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Turn Your Face Toward Jerusalem: Where is God calling you?
A Baseball Player’s Second Calling
Back in 2010 my mother sent me an article she had found online that she thought would interest me. At first I was surprised because I don’t follow sports regularly and the article was about a baseball player with the Oakland A's named Grant Desme. But as I got deeper into the article I found out why my mom sent it my way.
Grant dreamed of being a big leaguer since he was 4 years old and through his hard work and success on the field he played baseball in college and was drafted in the second round in 2007 by the Oakland Athletics. Grant has said that he was on top of the world with a successful baseball career, not having to go to school anymore, and having a big contract – – he had it all and even said that he thought he had everything figured out too.
Unexpectedly, he was hit by a pitch, which broke his right wrist and what was supposed to be a six-week injury ended up taking a year and a half to recover. It was during this time that Grant admits he had to confront himself without his dream of being a baseball player. He had to look at his life without baseball and he didn't like it. He said, "at first I got angry but after that I decided to start praying and trying to figure out what the meaning of all this was.”
For Grant the source of his anger and frustration was that he had thought he had it all figured out—he had worked hard, met his goals, and done everything he could do to be successful, then it was all taken from him instantly by his injury and it made him wonder—what's the purpose? What am I actually going after?
Because if I can put all my effort into something and not have it be fulfilled, why do it? All reasonable questions I must say and ones I have also asked God and maybe you have asked as well.
Grant began to reflect on his existence on this earth and confront the big questions about life. Through this process of self-reflection and discernment, Grant says he was led to God and realized that maybe God was calling him to something different and something that was not baseball.
After playing baseball for so long it must of been scary for him to even consider making such a drastic career change and to walk away from the only thing that he really knew. In an interview he says that he did not want to feel like he was running away from baseball so he thought that he would try another year and what a successful year it was. Grant had one of the best years of his baseball career almost making his decision to leave baseball that much more difficult.
Yet, after winning MVP of the league and being invited to spring training with the Oakland A's he still felt “this yearning in [his] heart that there was something more."
That something more was God calling Grant to was the priesthood to become a Roman Catholic priest. He was called in particular to join St. Michael’s Abbey of the Norbertine Fathers that live in monastic community in Silverado, California. God called Grant to be baseball player but God also called him to the priesthood.
Initially, you can imagine the media’s response—how could a top baseball prospect leave the sport when he’s not only at the top of his game and has a big contract to go along with it? Money, success, fame-- he was living the dream that most people could only imagine. People were in disbelief that he could leave it all behind when so many other people wanted what he had accomplished? How and why?
Now, in the Gospel reading today, we are told that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem—he is being called to Jerusalem. We know this because Luke says that the days are drawing near—meaning that time is running out and the only one in control of time is God.
So, Jesus is being called by God to journey to Jerusalem despite knowing what the city had in store for him. And he is continuously faithful and steadfast to fulfill God’s calling.
My question is now all these years later for Grant Desme is: how did he keep his face turned toward Jerusalem? How will we know when we are called by God?
What does it mean to be “called”?
What does it mean to be "called" or to have a calling? Grant is called to the priesthood. Jesus is called to Jerusalem. So, there are many things we can be called to—a new vocation, gaining a relationship or breaking ties with someone, traveling or living somewhere new, a new spiritual awareness or practice, to have kids or not have kids—God calls us many times to many things. Thus, a calling is about the way in which we hear, feel and experience God’s purpose for our lives and what that purpose may be.
We can be called by a sudden awareness, or maybe a gnawing feeling that takes a while for us to recognize something needs to change. A call can be clear and it can be obscure. For Grant it was not instantaneous but a gradual uncovering of his purpose through prayer and how he felt when playing baseball. What did it feel like to be out on the field? Did it provide the same meaning and motivation that it once did?
I read in a book called Listening Hearts, that a call may not be so much a call to “do” as it could be a call to “be.” What we are called to do and who we are called to be is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience but an evolution of communication and connection to God. Our purpose in life evolves and changes and moves as we create relationships or lose them, as we have children or decide not to, as we take on a new jobs or decide to retire, as we lose loved ones and friends and as we gain them. As the book Listening Hearts explains, “it is our faithfulness to God and not our station in life that honors a call.”
The Complexities of our Calling
Yet faithfulness is not easy. It is not an easy task to accept a call from God especially if it's something that we don't want to do, or if we don't feel ready for it or if we feel we are giving up and running away like Grant felt about his baseball career. It can be scary and difficult to embrace and take on with ease something that God is calling us to. There have been things that I have felt that God was calling me to become so I worked really hard to get there and it didn't work out. What was God telling me? Was I hearing him right? The complexity of our purpose in life and what God wants from us can also be difficult to hear or to recognize in our lives. But a call from God to be better people, to live the life that honors God, and to live out our purpose is not meant to fulfill our own needs but to transform the lives of those around us.
In the depths of our confusion on whether we are up for the task or whether we are hearing God clearly, I have realized that there is one important thing that must be done – – surrender. To surrender—let go of control and to not let anything get in the way of that release to God in order to hear, feel and experience God in our lives.
There is a song called "Multiplied" that emphasizes the importance of surrendering to God. I love the chorus and it goes as follows:
God of mercy sweet love of mine
I have surrendered to Your design
May this offering stretch across the skies
And these hallelujahs be multiplied.
For Jesus, his surrender to the prophetic call was an offering that stretched out his arms on the cross. And it was this surrender that has allowed us to sing hallelujah.
Christ is the ultimate example to us of living out our call in the world. His surrender and faithfulness to God is not deterred or distracted by the unkind Samaritans, or those who want to retaliate, or those who seek to follow him but on their time. This is why Jesus tells us “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
For if we are truly serious about living out our callings, we need to look forward to the possibilities—new opportunities, service, love, grandchildren, adventure—all that will glorify God. We need to look forward not to be distracted and overwhelmed by the unkindness of others who don't understand what we are trying to do.
Jesus knew that if we look back then we will get caught up in past hurts, failures, insecurities and projections. That turning backward does not let us fully move forward in our journey to live out God's call in our lives. Turning backwards keeps us in the state that does not allow us to hope or dream or listen or just be present. Looking backwards does not allow us to even look upon God because we will be caught up with what was, instead of what could be.
Not everyone has a calling to the priesthood but everyone at some point in their life has felt like Grant Desme—asking ourselves: what is our purpose? What does God have in store for me now? Embedded in these questions is vulnerability and confusion of what God is calling as to do or be in this world. In a sense we are out of control. We have no control of what life will ask of us. Thus, our calling can be difficult because we have control of what it will be and what it will mean for us.
However, the beauty and greatness of God is that God is present with us on this journey—God is with us in our lack of control—in our unsettled lives. Jesus is on the journey with us toward Jerusalem, holding our hand as we make our way toward our call or calls.
As Jesus is on his journey to bring new life through his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, we too also receive newness and transformation through our ride through life.
What will your journey to Jerusalem look like? Amen.
The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton
The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton