The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
We read the story of the call of the boy Samuel. I have noticed that when there is a story with children in it, people think of it as a children’s story. But there is a big difference between a story about children and a story for children. I am not sure who should be reading Little Red Riding Hood, for example, because it ends with way more blood on the floor than children should ever have to imagine, not to mention all the innuendos that we cannot discuss here.
I first heard this first story about the call of Samuel as a child, and I bet you did too. On one level, that is a good thing. I hope every child gets to hear someone call their name and say, “God is calling you.” I hope we all learned that the response of the called is to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
A Life Changing Call
On another level, this is not at all a children’s story. Samuel was called to say some pretty adult things to an adult, about bad things to come, based on bad things done in the past by adults, and none of it is fit for children. I have often said that the bible is an adult book, and this story is one of the reasons.
We call this story a “call narrative” because it tells of a person receiving a calling. Being called is life changing. When a person understands that they are called to do or to be something, a new chapter in their life starts.
We read another call narrative today; actually two call narratives. We read of Jesus’ call to Phillip and then Phillip’s call to Nathanael.
John tells us that Philip, Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida. I am always curious when an insignificant detail is mentioned, especially in the Gospel of John where nearly everything seems to have both a literal and a figurative meaning. It turns out that Bethsaida means “house of hunting or house of fishing” and that is exactly what is going on in this scene. People are hunted or fished for, which is another way of saying they are “called.”
Jesus’ call to Phillip is simple and direct: “Follow me.” Phillip does follow. The first thing Phillip does as a follower of Jesus is to hunt or fish for Nathanael and call him to follow as well.
Nathanael is a bit skeptical. His call has come, not from Jesus directly, but second-hand. Philip recognizes this obstacle and immediately offers a brilliant solution: “Come and see.” Meet Jesus personally for yourself, as I have done, and you will be drawn to follow as I have been. Simply, “come and see.”
This call narrative is written for us. I hope you see yourself in these first disciples. I hope you are able to picture yourself in this story. I wonder when you first became aware that you have been personally called to be a follower of Jesus? I wonder when you first responded to that double call: “follow me…come and see.”?
Certainly our calling began at our baptisms when we were called by our Christian name and someone said, “Child of the covenant, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We became children of God, recipients of God’s spirit.
Most of us were too young to remember the water that touched our skin at our baptisms, but we have felt the call, the tug, the pull on our hearts to follow Jesus. Probably we have felt called for the same reason Phillip did and offered to Nathanael: we have come and seen.
We have seen, in Jesus, a life lived as intended; fully human, fully alive. Awake to God’s presence in the world, open to experiencing God in the moment, welcoming people into his life of all sorts, without distinction, and allowing God to bless them through him. We have “come and seen” in Jesus, a possibility of life as God intended.
This past week we probably all saw the news about the climbers who made it to the top of 3,000-foot Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley’s El Capitan Meadow. Tommy Caldwell, and Kevin Jorgeson free claimed to the summit. That meant enduring incredible pain as their fingers were cut and scraped by the rock face. Climbers are amazing people; the very presence of difficult mountains seems to inspire them. They feel a call to a challenge, and they welcome it.
I thought of them as I was reflecting on these call narratives we read this week. There are some obvious similarities. Samuel, as well as Philip, Nathanael and all the rest of the disciples were called to face enormous challenges. And yet, the call was compelling.
What does the call to follow Jesus mean? It is not a call to comfort, nor convenience. It is not a call to confirmation of all our previously held conclusions. It is not even a call to certainty about where the following will lead.
But it is a compelling call, to us, because we have come and seen something in Jesus that gives us a glimpse of the life we long for.
Nathanael was pretty impressed when he came to Jesus and learned that he had been seen under the fig tree before Phillip found him. But Jesus tells him that was nothing compared to what he is going to see: “angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
As I said, John’s gospel is full of figurative language. We are meant to remember the dream Jacob had of the stairway, or as our translations often have it, the ladder between heaven and earth, on which angels are ascending and descending (Gen. 28:12). It is a meeting point of heaven and earth; God’s realm and the human realm seamlessly connected.
