Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 5)

Text: Matthew 9:9

As he (Jesus) walked along, he saw a tax collector, named Matthew, sitting in his office. He said to him, "Follow me." Matthew got up and followed him.

When God calls ordinary people

The majority of the people in this world are just ordinary people. Doris Taylor was born in SA, 1909. When she was seven an accident caused injury to her spine and she was almost continuously in hospital for the next 9 years. At the age of 16 she was very seriously disabled - she couldnít turn her head, sit up, or even feed herself.

During the Depression of the 1930s she became concerned for those who were disadvantaged. Doris Taylor began supplying hot midday meals for the aged and chronically ill in their homes. This was the beginning of Meals on Wheels. Remember Doris was a cripple - she was wheeled around on a sort of light weight bed on wheels, and needed constant care, but she was still able to put so much energy into creating this organisation to help others whom she considered worse off then she was.

There was a need and God called Doris Taylor, ordinary, seemingly ill-suited and terribly disabled. She could have argued quite reasonably that this was too hard and should be someone elseís job.

Today in our readings we meet two very ordinary people Ė Abraham and Matthew.

Itís true Abraham was a successful businessman and had over the years become a very wealthy man. God had promised that he would be the father of a great nation, but the arrival of an heir was taking far too long. Abraham and Sarah were no spring chickens anymore so Abraham decided to take matters into his own hands. This is when things started to go wrong. He was successful in many things but when it came to his family Ė well, things were a real mess.

He tried to hurry along Godís plan and got a servant girl Hagar pregnant.
Well, you can imagine how that set the cat among the pigeons.
Hagar hurled insults at Sarah because she was able to get pregnant and Sarah wasnít.
In return Sarah handed out some pretty cruel treatment to Hagar.
Hagar gave birth to Abrahamís son whom they named Ishmael but Hagar and her young son were forced to leave Abrahamís home to wander in the wilderness.
Eventually, 25 years after God first told Abraham that he would be a father, Isaac was born.

Itís almost as if the scriptwriter for a soapie had written this part of the Bible.

Then we heard about Matthew this morning. We donít know much about Matthew but we do know that he was one of the most unpopular people of the town. He was a tax collector and that meant that he worked for the Romans and that branded him a traitor. Tax collectors made sure they got a cut of what they collected. They were known to cheat even widows and orphans. When Jesus calls him to follow, Matthew leaves everything behind and ventures forth with nothing more than Jesusí promise to make him a disciple.

You wonder why God chose someone like Abraham to be the father of a great nation and the person through whom all nations would be blessed.
You wonder why Jesus would have chosen Matthew to be one of his disciples. Of all the possible people Jesus could have chosen, many with far better credentials than Matthew, why did Jesus choose a thief and cheat like Matthew?

We can wonder all we like but this seems to be the way God acted, The Bible is full of stories about how God chose ordinary people like a shepherd boy to be king, a farmer to be prophet, another farmer to lead Israelís army against the Midianites, a poor girl to be the mother of Jesus, fishermen to be his disciples, ordinary people like you and me to follow him. The people God chooses are usually plain ordinary people Ė people with their fair share of marriage and family problems, people whose pasts are anything but perfect, people whose futures were not all that promising.

(Show painting on screen)

The Italian painter Caravaggio created a painting of "The Calling of St Matthew". In the centre of the painting is a group of very common Italian merchants dressed in modern clothes. At one end of the table is one of Matthewís assistants bent over the table totally focussed on counting money. Through the opened door there comes a shaft of light. Across the canvas, we see the outstretched hand of Jesus, finger pointing toward Matthew. One of the money counters lifts his head, squinting against the light. It is Matthew. Matthew has heard Jesusí call, "Follow me" and points to himself as if it to say, "Do you mean me?" or perhaps, "Me? Why me?"

The painter has captured beautifully that moment when someone is surprised by the light of God streaming into his or her life. Caravaggio was criticised heavily for the way he painted the biblical characters. Rather than painting them with biblical robes and clothing, he gave them the ordinary everyday contemporary clothes of people in the Italian streets.

When the church, for which he painted "The Calling of St Matthew" refused to pay for the painting because "It didnít look religious enough," the painter replied, "Our Lord loved and called to him the common people. That is the Lord of which I paint."

After Jesus had called Matthew we are told that he went to the tax collectorís house and had a meal with many other tax collectors and outcasts. Here Jesus is eating with the scum of society and, of course, he is criticised for it. And what is Jesusí reply? "People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. Ö I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts."

