Come and see.” And that always means: “Let go and move on. I am with you and you are with me. That’s all you need. Come and see.” The fascinating thing in this story to me is that these two new disciples of Jesus are not disappointed by this answer.

What are you looking for? Jesus says, “Come and see.” Does that sound like a good enough answer to you – to walk through life with the Lord just a step ahead of you, following Jesus, always letting go and moving on, in the direction of the kingdom of God? “Come and see.” That’s not the brass ring, is it? It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s not the permanent, lasting, trouble-free happiness all of us secretly want out of life, even though we know it will never happen.

But if you ask me – what one thing I want for myself – what one thing I pray for and I want for you – it would be this: The ability to let go and move on into each and every day as a new adventure of faith and hope and love. Not to be crippled by things we want and cannot have. Not to be dragged down by the memory of things we once had, but can never have again. Not to be hog-tied and defeated by those demolishing experiences which come into every human life. It is to have the serenity and to have the courage and to have the joy to plunge ourselves into every new moment of life, confident that the Lord has been there before us, and that the Lord will see us through whatever comes, for there is nothing in all the world that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ!

“Come and see.” God in Jesus Christ is inviting you and me to receive his love and to share that love with the world God loves.  No one is too young or too old or too fouled up or too far gone to hear that invitation of Jesus Christ to let go and move on, into new life with him. You may be leaving some great things behind, just like Andrew and Peter. But the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ is that nothing of permanent value is ever lost when you follow him. And the greatest day of your life, by the grace of God, still lies ahead. Is that what you want? If it is, then the strong challenge, the winsome invitation of the living Lord is yours today. Are you ready to let go and move on when God in Jesus Christ invites you to “Come and See.”

[1] William Bridges, Transitions, (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley, 1980), p. 11.

[2] Matthew 8:30.