John is making the point that in Jesus, the divine and the human are totally connected. And this is exactly what the call to follow Jesus is all about. It is a call to live life totally connected with God.
I know that Protestants are far more comfortable speaking of “communion” with God rather than “union” with God, but we need to get over it. Union with God, oneness with God is what Jesus prays for all of us to know (John 17).
Union with God means living in the reality that we are beloved sons and daughters of God. It means living with complete trust. We trust that God is with us, we trust that God is for us, we trust that God will lead us through every step of our mortal lives; that God is our source and our final destiny.
This can be a source of great comfort and encouragement, which I hope it is for you. But remember, a call to follow Jesus and to experience union with God is not a call to comfort or convenience.
We are human. There are a lot of obstacles that get in the way. Some of them we bring on ourselves. And we live in a world that seems to be rigged against those who try to follow the Jesus path.
So what does the call to follow Jesus, the call to “follow” and to “come and see” involve, if not comfort and convenience?
For me, it means answering the call to contemplation, the call to silence. If following Jesus means, at least, at some level, imitation, then it means following Jesus by imitating his practice of solitude and silence.
Silence is hard. In silence, we die to ourselves. It is, in fact, difficult to sit for twenty or thirty minutes without speaking, and without mentally speaking to ourselves as we normally do. We die, in that time of silence, to the voice in our heads narrating our plans for the future and ruminating about our past experiences. We die to our narratives of self-justification for our past and our narratives of control over our futures.
But, somehow, in that silence, we become more present to the Presence of God. We become more conscious of our true union with God, the source of everything. We become more mindful of the present moment, the only moment we ever get to live in.
And the effect of the practice of silence, over time, is that we become more alive and more present to the moments we are living. We become more mindful throughout the day.
The practice of silent, centering prayer leads to greater compassion. We develop a greater capacity to see, as Jesus saw, the real people around us and the pain they carry. We become better listeners to the stories of others. We become more conscious of how much we are alike, despite surface differences.
I have not doubt that it was Jesus’ practice of solitude and silence that enabled him to see the world as he saw it and to know how to respond to what he saw. He was at one with the Father and knew himself as God’s son, and was able to see people with compassion.
Instead of being disgusted by disease, as the natural response is, Jesus reached out and touched people in healing ways. Instead of being put off by people who were different – ethnically different like Samaritans or Romans, or different from him by gender, or age, or status, he was able to welcome and engage them in life-giving conversations.
Instead of seeing hopeless tragedy, in the presence of thousands of poor hungry people, he took, bless, broke, and shared what was available, and multitudes went away satisfied by the abundance. There was even left over abundance.
I believe it was also Jesus’ time in solitude and silence that enabled him to see with God’s eyes the injustice going on at the temple in those days and to take the risk of acting against it. It was Jesus’ seamless sense of connection with God, his Father, that inspired him to say, to the money changers in the temple, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
So, both Jesus’ compassion for people in pain, and passion for justice were direct products of his practice of silent union with his Father.
Being The Called
“Follow me” Jesus calls to all of us. Follow me, he calls us, into union with the Father. Follow me to a life of compassionate welcome and healing. Follow me to a risk-taking passion for justice, for advocacy on behalf of the powerless and on behalf of our fragile, hurting planet.
“Follow me” Jesus calls to all of us. Come and see what life can be like. Come and follow the one who knew what it was to live personally with heaven and earth in seamless contact.
And then, Jesus calls us, “follow me” out to places of pain and suffering, people in desperate need of compassion, and accept the challenge ahead.
We always close our Contemporary service by singing a musical setting of “Prayer of Good Courage,” which I think is fitting for us:
O God you have called us,
to ventures where we cannot see the end,
by paths never yet taken,
through perils unknown.
Give us good courage,not knowing where we go,
to know that your hand is leading us
wherever we might go.