United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Answering the Call”

 January 14th, 2024

Rev. Rebecca Migliore


       It is Martin Luther King, Jr Weekend.  A weekend that always asks us to think about justice, racial justice, socio-economic justice, justice for those who are the last and the least.  It is a weekend that always reminds me of how far we have to go, until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream” (words from Amos 5—Dr. King was a preacher after all).

       Because Dr. King’s birthday falls in January, it lines up, in the church year, with the beginning of the gospels, and especially, with the call of the disciples.  We get to hear this story twice, today and next Sunday, if Rose chooses to use the gospel lectionary text.  Today we hear about calling disciples in John.  Next Sunday we may get a different take from Mark.

       I took a suggestion from the Salt Project to expand the reading, and look at how different people came to answering the call from Jesus—in John this is heard as “Come and See.”  Now “come and see” is different from the “follow me” that we often think of as Jesus calling the disciples.  “Come and See” is less forceful, less authoritative.  It doesn’t quite sound like a command.  It doesn’t ask us, at least initially, to drop everything and get on the road.  It is like a “try it, you might like it” offer.  Come and See what I am doing.  Come and See what I am saying.  Come and See the community I am building.  It might be an example of how we can interact with the world.  “Come and See.”

       In this reading we get to see how four different people answer the call—Andrew, Simon, Phillip and Nathaniel.  What I find fascinating about this is they come to Jesus in different ways.  Sometimes I think we get constricted in our ways of thinking.  Oh, I didn’t hear Jesus say “Follow me” or even “Come and See,” so have I been called?  What does it even mean to “hear” Jesus?  Let’s take a look at these four men’s experiences.

       Let’s start with Andrew.  In the gospel of John, we discover that some of those who become the disciples of Jesus were first the disciples of John.

    Two of them (only one is identified—Andrew) are hanging out with John and hear him call Jesus “the Lamb of God.”  We might remember that John was proclaiming at the Jordan that he was only baptizing with water, but there was someone else who was greater than himself—someone he labeled “the lamb of God.”

       So these two disciples listened to someone else pointing towards Jesus, and they left John and started following Jesus.  Jesus “turns” and notices them and asks, “What are you looking for?”  And they answer, “Rabbi, Teacher, where are you staying?”  Now I happen to think that’s an odd answer.  Jesus is probing them for why they are following him.  Don’t you think the obvious answer is “We’re thinking you might be the Messiah.”  Or, “We are followers of John and he talked about someone greater than himself.  He thinks you are that one.  Are you?”  None of this straightforward speaking.  “Where are you staying?  How can we find you?  Maybe, how can we sit at your feet and learn from you?”  And his answer is, “Come and See.”

       So they do.  They come, they see, they stay.  And at some time after four o’clock in the afternoon, Andrew, leaves Jesus and goes to find his brother, Simon.  And says to him, “We have found the Messiah.”  So Andrew comes to Jesus through John.  Simon comes to Jesus through Andrew.  And Jesus, in meeting Simon, immediately renames him Peter.  Andrew and Simon answer the call first by listening to those they trust, a teacher, a brother.  But Andrew, after coming and seeing, and listening, is able to say that Jesus is the One they have been looking for.  And Simon is recognized by Jesus as a rock, a steady place, a firm foundation—and is given a new name.

       Then we get to the part of the reading listed for this morning.  Jesus travels from wherever he is (near the Jordan?) to Galilee, near Bethsaida, the home of Andrew and Peter and a new character—Phillip.

      But Jesus seeks out Phillip and uses that more familiar call, “Follow me.”  Here is someone who comes in direct contact with Jesus—who was sought out (we are not told why—did Andrew and Peter start naming their friends and acquaintances as people who might want to join the movement?).  Here is a different way of hearing the call—directly from the mouth of Jesus.

       And Phillip also seems to immediately recognize Jesus as the one they have been looking for and runs to tell his friend, Nathaniel.

       We might recognize ourselves in Nathaniel.  His friend, shows up excited about the One who the Law and the Prophets have spoken about, Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth.  And Nathaniel famously says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Yeah sure, Phillip.  But Phillip will not be pushed away.  What does he say?  “Come and See.”

       And this sets up a dialogue between Jesus and Nathaniel.  There has probably been conversation with Andrew and Peter, and Phillip and Jesus.  But we are not privy to it.  They don’t seem to need much convincing.  But Nathaniel is a different story.  Jesus starts it out even as Nathaniel is approaching him.  “Oh, here is a good guy—an Israel with no deceit (no guile).”  And Nathaniel, still skeptical says, “How do you know me?”  And Jesus does a little bit of “magic”—of prophecy and says, “I saw you under the fig tree before Phillip called you.”  And this breaks down Nathaniel’s doubts (because we suppose he really was under a fig tree when Phillip showed up).  And Nathaniel makes the most elaborate telling of who Jesus is: “You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”  And Jesus, says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

       So what can we learn from these encounters with Jesus.  I think it becomes clear that different people come to Jesus in different ways.  It might be through hearing about him.  It might be in being invited by someone you trust.  It might be a face to face experience with Jesus.  It might be a slowly dawning idea—from Nah, to okay I’ll look, to Oh WOW, you are the real deal.  In other words, we all hear about, or hear Jesus, in our own way.

