Come and follow Me

January 15, 2017

Bible Text: John 1:29-42 |

What does it mean to be called by God?

On the one hand, it’s something we all want. We all want to hear God speak to us in some definitive, life-changing, “I-am-totally-for-real-people” kind of way. We want that experience to convince us, to encourage us, to remind that our faith is real and rightly placed.

On the other hand, there’s a part of us that wants “God’s call” to be for someone else. It’s like we want the call from God that says, “I love you.” But we want someone else to get the call from God that says the toilet is backed up and you need to take care of that problem. Let some other “above average” Christian handle all those calls, and I’ll keep waiting for the Valentine from Jesus.

So I ask again, What does it mean to be called by God?

I think there are many levels of God’s call and our response.

At the most basic level I think everyone is called and everyone is responding in some elemental way. All of creation is made and called by God. Each raindrop that falls and gives life on this planet is living out God’s call to the water. Each breath we take, each beat of our heart, is obeying the summons of God to live and have life.  And the more I think on these things, the more important they become – the more grounded I become in the absoluteness and goodness of God permeating this world.

Last week I was out walking along the beach near the Narrows Bridge. My heart was heavy with some recent news I’d heard and I was praying, inasmuch as simply crying is prayer – especially as the tears are shed before God. And as I prayed I watched. I saw that the sand was covered in a thin layer of ice, but water and air bubbles were still flowing beneath it. I found a huge, orange agate that I picked up and clutched onto. And then I was disrupted by barking. I turned, and with delight, watched three sea lions surging south through the current. And by the time the sea lions had finished their message to me, I discovered that – through all these things – I had returned to a place of confidence in the dependability of God. These things spoke to me as metaphors, but also as testimony of God with us. So more and more I find myself encouraged and enlivened by the awareness of God’s call resounding throughout creation, and all creation obeying in its way, including you and me and all humanity with each breath we take.

Related to that is another layer of God’s call to us, and our universal response. It’s found in those tasks we pursue each day in order simply to live: going to work, making meals, waking and sleeping, taking care of our children. God made us to need these things. So when we pursue them you can rightly say that we are responding to God’s call. And again, there’s something profoundly settling to consider this world and all its inhabitants living out God’s call, day after day, season after season. Cultures we don’t understand, religions we disagree with, are nonetheless filled with people doing just what we are doing, living each day to the best of our ability. To consider these things as God’s call and our faith, as it were, does not belittle God or the expectation of God. To the contrary, it makes me perceive that the outworking of God’s will is far more substantial than those disruptions to it that absorb so much of our attention.

But there is another layer to God’s call. And that, of course, is the conscientious decisions we make to align ourselves – our principles and our values and our lifestyle – to a higher, altruistic calling. As we choose to love our neighbor, as we choose a compassionate posture towards one another (certainly to other people, but also towards all of creation), I would say that we are hearing the call of God and we are responding in a way that is appropriate and true. Certainly our Christianity encourages us in this path. But one need not claim the Christian faith – or any religion for that matter – to be rightly perceived as responding to the call of God. Someone can be “Christ-like” without ever claiming the name of Christ. For surely God is more to be found where there is love, than where there is merely “right dogma.”

But the call of God goes further. And this, I would say, is the burgeoning conviction that the voice behind all creation and our own intuitive, ethical sensibility is indeed the voice of God. It’s like Lukas who played the organ and directed the choir for us before Joe arrived. Lukas was an undergraduate music major who took the job because he needed the money and the experience. Fair enough. We needed someone who could bang out the hymns on the organ. When he was getting ready to move away to start graduate school we went out for coffee together. We were talking about religion and faith and he told me, “Eric, I’m at a point now where I believe that music needs a destination, and that destination is God.” I don’t think he would have called himself a Christian at that point. But that which was life to him – namely, music – was finding its truer identity by its relationship to the God who sang the first melody in giving life to this world.

And then God’s call goes deeper still. It is the call that says, “Come, and follow me.”  For many people, I would say, this call is actually heard after many years of going to church and being a Christian. Being willing to “follow Christ,” as it were, is that stage of faith that is finally ready to believe that although the way of Christ is costly, it is indeed the better way.

  • Forgiving those who have hurt you is the path to the freedom – for both you and your abuser.
  • Praying for those you dislike, is the way we join the Holy Trinity in its life of perpetual love.
  • Living modestly – with our possessions and our personalities – creates a spaciousness to care for others.

Perhaps an easier way to say it is simply to quote Jesus himself. If you are following Christ, then you must “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“Well of course,” you say. “That’s basic Christianity.” Yes. But it’s only true Christianity when we actually live the words.

As we end, I’d like to share a story I recently heard on the radio that brought this all home for me. It’s a father telling the story about his interactions with his daughter:

Well, it all began at Christmas two years ago, when my daughter was four years old. And it was the first time that she had ever asked about what … this holiday [meant]. And so I explained to her that this was celebrating the birth of Jesus. And she wanted to know more about that. And we went out and bought a kid's Bible and had these readings at night. She loved them, wanted to know everything about Jesus.

So we read a lot about his birth and about his teaching, and she would ask constantly what that phrase was. And I would explain to her that it was, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." And we would talk about those old words and what that all meant, you know?

And then one day, we were driving past a big church, and out front was an enormous crucifix. She said, "Who is that?" And I guess I'd never really told that part of the story. So I had this sort of "Yeah, oh, well, that's Jesus. And I forgot to tell you the ending. Yeah, well, he ran afoul of the Roman government. This message that he had was so radical and unnerving to the prevailing authorities of the time that they had to kill him. They came to the conclusion that he would have to die. That message was too troublesome."

It was about a month later after that Christmas. We'd gone through the whole story of what Christmas meant, and it was mid-January. And her preschool celebrates the same holidays as the local schools. So Martin Luther King Day was off. So I knocked off work that day, and I decided we'd play and I'd take her out to lunch. And we were sitting in there, and right on the table where we happened to plop down was the art section of the local newspaper. And there, big as life, was a huge drawing by a 10-year-old kid in the local schools of Martin Luther King.

And she said, "Who's that?" And I said, "Well, as it happens, that's Martin Luther King. And he's why you're not in school today. So we're celebrating his birthday. This is the day we celebrate his life." And she said, "So who was he?" And I said, "Well, he was a preacher." And she looks up at me and goes, "For Jesus?" And I said, "Yeah. Yeah, actually, he was. But there was another thing that he was really famous for, which is that he had a message."

And you're trying to say this to a four-year-old. This is the first time they ever hear anything, so you're just very careful about how you phrase everything. So I said, "Well, yeah, he was a preacher and he had a message." She said, "What was his message?" And I said, "Well, he said that you should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like."

And she thought about that for a minute. And she said, "Well, that's what Jesus said." And I said, "Yeah, I guess it is. I never thought of it that way, but yeah.  And that is sort of like, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’" And she thought for a minute and looked up at me and said, "Did they kill him too?"[1]

It defies the senses that love should be so costly. But time and again we have seen it to be so. And yet the summons remains. What truer life can we live, but to “Come and follow me”?

[1] “Kid Logic 2016, episode 605.” This American Life.  WBEZ.

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