First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Beyond Belief

First United Methodist Church
January 21, 2024
Rev. Lauren Hall

Beyond Belief

Think about the last time you saw a Speed Limit sign posting a slower speed than you thought was necessary for the area in which you were traveling. How did you feel? Were you frustrated? Did you obey it?

I used to think of speed limits as an inconvenience. Then one day I noticed a sign in a person’s yard that said, “Is 30 mph really optional?”

At first I thought it was one of those political signs telling me to vote yes or no on some referendum, but then I realized that I was driving through a neighborhood and the speed limit was probably 30 mph. As I slowed down, I wondered how many other people completely ignored the speed limit as they rushed to the end of the road to get to their destination.

Speed limits aren’t posted to inconvenience us; they are posted to keep us safe. When you are driving down a neighborhood street, you may encounter a speed limit of 25 or 30 mph, which is slower than most of us want to travel. But for the people living in that neighborhood, it is the speed that keeps their children safe. Therefore, whenever you see a speed limit sign, rather than becoming frustrated because you are being asked to slow down, think of the sign as an invitation, “You are welcome to drive through our neighborhood, but while you are here, please respect our homes and drive at the speed that we have determined to be safe. Come, and see who we are for a few minutes. We value your presence and hope you enjoy your time with us.” Our willing response to this “invitation” helps to maintain a safe environment for the people who live there.

Our scriptures today encourage us to accept a different kind of invitation, an invitation to experience God’s reign in the world. God’s reign isn’t confined to any one time or place. It is present everywhere and able to know each one of us personally. But like the speed limit sign, which cannot be effective unless we obey its limitations, God’s truth, justice and peace will not prevail in the world without our willing response and cooperation.

The words, “come and see,” form the heart of John’s gospel. John’s story is structured around encounters with Jesus, and each encounter helps us to understand a little more about the Messiah. Again and again, as we read this gospel, we discover that Jesus meets all kinds of people: women and men, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable. And to each one, in one way or another, he says the same thing, “come and see.” Come and see God do a new thing. Come and see as your future opens up in front of you. Come and see the grace of God made manifest and accessible and available to all.

By doing this, John shows us the potential of our own ministry, as we observe all the different ways that Jesus reaches out to people. In addition, we get to observe their responses, which sets the example for our own responses as well.

Of course, we do have to remember that Jesus didn’t do all of this inviting on his own. A chain reaction of witnessing and discipling takes place, beginning with John the Baptist and continuing through two of his own disciples, then to Andrew, then Peter. Then Jesus calls Phillip, who extends the invitation to Nathaniel. One of the things we see repeatedly in these call stories is the “discovery” of Jesus. Each is invited to “come and see” Jesus and eventually follow him.

This way of inviting is unique to evangelism, because if you think about it, there are very few things in life that we will undertake without knowing or at least trying to figure out most of the details. When I first believed I was being called to ministry, I spent several years exploring and discerning this call before I ended my career in camping to attend seminary full time. Before a person is legally allowed to drive a car, he or she must spend hours reading or studying the rules associated with driving. But the first disciples of Jesus moved beyond their initial beliefs and responded to the invitation, “come and see.”

Most of us don’t have a good explanation or a ton of details to offer when someone asks why we attend church or why we follow Jesus. I often hear resistance in the form of phrases like, “I don’t want to follow all those rules,” or “I don’t want to give up control of my life.” This is where most of us falter, because we then mumble something like, “Well, it’s just better.” When we are challenged to invite people to share in our experience, we don’t always know what to say. But if we follow the example of Jesus, all we need to do is simply invite. “Come and see. Come and see what God is still doing in and through Jesus and the community of disciples who have chosen to follow him.”

Why? Because there is a real reason why we call ourselves Christian and why we made the personal decision to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Why? Because Jesus offers a different lifestyle to his followers. Whenever I share my own story, I tell people about my love for Jesus. I believe that in Jesus we see the very nature and person of God. It is because of Jesus that we are able to stand before God without having to worry about our sinful lives or our redemption. At some point in my life, and I believe this is true for most of us here, I realized that there was nothing more important that I could do with my life than follow Jesus and ever since that day, my faith in Jesus has been at the very core of my being. It is who I am.

My story will be different from your story. And your story will be different from another person’s. But what we all have in common is that we responded Jesus’ invitation, “Come and See.” We spent enough time with Jesus to get to know him, and Jesus was able to open our eyes enough so that we could make a decision about what our next step would be.

This is where I see our faith as being similar to the response we have when we see a speed limit sign. Initially, depending on our lifestyle, we may interpret Jesus’ way of life as restrictive rather than freeing. We’re being asked to slow down to a safe and appropriate speed – a speed that will enable us to travel that stretch of highway safely. When we drive through a neighborhood, we travel at a speed where we can be aware of children playing with each other and dogs darting into the streets, where we can wave at the people working in their yards, or smile at the face peering out from behind the curtains. Jesus invites us to enter his world, to be aware of our surroundings and to respond to the circumstances we experience or the situations that we see.

Each one of us is called to share our experience of grace to our neighbors and to the people around us. Not all of us are called to the same tasks, and not all of us are equipped with the same gifts, but we are all called.

God knows what we have been through and God knows what we are capable of. Our call is reflective of who we are. Occasionally, God calls us to change our vocation, but most of the time, God uses the life we are already living to reach out to others.

To be a disciple includes “finding” Jesus and responding to his call directly or through others, acknowledging his true identity, and pointing others to him.

Our challenge as disciples is to bring others with us when we hear the authentic word of God. In Acts 4:20, Peter says, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” When people ask us, “What’s going on with you people at the church?” Don’t be afraid to answer, “Come and see.” Amen.