St. John’s Lutheran Church
14 January 2024 + Epiphany 2b
Rev. Josh Evans
Three simple words. One profound – and dangerous – invitation.
“Come and see.”
Words spoken by Philip to Nathanael, echoing Jesus’s own in the scene just one day before, as he calls Andrew and Simon Peter, the first of his disciples, on the heels of questions and murmuring about his identity.
As if to ask: “You want to know who I am, where I’m staying, and what I’m up to? Come and see.”
These words are an invitation to discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus.
From its very beginnings, the Christian life is meant to be one of active participation. To be a follower of Jesus means to get involved, to show up, to roll up our sleeves, to be engaged, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
“Faith active in love,” as our namesake reformer Martin Luther called it. Or in the more contemporary words of Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
This weekend, as we again call to mind the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., commemorated on our church calendar as a martyr and renewer of society, I’m also reminded of the countless other civil rights leaders who stood alongside King in the work of justice: Bayard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Ella Baker, to name just a few.
Less well-known, perhaps, though closer to our own Lutheran world, is the name Robert Graetz.
Graetz, who was born in West Virginia in 1928, graduated from what is now Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. In June of 1955 and newly ordained, Rev. Graetz was called to serve as pastor of the majority-Black Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
It was barely six months before Rosa Parks would be arrested, sparking what ultimately became the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Graetz urged his congregation to fully participate in the boycott. He himself organized carpools and became a shuttle driver for as many as fifty people each day.
Most notably, Pastor Graetz was also the only White clergy person to publicly support the boycott. Despite his best efforts, he failed to rally the support of his fellow White ministers, and even the wider White population of Montgomery began to distance themselves from Graetz and his family.
Tensions came to a head the following summer, just over a year into his call, when his house was bombed … for the first time. Even after the boycott ended, a second bomb detonated on their front lawn, while Pastor Graetz, his wife, their children, and his mother were home.
Like King and the other civil rights leaders of his day, Pastor Graetz faced harassment, death threats, and violent attacks in the course of his ministry.
Still, Graetz was White. He could easily have had a comfortable life. He could have walked away. He could have chosen, like the rest of his fellow White clergy, to stay out of it all. He could have turned down the call to Montgomery altogether.
Instead, he chose to throw aside that comfort, and to risk his own safety and security, to do what he knew was right and what had to be done. Graetz took his call as a pastor – and as a disciple of Jesus – seriously and did what the gospel demanded, no matter the cost.
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Come and see.
It’s a dangerous calling – this life of discipleship.
Those first disciples could’ve hardly imagined what they were in for. They certainly would’ve never predicted it would lead to the cross.
“You want to know who I am?” Jesus asks. “Come and see…”
Following Jesus meant having to get up and get out of their comfort zones, going to places unknown, and taking risks.
As they would soon learn: Following Jesus is often going to be uncomfortable. It means hearing the Word – and then doing it.
This weekend, as we remember Dr. King, Rev. Graetz, and all the civil rights leaders, past and present, it also means more than just confessing the sin of racism in the words of our welcome statement. It means actually acting on our words of welcome by the way we live, and advocating for justice for all people, especially the most vulnerable.
Following Jesus sometimes means “joining the trouble,” Pastor Graetz later reflected, because it’s the right thing to do.
Jesus never promised that the life of discipleship would be easy – but it is everything. It is our baptismal calling, as we reaffirmed together last Sunday: to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
Come and see.
Get swept up in the work of the gospel. Because in that work is abundant life and liberation and beloved community.
Come and see.
It’s not always going to be easy or “feel good.” But it is precisely there – in the midst of the trouble – that Jesus calls us, to bring love and hope and healing to a hurting world.
Come and see.
Three simple words.
Three dangerous words.
Three words that call us to go where Jesus himself has already gone and is – drawing near to those who suffer … standing in solidarity with those who are oppressed … proclaiming the good news of great joy that God is with us.