John is different from the other gospels. With Matthew, Mark and Luke there is a certain amount of overlap and the stories are similar. John has several stories that only appear here. John opens by declaring that Jesus is the word of God made flesh and that this “word” has been with God since the beginning of time. John the Baptist is introduced.
As a side note, this gospel was not written by John the Baptist. The gospel was written about 60 years after Jesus’ death so most of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life would have been dead. The stories in this gospel seem to come from a group of Jews who understood Jesus to be the Messiah but who maintained their identity as Jews. The stories are told by this group to help the Jewish community around them understand who Jesus is.
Further on in chapter 1 the story continues with John the Baptist pointing to Jesus and indicating that there is something different about him. Two of John’s disciples quit following him and begin following Jesus. These two disciples seem to be looking for someone to follow—someone to help them make meaning out of life. John wasn’t giving them quite what they needed and so they decided to see what Jesus had to offer. And Jesus’ first words to them ask a question: “What are you looking for?” They respond with their own question: “Where are you staying?” Finally, someone answers a question. Jesus responds by inviting them to “Come and see.” The go to where Jesus is staying. One of the disciples is Andrew. He goes and finds his brother Simon who Jesus immediately renames Simon Peter—meaning “the rock.” The next day Jesus comes across Philip and says, “follow me.” Philip then goes and finds his friend Nathanael. After some initial questioning, Nathanael also understands Jesus to be the Messiah and follows Jesus.
Within this story, we see how networking builds the community of followers. John points out Jesus to Andrew and his friend. Andrew brings along his brother Simon Peter. Andrew and Simon Peter are from the same place as Philip. Philip finds his friend Nathaniel. All of these people become followers of Jesus because someone they know has a connection and invites them into this mission. They don’t randomly find Jesus and begin following.
These first disciples are invited to come and see by someone they know. Folks who have spent their whole life in church sometimes forget that other people need an invitation. They may not realize that there is something to see in the person of Jesus or in the community of a church.
It’s a word that we sometimes avoid in the United Church. Evangelism sometimes makes us uncomfortable. It might conjure up an image of walking up to a perfect stranger and asking them if they know Jesus or handing out pamphlets on a street corner. Maybe it reminds us of missionaries in Africa or the role of our churches in residential schools.
Evangelism at its core simply means to tell the good news. It’s a good word that has a bad reputation. Evangelism is an invitation and it is a practice which has often been lost in the United Church. Evangelism—at its most effective—is an invitation to those around us who may not have experienced Christian community to come and see. It might be an invitation to someone who has been away from Christian community for a while to come and see.
Evangelism doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It doesn’t need to have the purpose of converting or asking for a commitment. Evangelism is an invitation. It seemed to work for Jesus. He went from no followers to five in two days simply by inviting. Perhaps that is something we need to take seriously as a faith community. We sometimes have this idea that people will just turn up but sometimes the most effective way of engaging people is through invitation.
Who might you invite to come and see? How might you be an evangelist for the good news of God among us?