Come and See

Samuel! Samuel!


Insert your name here and say it aloud.


God calls us by name. This isn’t news, but sometimes it’s good to remember that God sees us, God loves us, and God calls us by name—every one of us. Consi! Louise! Suzanne! Jerry! Kia! Margaret! Dennis! Carol!


God calls us by name. Jesus does the same when he calls the disciples. “Follow me,” he says. And Phillip in turn invites his friend Nathanael, who seems to have his doubts. “Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip doesn’t try to explain why he’s so sure that Jesus is the real deal. He just says, “Come and see.”


We are called by name. We are invited to follow. And when we ask questions or want assurances, we’re invited to make up our own minds. “Come and see.” Check it out. Decide for yourself. But the first step is to come.


How do we respond to this invitation—to be called by name, to be invited to come and see?

The following quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and others: “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it passes.” For many of us that may be true about being called by God. We hear that call, but it’s too scary or too much hard work or something, so for whatever reason we lie down or look the other way until the urge passes. We refuse to “come and see.” One woman I know felt God calling her but was afraid to “come and see” because she thought God would call her to feed starving people in Africa, and that did not sound like something she wanted to do. So she tried to ignore God’s call to her. Eventually, though, she went to seminary, and somewhere along the way she discovered that what she was really called to was helping others discern their own call to seminary. She became the head of the admissions office at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, and she was really good at her job. And if that school was not a good fit for what the applicant was seeking, she would say so. That made her trustworthy, because she wasn’t just trying to sell everyone on Pacific School of Religion; she was trying to help applicants discern the best path for themselves. “Come and see.” Check it out. Is this a good fit for you? Furthermore, she worked intentionally to create opportunities for People of Color to check it out, to ask questions and explore concerns, to receive funding, so that all of us could benefit from more People of Color serving in the ministry.


Not everyone who heard Jesus preach dropped everything and joined his itinerant band of disciples, and that’s probably a good thing. Some people fed and housed them or supported their work in other ways. We hear about some people higher up in the establishment who baited Jesus and plotted against him. But others in that station invited Jesus for dinner and debated and discussed with him to find out, sincerely, what he was about, because they truly were interested in what he was doing. Each of us has to find our own way to “come and see.”


My friend Catherine has four border collies. Some of you have met some of them on trips up to the farm. These dogs have been bred to work sheep: to herd them, gather them, bring them to the shepherd or push them up into better pastures on higher hills. These four border collies know in every ounce of their DNA that moving sheep is what they are called to do. So they express a lot of opinions when I go to let the sheep out of the barn every morning without their expert assistance. They watch me and offer critiques. They do not hold back, or lie down until the urge passes—they want more than anything to be in the thick of it all. Moving sheep makes their hearts sing.


What makes our hearts sing can guide us in answering God’s call. Maybe what makes your heart sing is mentoring a new person in a 12-step program. Or being actively involved in caring for your grandchildren, making sure they know they are loved and lovable and have lots of opportunities to try things as they grow up. Or feeding starving people in Africa. Or organizing protests and rallies around social justice issues. Or planting trees to save their species and the planet.


Maybe what makes your heart sing is actually singing your heart out. Marian Anderson was a phenomenal singer from the beginning, such that people wanted to help her build her career. And by doing the thing she was called to do, she broke down barriers for Black people as performers in opera and classical music. Just by being who she was and doing what she did so well, she inspired people to recognize that shutting Black people out of performance opportunities and careers meant that everyone missed out on some excellent music. Perhaps you know the story: she was supposed to perform at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. in April 1939. But D.C. was a segregated city, and the DAR denied her permission to use the hall. Even if she had been granted permission to perform there, Black audience members would have had to sit at the back, and there were no “colored” restrooms.


In the ensuing furor, which involved the NAACP and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and many others, a spotlight illuminated the injustice of segregation. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership from the DAR, as did thousands of other members who were disgusted by the treatment Anderson received. Eleanor Roosevelt; President Franklin Roosevelt; Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok; and executive secretary for the NAACP Walter White; all helped arrange for Marian Anderson to perform instead on Easter Sunday outdoors at the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson sang not just for the hundreds of people who would have filled the DAR Constitution Hall, but for a live, interracial audience of 75,000 people as well as millions of people listening by radio. She made history. She sang there again in 1963 for the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. God called her to sing, and in responding to what made her own heart sing, she paved the way for all of us to see what we were missing by holding to racist, segregationist rules. [Information from Marian Anderson - Wikipedia.]


In one of his final sermons, on February 4, 1968, two months to the day before an assassin shot him down, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached about “The Drum Major Instinct.” He said, “[L]et us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, . . . [said] that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life—this drum major instinct.” [Quotes here and following come from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 259-67.]


King went on to say that this instinct is at the root of many problems. It can cause us to want to live beyond our means, to buy the fancy car or the too-expensive house. It can lead to an ego problem, boasting, or even committing destructive and illegal behavior just to get attention and feel important. It can distort one’s personality. “And then,” King writes, “the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends by trying to push others down in order to push himself up. And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up.”


Does this sound like our political arena today? Evil, vicious, lying gossip has evolved into alternative realities, where we can’t even agree on basic science and facts.


King notes that this drum major instinct lies at the root of racism, pushing people down for their skin color. It lies at the root of many wars.


Perhaps you are wondering how King’s sermon ties in with God calling to Samuel, or Jesus inviting people to “follow me.” But he gets there at the end. He talks about Jesus, who did not beat his own drum or try to grab power. Jesus answered God’s call by serving people and doing good.


In what now seems like a prescient move, King closes this sermon by imagining his own funeral, and what he hopes people will say about him. And what he’s describing is his own effort to answer God’s call, to follow Jesus, to “come and see” where God might be leading him.


I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.


When we hear God calling our name and we come and see what our service might be all about, may we follow the example of Jesus, who served those on the margins without trying to beat his own drum. May we follow the example of Marian Anderson, who broke down barriers by singing her heart out such that everyone could hear this was her great Yes to God’s call. May we follow the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., by being drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness. However, wherever, whenever, whoever we are, may we not lie down until God’s call passes us by, but rather come and see what might be possible.


Samuel! Samuel!


Say your name aloud again.


God is calling you to come and see. Amen.

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