We didn’t have much of a plan. In early August of 1983, Joy and I stepped off the plane in Frankfurt, strapped on our backpacks, and started wandering around Germany.
Less than four months earlier we had gotten married in Atlanta. Before tying the knot, we had known each other for less than a year.
We were drawn together by the stuff that makes coyotes howl and mockingbirds sing.
Joy fascinated me, thrilled me, made me laugh, and occasionally utterly confused me. All in the same moment I wanted to embrace her, joke with her, stare at her, and sing with her. When I was away from her I couldn’t get her off my mind. When we were together, hours sped by like minutes.
In late September we would begin studying at the Ruhr University in Bochum. Until then, we wandered from place to place, hopping trains or boats or hiking hilly trails to places suggested by our guide book or by people we met along the way.
For a while at least we were not straining to reach a well-defined destination. And yet, our travels were far from aimless. Our wandering was drawing us closer to each other. Our journey was measured more in time together and the bond we were forming than in miles covered and places visited.
During that month, and for the rest of that academic year, Joy and I came to know each other more intimately and to know the new selves that we were becoming by walking along together.
That’s the nature of wandering.
Jesus wants us to wander with him. To roam through life with him. That’s hard for us to get our minds around. We spend much of our time treating our lives like a goal-driven march.
Getting to our destination preoccupies us. Many of us relate to Jesus as the one who will get us to where we want to go. By contrast, Jesus offers himself to us as the one we yearn to know and the one who will help us discover who we truly are just by walking with him.
In John’s Gospel Jesus calls the first disciples by saying, “Come and see.” Andrew and another disciple were trailing Jesus at a little distance, sort of checking him out anonymously after John the Baptist had identified him as the Lamb of God.
Jesus saw them and asked, “What are you looking for?”
“Where are you staying?” they asked.
Jesus simply said, “Come and see.”
The very next day the newly minted disciple Philip invited his friend Nathaniel to join him in following Jesus. He used Jesus’ own words: Come and see.
Jesus’ invitation is something like this:
“Walk with me for a while. Don’t worry about where we will end up. We’ll discover amazing things along the way. You’ll feel and see and taste how God infuses even the smallest, most ordinary moments with eternal life. You’ll find depths and textures of yourself that you never guessed were there. You’ll be able to appreciate the beauty and goodness of people who used to irritate or bore or offend or even frighten you.”
But, here’s the hitch. When we wander with Jesus, we give up marching doggedly to some destination we’ve already got picked out. Jesus is not our guide to our dream of paradise. He himself is the very intersection of heaven and earth. He is our very heart’s desire.
The theme of wandering with Jesus runs steadily through John’s Gospel.
Jesus blows Nicodemus’ mind with the idea of being reborn from above. Wandering with him is the way to spiritual rebirth. As Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
As Jesus draws near to the Passion, he tells the disciples that all that time walking together has made them friends.
They’ve been walking with him. They’ve grown close by simply stumbling along together. They haven’t completely figured Jesus out, and yet they know him and yearn to know him even better. They haven’t flawlessly applied his teachings to their lives or they haven’t managed to follow his example perfectly. They’ve just spent time wandering with him and with the rest of the shabby, bedraggled bunch shuffling along with him.
John’s is the Gospel that features the beloved disciple. And it’s the Gospel that concludes with the risen Jesus asking Peter the same question three times: Do you love me? Wandering with Jesus is all about relationship.
We now wander with the risen Jesus. Jesus still invites everyone to come and see. Only now he issues that invitation through you and me.
God draws people into relationship when we invite strangers to become friends. To wander with us. All we need to say is,“Come and see.”
Many of our efforts at evangelism fall flat. Frequently those efforts don’t actually get started. We mistakenly assume that issuing an invitation to follow Jesus means convincing people to accept our list of concepts about God and involves demanding adherence to our moral code.
Think a minute about how you respond to other people. Are you drawn to people who tell you that you have to think the way they do or revise your behavior to resemble theirs? Maybe you are. But as for me, I just move on to avoid getting irritated.
Instead of demanding theological conformity and moral compliance, Jesus forms relationship. Come and see, he says. Come along. Let’s see where this will lead.
Sharing our relationship with Christ is not about forcing theological concepts down somebody’s throat or scolding them about their moral failings. It’s an invitation to walk together. To be and to do the Gospel together.
Invite others to come and see as you visit the sick, the lonely, and the imprisoned together. To join you in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, providing access to medical care.
Ask questions. Listen carefully. Speak sparingly. Share your time and give your presence. Tell your story with all its embarrassing twists and false starts not to instruct, but to make yourself vulnerable and approachable.
In our own way, Joy and I are still wandering. We know each other well but there is much more to learn. We still surprise and delight each other every day. There’s no telling what tomorrow will bring, but we will step into tomorrow together. That’s what it means to be faithful to each other.
Similarly, we are most faithful to Jesus when we remember that we are still wandering with him. We have not arrived. There’s still much for us to learn. There’s no telling what tomorrow may bring. But we can trust that he will step into tomorrow with us.
This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Shreveport, Louisiana.