Sermon 1702 Matthew 9.9-13 June 21, 2020
Adjusting to change is painful. We’ve seen how painful that is with our economy tanking in the face of the COVID-19 virus. We would love to think we could once and for all change the conversation about race in America, but it is not a one and done sort of thing. Every generation has to recognize and affirm the value of every individual as each one of us shoulders the enduring debt of love towards our fellow man. I have a hard time adjusting to change. All you have to do is look at the new church directory you will get in the mail next week. Whose phone number is listed? Is it the old land line? Is it mom’s cell? Dad’s? Do children get their own phone number listed? If they are teens? Preteens? In the old days I could call a listed number and get the Schnoodledoodle family, ask for Sheldon and hear a voice screaming upstairs—“It’s for you!” Nowadays you can have a cell phone blaring the Star Wars theme next to someone and they don’t pick it up--it’s not their phone! Maye that’s why last week when my wife went out to get the mail she said, “If Elyse calls pick it up.”
Jesus is Calling
Pick it up (9).
Pass it on (10).
And he’s not hard of hearing (11-13).
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him (9).”
When Jesus went about calling his disciples, he was very deliberate. He didn’t happen upon someone and took a shine to them. He chose them. Right after his baptism by John in the Jordan River, Jesus went about selecting his disciples. They journeyed with him back to Galilee. For a few months they were part-time followers of Jesus. They still kept their day jobs. Peter and Andrew, James and John, they kept fishing. Matthew went back to his tax booth, collecting taxes and levies on those who passed by, maybe including the fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James and John! That changed. Jesus would spend the night in prayer about his choice. Then he went back and called these disciples again, this time that they might follow him full time. In Peter’s case it was through the miraculous catch of fish. With Matthew, no miracles were needed. “Follow me.” And Matthew cleared out his gear and left.
Jesus is calling. Pick it up.
Well, haven’t we already responded to Jesus’ call? Didn’t he call us at our baptism? Didn’t he pour out his Holy Spirit on us abundantly in that washing of water through the Word so that we would be spotless and blameless, without any wrinkle or stain or moral blemish? Yes he did. And how I would wish it was a one and done type of thing. I could even come up with something catchy to describe it, like “Once saved, always saved.” But that’s not the way we humans are built. We’ve got this thing called free will. God wanted people who would freely love him, not people who were forced to love him. I get that. That’s why I asked my wife to marry me. I didn’t kidnap her and try to brainwash her for the next 38 years. Everyone, believer and unbeliever, has this free will to some extent in earthly matters, but only believers have this free will restored in spiritual matters. No, we didn’t have a choice when we were baptized. But ever since we were baptized we did have a choice. We have had this freedom to continue to live a Christian life, continue to believe in Jesus, or kick him in the teeth and fall away from him.
Jesus is calling. Adjusting, if that is the word we can use, adjusting to this call is painful. It means our sinful human nature has to be put to death. Jesus once called the life of a Christian “taking up your cross daily.” Every day we have to fight against sin. Even the most short-sighted Christian can see that. The things this world wallows in, greed, lust, prejudice, those are things we are proud to oppose, dislike on Facebook and tweet against. But putting to death the wicked desires of our heart—that’s painful. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, not to love our neighbor equally badly. Jesus calls us to make sacrifices, not to share equally. Jesus calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Jesus is calling. Pick it up.
Matthew did. He was already a believer. He already trusted that Jesus was the Savior of the world, the King of Israel. Of his own free will he embraced this new calling which would deepen his faith and move him to pass it on to others. I think Matthew is a lot like you.
Jesus is calling. Pass it on to others.
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples (10).”
I have always taught Matthew was one of the original disciples who had the greatest fire in his belly to share the Good News about Jesus with his own people. How to convince Jews that Jesus is the Savior who had been promised to the patriarchs and through the Jewish prophets? The Holy Spirit put it in Matthew’s heart to write the story of Jesus’ life in chronological order and whenever Jesus fulfilled one of those ancient prophecies, point it out. Matthew’s Gospel is full of “and so it came to pass as the prophet foretold.” And then he would simply quote the prophecy. That’s not only the best way to convince a first century Jew who loved his Old Testament that Jesus was the Savior promised to them, it is one of the best ways to convince a modern day skeptic that the Bible is really true and Jesus is the Savior. No other religion has a sacred book that makes detailed predictions and holds itself accountable for them.
Matthew’s fire in his belly showed right from the start. He threw his own going away party. Why not? There was no other way his friends, tax collectors and sinners, people who had been told more than once by the local religious establishment that they better be buried with asbestos underwear because it was going to be hot where they were going to spend eternity, there was no other way his friends were going to learn about Jesus. They weren’t welcome in the synagogues. They had given up on any chance for themselves in the life to come. But now they had someone in their midst, a friend, a great guy, Matthew, who had learned you don’t get to heaven by what you do. You get to heaven by who you believe in. Everybody could see the change already in Matthew. He had hope in his heart. He cared about people, but not in that holier-than-thou starch your underwear sort of way the other religious leaders had. Matthew was one of them. There was no way they would have come to Jesus on their own, so Matthew made it happen. He threw his own party. Who could resist? Great food and drinks. A good time will be had by all. And, surprisingly, as they got to know Jesus, more than a few came to the conclusion that Jesus was one of them, too. Prodigal Sons and Daughters were returning. That also was predicted by the Old Testament prophets.
