Twice in the first chapter of John’s Gospel we read the words “Come and see!”. Two disciples follow Jesus. He turns and asks them: “What are you looking for?”. They ask him where he is staying. Jesus replies “Come and see!”. Jesus is inviting them to explore becoming disciples.
Then in the next few verses another disciple, Philip, also begins to follow Jesus. Philip tells Nathanael he has found the Messiah. Nathanael gives his scornful reply: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replies: “Come and see!”
This is one of the times of the year when the Church needs to make “Come and see” our song. We need to issue the same gracious invitation to all those whose hearts have been stirred and shaken in recent months.
There was once a Bishop in North Africa called Augustine. He lived in a small town called Hippo. He was a bishop in the days of the early Church when, like today, the Church was called to make Christ known in a marketplace of religions and ideas.
Every year in this season, Augustine would preach his sermons especially to those who were on the very edge of faith and looking in: those on the very threshold of the church. There were many every year. Over these weeks between Christmas and the beginning of Lent, Augustine would urge them to “Come and see!”: to commit to further and deeper exploration of the Christian faith and to baptism at Easter. The whole of the Church year was developed as a way of teaching Christian faith.
Augustine’s sermons would be taken away and discussed by his community. They in turn would encourage family and friends, those for whom they were praying, to come and see: to learn about faith from the beginning and explore becoming a disciple of Jesus.
This ancient annual pattern has lessons for us as a Diocese. Through the autumn, many thousands of people have come to Church for the festivals of harvest and Remembrance and Christmas. Thousands more have attended school services and nativities. As a Church we have ministered to many people over the last year at the most significant moments of their lives following a birth or at a marriage or through funeral ministry.
This is the season – between Christmas and the beginning of Lent – where we need to say to all those people in whom faith is stirring, who are on the threshold of faith: “Come and see!”. Come and look and explore and learn and come know this Jesus, in whom is all the wisdom of the ages.
We need to be clear that we are not simply inviting people to come to church services. We are inviting people to come and learn through something arranged especially for those on the threshold: a Pilgrim course, or Alpha, or Start, or Christianity Explored, or something tailored for your own situation.
There will be some people on the threshold of faith in every place. We are called to support them, to work with them, to encourage them and give our best resources to welcoming and helping people see Jesus in our midst.
I continue my journey across the Diocese this month. In January I’m in the Deaneries of Buckingham, Claydon, Witney and and Amersham. In February I’m looking forward to visiting Wallingford, Bradfield, Sonning, Wycombe and Bracknell. In every place I will be asking especially what churches and parishes are doing to welcome those on the threshold of faith, to say to one and all: “Come and see!”.