The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - January 14, 2018
Scripture Reading:
1 Samuel 3:1-10,  John 1:43-51
Sermon Title: “Come and See”

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     When I start preparing for each week’s worship, the first thing I do is to choose a scripture for the week.  Often, I choose the gospel, but as I read and started to think about these two passages, I realize that they are each telling us many of the same things.

     I would like you to think back on when you first remember being a Christian, or being a participant in a church.  For some of you, it was in this church, for others it was in another church, many of you not even in one of our denominations.

     My earliest memories were in the preschool room of Sunday School.  I was back visiting the church this past October.  Like many churches, their Sunday school is much smaller than when I was a child.  They still have a nursery, same place it was 40 years ago.  And next door to that was what was the pre-school room.  Since I left, it became the youth group room, was for a short time the church offices, when their offices flooded, and not exactly sure what it is being use for today.  The day I was there was a church fair, so all the rooms were re-arranged hosting different booths. 

     When I was in that room for Sunday School we had a dress up box, old clothes you could put on.  I have a memory of an old wooden play stove, with plastic food you could pretend to serve to your friends.  And I remember card board blocks, which you could use to build tall buildings or walls.  Every week I remember going over to sit on the rug and listen to a story, there was a little craft, and a snack time with a little package of two saltine crackers and juice.  I don’t remember any of the stories, don’t really remember many of the crafts, but I remember that there was a teacher who cared for, and about us. 

     And I continued to go to Sunday School.  Some teachers still stick out in my mind.  Harry was my teacher about 4th grade.  We had just gotten our Bibles, so we all brought them to class, and were leaning how to find things in them.  He gave us pencils and told us that we could write in our Bibles.  I had never heard of that before.  He also repeated what the minister had told us when we got our Bibles, they came with a lifetime warrantee, if they every wore out, we could bring them back to the church and receive a new one.  The idea was that we can use the Bibles we just got, they shouldn’t sit on a shelf like a piece of art, they were meant to be used.  I have been tempted to send that Bible back to the church, since mine is certainly beyond worn out now.

     Then there were the youth group advisors, Wayne and Robin, and others.  Our youth group did some things that I had never thought of as “Church.”  We went to Boston one weekend, we did a Rock-a-thon where you sit in a rocking chair and rock for 24 hours, with a few stretch breaks.  We did car washes, built floats and walked in parades, we had dances.  Each of these made me part of a group.  I had young adult leaders who I could look up to, and who I knew were Christians.  Being a Christian is not just church, but can be in everything you do.

     The ministers over that time all knew me.  One of them I saw last June and another I saw in October.  They still know me, recognize me, and ask about how my life is going each time I run into them.  One retired almost 30 years ago, the other moved on to other church work about the same time.  But we had a relationship, usually at least one would go on trips with us, and they taught me in gentle ways what it meant to be part of a church and a follower of Jesus. 

     More important than the ministers, however, were church members.  The Browns, the Sandersons, the Shirleys.  Each week they were in church, and each week they would talk with me.  How is school going, what sports are you doing this year?  They were just normal people, who were in church every week and honestly cared about me. 

     And it continued, the leaders at Silver Lake Conference Center, the church camp that I worked at in High School.  The campus ministers I worked with in Maine, the other ministers I have gotten to know over the years. 

     I didn’t become a Christian by reading the Bible.  In fact, I don’t know anyone who became a Christian by just reading the Bible.  Not saying that the Bible is not important, it is the basis of our faith, but didn’t alone make me a Christian or inspire me to join the church or become a minister.

     The simple fact is that our faith is passed on orally, from one generation to the next.  While Sunday School was important, it was not the lessons that were important, sorry Sunday School teachers, but it was the interactions.  I don’t remember any of them ever trying to prove any of this faith stuff was true, but it was sharing with me from their life what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, not defending a position.  It was people that I looked up to, who showed up every week in church, who knew my name and talked to me, treated me, not as a kid, although I was, but as someone that they cared about. 