Jesus is calling. Pass it on.
We are at a crossroads. The old ways of doing things are not going to work, not in the short term, anyway. People want to see a stranger on their doorstep as much as they want to receive a summons in the mail for an IRS audit. The old days of the pastor dropping by just to see how things are going are gone. Hard to talk through a screen door. Even harder to do it with a mask. What we have relied on for so long, the pastor and a couple of trained members going out and visiting with people who do not yet know about Jesus or do not have a place where the Holy Spirit can nurture their growing faith, those days are gone, too. Yet, there was never a time when people needed Jesus more. Everything Americans put their faith in, political and social institutions, business and science, friends and family, has taken a beating. President Bush lamented the fact that “the normal tools of compassion, a hug, a touch, can bring the opposite of the good we intend.” We can’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder any more. Some fear the COVID-19 virus will be as effective in halting the transmission of Christianity as Roman persecutions were in the first two hundred years after Jesus ascended into heaven.
But wait! That’s exactly when Christianity spread the most! One church historian wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Many Christians died in violent persecutions launched by the Caesars in Rome and their governors in the provinces. Christians were forced to worship in secret, in small groups in private homes, in the catacombs of Rome and elsewhere. No mass media campaigns were possible. No flashy displays could awe and entice the masses. But that’s when Christianity spread the most. Individuals shared the Good News of life after death through faith in Jesus Christ. Friend shared with friend the reason for the hope they had in the face of cascading disasters. Neighbor shared with neighbor the healing of God’s free gift of forgiveness. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won!
Jesus is calling. Pick it up. Pass it on. Is there someone you are worried about? Let them know who can carry them through these troubled times. Is there someone who is ready to throw in the towel? Share with them a message that gives strength to the weary. Is there someone who is breaking down under the isolation and alienation confronting so many of us? Let them know Jesus is always there and he is ready to hear their prayers.
Part of my role as your pastor may be transformed from one of “chief visitation evangelist” to teacher and guide not only to the members but to the many others the Holy Spirit will bring to Jesus through your efforts.
I’m looking forward to it. You might be amazed at those who take up your invitation.
Jesus is calling. And he’s not hard of hearing.
I think it has happened to all of us. The person we were talking to thought they had hung up the phone, but didn’t. Oh the things we can hear them say! Now we really get to know what they think! I guess the problem is only worse with cell phones in the back pocket of jeans.
Our text ends with a little of that as the “holier-than-thou” bunch objects to Jesus attracting the riffraff.
“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (11-13).’”
Jesus is not hard of hearing. The unbelieving world is a coward. Like hyenas, they run away from the lion, but nip at the cub’s feet. The Pharisees are afraid to take Jesus on. Later as they would face Jesus head-on and their worst fears would be realized. They got mauled. But for now they were attacking Jesus through his disciples. “How can you follow someone who hangs out with people like that?”
It doesn’t take Jesus long to respond. He tells them the doctor only sees the sick. The healthy don’t need to clog the waiting rooms. Yes, I know Jesus wasn’t familiar with the American model of medicine where the healthy go to the doctor and if you are sick they refer you to the ER, but my business is to explain the Bible to you, not to propose reforms to our medical system. Then he zeros in on them. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”
He quotes the prophet Hosea who is repeating an idea that litters the psalms of David. “The sacrifices of God are a broken heart (51.17).” “I have no need of a bull from your stall (50.9).” “Sacrifice and offerings you did not desire (40.6).” God delights in mercy. He delights in showering repentant sinners with forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Those who have received God’s glorious forgiveness show that forgiveness to others, as Jesus puts it in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Jesus is not hard of hearing. Like a teen who accidently keeps the cell phone conversation with his mother going after he tucks the phone into his back pocket, our subsequent actions are open to our Lord. That’s why those who think the Church is only church don’t understand the Church. Our Christian lives go beyond the walls of our church building and extend past the time of public worship. How we treat others, the mercy and compassion make all the difference. Let the unbelieving world hold up the unyielding letter of the law—the very law they disregard every moment of their existence—let them hold up the unyielding letter of the law in their cold judgment of others. Our Lord kept the letter of every law for us. Jesus’ perfect life has given us a bright and shining place before God. So we show mercy. We fulfill the spirit of the law. Our purpose is to help, not to hinder people. Jesus sees it. Jesus hears us. Jesus is not hard of hearing. And Jesus isn’t just listening in. He’s actively guiding us through his Holy Spirit. We are reminded of Jesus’ words. His actions give us a path to follow. That’s what it means to be Christian.
Jesus is Calling
Pick it up (9).
Pass it on (10).
And he’s not hard of hearing (11-13).
Adjusting to change can be painful. But once that adjustment has been made--you really want to go back to the Smith Corona electric typewriter? You really want to wait two weeks for the Kodak film to be developed? We’d have to have something wrong with our heads! These changes are part of our life. Jesus is calling. We never want to go back to the days before he had our number.