My beloved housemate Elizabeth preached a great sermon on Monday. Taking Matthew 18 as her text, she talked about conflict, church conflict, world conflict, and finally she landed on "being conflicted" rather than causing conflict. The Gospel will cause us to be conflicted within, she said, and spoke of being "conflicted with our call" to ministry.
I understand this well. Although we sang a different song in chapel, the song that came to my mind in response was "I have decided to follow Jesus." That solemn and slow spiritual... none going with me... the cross before me... no turning back, no turning back. And I think of the times when I have steeled myself to sing that song, conflicting myself inside, as if the song were a bitter medicine and I a weak patient. I sang it to myself in a bare little room in Uganda, willing myself to face the day and work harder, love better, and for goodness sake not to get so squeamish over children's illnesses and injuries. Sometimes I've used my "call" and even the name of Jesus to justify punishing myself (so that I can ultimately feel proud of how humble I've become, of course...). Conflicted with a call? Sometimes it felt like nothing but conflict. Afflicted with a call is closer to it.
But that song - and my call - opened up this summer on my amazing roadtrip. It was by a campfire in North Lima OH where a young Goodness Grows intern picked up a guitar and sang that song, upbeat and with a hint of bluegrass twang. And she added a verse. Her clear voice rang out:
//When he calls me
I'll come running //
Maybe my call could be like her song - jubilant, wholehearted, free. Maybe it could untwist from its snarly harshness, and taste less like medicine and more like freshness. I like that idea and I've been following it, trusting it, leaning into it. This is a good place to be. But still the sense of being conflicted does come up. Even in church work, sometimes. A dissatisfaction arises after a long day of planning logistics - doesn't someone want to just talk about God with me? Or at seminary, where we are famously stuck in our heads - doesn't anyone want to quit talking about God and actually DO something?
The call conflicts us because it never ends. No area of our lives can be considered off-limits. Jesus calls us ever and always away from the grooves we've worn for ourselves - those well-trodden paths of exploitative power, chemical dependencies (sugar and petroleum are chemicals), abuse and denial. He calls us forward and out, calls us toward all that is good and lifegiving and just and beautiful and resurrection and Yes.
The call never ends - not when we're working 50 hours a week "for the Lord," not when we're professor emeritus of Deep Pious Thoughts, not when we've singlehandedly saved the orphans of one small nation or another. The call never stops.
But the ultimacy of the call is not why we follow. We follow because the one calling is joyful - jubilant - irresistible.
When Christ calls - let's come running.
O be swift, my soul, to answer God!
Be jubilant, my feet!