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Tuesday, January 17 2012

John 1:43-51

          A number of years ago, my beloved wife Nancy with whom I am well-pleased and I went over to Grover’s on Transit Road.  We heard a lot about the big, juicy hamburgers they serve there, and decided we would try it for ourselves.  Now if you’ve ever been to Grover’s, you know it is not a very big place.  You get there, they put your name on a chalk board, and you wait.

          So there we were, standing outside waiting our turn for a table, when we started up a conversation with the couple that was behind us.  I would say that this couple was probably a good 10 to 15 years older than we were, and we enjoyed our conversation with them. 

          When finally we were seated, we were seated at a table for four near the front door.  So we looked at this other couple and said, “Why don’t you join us,” which they did.

          We talked about church of course, because when people ask either Nancy or me what we do for a living, the conversation always turns to church or religion when people find out that we are pastors.  So I invited them to Zion, and they politely said that they might just do that, but also let us know that they were Catholics worshipping at Our Lady of Peace.   Which is fine.  I don’t care where people go as long as they go.

          In the course of the conversation we learned that at one time they lived in Niagara Falls.  And I said, “Really!  I grew up in Niagara Falls. Where in Niagara Falls did you live?”

          And they said, “99th Street.”

          And I said, “Really!  I grew up on 98th Street.  When did you live on 99th Street?”  And they said it was in the early 70’s.

          And I said, “No way!  When you lived on 99th Street – I was your paperboy.”  And it was only then that I realized that they looked familiar, but you know, after 30 years of not seeing someone, both I and they looked, well, older. 

          But here’s the best part.  At the end of the meal, when our checks arrived, they took our check, and paid for our meal, because, as the man said, “When you were our paperboy, we didn’t have enough money to give you a tip.  So you let me pay for this.” 

          How about that!  I got my last tip as a paper boy some 30 odd years after I delivered my last paper.  Let me tell you, you never can tell what might happen when you just start a conversation.

          Let me tell you another story.  This happened, again, just a couple of years ago at a little restaurant called The Springs, just down the road from our church camp at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center, which we all know as LCLC.  It was a Friday night.  The next day I would be riding my bike around Lake Chautauqua in the annual Ride Around the Lake fundraiser for LCLC.

          I was by myself, and seated next to me at another table was a couple from out of state.  And they started up a conversation with me.  Now here’s the thing.  I’ve gotta say that I really wasn’t interested in talking.  We introverts are just that way sometimes.  But they got to asking me about what to do and see around the lake, and I told them what I knew, even though I wasn’t from the area, and my knowledge of the area beyond the Chautauqua Institute was limited. 

          And then they wanted to know what I was doing at the lake.  And of course I had to tell then.  I had to tell that I was a pastor – and that I was riding my bike around the lake the next day as a fund raiser for the church camp just up the road.  And again, the conversation touched on church and religion.

          Finally, when I finished my meal, and as I got up to leave, the woman turns to her husband and says, “Harry.  Give the man $20 for his ride.”  I think her husband pretended not to hear her, and she repeated, “Harry.  Harry give the man a twenty for his ride!”  And I thanked them, profusely.  And I think it was that $20 that makes me remember that conversation.  Because, quite frankly, I tried to politely ignore them at first.  I know!  Hard to believe.  But that’s just the way I was feeling that evening.

          But even more important to me than the $20 bill they gave me for the Ride Around the Lake, was the lesson I learned about the importance of being ready to talk to anyone at anytime – especially if it becomes an opportunity to share your faith.  You never can tell what might happen when you just start a conversation.

          Now I could tell you about conversations I’ve had with people on airplanes.  I must say I always cringe when my seat partner asks me what I do for a living.  I’m tempted to tell them I’m in sales.  Which I am.  I’m a “Good News” salesman.  I have good news to share and to give away. 

          But let me tell you about another conversation that I had with a couple that Nancy and I met several years ago at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  It was a preseason game.  Someone from Nancy’s church had given her the tickets.  And I think I know why.  Quite frankly, the game was boring as all get out.  But sitting in the seats directly in front of us was a 30ish couple with three young children.

