A Homily for Trinity III
June 28, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 9:9-13
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A part of human nature, imbedded into our minds at the fall, and that we seem to learn fairly early as children is a preference for in-groups and out-groups. We see this in schools: the cool kids, the nerds, the jock, and the artsy kids. The unspoken rule seems to be that these groups may never mix.
It would be nice to think that we grow out of these prejudices, but entire plays, movies, and novels have been based around this type of conflict. Of course, the famous play Romeo and Juliet would have been terribly dull if the Montagues and the Capulets could have figured out their issues and learned to get along. The plot would simply have been that two teenagers fell in love, and then probably realized they were ridiculous, and that would have been that.
It would be nice to think we were above that as Christians and that we always put aside our issues and loved all who came through the door. But even in the early church, we see in-groups and out-groups. St. Stephen, the First Martyr, became one of the first deacons because the gentile Christians felt that the church cared better for the Jewish Christian widows than the gentiles. Likewise, St. Paul spends a great deal of time in his epistle to the Roman Christians, writing that there should be no separation between gentiles and Jews within the church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes that the rich and the poor in the church needed to be on equal grounds.
I suspect that if you were to search your heart, you would find that you have your own prejudice, whether it's based on how people dress, people's economic status, social status, voting preferences.
Political affiliation is actually a pretty good analogy for this morning's lesson. The rhetoric in our country today seems to go like this: if you vote for person x – you're going to be part of sending this country down the drain into something terrible! We find a certain amount of animosity boiling up inside of us as we think about those who vote in opposition to how we vote.
If you can empathize with this and understand the tension between the political parties, I want you to imagine the other party. If you are sympathetic to the republicans – imagine the democrats – and if you are a democrat, imagine the republicans.
Right there – in the middle of that group you're seeing, the ones that oppose your political convictions – the man standing in the middle, the popular one – that is Matthew, the tax collector turned evangelist. Maybe he's not in charge, perhaps he's not a leader – but he's certainly popular, and he's certainly found a way to get rich through the system.
This morning – a social pariah named Matthew was minding his own business, doing his job, collecting taxes when Jesus comes to him, and says, "follow me." Matthew leaves everything behind and follows Christ and eventually writes the gospel account, which we read from this morning.
Before his conversion – St. Matthew was a tax collector. One of the commentaries I was reading this past week put it like this "no society has ever liked tax collectors, but the people in Jesus' time turned it into a sort of art form." To collect taxes in Judea during Jesus' time was not simply to take the working man's money – but it was treason. The money didn't go into the local coffers but into the treasuries of Roman governors, into the pockets' of foreign occupiers.
Tax collectors – who were Jewish were easy to hate – they betrayed their neighbors and made money off the people, and worse yet, they served the enemy. However, this morning Matthew gets an invitation that he cannot resist.
Jesus says to him, "follow me," but the implication isn't merely "hey, "let's go for a walk and chat about your life choices."
No, when Jesus calls Matthew the call is – you sinner, you broken, you hurting, you dead man – come, leave behind everything – leave behind your sin, your wealth, your family, and learn and grow from me. In his calling of Matthew, Jesus says, "Come Matthew, and learn to be my disciple, come and follow the way that I have laid out before you."
And Matthew – leaves everything behind.
This departure meant that he would lose his income, and because he was once a tax collector, he would always be a social pariah. For Matthew to leave his post and follow Jesus meant that he would become utterly dependent upon Jesus. For, in following Jesus, Matthew's tenuous position was lost, he no longer had any status, any standing, and his income was entirely gone.
We have other examples of people coming to Jesus and wanting to be his disciple. We think especially of the rich young man who comes to him. And Jesus says to obey all the commandments, and the man excitedly says, "I have done this!" But then Jesus says to him – now go and sell everything and give it to the poor. And the man goes away sad.
So often, we fail to count the high cost of genuinely following Jesus. But we must hold our worldly possessions with a loose hand. We must be willing to give up our prejudices – and go to those we once viewed as enemies. We must be willing to set aside our preferences and allow our minds to be shaped by Jesus, not by the world. To tell Christ, "I will come," means to allow Christ to become our sovereign, our ruler, our Lord, our master, and to allow Him to form us into disciples.
I want to challenge you this morning – take a moment to ask Jesus – "are there things you are calling me to leave behind?" Likewise, ask him – "Are there things that I am holding on to that prevent me from following you completely?"
Now – remember – way back in middle or high school, the lunch tables would natural segregate? The groups that we mentioned would sit together and what kind of scandal would there have been if a kid from the cool group went and sat with the nerds!
There is something about eating together – sharing a meal that is intimate. Perhaps one of my favorite things about serving here at All Saints has been our weekly soup suppers on Wednesday nights. Once, I had hoped that maybe I could use that time for formal teaching. But then I realized that people were gaining more by simply being together, by learning to love one another over a bowl of soup, and a conversation.
When we build our community over broken bread, it becomes naturally more intimate. Friendships are made deeper, love becomes more profound. The truth that when we eat together, we grow together, seems to be a part of the human condition.
