How often do you hear or say, “Look at this” or “Listen to this,” every day – in conversation or on TV or social media? How often do you hear or say that about God in your life or the life of the parish? Sometimes we need each other to show us God’s activity in the world, those signs of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. That’s what happens over and over in the gospel of John. “Come and see” is almost a refrain.
This morning’s lessons focus on God’s call and the demands it makes on a person’s life. They also highlight God’s gift of community.
Let’s begin with the story of Samuel and Eli. Now, Eli is not a very good priest and his sons are an embarrassment – no, they’re scandalous, even blasphemous. It’s been a long time since God has revealed God’s self, since anyone has dreamed dreams or seen visions. And Eli is getting old and his eyesight is beginning to fail.
Samuel, on the other hand – well, Samuel is the son of Hannah who had desperately prayed for a child on the steps of the Temple. Samuel was the answer to her prayer. And she kept her vow and dedicated him to God, giving him to Eli to care for and raise in the Temple as soon as he was weaned.
Now, after years of silence, God is making an appearance. To the child, Samuel. Now, Samuel still needs Eli, this rather fallible priest, to help him to recognize God. Eli tells Samuel what to do and say.
Here’s the hard part. The first thing God calls on Samuel to do is to deliver bad news to the man who is not only his teacher and mentor, but his only family. Remember, he’s a child and he must tell his foster father that God is firing him, so to speak, and wiping out his legacy.
God calls on Samuel to move the community towards justice and righteousness. To do that means Eli must step aside. Following God’s call can be risky.
The gospel this morning continues the theme of Call. We’re back in John’s gospel and the calling of the first disciples. Now this is not like picking teams in gym with Jesus pointing to the particular people he wants.
No, it begins, a few verses earlier, with two of John the Baptist’s disciples running after Jesus down the road. Jesus turns around and asks them, “What do you want?” I imagine it surprised them; they weren’t quite prepared for this and responded with a question, “Where do you live?”
“Come and see,” Jesus says. So, they do. Then one of them goes and gets his brother and takes him to Jesus. The next day, Jesus meets Philip and invites him to follow. Then Philip invites Nathanael. Now, Nathanael is skeptical, but Philip says, “Come and see.”
There’s a whole network of people who draw together to form a community around Jesus as he begins his public ministry.
I often say that God transforms the world by transforming one person at a time. But God accomplishes that transformation, not in isolation, but through community.
Tomorrow, we, as a nation, will celebrate the life of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is now revered as a national icon of Civil Rights and especially of the power of non-violent protest. He is often portrayed as a political figure. However, his life, his vocation was rooted in God. He did his work through the church. For many, he is seen as a prophet, called by God to speak Truth to Power. Some even see him as a saint and he is included in The Episcopal Church’s calendar of commemorations.
In American civic lore, Martin Luther King is often held up as an example of the “right” way, the effective way, to protest as if none of the other civil rights leaders and activists existed or had any impact.
What they often mean, though, is this: You should protest in a way that doesn’t interrupt my life, cause me any inconvenience, make me confront my own role in unjust or racist systems, or make me feel uncomfortable in any way. In other words, I want to be able to easily ignore you and your grievance.
We so often forget just how disruptive those protests were; that non-violent protest can include civil disobedience – disobeying unjust laws – and that sometimes those in power respond with violence. We forget that Martin Luther King was not only revered by many, but at the time, he was so reviled by some that an assassin killed him and many other people wanted to.
That’s the ugly side of America. The side we want to pretend doesn’t exist or exists apart from ourselves; just in some fringe or bad apples. That’s the side that continues to exist and has become increasingly loud and violent over the past few weeks. The side of ourselves from which we must repent and which we must continue to actively resist.
Martin Luther King is an icon, but he wasn’t alone. God called him into a community that was ready, that God had prepared for generations. God called him to lead that community – along with numerous other leaders and communities – to raise their voices and take action to work for justice and peace and human dignity for all people. To resist the evil of racism and white supremacy. And also, God called him to prepare that community to continue the work when he was no longer with them. Because it’s God’s work.
King built a community and a movement through the church; through worship and fellowship and prayer in community. By proclaiming God’s Word; the Good News in Christ Jesus.
Following God’s call is hard, it can be dangerous, and here’s the frustrating part, it’s never finished. Much as I would like to check off “done” next to “thy kingdom come,” it doesn’t work that way.
And so, together, we celebrate the steps along the way. We need community to help us see and celebrate; to say, “come and see,” “Look at that,” “Listen to this,” and to encourage one another when we fall back.
Come and see where we used to be. Come and see how far we’ve come. Come and see what God just did. Come and see where God is leading us!