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Listening and Life
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

JANUARY 15, 2012

Come and See
1 Samuel 3:1-11
John 1:43-51

Dick Armstrong is a dear friend and retired seminary professor who graduated from college in the early 1950's. He played baseball at his Ivy League university, and signed with the Baltimore Orioles' organization where he languished for a few seasons in the minors, before they offered him a job in their front office. Dick made the change from player to front office easily enough and was seeking to work his way up in the organization. One spring Dick was in Florida for spring training and was driving his car along a major Florida highway. Suddenly, he felt a powerful presence in the car and felt himself forced to pull off the road. Sitting in that car, Dick knew that the Lord was with him, and somehow knew that Jesus was calling him to quit his job and enter seminary to pursue a newly conferred vocation as a pastor and an evangelist. Dick was obedient to the sudden call of God, and thousands of people's lives have been blessed through the life and ministry of Richard Stoll Armstrong.

I mention Dick today because I know that some people come to know the Lord in mysterious and powerfully dramatic experiences like he did. Some people have what we call today Damascus Road experiences, as Saul of Tarsus did in the Acts of the Apostles. I am always amazed when I hear such stories or meet such people, and I rejoice at the power of God. But in my experience, not many become disciples of Jesus Christ in this way. In our text this morning in John's Gospel, Jesus found Philip and called him, and then Philip found Nathaniel and told him about Jesus. When Nathaniel expressed his doubts, asking, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?", Philip says simply, "Come and see." So Nathaniel does what Philip asks, and in encountering Jesus, he too becomes a disciple.

Note what happens in the first chapter of John's Gospel. It begins majestically, profoundly. "In the beginning was the Word. In Him was life, and this light was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John begins on purpose just as the Book of Genesis does. In Genesis, the first thing God does by the power of His Word is call light into being. Here John is claiming that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light of all people. John is saying that in Jesus, we have Genesis 1 all over again.

So what is the first thing that this One who is "Light-Shining-in-the-Darkness" does to begin His mission and ministry? Jesus begins by calling a group of ordinary people to be His disciples. All four of the Gospels tell of this most human beginning of Jesus' ministry. Jesus calls ordinary, everyday people to be His disciples. Whatever it is that Jesus Christ wants to do for the world, He chooses not to do it alone. Jesus invites an ordinary group of people, people like you and me, to do it with Him. Jesus refuses to save the world by Himself.

And most people come to know Jesus, and enter His Church, the way Nathaniel did. Somebody else, like Philip does here in John's Gospel, asks them. One person who meets Jesus and comes to love Him approaches another and says, "Come and see." That is how the vast majority of people come to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and how they join His Church.

This is always how Christian faith has worked, because from the very beginning this is how Jesus wanted it to be. Jesus works through people like you and me to invite other people to join Him, to "Come and see." And in seeing who Jesus is, in hearing the Good News of His Gospel, millions, even billions have come to know Jesus and experience His life-giving love.

I mention this because today our church is installing Keith Gunter to serve as an Associate Pastor of our church for the express purpose of beginning a new church in the Indian Lakes area of Hendersonville, a rapidly growing area of our city in Sumner County that our Presbytery has identified as the best place to begin a new congregation. Keith has been called by this congregation and confirmed by Middle Tennessee Presbytery to begin this challenging, frightening, exciting work of beginning a new Presbyterian Church in a growing part of Nashville. And one of the main reasons our search committee felt led to call Keith was that from the first we have sensed in he and Amy a transparent, radiant faith in Jesus Christ.

The work of starting a new church is really an act of evangelism, one of sharing the Good News of the Gospel, and of saying to person after person, after person, after person, "Come and see." It is the work, the hard work, of inviting people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ, and to ask them to become a part of His Church.

Life is so full of mystery! Last week we gathered here for the funeral of Arch MacNair, who died at the age of one hundred, having come to serve First Presbyterian Church as Associate Pastor in 1965 at the age of fifty-four. Arch's story is an amazing one. He was born one of eleven children to a tenant farmer family in Horry County, South Carolina. At the age of twenty, in the height of the Depression, his father borrowed $5 and basically told Arch he was on his own. Arch went to Greensboro, North Carolina to work in a textile mill for a year, but then went to Atlanta where he lived in a rented room at the Y. He was befriended by an older man, a lawyer in Atlanta named Colonel Conson J. Wilson, and Colonel Wilson took an interest in Arch. It was to Colonel Wilson that Arch first mentioned to anyone his sense that the Lord was calling him into the ministry. Colonel Wilson arranged for Arch to meet John Bulow Campbell, and from there he went to Berry College and Columbia Seminary, graduating in 1936, in the height of the Great Depression.

Arch MacNair blessed countless of lives with the love of Jesus Christ, that oozed from every pore of his being. But without Colonel Wilson, I wonder if Arch ever would have believed that a child born into abject rural poverty could dream of becoming a Presbyterian minister.

John tells us that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God, "the Word made flesh," "the Son of God," "the King of Israel," "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." But Jesus, who is the light of the world, does not choose to illumine and save the world all by Himself. Think of your own life. How many of you could tell your faith story without telling of other key people along the way, probably many, whose faith in Jesus Christ is a big reason for yours? Theologian H. Richard Niebuhr wrote an important book titled, The Meaning of Revelation. Niebuhr says faith in Jesus Christ is always triadic, or involves a triangle. Faith is always mediated to us through someone else who has it and shares it. Even Samuel's late night call had to be mediated to him by Eli, the aging priest.

This is why First Presbyterian Church has made a major commitment to start a new congregation on a growing edge of the larger Nashville community. I might add that it is something we have done as a church throughout our history. It is a matter of being faithful to the Gospel.

I still believe with all my heart that Jesus is the last and best hope for the world, and I want everyone to know of Jesus' love and redeeming power. We are all called to be witnesses to Jesus, to say along with Philip and Andrew and Nathaniel, ordinary people like you and me, "Come and see."

As Keith Gunter accepts his call from Jesus, let's be certain that we accept ours as well.

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