The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 18, 2016
Jesus never gives up on trying to strike up a friendship with everyone and anyone. In that pursuit, He takes each person as they come. He finds no fault with their having qualms and doubts about Him. He meets them where they are, and asks nothing of them but a little openness to Him.
Jesus wants His followers to do the same, even with those who dismiss Him as unworthy of their attention.
After meeting Jesus, Philip told Nathaniel how wonderful Jesus was. When Nathaniel expressed skepticism about anything good coming out of Nazareth, Philip did not return fire but only urged him to “come and see” for himself. It’s just what the friends of Jesus do.
Ken and Floy are friends of Jesus. They got to know Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, then a militant feminist and tenured professor in Women’s Studies at Syracuse University. At the time that the three of them were first getting acquainted, the only Christians Rosaria and her lesbian partner had known were “intellectually impaired” Neanderthals who had expressed hatred of people of their sexual orientation. As she got to know Ken and Floy, she was impressed by their depth and carefulness of thought – and their graciousness and kindness. So, when that traditional, straight, Christian couple invited her to enjoy a home-cooked dinner at their house, she surprised herself by agreeing to do so.
Yet, during the meal she caught herself holding her breath in expectation of being punched in the stomach with some grossly offensive Christian comment. At the time, she viewed the God in whom they believed as a figment of their imagination who, if He did exist, did not care one whit about people such as she. She also viewed the church as an impediment to a freer and more just society, and Christians as insensitive, cruel people lacking in compassion.
Rosaria was floored by the couple’s courtesy, respectfulness and warm generosity of spirit. She was likewise stunned by how the Savior in whom they believed seemed so alive to them – and so three-dimensional, wise and willing to acknowledge all truth.
What she was most amazed by, however, was that Ken and Floy didn’t try to force a debate on worldviews or even to challenge the values she espoused that were contrary to their own. They listened to her just in order to learn what was on her mind and heart.
During the meal, they did not “present the gospel”; and afterward they did not invite her to church. Because of those glaring omissions to the Christian script as she had come to know it, Rosaria knew, when they told her they’d love to stay in touch, it was safe to accept their open hand of friendship.
Following that first dinner together, the three of them travelled a long journey with each other, patiently and carefully keeping step with one another. Today they continue to walk together, only now as members together of Jesus’ family. Like Nathaniel, who had his doubts about Jesus but checked Him out anyway, Rosaria came to give Jesus a second look, see Him for who He really is and realize He’d be the best friend and guide one could ever want.
Rosaria would never have gotten to that point had Ken and Floy rushed the process and not recognized that at the start she was not ready to give Jesus a chance, let alone come to church. “[Coming to church] would have been,” she later said, “too threatening, too weird, too much. So they brought church to me.”
The friends of Jesus bring the church to those they care about – and as much of Jesus as those they care about can take in at the moment. But when the time is right, they invite them to come and check Jesus out first hand and find out who He can turn out to be for those who give Him half a chance. The friends of Jesus meet others where they are – even those who believe Jesus and His church to be the enemy of their most cherished values, who feel they’ve already got Jesus figured out and categorized in a nice little box (as, say, a merely admirable moral model), or who only have eyes to see Him as a magician who might do them a miraculous favor in a time of need.
To encourage others to check Jesus out, we don’t have to study a bunch of sales pitches. We just have to study those we care about. We have to listen to them carefully, and come to understand where they are coming from, and how they might come to want to give Him a second look.
If we care about them, how could we not try to open their minds to the biggest blessing we’ve ever known?
It’s just what the friends of Jesus do. I see it in Janice who noticed the gothic girl who always showed up at Starbucks the same time she did and ordered the same latte with skim milk. Though a little intimidated by the girl’s stud piercings, tattoos and sullen eyes, Janice found herself thinking a lot about the girl, and she started to pray for an opportunity to get to know her. One day, she found herself standing next to her in the line, and Janice remarked with a smile that neither one of them needed to tell the barista what to make them. Another day, Janice offered to hold the girl’s backpack while she rummaged around in it for exact change.
One thing led to another. At first, the two of them only exchanged names and pleasantries. Then they’d sometimes linger on the sidewalk a few minutes together, sipping on their steaming coffee and chatting a bit. Finally, they decided to meet for a bite to eat, and they promised to do it again soon.
At some point, Janice prays, the time will be right and she will invite her new friend to “come and see’, come and check out Jesus.
I see the same in Tony. He started paying attention to this guy at work whom everybody else shakes their heads at – and avoids. Joe is a deadbeat dad who’s been sued for child support by two ex-wives but who loves to complain about how everyone else has done him wrong. Needless to say, no one wants much to talk with Joe, and he almost always goes to lunch by himself. Nevertheless, Joe got on Tony’s heart and he started praying for him.
One day, Tony found himself with a two-for-one coupon from Burger King, and he asked Joe if he wanted to join him for a free Whopper. As they ate, they talked baseball, and Joe happened to mentioned how he’d played a couple of years in the minors with the St. Louis Cardinals organization. When Tony showed genuine interest in hearing about his life, Joe started talking about his entire athletic career, and then about the other ways in which the dreams he’d had for his life had come to nothing. Joe even dropped a line about how he wished his life could’ve been better.
At some point, Tony prays, the time will be right and he will invite Joe to “come and see”, come and check out Jesus.
May we follow the example of Philip, Ken, Floy, Janice, Tony and countless other friends of Jesus!