Many people are familiar with the Bible story about Jesus calling his first disciples from their boats by the sea of Galilee. They’re fishermen, and Jesus invites them to follow him and they will “fish for people” (Mark 1:17). It’s a powerful image of individual call or vocation to bring others to Jesus that appears in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke.
But there’s another story about Jesus and the first disciples that presents a different perspective. In John’s Gospel, it’s John the Baptist (not the writer of the Gospel) that points out Jesus to those who will become his first followers. Jesus is not seeking them, they go to him because John tells them that Jesus is the messiah that he, John, was sent to announce. They go to Jesus and he asks them “‘what are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘come and see’” (John 1:38-39). They remain with him for the afternoon and then one of them, Andrew, goes to invite his brother Simon to join them. And, before you know it, Jesus has invited Philip to follow and Philip’s inviting someone to “come and see.”
Come and see. Experience. Share. I think that this is at the heart of what “church” is really supposed to be about.
The invitation, to “come and see,” is not just for a few, but for everyone. Sure, if you were interested, you could get a pamphlet from every church, synagogue, mosque, temple and meeting hall and read about what that particular religion, denomination or faith believes. Better still, you could go online and read up on everyone on the internet. Then you’d never have to leave your home.
But that misses the whole point of the invitation. To “come and see” is to participate and experience, and to do so in the company of others.
It’s dated now, but we use to call that “fellowship.” It’s dated, in part, because it’s been co-opted into so many other uses that it’s lost some of its integrity. But it’s also, rightly, no longer recognized as being inclusive enough. So how about a new word like “familyship.” After all, that’s truly what we should be seeking, the experience of learning, living and growing together in the family of God. Returning to that fundamental point reminds us that we are all children of God, whatever we believe that God to be, whatever we call that God, however we come to that God, we are all members of one family.
That doesn’t mean we all have to be the same, of course. That’s often the hardest thing to get our heads around, “us” and “them.” With God, there is no “us” and “them.” We might not ever come to know that completely in this life, but we will only come to understand it better through experience, by being open enough to “come and see.”
And do. Let’s not forget that we bring our own selves to any “familyship.” To really know, you have to bring yourself, your creativity and your energy and share it with others. For the church family, this means everyone sharing their gifts with enthusiasm, inspired to live as Jesus teaches, inspired to live more than the institution, more than the obligation or expectation, inspired to live into the satisfaction, comfort and joy of relationship with each other. And the struggle, challenge and hard work of relationship with each other. It’s an ideal to reach for, but we’re not perfect, families aren’t either.
So you’ve found this familyship and you’ve experienced it. Now what? Now we share.
We can do that, first, by living our church familyship into the familyship of our community. Just as Jesus did, it’s not enough to talk about it, we must show that it is within our lives as well as our words.
But the words can be important, too. How else will we share what we have learned but to tell others, to invite them to be part of this familyship?
We used to call this evangelism. Again, that’s a word that we’ve come to understand in a certain way. But I don’t have another word for this one - I want this one back. Because it simply means to share the “good news,” to share that very simple, very open invitation: come and see.