          So we started ignoring the game, and struck up a conversation with them.  And of course, they got around to asking, “So what do you do for a living?”  After our normal hesitation we said, “We’re both Lutheran pastors.” 

          And they said, “Oh, we’re Lutheran too!  We belong to St. John’s on Main Street.   But we live in Elma now, and we haven’t been to church in awhile because it’s too far to drive.”

          Now you’ve got to understand that the town of Elma is near and dear to our hearts.  Nancy’s first call was at St. John’s Lutheran in Elma, and so we started talking to them about Elma, and more importantly, inviting them to pay a visit to St. John’s in Elma. 

          Now I don’t know if that young family ever did visit that little Lutheran church in Elma.  I don’t know if any of the three conversations I have just shared with you made any impact on the people with whom Nancy and I held those conversations.  I would like to think that they did.  The simple fact that I remember them says that they had an impact on me. 

          The point is that as followers of Jesus Christ, we never know when an opportunity to share our faith might come up.  And all we need to do is to just start a conversation.  Or, engage in conversation if someone starts up a conversation with us. 

          That’s pretty much what’s happening in our Gospel reading today.  Jesus approaches a man named Philip, he starts a conversation, and somewhere in that conversation Jesus offers an invitation to Philip to “Come, follow me.”  Philip in turn starts a conversation with a man by the name of Nathaniel.  He tells Nathaniel that they have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  When Nathaniel asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth, Philip tells him, “Come and see.”

          And come and see they both did.  They watched as Jesus made a difference.  They watched as Jesus touched hearts and changed lives.  They saw transformation in others just as they experienced transformation in their own lives.  So when Philip asked Nathanael to come and see, he knew Jesus would make a difference.  Philip simply started a conversation that ended with, “Come and see.”   “Just come and see, that's all I ask.”

          This room is filled with believers.  But sometimes I think we are just a little too comfortable, or shy or reluctant to go outside of our comfort zones, or perhaps even afraid what people might think if we just start a conversation where we talk about our faith.  Sometimes I think we just get a little too comfortable.

          I like the story of the two robins sitting in a tree. "I'm really hungry," said the first one. "Me too," said the second one. "Let's fly down and find some lunch."         They flew to the ground and found a nice plot of plowed ground full of worms. They ate and ate and ate and ate 'til they could eat no more.

          "I'm so full I don't think I can fly back up to the tree," said the one. "Me either." said the second. "Let's just lay here and – bask – in the warm sun." "O.K.," said the first robin.  They plopped down, basking in the sun.  No sooner had they fallen asleep than a big fat cat snuck up and gobbled them up.  As he sat washing his face after his meal, the cat thought, "I love baskin' robins."

          I’m sorry.  I just had to share that.  But there is a message there.  We have a choice to make.  Will we be people who have eaten so much of God's good food that we sit and bask?  Or, will we invite others.  Will we go out of our way to say to people, "Come and see?" That's all I ask, just start a conversation.  Just invite people.  You don’t have to argue with them.  No one was ever to my knowledge argued into the Kingdom anyway.    Just go and ask someone to come and see.  Invite them here to worship.  Invite them to a Bible study, or Sunday school.  Alpha.  Great program, Alpha. 

          No matter where your heart is today, whether you’re a believer, or whether you’re here today with a bit of skepticism, on the edge between faith and doubt.  Doesn’t matter.  Somebody invited you here.  I believe you are here because someone at sometime in some place invited you to come – to come and see – to come and see and to hear what Jesus has to say to you today.  And that’s good.  That’s a good thing.  Others of you have done the inviting – asking people to come and see, and they have.  This church is a growing, vibrant, thriving church because so many of you have talked to others – or invited others to come and see what’s going on – to come and see what the Lord is doing here at Zion Lutheran Church.  And that’s a wonderful thing!

          Folks – wouldn't it be wonderful if "Come and See" became a natural part of our vocabulary?  Our life?  Our relationships?  I know it isn’t always easy – it isn’t always easy to just start a conversation.  But who knows where that conversation will go?  Folks – we ARE in sales.  We have good news to share and to give away – the life-changing, good news message of Jesus Christ to share. 

          Think about it.  Do you know anybody who has enough good news?


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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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