Jesus wants to hang out with sinners, just as he went to the cross to hang for sinners. Not the good people, not the upright and upstanding, not the ones with a tight rein on their minds and bodies, but rather, Jesus came for precisely the ones we are least likely to think they are worthy of such a high honour.

It's not that Jesus didnít associate with the scribes and the Pharisees. Scripture makes a point of saying that Jesus dined with them, too. On the other hand, Jesus seems to have had a special place in his heart for the moral, or spiritual, or physical lepers. He reached out to them with deep mercy, tender compassion, and genuine acceptance.

Itís easy to suppose that anybody who's ever had a problem with anger or resentment would qualify for Godís call.
People who have ever had trouble controlling their sexual thoughts and desires would be included.
The sick, the lame, the delusional, the depressed and despairing,
the underweight and the overweight,
the people who think too much of their bodies,
and the people who don't think enough of them, they are all certainly called by Jesus.
People with problems,
people who create problems,
people whose problems are unlike anybody else's problems are invited to belong.
People who think they're smarter or stronger or better than everybody else,
people who think they're dumber or weaker or worse than everybody else,
people who hate other people,
people who hate themselves,
people who worry too much,
people who don't worry enough,
people who put down other people,
people who don't stand up for themselves<
all are called by Jesus to follow him, to be joined to him at baptism, to be together with others who have been called in the church.
Add to that the ungrateful, the impatient, the greedy, the gossipy, people who take pleasure in other peoples' misfortunes,
and people we donít like and those we have a prejudice against.

If Iíve left anybody out, Jesus calls you, too.
Jesus said, "I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts."

Each one of us here in this church this morning is further example of ordinary people who have been called to be disciples. Your family life may not be in as big a mess as Abrahamís, or youíre not as big a cheat as Matthew. Thatís great, but if God could call them and use them in his plans, think how much more so God can use you.

St. Paul reaffirms this whole idea of God calling those who are the least and the most insignificant, when he says to the Corinthians, "Now remember what you were, my friends, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. Ö God chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothingÖ" (1 Cor 1:26, 28).

You might say that your life is so ordinary and so is your commitment to following Jesus.
You say you donít feel like a disciple.
Too often you donít act like someone whom God has called.
While each of us would like to think that Jesus has especially chosen us because of something good in our lives, the truth of the matter is that God does not call us because of our feelings, our actions or our goodness.

Would God have called Matthew on the basis of his feelings, actions or goodness?
Would he have called that hard-living, outspoken fisherman Simon on the basis of his feelings, actions or goodness?
When you were baptised as an infant did God call you on the basis of your feelings, actions or goodness? Your presence in his church was God's idea long before it was yours. So you can relax. We are here because of God's gracious call to us regardless of who we are or what our past has been.

Jesusí call to "follow me" is a personal call, extended person to person.
From Jesus to Matthew, busy working at his tax books, counting his money. From Jesus to you, sitting here today.
This isn't a call to be religious, in the sense of doing religious things.
It isn't even a call to believe in God. Everyone, even the atheist and agnostic, believes in a god of some sort.
But the call to discipleship is the call to follow Jesus the Christ, the carpenter of Nazareth, Mary's son, who was declared to be the Son of God with power by his dying and rising from the dead.

The call to "follow me" is an exclusive attachment to Jesus. Nothing else matters but Jesus.

God chose Abraham and Matthew and regardless of how ordinary they were or what kind if a mess their lives were in, he chose them to carry out his plan. We may think we are just ordinary people, but he has chosen us as his holy people and has given us his Holy Spirit to get busy changing the world for the better.
That may mean starting with the people around you, family and friends.
That may mean getting busy changing the church for the better, helping it find new and better ways of doing the work God has given.
That may mean stepping out in faith, leaving behind what is comfortable and take the more difficult task of trying out something new Ė something you may have never done before.
That may mean putting aside your fear and prejudices and your own personal needs while you tackle the challenge God is putting in front of you. Abraham and Matthew may have been ordinary people but when they heard the call of God they obeyed.

We belong to Christ, he has saved us, he is our king and Lord. He has chosen us to be his representatives at home, at work, at school, in the community, wherever. He calls us because he loves us. He calls us and promises to provide what we need to further his kingdom in our community.

God is busy blessing the world through you and through this congregation. You may consider yourself to be small and seemingly insignificant, but in Godís eyes you are someone very special and in God's hands ordinary people can do extraordinary things as the love of Christ controls everything they say and do.

A final challenge, God has chosen you, why not choose someone this week and let them see in you the love of Jesus.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th June, 2005
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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