“Come and See”
Kathy Allen, MDiv
February 11, 2024
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
The conversation started around the dinner table when our two daughters were about middle-school age.
· “Why don’t we ever travel anywhere?”
· “Remember that big 10-day cross-country trip? Horseback riding in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, Tom Sawyer’s caves in Hannibal, Missouri?”
· “No, that doesn’t count. We were moving.”
· “What about those trips to Seattle and Niagara Falls when you were competing in YMCA Nationals for gymnastics?”
· “No, that doesn’t count, either.”
· “What then did you have in mind?”
· “Some place like: a beach in Mexico, or skiing in Europe.”
Oh, I was beginning to understand. This was more about international trips their friends were taking. And I knew that nothing I could say about family budgets and priorities—like tithing for church or saving for college – would dissuade them from this line of thinking. So, I remember trying this approach:
“You’re right. Those sound like great trips. You know that Dad and I travelled a lot before you were born. Here’s how we did it. Dad started in high school. As a Boy Scout, he went to New Mexico – twice – to Philmont Scout Ranch. Another summer, he went to Europe with a high school band. When we were in our 20s, work took us to Germany for 4 years, and we travelled a LOT for throughout Europe, Africa, and the Near East. So, girls: here’s the thing: Don’t expect family vacations to be your ticket to the world. If you want to see beyond your own back yard, look for opportunities through school, work, and even church. Like we did.”
So, they did. In middle or high school, both were in a Spanish-language exchange program with a sister school in Chile, South America, where they studied and lived with families. One daughter made several trips, beginning her passion for fluency in multiple languages.
The other daughter preferred church-sponsored mission trips. Middle school students went on local and regional work trips. In high school, she went to Montreal, Russia, and Trinidad; and in college, the Dominican Republic and Peru.
I am convinced that hands-on mission trips like these have enormous impact on young people in better understanding & shaping their faith & their world view. It gets them out of classrooms and buildings and into streets and fields and construction sites. It can help them increase their faith in God and in themselves – and in their peers – and in strangers. I’ve seen students come
back from trips like these—forever changed by these new experiences and cultures. I’m sure you’ve seen this, too.
But here’s the thing. So often, when we would ask our girls about their trips, they usually had little to say. They would often shrug their shoulders saying, “Oh, it was fine.” You know what that’s like. Maybe it’s part of being a teenager. But maybe something else is going on here. Maybe it just takes time to process what has happened – and to know WHAT to say – if anything at all.
Our Scripture text today is from Mark 9 – a passage at the very center of Mark’s Gospel – halfway between Jesus’ baptism and his resurrection. To this point, we’ve heard accounts of Jesus’ teaching, healing, driving out demons, and other miracles. Peter has just acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah; and Jesus has spoken plainly to his disciples about his forthcoming suffering, rejection, death, and rising again after 3 days.
Now, here we are: Today’s Scripture describes what we call “The Transfiguration”—an event familiar to many of us. But this time, I began to consider it from John’s point of view – rather than Peter’s – the disciple so often the center of attention and the most vocal of the “inner three.”
Let’s think about John for a moment. He’s generally believed to be the youngest of the 12 disciples. As a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, I wonder just how often he travelled from his own back yard because of duty to work and family. When Jesus called the two sons of Zebedee to follow him, what might have compelled young John to respond? Was it a true “calling,” based on earlier encounters with Jesus? Was it to stick with his older brother for some perceived grand adventure – beyond the family fishing business? Did he have any regrets about leaving his father “holding the nets,” so to speak, along with the other hired men? We just don’t know, do we?
What we do know is that as they travelled together, John got to know Jesus better and better, especially aspects of his prayer life. Jesus often seemed to prefer solitary prayer, on a mountain, or before dawn. Often coinciding with major decisions or events: like before appointing his 12 disciples, or after feeding the 5,000.
On this occasion, John might have wondered: why did Jesus ask the three of them – Peter, James, and himself – to come along, when he usually preferred solitary prayer?
As they arrived at their destination, what did John see? He saw Jesus “transfigured” before them, dazzling and bright, more brilliant than anything he might have ever seen before. And not just this: but also, two men talking with Jesus. Who were they? And where did they come from?
Imagine with me, for a moment, what this scene may have resurrected for John, from his childhood. Maybe he recalled being in Synagogue School, along with other boys, sitting at the foot of another Rabbi who droned on and on, it seemed. John found it so hard to sit still. He would twist and turn and squirm, often scratching in the sand. The Rabbi might have scolded, “John, sit up and listen!” “I am, I am,” he might have muttered to himself. He was in fact very attentive, while drawing in the dirt: especially the fire and clouds that came up in so many of the stories as the Rabbi talked about the Shekinah: the radiant, divine presence and Glory of God. John remembered drawing:
· A burning bush that didn’t burn up.
· A cloud by day & fire by night that led their ancestors out of Egypt.
· The man who went up on a mountain, covered by clouds and fire, and whose face was “all lit up” when he came back down clutching those stone tablets.
· The chariot of fire when that prophet was carried up to heaven in a whirlwind.
Drawing—“doodling” in the dirt, while listening—had helped etch these childhood stories deep within his memory.
And now, as he looked again and saw Jesus talking with these two men, other memories bubbled up. He remembered as Jesus taught the crowds—on a mountainside or on a plain, saying, among many other things: “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.”