      We all have stories we can share.  From, I’ve never not known Jesus, to I’ve gone away and I’m back now, to I’m still not sure what Jesus wants from me, to even I’m still with Nathaniel—I need to know, be shown, in my own life, who this Jesus is.

       Wherever you are on that spectrum (and we might be at different places on different days, even different hours!), answering the call means that your life is going to change.  Maybe you will spend more time in prayer.  Maybe you will want to read your Bible.  Maybe you will want to reach out to those who are lonely or sick or grieving.

     Maybe you will want to volunteer to help the church run.  Maybe you will share your gifts of music or artist talent or knowledge of accounting or being feet on the ground for whatever is needed.  Maybe you will want to get more involved in projects here at the church or in the community. 

I don’t know how you will put into action answering the call of Jesus.  But that is part following.  That is what happens after you come and see.  And on this Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Weekend, I’d like to share a piece called “Rosa Parks” by Nikki Giovanni.  It is about the Pullman Porters, the African American men who worked and served on the sleeping cars on trains that crisscrossed the United States during those fateful years, and about Rosa Parks who actions (Nikki Giovanni says) are a luminous example of “doing what love demands be done.”



       This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would know they were not alone. This is for the Pullman Porters who helped Thurgood Marshall go south and come back north to fight the fight that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education because even though Kansas is west and even though Topeka is the birth- place of Gwendolyn Brooks, who wrote the powerful “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” it was the Pullman Porters who whispered to the traveling men both the Blues Men and the “Race” Men so that they both would
know what was going on.

This is for the Pullman Porters who smiled as if they were happy and laughed like they were tickled when some folks were around and who silently rejoiced in 1954 when the Supreme Court announced its 9—0 decision that “separate is inherently unequal.” This is for the Pullman Porters who smiled and welcomed a fourteen-year-old boy onto their train in 1955. They noticed his slight limp that he tried to disguise with a doo-wop walk; they noticed his stutter and probably understood why his mother wanted him out of Chicago during the summer when school was out.


Fourteen-year-old Black boys with limps and stutters are apt to try to prove themselves in dangerous ways when mothers aren’t around to look after them. So this is for the Pullman Porters who looked over that fourteen-year-old while the train rolled the reverse of the Blues Highway from Chicago to St. Louis to Memphis to Mississippi. This is for the men who kept him safe; and if Emmett Till had been able to stay on a train all summer he would have maybe grown a bit of a paunch, certainly lost his hair, probably have worn bifocals and bounced his grand-children on his knee telling them about his summer riding the rails. But he had to get off the train. And ended up in Money, Mississippi. And was horribly, brutally, inexcusably, and unacceptably murdered.

This is for the Pullman Porters who, when the sheriff was trying to get the body secretly buried, got Emmett’s body on the northbound train, got his body home to Chicago, where his mother said: I want the world to see what they did to my boy. And this is for all the mothers who cried. And this is for all the people who said Never Again. And this is about Rosa Parks whose feet were not so tired, it had been, after all, an ordinary day, until the bus driver gave her the opportunity to make history.

This is about Mrs. Rosa Parks from Tuskegee, Alabama,
who was also the field secretary of the NAACP. This is about the
moment Rosa Parks shouldered her cross, put her worldly goods
aside, was willing to sacrifice her life, so that that young man in
Money, Mississippi, who had been so well protected by the
Pullman Porters, would not have died in vain. When Mrs. Parks
said “NO” a passionate movement was begun.

No longer would there be a reliance on the law; there was a higher law. When Mrs. Parks brought that light of hers to expose the evil of the system, the sun came and rested on her shoulders bringing the heat and the light of truth. Others would follow Mrs. Parks. Four young
men in Greensboro, North Carolina, would also say No. Great
voices would be raised singing the praises of God and exhorting
us “to forgive those who trespass against us.”


 But it was the Pullman Porters who safely got Emmett to his granduncle and it was Mrs. Rosa Parks who could not stand that death. And in not being able to stand it. She sat back down.

May we be inspired by Andrew and Peter and Phillip and Nathaniel to answer Jesus’ call, each in our own way.  May we be inspired by those Pullman Porters, by Rosa Parks, by Martin King, by the Black Lives Matter organizers, by all those before and now and to come who decide to answer the call of justice, of truth, of love, of a better world, for all of us.  May it be so.  Alleluia, Amen.

BENEDICTION From Paul Alcorn website, We get there by Walking

As we depart,
Both individually and collectively
May we be who we are called to be.
In any and in all the ways we can
Seek justice.
Resist evil.
Stand strong against Death.
And all Death’s works and wiles.
Let us add our voice.
Move our feet.
Extend our hands.
And because it just might
Hold on to that long arc of history like our lives depend on it.
And pull
With as little or as much strength we have
So that together we might help it continue to bend in the direction of justice.
And peace.
And hope.
And promise.
For you and for me.
For us and for them.
For all of the children of God.