When have you ever made a move because of a call from God? Maybe you didn’t think of your choice as a response to a call from God. That sounds serious, holy, maybe even distant or impossible for the likes of regular people.
Maybe you thought, I chose this particular college because this is where I got a scholarship, or I took that particular job because of the salary and benefits, or I started volunteering with this organization because…I don’t even know why, it just seemed like fun so I kept showing up.
Or maybe the call from God was not your own but someone else’s. Maybe you’re here today in worship because someone in your family “made” you come and sit here. Ask a pastor’s spouse how they feel about these calls from God, or ask a pastor’s kids how they feel about moving from the only home they ever knew to arrive in a strange new place—their stories might sound like what Sarai would say, or Abram’s nephew Lot, and all their relatives and enslaved people who had no say in the matter, but they were stuck with Abram and he had a call from God.
When Jesus calls Matthew away from Matthew’s steady job as a tax collector, a business built on a series of small exploitations of individuals, we don’t hear from Matthew’s family about what happened next, either. What we know from these dramatic call stories is that there was a moment when everything changed.
When Jesus says “Follow me,” it is not just a simple matter of obedience to do stuff the right way. Following Jesus is a minute to minute series of decisions with implications across your entire life.
But to the ones who are calculating righteousness and judging the merits of other people, listen to what Jesus says: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Go and learn what this means.
What if it isn’t important how much you gave up or the lucrative career you left behind or the worthy choices you could have made?
What if all that really matters is the love with which you do whatever you do? What if joy is a better measure of living God’s call than whatever achievements or sweat you’ve endured? What if you look back at your life decisions and see God’s mercy written into your story? What if you’re not waiting on a call from God; what if indeed you already have followed a call from God?
Jesus calls us into discipleship, into the reign of God, and God’s reign is about healing the brokenness in the world, and—this is important—faithful discipleship can look like a lot of different things. Following God doesn’t require leaving a job nor packing up all your belongings and moving nor selling all your belongings, either.
And there is no “right time” to follow God. If you wait until all conditions are perfect, when work settles down or the kids are grown or the pain is gone or after this election cycle or whatever it is you’re waiting on, then discipleship will never happen.
Instead, enter the reign of God. It begins now. Professor Cleophus LaRue of Princeton Theological Seminary explains well the call of discipleship in this way:
“The call is action-oriented, for it requires us to live now as if the rule and reign of God had come upon us in its fullness. It requires us to live now as if the lion and the lamb were already lying down together. To live now as if adversaries had already beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. To live now as if justice had already begun to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).”
And what if living God’s reign now is what brings healing? In the Gospel story, a woman is healed because she touches the fringe of Jesus’s cloak—is it because his cloak has magical powers? No. Jesus says to her: take heart, your faith has made you well.
I used to think that meant faith is a quantity of something important, or that faith is a gift given as a reward for good behavior or something. But now I hear Jesus’s words differently: what if he’s really saying, you’re not deficient, you’re not broken, you have what you need within you already. What if the call of discipleship is about showing mercy and love for one’s own self?
There’s a poem which captures this spirit of healing and joy, written by Jay Hulme (HYOOME), a transgender man. This is called “Jesus at the Gay Bar” (published in his book, “The Backwater Sermons”):
He’s here in the midst of it—
right at the centre of the dance floor,
robes hitched up to His knees
to make it easy to spin.
At some point in the evening
a boy will touch the hem of His robe
and beg to be healed, beg to be
anything other than this;
and He will reach His arms out,
sweat-damp, and weary from dance.
He’ll cup the boy’s face in His hand
My beautiful child
there is nothing in this heart of yours
that ever needs to be healed.
It’s true that we live in a world of hatred and violence and fear and racism and homophobia. And it is also true that we live in a world of beauty and goodness and an immense capacity for healing. Discipleship will sometimes mean dancing. Discipleship will sometimes mean, as it does for baby Brock today, trusting the arms that are holding you.
Live now as if God’s reign has already arrived in all its fullness. Live now as if healing has already happened. Live now.