“Answering the Call of Christ”


I start with a quote for Thomas Merton – DO NOT BE TOO QUICK TO CONDEMN THE MAN WHO NO LONGER BELIEVES IN GOD: FOR IT IS PERHAPS YOUR OWN COLDNESS AND AVARICE AND MEDIOCRITY AND MATERIALISM AND SELFISHNESS THAT HAVE CHILLED HIS FAITH.F

The following will be on the “Back Page” of the bulletin for this Sunday’s (17 February 2019, 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C) at Fishkill United Methodist Church.

Last week was the anniversary of the beginning of my walk with Christ.  This journey has never been an easy or smooth one.

It has been a journey that, at time, has been filled with confusion and doubt, times where I felt lost in the wilderness.  I wasn’t always attending church and on a couple of occasions I almost left the faith.

I would have left because I saw a church that seemed in conflict with the words and actions of Christ.  And there were some individuals (both laity and clergy) who questioned my call from Christ.

Now, my call to accept and follow Christ as my Savior was never like Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus and my heart has never been strangely warmed.  But I have always felt the presence of Christ in my life and nothing anyone can say will ever change that feeling.

The good thing was that there were others who understood this and helped me find my way through the wilderness.

The decision to follow Christ is an individual one.  It does not matter where one is from, who their parents are, their economic status, their race, their gender or sexuality.   Yet, today there are individuals who say that, to follow Christ, you must meet a certain set of guidelines and adhere to a certain set of laws. 

Our task has never been to decide who can answer God’s call; our task has been and will always be to help others answer the call and find their path.

                                                                             ~~Tony Mitchell

1 thought on ““Answering the Call of Christ”

  1. The Merton quote and your story and reflection on it brought to mind a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I will give in context from his The Cost of Discipleship, edited for inclusivity: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every [person] must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old [being] which is the result of [one’s] encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a [person], he bids [one] come and die.”

    A little of my own story. I grew up going to church every Sunday, because that was what our family did. When I was eight, I asked to join the church; and I was very proud the day I marched forward at the pastor’s invitation to do so. When we moved from one city to another, though we continued to go to church every Sunday, and though I was in every program available to a person my age – especially enjoying participation in choir – my father was very unhappy with the pastor; so I developed a sense that going to church was “my duty,” as I believed it was seen as a duty by my parents for themselves as well as for me; but I was closed off emotionally to believing church had anything to give me beyond a modicum of respectability and the approval of my parents.

    Being a musician, through my 20s and into my 30s, I found I could get paid for going to church by being a choir director or paid section leader in a choir. However, though striving to become a professional conductor, I found doors to that vocation closed to me; so in my early 30s, I questioned what I was supposed to do with my life, if not to be a conductor. When I applied for a choir director’s position in a Methodist church, for the first time of any church that hired me, this one stated an expectation that I would be involved in the life of the church, not just an employee of it. Surprising myself, I responded happily, saying, “I feel like I’ve been away from the church for too long. I’ll be glad to do as you ask.” As a result, I began to study the Bible with a group of 20-somethings who had been doing so for years; and I went on retreats with the UM Men. Over the course of two years, I recognized my call to the ordained ministry, joined that church, and began seminary study leading to ordination in the UMC. (A woman in the church my father hated had told me while I was in high school that she had high hopes for me in the ministry; but I thought she was engaging in wishful thinking, because I knew I was planning on a career in music.)

    Though seminary certainly provided me with a lot of important information as well as a pattern of seeking ever greater insights that would strengthen my ministry, I also recognized that many people such as I go to seminary with hopes of finding healing and support for ourselves in our woundedness as well as a sense of direction in defining and following our call to serve Christ. Because I knew myself to be gay, but had revealed that to only a very few people before that time, I had to figure out what to do with that while seeking to be a pastor to people who might or might not allow me to pastor them based solely on how they responded to my sexuality. I decided never to reveal my sexuality until after I had retired. God had other plans.

    Over the next decade, whenever I had the chance in a situation I felt was a “safe” one, I shared news of my sexuality with others I knew I could trust. But after participating in a spiritual development program, I realized that I needed to be forthcoming about more of who I knew myself to be while still in active ministry; and I developed the sense that God not only desired me to do so, but needed me to do so – and the church needed me to do so as well, because by not sharing all of myself with others, I was cutting them off from aspects of my being that might actually help them to embrace more fully who God had made them to be. I needed to do so for myself, for God, and for everyone I hoped to serve. Since coming out as a (celibate) gay man to my family, friends, and churches, I have been an “activist” in a relatively quiet way, but an activist in ways I hope are faithful to the task of expanding God’s reign on earth. I also feel I am called to do more than I am doing; and I am in the process of trying to perceive what is blocking my wholehearted response to God’s call and to overcome that blockage, so I might make the greatest contribution of which my life is capable to the work of Christ.

    All of that said, let me make some observations regarding what you wrote. Though you claim that your call was nothing like Saul’s, you and he both seem to have greater clarity about when it happened and the manner in which it happened that do I. My call seemed to just sneak up on me over a period of months, if not years. However, my call to ordained ministry happened in my 30s (and my late teens, though I ignored it then); my call to be open about my sexuality came in my 50s; and now that I’m approaching my 70s, I know I’m being called to go even further beyond the point I’ve reached now. So, to propose a modification of your closing paragraph, I would say that it isn’t a matter of “who can answer God’s call,” since any and all can. The question that confronts us is, How does each of us answer God’s call in a way that is appropriate to us? And – as your final sentence rightly states – How do we who are ourselves seeking to answer God’s call also help others to hear and to respond appropriately to God’s call to them?

    Thank you for your thoughtful ministry and for your invitation to share. God be with you and enable your life and ministry to flourish.

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