Life is filled with invitations, both formal and informal. If you think about it, the announcements at the beginning of our worship service are invitations. You’re invited to hear John Buchanan speak on legacy. You’re invited to join the choir. You’re invited to come to the Youth Group party or to try a class.
With our daughter graduating from high school this spring, we faced a new invitational challenge – the graduation party. Because there was no RSVP, we were left wondering how to know how many of those who got invitations would accept them. We wanted to be good hosts with plenty of food and drinks on hand, but we also didn’t want to end up drowning in uneaten cake and sandwiches when the party was done. Would those who got the invitation accept it?
Accepting the invitation is a major part in finding yourself participating in the event. If you’ve ever gone on a church retreat, you’ve likely found yourself facing multiple opportunities to accept invitations. Sure, you’ve already accepted one to attend the retreat in the first place, but during the time you’re there, lots of minor, less formal things happen.
Perhaps you’re a card player, and you roam the group looking for three others to play euchre. You are being invitational, and you are hoping three others will accept your invitation to give their time to this game. Some people love being invitational like that, and others find it extremely intimidating to risk finding others to join in. Other times you’re passively waiting for someone to initiate the game, sitting there hoping someone will invite you in. When they do, you spring to action – “Thanks for asking! I love euchre!”
At other times, perhaps you’re interested in doing something, just not what you’ve been invited to do. Sometimes you don’t want to play euchre. You’re hoping there’s a game of kickball coming your way. Life is full of invitations – large and small – but invitation is always paired with accepting or rejecting the invitation.
Over the coming month, we’re going to consider what it means to follow Jesus from several different angles. Today we’re focusing on invitation and acceptance. The gospel of John offers us a picture of how Jesus invites his first disciples. In what we read three people accept Jesus’ invitation – Andrew, Andrew’s brother Simon, and an unnamed person. In the verses right after our reading, two more people accept Jesus’ invitation – Philip and Nathanael.
In this short section of the Bible, we see how the invitation comes to people in different ways. It’s not one-size-fits-all. For Andrew and the unnamed person, it is John the Baptist who points to Jesus, calling him the “Lamb of God,” and they take that as a cue to get closer to Jesus. Following their encounter with Jesus, Andrew goes to his home and invites Simon, his brother, to meet Jesus. For Philip, he responds to a direct invitation from Jesus. “Follow me,” Jesus says, and Philip does. Part of that response means Philip is ready to invite Nathanael to do the same.
So, the invitation comes in many ways, but each way expects a response. The how may be different but the why is broadly the same. What is the why? They respond positively to Jesus so that they can be with him and learn from him. They accept because of who Jesus is. They accept because they are looking for something that will bring a deeper meaning to their existence. They accept because they’re on a quest.
I believe that we’re all searching for something. Some of us are quite active in that search. Some of us have grown weary in the search and have stepped back. Perhaps some of us don’t even know that we’re looking for something. Jesus’ first words in John’s gospel form a question that we will spend our entire lives asking. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks Andrew. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks the unnamed person in this story. And the text turns to us as well. “What…are…you…looking for?” Jesus asks you and me.
It’s a deep question. The verb here can be translated as “to look for.” It also can be translated as “want,” as in “What do you want?” which is a question that confronts us over and over again in life. It can also be translated as “to seek.” That is, every one of us is on a quest in life. What are we seeking? Jesus’ question assumes that everyone is searching for something. His question is also an invitation to find their yearning in following him.
So, what are you looking for? If Jesus were to ask you that question this morning, what would your answer be? This past Monday Pastor Kristine had our Session elders read and discuss this very passage. She asked them, “What do you think people are looking for today?” I loved listening to their answers. People are looking for a home, a place to belong. People are looking to be right. People are looking for security. I’m sure you all could give me lots of interesting answers to this question, whether it’s answering it for yourselves or for others in your life. What are you looking for? A better life? Happiness? Ways to make your community better? Restored relationships? Peace? To be left alone? Wealth?