     This came up for me in the early 1990’s when I was working at church camp.  The safe church was the thing at that point, how do we make sure our kids are safe and never alone with an adult.  I was an adult, a young adult, but over 21.  In my own experiences it was a single adult talking to me at a time.  It was one Sunday School teacher, it was one church member, it was one youth group advisor, it was one minister.  Maybe there were others in the room, maybe there were not, but it was rarely 2 adults.  Maybe many of us are more comfortable sharing alone with a younger person rather than in a room with other adults?  While I am very concerned with keeping kids safe, if our faith is transmitted from one generation to the next orally, how do we safely allow that to happen?

     Which brings me back to my first question, what were the circumstances that caused to you become a person of faith, or believe in God?  My guess is that at least a part of it was oral, and you can probably even remember one or more people who were involved in your learning.  A book may have helped, maybe reading the Bible helped, but it was people telling you about God, not defending a point, but telling you about their experiences. 

     For Samuel, in our Old Testament lesson, it was the voice of God.  According to the story, visions and the voice of God were rarely heard.  Samuel was living in the temple with his father, Eli.  Although they were living in the temple, and probably had a very important role, the scripture says that Samuel did not know the Lord yet, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Maybe he was just living there to help his father who was old, didn’t see very well anymore.  They were caring for the Ark of the Covenant.  This is where they believed God lived.  So Samuel was sleeping in the same room as the Ark, probably separated by a curtain from the Ark, and Eli was in a room nearby.  Suddenly Samuel hears a voice calling for him.  He goes to Eli, who says “I didn’t call you.”  Happens again, and again.  The third time Eli realizes that it must be God calling Samuel, and tells him to lie down again, and if he hears God again, to say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

     I wonder how long this would have gone on if Eli didn’t tell Samuel that it was probably God calling him.  And notice that there is not a lot of dialog happening between Samuel and Eli.  Samuel does not tell Eli that it is God and that God is going to tell Samuel this and this and this.  Eli just tells his son to listen, and respond to God if God calls again. And, of course, God calls again and Samuel answers.  If you read further in this book, you will hear what God tells Samuel, who then tells Eli what God has told him.  So, person to person.  Samuel does not write a book. He tells others what God has told him.

     In our Gospel reading this morning the interaction is among Phillip, Nathanial and Jesus.  It sounds like Phillip is from the same city as Andrew and Peter, so perhaps Phillip knew about Jesus.  Jesus says “Follow me” and Phillip does.  But Nathanial was a bit harder.  Really, Jesus of Nazareth?  Can anything good come out of Nazareth?  After a brief interaction between Jesus and Nathanial, he calls Jesus Son of God and King of Israel.  Jesus tells him, you will see even greater things. 

     Both Samuel and Nathanial receive an invitation, and accept that invitation.  I think that we often try too hard to offer more than an invitation.  Samuel lived in the temple, certainly he had heard the Torah, the first 5 books of our Old Testament, read.  The Temple had these scrolls.  And being around other people in the Temple, he had probably been taught about the laws and rules he must follow. 

     We don’t know much about Nathanial.  Some think that he and Bartholomew may be one in the same.  What we think is that being under the fig tree is a Jewish saying of that time meaning to be one who is studying the Torah.  So, like Samuel, Nathanial, we think, knew the Torah, knew the rules and laws he must follow to be a good Jew.  But it was not until he was invited by Philip that Nathaniel started to follow Jesus and became one of the 12 Apostles. 

     Our task as Christians is not to “prove” the truth of the Christian faith, although many scholars have written about the truth of Christianity. Our task is not even to persuade others to become Christian. Our task is to say, “Come and see.” Philip could have given Nathanael some of his own opinions. He could have said, “This Jesus knows a lot about the Bible.” Or he might have said, “There is something about this man Jesus that draws me to him.” Even when Nathanael doubted about “anything good coming out of Nazareth,” Philip might have listed some successful people from Nazareth.

     But no: Philip simply said, “Come and see,” as if to say, “You don’t need me to advertise for Jesus; come and see for yourself.” Nathaniel came and saw for himself, then went on to tell others.  Once Samuel opened himself up to hearing the word of God, he did hear and then told others. 

     That now becomes our task, to tell people, “Come and see.” Come and see what Jesus has done and is doing for you!