Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost 
(Proper 5)

Text: Matthew 9:9-13
Jesus left that place, and as he 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. While Jesus was having a meal in Matthew's house, many tax collectors and other outcasts came and joined Jesus and his disciples at the table. Some Pharisees saw this and asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with such people?" Jesus heard them and answered, "People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: "It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.' I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts."

Things are never the same again

At times we hear stories about people who do some very strange things. In fact, we can hardly believe that anyone could be so stupid. But as crazy as it seems, we are assured it is true. It just goes to prove that the old saying has some merit - "truth is stranger than fiction". Like these hardly believable, yet apparently true, stories about people breaking the law.

  1. There is the story about an ex-computer company employee who returned to his office late at night to steal computer equipment. He was able to enter the building because he had jammed some paper into the door lock. The police apprehended him after finding the piece of paper, which was part of a parking ticket he had received a couple of days earlier.
  2. Police were investigating a car theft. When they asked the owner about any valuables that were in the car, the man told them that there two tickets to a concert in the glove box. Figuring they had nothing to lose, the police went to the concert and found both robbers sitting in those seats. They had driven the stolen car to the concert.

People do some very strange things. But "truth is stranger than fiction". What about the day Jesus walked up to a tax collector, named Matthew. As you know tax collectors were a despised bunch of people. They fleeced the taxpayer, making sure they made a healthy profit from each person who paid him their dues. Not only that, the locals regarded tax collectors as traitors because they were working for the Romans, the occupying enemy forces in Israel at that time. Every one else walked passed the tax collector without giving him a second glance. And if they did happen to look his way, they glared at him and made rude comments and gestures.

What a surprise it was when Jesus just went up to Matthew and regardless of what everyone else thought, Jesus said to him, "Follow me". This rabbi, this holy teacher, invited an open sinner to be one his disciples.
And further, what a surprise when Matthew left his tax collector’s booth and all the money he was collecting that day and went with Jesus, inviting him to his house for a meal.

And even further, what a surprise when Jesus actually went to Matthew’s house and shared a meal with him and other tax collectors – a sign of acceptance and friendship. People could hardly believe that Jesus was so stupid.

And even further still, what a surprise it is to read in the very next chapter that Jesus sent Matthew and the other eleven disciples to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and preach, heal the sick, raise the dead to life and drive out evil spirits. Matthew, who was regarded by everyone else as the scum of the earth, a cheat, a turncoat, was called by Jesus to be his assistant, his representative, and so multiply the number of people who would be touched by the preaching and healing of Jesus.

There is no doubt that here we can observe the grace of God at work. When everyone else could only see in Matthew greed and betrayal, a cheat and a fraud, Jesus could see in Matthew a person who needed divine love and grace. Everyone hated Matthew but Jesus was ready to offer undeserved love and forgiveness.

We might ask what had Matthew done to attract Jesus’ attention. We aren’t told that Matthew had been especially kind that day, maybe had given a few widows a discount when paying their taxes. We don’t hear of Jesus striking a deal with him, "If you give up all up your wicked ways you can come and follow me". Jesus simply reached out to Matthew with the grace-filled call "Follow me". This was unheard of, "but truth is stranger than fiction".

There is something uncomfortable about this story of Jesus’ call to Matthew. There is that one little sentence – "Matthew got up and followed him". The Gospel writers want to give us the impression that there is no hesitation here.
No to-ing and fro-ing, "Shall I follow Jesus or not"?
No discussion about the consequences of going with Jesus.
No question, "Please give me some more details please".
No plea, "Let me pack up and count the day’s takings first".
The gospel writer simply states,
"Matthew got up and followed him."

I feel a bit uncomfortable about this kind of response to the call of Jesus, because it seems that anything could happen as a result of Jesus’ call. It’s possible I might do something totally irrational and seemingly irresponsible – like giving up comfort, security, wealth, and safety.
I might do something like Matthew and walk away from a table full of money,
or like Peter, James and John who gave up their boats and nets,
or Paul who gave up prestige and position.
Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call makes us uncomfortable because it caused those people to look at things from a totally different perspective.
Money was no longer important to Matthew – all he wanted to do was follow Jesus.
As much as Peter, James and John loved fishing this was no longer the focus of their lives – following Jesus was.
Jesus comes with his gracious call and things are never the same again.

There was a man, a graduate of one of the finest medical school. He could have had a high paying practice and lived comfortably. He was also a brilliant musician and could have become famous touring Europe. But instead Albert Schweitzer went to Africa as a medical missionary. When asked why he gave up fame and wealth to work with lepers, he said, "I just had a feeling it was what God wanted me to do."
Jesus comes with his gracious call and things are never the same again.

I read of a congregation consisting entirely of elderly people. It was only a matter of time and the congregation would cease to exist. It was noted by one of the elderly ladies that every afternoon lots of children passed the church on their way home from the nearby school. Many of them went home to an empty house. Those elderly folk dragged a piano to the front steps of the church. A grey haired lady started playing as the children went by. The oldies started serving drinks and cake. Soon they had a thriving after school program that led to the revival of that congregation.
Jesus comes with his gracious call and things are never the same again.

A woman was struck down with severe cancer. The treatment was harsh and debilitating. But the cancer went into remission. Now she is carrying out a much valued and appreciated ministry among cancer sufferers, something that had never occurred to her when she was healthy.
Jesus comes with his gracious call and things are never the same again.

Jesus calls you and me. He has come to us through the Word of God and through baptism.
He has called to us, "Follow me",
graciously forgiven us,
welcomed us as members of the Kingdom of God,
lovingly promised to always be our God in the good times and the bad.
Like the call to Matthew, God has called you and me, in fact he calls us daily to be his disciples, to turn away from all the things that distract us and draw us away from God. Daily he says to you and me "Follow me" and that’s when I start getting a bit worried. If we take what happened to Matthew seriously, then who knows what will happen? If the church takes the call of Jesus seriously, then who knows where it will be led?

As I said before Matthew wasn’t called to be a disciple just to make up numbers. He was soon sent out to announce that the Kingdom of God is near, to heal the sick and raise the dead. He was to go out and speak and act on behalf of Jesus. "Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me", Jesus said.

Jesus hasn’t called us into the church so that we can be comfortable and simply to look after our own needs.

This weekend the District synod is meeting at Maroochydore under the theme Church be real. During his address the District President told of how he and another pastor went fishing. The pastor bragged that he knew a spot where the mullet jumped into the boat. They went out in a tinnie and would you know it, the mullet did jump into the boat. That’s not how the church works. We have an excellent church plant and friendly people, but the people out there aren’t going to jump in to the church like those mullet. We have to go out there and meet people. We may need to make some changes, introduce some new things so that they feel comfortable and welcome. But that’s what our task is as the church in this place. Everything falls into insignificance in the light of the church’s main task to make it known that Jesus is the answer to the problems of our community and our world.

It’s easy for us as individuals and a congregation to put Jesus' call to follow in the too hard basket. We don't like this kind of renewal and revolution much because it upsets our comfortable Christianity.
It involves change, renewal, revival, and taking responsibility.
It means letting the Holy Spirit change us and set us on fire for the often very difficult tasks he has given to us as his church.

When Jesus called Matthew, Matthew had no idea where this call was going to lead. But as things unfolded he was confident that the grace of God would never let him down. He was certain that Jesus would not ask him to do something that would not receive divine guidance and support. Recall the last words of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus had just given the command to go into the whole world and make disciples, baptising and teaching. And what were Jesus' concluding words, "I will be with you always, to the end of the age"?

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th June
, 2002

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