When we are looking for something, we are on a quest. It is active. This is Luke Skywalker with Yoda in the Dagobah System learning what it takes to be a Jedi. This is Frodo leaving the Shire in search of the ring. This is Magellan trying to find a way to circumnavigate the world. When Jesus asks us, “What is it that you’re seeking?” it is easiest to picture us setting off on an adventure. But, did you notice what these guys’ response is? “Rabbi,” they say. “Where are you staying?” It’s not, “Where are you going?” or “What adventure awaits us?” They want to be with Jesus.
Like the word for “seeking” in Jesus’ question, the answer points to something bigger. They want to stay with Jesus, to be with him, to abide with him. It’s the same word that Jesus uses later in John when he says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Jesus is not so much inviting us into an adventure; rather, he’s inviting us to stay with him. No matter where we are, no matter what life throws at us, the way to find the path of life is to be with Jesus. He’s the one who fills the God-shaped hole in our hearts.
They ask, “Where are you staying?” Jesus’ response to them is immediate. “Come and see.” It’s an invitation to be with him. Following Jesus can be an adventure, but it is perhaps better framed as a long journey with your best friend. Along the way you’ll encounter joy and sorrow, pleasure and difficulty. Often things will feel stunningly normal. The important piece of following is being with Jesus. Come and see. Abide in me. The seeking is actually in the being with. What are we seeking? We wish to stay with God, and in doing so, we are seeking something that is meaningful and lasting.
I know I speak a lot about following Jesus. I think it’s one of the most important aspects of Christianity, if not the most important. As I read texts like ours from John, it appears fairly straightforward to accept Jesus’ invitation. He’s there in the room. There’s John the Baptist pointing him out as the Lamb of God. Andrew hears John and sees Jesus. He can spend his days physically with Jesus. He can invite his brother Simon Peter to do the same. Come and see works well when Jesus is physically present. What does it mean in this in between time after his resurrection and before his return? This is the space and time we occupy. How do people get to hear the invitation to follow today?
The answer is simple. We do it in the same way that people did when Jesus was walking the earth. Jesus told his disciples that he had to go away and that they would do greater things than he did after he left them. How is this possible? Because we have the presence of the Holy Spirit among us, knitting us into the body of Christ, the church. We are the presence of Jesus in the world today, as imperfect as we are. We are the ones seeking to follow and be with Jesus, which means being with the body of Christ. We are the ones extending the invitation to follow Jesus. We are the ones responding to the invitation to follow Jesus.
When we have encountered the One who brings meaning to our lives, we should be glad to invite others to join in and meet Jesus too. Just like when I find a game I really like, I tell others about it and invite them to play it with me, so too when we have encountered Jesus who has given us new life, we should want to turn that invitation around and extend it to others.
So, I leave us with a couple of questions today. The invitation is out there for all of us. First, consider this: Have I responded to Jesus’ invitation to come and see what life is like when I am with him? We all handle invitations differently. Sometimes we get an invitation we have always wanted, and we eagerly RSVP to it right away. Sometimes we get an invitation and we let it sit on the counter, thinking we might join in but that there just might be something better to come along. So we delay. Sometimes we get an invitation and say, “No way! I’m NOT joining in.” I cannot speak to where you are with Jesus’ invitation to follow him, but I do want to encourage you to accept his invitation if you haven’t. He’s the way to full life, and being with him is crucial to living in that way.
Second, once I’ve accepted this invitation to follow Jesus, have I been doing any inviting? Andrew meets Jesus, goes home, and brings Simon Peter to Jesus. The pattern of following Jesus is one of accepting the invitation and of extending the invitation. In this season of people reengaging with the church, this is an opportune time to invite others to meet Jesus at First Presbyterian. They might come. They might not. But if we don’t extend an invitation, they definitely won’t come!
Jesus invites all of us to follow him. Learning to accept that invitation is a lifelong practice, choosing over and over again to respond to that invitation. Friends, come and see what Jesus is all about. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Learn the way of love by accepting his invitation and being with Jesus.
 Michelle J. Bartel, Foundational Essay from Follow Jesus curriculum, 25.
 Lamar Williamson, Preaching the Gospel of John, 21.