It’s a bright, cold Sunday morning, and as usual, I’m sitting with my coffee trying to focus my attention on God. The bills stacked on my desk scream out to be paid, the dogs are wanting their snacks, I’ve got books piled up that I’m leafing through to satisfy short bursts of curiosity, and then there’s the clock. I’m gonna have to get ready for church in an hour. All these little distractions. But I reassert my concentration: “No. I’m gonna spend at least a few minutes just with God first.”
I pull open my bible. I’m finished with Luke, so I should move on to the Gospel of John, but really all those “in the beginning was the word” lines just don’t appeal to me right now. Flipping the page, a section header catches my eye for some reason, and pulls me in: “Jesus Calls Philip and Nathaniel”. Thinking of a Philip I know who asked about lunch, I think I should drop him a note on Facebook. He’s started a fellowship for restaurant workers, people who normally have a pretty negative view of church folk. You know, all those after-church lunchers who take up tables, seem to always complain about the food or service, and never — absolutely never — leave a decent tip. Not a good reflection on the Church. And then there are a few other churches I know who are scrambling to attract new members. Flyers mailed out, sometimes door-to-door knocking, new holiday kids programs, or a new sign out front. Anything to “bring them in”. And I can’t help this little cynical thought flash across my mind, “if you put good food on the table, people will come — and recommend it to their friends. But if the food is bland, it doesn’t matter how much you advertise, people won’t be back.”
Philip in the bible was from a little town in Galilee, and Jesus, passing by, simply says to him “Follow me.” Philip has obviously heard Jesus teach and seen his miracles because he doesn’t even hesitate. He’s seen Jesus in action. What more did he need than that personal invitation? But the thing that struck me: the first thing he does is go tell his friend Nathaniel. “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel is a bit skeptical, but obviously in a good-natured way: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” And then the kicker, Philip’s response. “Come and see.”
Okay, big deal. What’s so impressive about that? So many well-intended and compassionate Christians are really exerting efforts to “save the lost”. We’ll try almost anything to get them in our church doors. And that’s great. We should have a passion to bring people to God. But so many of these “lost” people — like the disaffected restaurant servers my friend Philip is trying to reach –have already tried church. They’ve had their fill of church-goers, and it’s left a bad taste in their mouths. And their initial reaction to a church invitation is very often like Nathaniel’s, “Church! Can anything good come from there?”
Our response SHOULD be “Come and see for yourself.” But do we really have the goods? Are we serving up the feast to feed them when they actually do come in the doors? Is Jesus really there? — and I mean in more than just an “of course, where two or three are gathered he is there, so obviously God is in our midst” kind of way. Philip heard and saw Jesus in action. He experienced enough of the real thing to be able to claim that Jesus was the Coming One the Law and the Prophets talked about. Can we make that same claim? Are people genuinely changed when they walk out our doors? Is the teaching the very words of God, like Jesus taught? Are those words piercing to the heart with divine authority and power? Are people being healed, are prayers being answered? Is there a real presence of God in our congregations — one that can disrupt our well-choreographed services if and when He decides? That’s a tall order. But if we’re not filling it then we’re just playing “at church” instead of really “being” the Church — the real, physical manifestation of the Body of Christ. Maybe WE need to spend more time in the presence of the One.
It’s a cold, bright Sunday morning, and I’m sitting with my coffee, trying to connect with God. I’m about to get ready for church, and I wonder what God will do, what he will say, in our midst today. And there’s only way to find out. Come and see.