A little over a year ago, I got an email from the Search Committee at Hickory Neck, asking me to think about submitting my name for consideration as Rector. They detailed how they obtained my name and several reasons why I should consider applying. “Oh, and by the way,” they said, “the deadline is in one week.” I remember experiencing a wave of emotions from that email. But the first cogent thought I had next was, “Well, I better go and see what they are all about.” I spent the next twenty-four hours pouring over the available information. I could not really explain why, but I knew I wanted to know more.
That is how most of the discernment process went. In various ways, Hickory Neck kept saying to me, “Come and see.” And I kept saying, “Okay.” When confidants would ask what I liked about Hickory Neck, I had a hard time explaining my experience. All I could say was that something about Hickory Neck was very compelling to me. With every email, phone call, interview, or visit – I wanted to know more, to see more, to connect more. Each, “Come and see,” had a note of expectancy, hope, and promise. And every time I came and saw, I wanted to experience more.
The first followers of Jesus are drawn to Jesus in a similar fashion. In our gospel lesson today, John the Baptist keeps pointing to Jesus, trying to convince those around him that they have got to go check out this Jesus character.[i] Three times John basically says, “Come and see this Jesus!” Jesus himself engages others with a similar invitation. He asks what the seekers are looking for, and when they answer, Jesus says, “Come and see.” Jesus does not talk about himself at length, or even really answer the questions of John’s disciples. He simply invites them to “Come and see.” One of John’s disciples, Andrew, after going and seeing Jesus, turns and does the same thing – he grabs his brother, and says to him, “Come and see.” He does not give an elaborate explanation. He brings his brother to Jesus and shows him so that his brother can see too.
We do the same today through the vehicle of our Annual Meeting. Now, for many people, the Annual Meeting is code for the boring business of church. The same thing happens every year: we elect Vestry members, look at the budget, and hear about the state of the church. Some years we might actually be interested in the reports – certainly last year we were eager to hear news from our Search Committee. But most years, the Annual Meeting is sounds about as exciting as the title.
Perhaps the problem is simply the title – perhaps we should call today our Annual Celebration or our annual Come-and-See Party. Because that is what our Annual Meeting really is: a chance for us to come together and see the good work that Jesus is doing in our midst. In 2016 alone, Jesus set our hearts on fire. There were the obvious things: new leadership being installed and ordained; good friends and leaders being sent off to new adventures; hungry, cold neighbors using these walls for shelter and protection; children, youth, and adults finding new inspiration, learning, and joy in their journey; curious visitors becoming brothers and sisters in our growing community; monies, food, and supplies being raised and collected for our neighbors in need; homebound members being brought into our midst through our Eucharistic Visitors; new worship experiences that touched our hearts and sparked something fresh in us; social media giving us tools to invite, welcome, and connect with seekers in our community; witnesses that inspired us to live generously and dream new dreams; laughter, tears, and songs bouncing off these walls; and all manner of traffic on our grounds – from people with gardening tools, to people with casseroles and Brunswick stew, to people with beloved pets, to brides and babies in white gowns, to old friends in caskets, to blue grass musicians. And all of those obvious things do not even touch the not so obvious things: the faithful parishioners who gather weekly in prayer, meditation, and study; the quiet volunteers who send cards, make calls, and visit hospitals; the parishioners who watch small children so their parents can worship; the women who clean the silver, polish the brass, and arrange the flowers; the men who rearrange furniture, hang greens, and cook meals; the children who teach us, inspire us, and lead us in worship; the youth who lead us in song, who ask hard questions, and call us to authenticity; and the brave who keep bugging their neighbors to come and see Christ at Hickory Neck.
This past year has been a year of incredible, rich, life-giving ministry. We see that renewed spirit in the wonderful growth in our ministry this year. Much of what happens at our Annual Come-and-See Celebration will give us the opportunity to do just that – come and see the incredible work Jesus is doing in our community. And the celebration of the good work of 2016 is inspiring work on our growing edges in 2017. Today, parishioners will receive time and talent forms to prayerfully consider how Jesus is inviting us to give back to this life-giving parish. As we look at our budget, we can celebrate how generous giving has helped us grow our staff – and how extended giving will allow us to do even more in 2017. Seeing the many successes of our engagement in social media, we will be looking at even more ways that our online presence allows us to invite more people to come and see Christ at Hickory Neck. Celebrating our work in feeding, clothing, and giving shelter to our neighbors will help us consider how we might encounter Christ in new and more meaningful ways with our neighbors in Upper James City County. With the Holy Spirit blowing behind us, we are filled up with Christ’s light and ready to shine our lights even brighter from this holy hill.
But all that we see and hear today is not just for us. Just like John the Baptist, and Andrew and Simon Peter, when we see all that Christ is and all that Christ is doing, we cannot keep the good news to ourselves. We do not need some lengthy explanation or some canned evangelism speech.[ii] We do not even need to worry about what baggage others might be carrying around about Church. All we need to do is harness those three words, “Come and see.” Those powerful words are all we need because the light of Christ is already aglow in our faces when we talk about Hickory Neck. I know that when I was engaged in the discernment process with the Search Committee, with words failing me, I felt that same glow. The people, the work, the passion, the life present here fills us up with such light that all we need to do is say, “Come and see,” and others will find their way to the same joy we have found in this community.
Like any Sunday, we come together today, especially on this Annual Meeting Sunday to celebrate all that has been, all that is, and all that is yet to come. We gather together to celebrate both our successes and our growing edges. We assemble today to remember what about Jesus draws us in, especially in the context of this community of faith, and then to do our parts to be Johns, Andrews, and Simons, pointing the way for others, and with a twinkle in our eyes, saying, “Come, and see!”
[i][i] Rodger Y. Nishioka, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 262.
[ii] David Lose, “Epiphany 2A: A Question, Invitation, and Promise,” January 9, 2017, as found at http://www.davidlose.net/2017/01/epiphany-2-a-a-question-invitation-and-promise/ on January 11, 2017.