Maybe now—in this moment—it all began to come together for John. These two men with Jesus were Moses, the great law-giver of the people of Israel; and Elijah, the great prophet and acknowledged precursor of the Messiah. Both forerunners of all that God had promised, and that Jesus was now bringing to fruition. These two men had earlier met God face-to-face on mountaintops and heard his voice among clouds and fire—and in whispers. In this very moment, as a cloud appeared and covered them, John could now see for himself: the Shekinah, the Glory of God. John could now hear for himself the voice of God saying, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.”
John was surely listening. Even if he didn’t understand it all.
As they descended the mountain, “Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9). But why? Young John might have wondered. Why did he bring us along today, to come and see this, and then ask us to keep quiet?
Imagining John’s response to his transcendental moment has reminded me of one of my own. Not exactly a mountaintop experience, but an island epiphany, so to speak.
The year was 2008. Our former church in Northern Virginia was planning a summer mission trip to a sister church in Trinidad. The theme for this trip was “Family of God,” based on 1 John 3:1: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Church families were encouraged to make the trip together, as a bonding experience. Our oldest daughter, then in her third year in college, had been to Trinidad the summer before, and she encouraged us to go as a family. “Come and see what it’s all about. You’ll love the island, the people, and what we’re doing together there.” So, we quickly decided to go: as a family of four.
Are you familiar with Trinidad? We were not. It’s a tiny island off the northeast coast of South America, near Venezuela. It has about 1.5 million residents with great ethnic diversity due to a history of European conquest and immigration from India and Africa. About 40 percent are of Indian ethnicity, about 40 percent African, with the remainder of mixed race. Cultural Hinduism is a strong influence throughout the island, regardless of religious expression.
Our mission team consisted of 15 people ranging in age from 14 to 58. Our daily service projects included health clinics, formal family portraits, and music lessons. Each evening, our team led an open-air “Crusade” with exuberant praise music, worship, preaching, and hands-on activities for neighborhood children.
It was an incredible week of new sights, sounds, sensations, and relationships. My journal entry for our last day probably best captures the highlights of my experience. Here are some excerpts:
“Sunday morning, July 6: Church services began at 8:00 am … For the first hour, we sang praise songs, had scripture, prayer, a solo, the children’s Sunday School report, and more worship songs, … Then Pastor Benny announced that Terry [our photographer] would take a final family portrait, of the entire congregation. … While she did this, I was snapping away with my own camera, capturing the light and dark faces, which in their cultural tradition would have represented different castes and levels of acceptance, including outcasts. But here they were all
together, smiling and laughing, in close proximity, gathered together in this church, in this family, as brothers and sisters in Christ. …
“Our 3-hour service concluded with Pastor Benny’s sermon and a time of healing prayer…. Never had I experienced such joy in worship, adoration of God, and the movement of the Holy Spirit until that Sunday morning … in Power & Signs Ministries Church in Las Lomas, Trinidad. This reached a peak for me as we sang an old, favorite hymn. I was stunned. How did they know this hymn? And just as quickly, it came to me: why wouldn’t they? I realized that here I was, immersed in another culture, in another part of the world, … all together in the presence of the one true living God.… Truly we are the Family of God.… all precious in his sight. … Truly this is the kingdom of heaven that is prophesized in Revelation, where all peoples from all corners of the world “know the words” and sing together in harmony in one joyful, glorifying voice in praise to the one true living God. On earth as it is in heaven.”
Monday morning, I returned to work from my transformative island epiphany. What a harsh return to reality it was. I recall a colleague stopping by to say, “So, how was your trip? Did you have fun?” I remember being at such a loss for words. How could I possibly convey all that I had just experienced? All I could say was: “I’ll never be the same.” Now I began to better understand why my daughters – and so many others — often have so little so say about their trips after they returned.
Have you ever felt this way, whether in Trinidad, or Thailand, or Brownsville, Texas; or in the Toddler Room on any given Sunday morning? How can you even begin to describe the indescribable to someone who hasn’t been there for themselves?
What young JOHN saw—that day—on that mountain in the presence of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah—there’s no evidence that he EVER specifically spoke about it or wrote about it. Not in his Gospel, or in his 3 letters (I, II, III John), or in Revelation. Maybe he understood that – better than telling about certain experiences – it may be better for others to see for themselves, firsthand. Or better yet – to invite someone to come along to see it—together. That was John’s way. Hear what he wrote, over and over, in his own Gospel, the Gospel of John:
· When he and Andrew first encounter Jesus and ask where he is staying, Jesus answers, “Come and you will see.” (John 1:39)
· The next day, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip, in turn, beckons Nathanael, who questions whether anything good can come out of Nazareth. What does Philip say? “Come and see” (John 1:46)
· After the Samaritan woman encounters Jesus, she returns to her hometown. What does she tell the people? “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:29); and
· Upon the death of their brother Lazarus in Bethany, Mary and Martha invite Jesus into their grief, saying, “Come and see, Lord” (John 11:34).
John captures this invitation yet one more time in the Book of Revelation. Now an old man, having lived longer than any of the other disciples, he’s had a long time to reflect upon his time with Jesus, and what it all meant. Jesus speaks to John in a vision, which may have been as vivid—and mysterious—as that day Jesus took John with him onto the mountain:
In Revelation 4:1, John writes: After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
Come and see, Jesus invites us.
Come and See, John writes…over and over.
Come and see, shall we?
And trust the Spirit to take it from there.
May it be so.