“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.”[1] Something similar happens in the Genesis reading from the Hebrew scriptures appointed for today: “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’ * * * So Abram went, as the Lord had told him….”[2]

Abram’s immediate response to God’s call is the subject of Paul’s comments in the Epistle reading from the Letter to the Romans. Abram believed God, believed in God, and acted on that belief, and that combination of belief and action is what Paul refers to as faith and that “faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’”[3]

Paul idealizes Abram’s immediate response. The Gospels also approvingly describe the disciples’ responses as immediate. The church often praises and recommends an immediate answer to a discerned call: “[D]o whatever [God’s] calling you to do right away,” advises one evangelical writer. “I’ve learned from experience that delayed obedience results in delayed blessings.”[4] I want to suggest today that that is short-sighted and unrealistic, that one should be aware that an immediate response can very easily bring immediate problems.

Paul’s focus in his letter is entirely on Abram, but Abram wasn’t the only one who acted, the only one affected by God’s call and Abram’s response. Abram had a family, an entire household: “Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.”[5]

We don’t know if Matthew had a family. He certainly seems to have had a household and a circle of friends and acquaintances. In Mark’s Gospel, Matthew is called “Levi, son of Aphaeus,” so perhaps he is a member of his father’s larger household.[6] In any event, Jesus calls him to follow and the first thing he seems to have done is organize a dinner party for Jesus, for the very next thing we are told is that they are “at dinner [with] many tax collectors and sinners [as well as Jesus’ other] disciples.”[7]

Perhaps Matthew did not have a family, but other disciples did. James and John have a father named Zebedee, whom they leave in the family fishing boat when they are called.[8] They also have a mother who apparently also leaves her husband an accompanies her sons and later asks Jesus to give them a special place in his kingdom.[9] Simon (who will later be called Peter) and Andrew are brothers. In Matthew’s telling of their story, they are together when Jesus calls them.[10] The Fourth Gospel, however, tells us that Andrew was originally a disciple of John the Baptist and was the first of the brothers to go with Jesus, who then returned to fetch his brother Simon, whom Jesus then nicknames Peter.[11] We don’t know if Andrew had any other family, but we know that Simon Peter was married and had a live-in mother-in-law; you’ll recall the story in Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus heals her at Simon’s house, whereupon she gets up from her sickbed and begins to serve Jesus and the disciples.[12]

My point here is that what Paul calls “faith” in his discussion of Abraham, the belief that God has a vocation for an individual and that individual’s response to that vocation, is not as singular and individual as the Bible often makes it seem. This matter of getting up “immediately” and changing the path of one’s life often affects many other lives than our own. When I was ordained to the priesthood, the late Bishop Stewart Zabriskie of Nevada departed from the prescribed liturgy and said to me, “You are being ordained. They [indicating my wife and children] are not. Never forget that.” They were not ordained, and yet the priesthood, my priesthood, impacted their lives dramatically.

My son was born in San Diego; my daughter was born in Las Vegas; but both grew up in the Kansas City metroplex and now live in Kansas and Missouri because that is where my ministry took them. Evelyn lives here in Ohio, but I’m willing to bet that if, 50 years ago, you had asked the small-town, Northern Nevada college girl she once was if she had plans to live in Ohio she’d have laughed in your face. And, yet, here she is because of my priesthood.

I’m also willing to bet that, like Evelyn, not many members of this congregation had plans earlier in life to end up in Gambier, Ohio. I’m willing to bet that many, perhaps most, members of this congregation live here because of a vocation to teaching college or a vocation to college administration. And I’m willing to bet that many others are here because of someone else’s vocation to college teaching or administration. In an article about vocational discernment, an Irish priest recently wrote, “every vocation is first discerned with the family,”[13] and I would add that every vocation first and always affects the family, whether that be a calling within the church or a life’s occupation in secular society, or even (I would suggest) the smaller urge to a limited-time project or a short-term ministry. “A calling is simply a tug on our hearts by God [to change our direction] toward a particular thing. A calling can be for a specific situation, for a season of life, or for a lifetime.”[14] Every change of direction, whether temporary or permanent, affects the lives of others, our closest circles of family and friends first and most strongly.

In his book In Search of God: The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names, Swedish theologian Tryggve Mettinger suggests that there are two types of answer to a divine call described in the Hebrew scriptures.[15] The first, typified by Isaiah and exhibited in our readings today by Abram and by Matthew, is that of an individual who responds immediately and obediently, what Paul would call “faithfully,” accepting their commission without objection. In the second, of which Moses is the example, the respondent protests, debates with God, bargains with God, measures the costs and benefits of accepting the call and, perhaps, seeks alternative ways to answer. Paul might argue with me, but I believe that sort of response is also faithful.

Perhaps for an individual with no family in a monarchical and patriarchal society like Isaiah or Matthew, or for a patriarch like Abraham with near dictatorial control over his family, the first type of response is fully practicable. But for the person with a family and responsibilities – remember Moses was married, had his father-in-law’s flocks to attend, was a busy man – the second is really the only option. We may idealize the first biblical type of answer, the immediate, obedient response, but we must face the reality that the second sort, the more sober and deliberative answer, is more realistic in our world. And we must acknowledge that it is just as faithful as the first.

“Grant,” we asked of God in our opening collect, “that by [God’s] inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by [God’s] merciful guiding may do them.”[16] May we, by God’s inspiration, remember those close to us who are affected by our decisions as we contemplate responding to God’s call and guidance. Amen.


This homily was offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 11, 2023, to the people of Church of the Holy Spirit, Harcourt Paris, Gambier, Ohio, where Fr. Funston was supply clergy.

The lessons for the day are from the Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; and St. Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.

Illustration: Abram Leaves Haran, 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld.)


Click on footnote numbers to link back to associated text.

[1] Matthew 9:9-10 (NRSV)

[2] Genesis 12:1,4 (NRSV)

[3] Romans 4:22 (NRSV)

[4] Abigail Folds, Is This My Calling or Just Something I Enjoy?, Relevant, October 28, 2022, accessed June 10, 2023

[5] Genesis 12:5a (NRSV)

[6] Mark 2:14

[7] Matthew 9:10 (NRSV)

[8] Matthew 4:21-22

[9] Matthew 20:20

[10] Matthew 4:18-20

[11] John 1:40-42

[12] Mark 1:30-31

[13] Billy Swan, Discerning a Vocation Begins in the Family, Word on Fire, July 27, 2022, accessed June 10, 2023

[14] Folds, op. cit.

[15] Tryggve Mettinger, In Search of God: The Meaning and Message of the Everlasting Names (Fortress Ex Libris, Philadelphia:2005)

[16] Collect: Proper 5, The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 229