Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 5)

Text: Matthew 9:9-13
As 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. 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."
The Calling of St. Matthew by Hendrik Terbrugghen

When Jesus calls things change

"Only two things are infinite - the universe and human stupidity," Albert Einstein once remarked, "and I'm not sure about the former."
Some people do the craziest things. When I say ‘crazy’ I mean stupid. The thought runs through our minds, "How can anyone be so dumb".

People do some very crazy things.

In today’s gospel reading we hear of something that seems almost as crazy. Jesus walked up to a tax collector, named Matthew, and said, "Follow me". 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.

Everyone else tried to avoid tax collectors – they were the scum of the earth – traitors because they worked for the Romans, the occupying enemy forces in Israel. No one would even greet a tax collector and if they did happen to look his way, they glared at him and made rude comments and gestures.

What a surprise when Jesus just went up to Matthew and regardless of what everyone else thought, and with the kindest tone in his voice invited him to be one of his disciples.
When a rabbi asked someone to come into his inner circle this was considered an honour and privilege reserved for the most fitting person. But here this teacher, this holy rabbi, is inviting an open sinner, someone who is despised because of his sin to join his inner circle of disciples. This was just plain craziness.

What happened next seemed just as crazy. The tax collector, called Matthew, gets up from his table, leaves his tax records and all the money he had collected that day and walks off with Jesus. Those who were working with Matthew and maybe a Roman soldier or two who were guarding the tax collector’s booth must have stood there with mouths’ wide open as they watched Matthew walk away. They must have thought, "Poor Matthew, the stress of the job must have been too much and he’s finally lost the plot. Just two words from this Jewish rabbi and he walks away from everything – money, an easy life, security and happiness".

But that’s not the end of the craziness. 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. Sharing a meal with sinners like this is an open statement that Jesus welcomed such people as friends, accepted them as worthy of his company.  In some way they could see that Jesus himself was being contaminated with their uncleanness. No one in their right mind would put themselves in this predicament.

There is still more stupidity to come. In the very next chapter 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 his preaching and healing.

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 Matthew had done to attract Jesus’ attention. We aren’t told that Matthew had been especially kind that day, perhaps giving a few widows a discount when paying their taxes, or reducing the amount a poor farmer on his way to the market had to pay.

We don’t hear of Jesus striking a deal with Matthew, "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".

When God's grace comes into our lives then expect the unexpected.
Grace changes people.
Grace unsettles people.
Grace throws out worldly logic and calls us to what is seemingly crazy.

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 all report the same thing. If there were more to the events on that day surely one of them would have given us more details. The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that there was no hesitation in Matthew’s response.
No questioning, "Shall I follow Jesus or not"?
No discussion within himself or consultation with others about the consequences of going with Jesus.
No request, "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. It’s possible that when Jesus calls we might do something totally irrational and seemingly irresponsible – like giving up comfort, security, wealth, and safety.
We 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 who were called to follow Jesus 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.

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 Rothwell under the theme Let your light shine! This is the call from Jesus to make a difference in the lives of the people we associate with every day, make a difference to the community in which we live by letting other see in us the light of the gospel - the light of Jesus that can have a powerful effect in their lives also.

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 and our comfortable lives.
It involves change, renewal, revival, and taking responsibility.
It means stepping out and being challenged to go down paths that we have never gone down before and 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 him, Matthew had no idea where this call was going to lead and how difficult being a disciple would be. 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. The closing words of Matthew’s gospel record Jesus’ promise, "I will be with you always, to the end of the age".

When Jesus calls, it could well be to a difficult and challenging job. People might think us to be crazy and stupid. When Jesus calls, he also promises his never-failing love and help.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th June 2008

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