Jan 17th 2021
Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church
“Come and see.”
Let me tell you how I became an Episcopalian and later an Episcopal, or Anglican, priest.
In the early 1980s after having left the Roman Catholic Church and its priesthood -- a story for another time -- I was living and working in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a large and beautiful city in the northern American heartland, called the upper Midwest. On one occasion, as I recall, I attended some sort of mid-winter fund-raising event and cocktail party. I no longer remember the exact circumstances. I did not know anyone there but decided to strike up a conversation with another guy -- about my age -- also grabbing a bite to eat at the buffet table. It turned out he was, like me, also new to Minneapolis, having just been called -- as he explained -- as rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church right there in my neighbourhood.
We chatted for a while and were both intrigued by our somewhat similar paths and backgrounds. Indeed, as it turned out, Father Todd and I had been ordained in our respective denominations on exactly the same day and in the same city back in 1974 -- unbeknownst to each other of course at the time. So, understandably I had a lot of questions for Todd. I was keen to know more about his own personal background. I wanted to know what the Episcopal Church was like. And, I of course had questions about his parish community in Minneapolis, just a few blocks away from me. Finally, after several minutes of conversation, Todd, with a gentle smile on his face, simply said, “Well, Frank, why don’t you come and see for yourself.”
Come and see.
This command or imperative, “come and see,” appears twice in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, from which our Gospel text today is taken. John’s disciples, you may recall, first ask Jesus where he is staying -- of all things -- and he tells them, “Come and see.” They do as he commands of course, and they end up staying with Jesus; and not just for the night. The next day, upon also becoming Jesus’ disciple, the first thing Philip does, according to today’s Gospel account, is to seek out his friend, Nathaniel, and tell him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth."
Nathaniel famously -- and quite skeptically -- asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip’s response, echoing that of Jesus just short verses before, is again, “Come and see.” Come and see for yourself what good can come out of Nazareth. Nathaniel too does as Philip suggests and quickly finds himself in Jesus’ presence and boldly proclaiming to him, “You are the Son of God…” very nearly the same words by the way as uttered by that other famous Gospel skeptic, the Doubting Thomas, upon encountering the risen Christ. The Gospel of John almost seems bookended with issues of doubt and faith.
Indeed, “Come and see” in many ways necessarily sums up every disciple’s response to the Gospel message of faith -- at least as John tells it. For, if you come and see, as Jesus explains to Nathaniel, “you will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man…” And so, “Come and see” are at once words of challenge, invitation, and promise. They are in other words of the very essence of our faith response to Christ. Response and reaction to these words brings the disciples -- and us -- to the place where Jesus dwells. And, they bring vision as well -- knowledge and understanding. They open up the heavens to us that we too might see, follow, and believe.
We of course live in an age of skepticism and doubt. People nowadays seem to question everything -- except perhaps the latest conspiracy theory. It is not too much of a stretch, I suppose, to say that people are quite literally dying in these days of their very doubtsand skepticism. It can be a difficult time to remain people of faith -- and people of hope. Yet that is the challenge of Jesus and his Gospel of truth.
“Well, Frank, why don’t you come and see for yourself.” I was far too polite -- or shy -- back then to ask Father Todd if anything good could come out of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. But I did respond to his call and invitation. I did come and see that his parish community, Saint John’s, was to become for me a spiritual home for a time. I did see that the Episcopal Church was to be the place where I too could be a disciple -- and a priest. The rest of course is, as they say, history. Or at least my history.
Christ, it seems, is still challenging us to come and see, to find the truth. God still brings us all together in odd ways and in many different places and times, whether it be ancient Galilee, the American Midwest, or right here in Budapest. And on ZOOM no less. Our every moment is in a sense a serendipity, an epiphany, an encounter, and a gift. But for people of faith it is also a homecoming to our Lord. Skepticism aside, I can vouch for that from my own experience. No doubt you can too.
But if Christ still calls us to come and see as he called the disciples so long ago, we like Philip must in turn also call others to faith, to come and see for themselves. Our own faith is itself a gratuitous gift, one freely given, one which we have neither earned nor deserved but yet one of great value. As faith-filled disciples of our Lord, we too must bring the precious gift of faith to others. Not so much has changed since the time of Philip and Nathaniel after all that people somehow no longer need to hear Christ’s message of love and acceptance.
In fact, there has probably never been in our lifetimes a time in greater need of God’s assurance of love. And, there is no one but us to proclaim that love to a world so full of pain and doubt. There are others who could or should be here this morning with us. There are others who need to come and see, even if only virtually and online for now. The challenge for all of us is the same challenge Philip faced, that of welcome, openness, and invitation. Who will be there to say, “Come and see,” if not us…?
I am still in touch with Father Todd by the way. We correspond each year around our ordination anniversary, the Festival Day of Saint Andrew, who also figures prominently in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Todd and I are now each in our forty-sixth year of priesthood, thanks be to God. And, I always think of Todd with great fondness and gratitude for his kind invitation to come and see that snowy day in Minneapolis, now so long ago. After all, it is not everyone who becomes an Anglican at a cocktail party.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs