My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first, I planned to be a physician, then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of
these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become. A few months after preaching my first sermon I entered theological seminary.
Not my call story, but the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that led to his ordination in the Baptist Church. We often forget that Dr. King was only 39 when he was killed. He was called to ministry in the Baptist Church when he was 18 years old and became the most visible spokesperson of the civil rights movement from 1954 until his death in 1968.
Dr. King was a brilliant student, won awards for debates and his oratorical skills, and skipped several grades. He was very rational and for a time had difficulty with the stories of the Bible. Eventually, he made peace with that and realized that the Bible was full of stories of liberation and hope.
Dr. King was born in 1929 with the name Michael, the same as his father. His father, also a Baptist minister, as part of the Baptist World Alliance, visited Germany in the early ’30s. The delegation visited various reformation sites and witnessed 1st-hand the rise of Nazism. The Baptist World Alliance issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism and Dr. King’s father was very impressed with Martin Luther’s reforming and protesting ways. So, in 1934, King, Sr., changed both his and his son’s names to Martin Luther.
Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced directly the segregation of Georgia and the South. Dr. King was friends with a young lad who, when they were to go to kindergarten, went to a white school; the friendship ended. Another experience that left an impression occurred after winning 1stprize in a speaking contest in high school; Dr. King and his teacher were forced to give up their seats for while white folks on the bus ride home. He was a rational, inspired speaker who also suffered from depression. Dr. King received his doctorate in 1955, a momentous year.
In 1955, Dr. King led the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat; another person, lesser known, on a different bus, Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old, also refused to give up her seat. Dr. King was arrested for his leadership and his case ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. Dr. King became a national figure and spokesperson for the civil rights movement.
A couple of weeks ago, while I was in Nanaimo, I worshiped at Brechin UC when they honoured Dr. King. We heard one of King’s speeches given to Barrett Jr. High School in Philadelphia just 6 months before he was killed. It was 20 minutes precisely and delivered from a text; it was passionate and outlined 3 concepts in creating a blueprint for life:
1. Deep belief in your own dignity and worth—we are all somebody;
2. Achieve excellence in whatever field of endeavour is chosen; and
3. Make a deep commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice.
At the end of that speech, Dr. King said,
“Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them. Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody…I believe we can transform yesterdays of injustice to tomorrows of justice and humanity.”
This last sentence about tomorrows and yesterdays reminds me of Maya Angelou’s inauguration poem from the early ’90s, On the Pulse of Morning. It is a long and beautiful poem about moving away from war and hate and aspiring to peace and love and unity. And then there’s this line, “History, despite its wrenching pain,/Cannot be unlived, and if faced/With courage, need not be lived again.”
We are all called to a ministry of humanity, love, compassion and peace. Even if that call is only among our family and our friends, it is something important in the grand scheme of things. God calls us, not in dramatic ways often, but in small ways to be more fully human, to look beyond cynicism and despair, to speak of hope and love, to embody grace and truth and justice.
Jesus’ call to the disciples was to become fishers of people, to catch people who’d been left out and ostracized into the net of love and compassion. Jesus called the fishers to go out again and experience the abundance of a catch and to go out into the world to remind people of God’s abundant promise, and to work with others so that all can live in this abundance.
And as people have for centuries, we go out to catch people in the net of God’s abundance of hope and love. We live it out in the challenges and struggles of our lives. As Dr. King said, we are somebodies, called to excellence as we are able, living in the beauty of life grounded in love and justice.
I finish with Maya Angelou’s words at the end of her inauguration poem,
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
From The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project. http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/Vol06Scans/7Aug1959MyCalltotheMinistry.pdf.
See Maya Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning.”