What we see this morning causes scandal, Jesus, this incredible teacher sits down with the unclean, he breaks bread with the social outcasts of his society. Now, in the time of Jesus, religious laws were surrounding those who were clean versus unclean. Those who were unclean would have been left out until such a time that they were deemed pure. Matthew, the tax collector, may not have been intrinsically unclean, but he would have come in regular contact with those who were unclean – such as the gentile Roman occupiers. For Jesus to eat with Matthew and his friends was a scandal to the Pharisees.
But this moment also presents us with something really interesting. If we think back to the rich young ruler who went away sad, we are left to assume that he does not follow Jesus. Matthew's reaction is the opposite, he quits his job, walks away from everything he has, and then he throws a huge party. He invites all his friends, invites all the outcasts of his society. He throws a party – because he's found something amazing – he has found life.
Think back to our little thought experiment at the beginning of this sermon. Remember the group that you think is ruining this country, and I said – Matthew was right in the middle laughing it up. BUT NOW – Jesus is in the middle! Eating with democrats! Eating with republicans! The scandal of it all! Imagine if you were to see this today – how would you feel? Would you set aside your prejudices and join in, or would you stand there with the Pharisees and say "why!"
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Why does your teacher eat with these awful people? You know this kind of question – the Pharisees aren't actually asking why – they are accusing him of betrayal. They are accusing him of condoning, of sitting with the unclean.
Yet it is Jesus that turns around and convicts them – turns around and condemns their questioning. His answer is not really an answer but a question, he says: "those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick," but he really asks: "If you are so healthy, why aren't you healing the sick?" "If you are so well, why aren't you mending the broken in your society?"
My friends – Jesus is the great physician – we come to him as the sick, the unwell, the broken. We have heard it said – the church isn't a country club for the well, isn't a cool place for the elite who have it all figured out to hang out. No – the church is a hospital for the sick, a place for the dying to be mended up, to find intimacy with the great physician.
It is nice that we have friends here. It is nice that we get to spend time together and enjoy each other's company. Still, ultimately we are called to tend to each other's wounds – to minister to each other – to learn to love each other as Jesus first loved us. We are called to abide richly in Jesus that he would heal our broken hearts.
I still remember my diaconate ordination. My friend, Fr. Sam Logan was the preacher. The traditional ordination service is kind of funny. Unlike other services, the first part of the service is the sermon, and even that is a little strange. The sermon starts by addressing everyone, but then the one or ones who are to be ordained stand up, and the preacher gives a charge.
Fr. Logan's charge to me was to love the ugly people, to love the unattractive. It is easy to love those who are happy, fun, funny, sweet, loving, and cool. But – man it's hard to love those who are ugly – those who are snippy, mean spirited, who smell bad, who's brokenness is totally obvious, who actively hate Jesus. Yet – this is what Jesus himself did. He went into the mire of society and loved people well.
Fr. Logan's charge to me when I became a deacon is the same charge we are given – to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to love the unlovable, to care for the least among us, to love our enemies – to set aside our prejudices and love well.
Jesus, the great physician, took us in when we were the totally sick, broken, the ones in complete need of healing. He has been healing us – others come into our lives, and we are called to show them the same loving kindness, the same mercy we have received.
Jesus then quotes to the Pharisees then the fifty-first Psalm "I desire mercy and not sacrifices" and tells them to learn what it means to internalize it. Jesus came to save sinners – Jesus came to call us into repentance, into His incredible mercy.
One of the things that has been profoundly helpful in my own walking with Christ is recognizing the depth of my sinfulness, yet to see this can be hard. I had lunch with a dear friend earlier this week, and we were talking about our own sins. A while ago, he had compared a specific sin to a whack-a-mole game, but I think it applies to all sins pretty well. I know I've used this analogy in the past, but it is such a good one. It seems like every time we seem to have conquered one, another sin pops up.
And we go to bop that one and another pops up, and then another, and another. In seeing the darkness of our hearts – in seeing our brokenness – seeing our sin as our fatal illness – we can then see Jesus as the great physician, as the light and goodness which he is. We can see our desperate need for his light. When we see our sin as deadly, we can let go of our need to be in control, let go of our need to be the shepherd of our lives – and let Jesus be our savior, our shepherd, the light upon our path, our great physician and healer.
There is a picture circling around Facebook these days, and many have used it, to say "look! Look how terrible those atheists are! Look at what is wrong with the world!" The picture is that of a man at a protest, holding up a sign that says, "if Jesus returns, kill him again." It is shocking, I will not deny that, but I don't think the right reaction should be self-righteous indignation. It is easy to grow angry at a man like that, it is easy to hate him. The harder and better reaction is pitty. The more biblical reaction is that when we meet someone like this, we must pray for them and love them as Christ loves us.
In this life the harder, and better way is that we pray for our intellectual enemies. Pray for our actual enemies. Pray for those who hate us. Pray for those who hate the gospel. Pray that we would be a people and a church of hope and healing. And then learn to love – even those who hate us – who mock us – who belittle us. Pray for and love even these who we find it uncomfortable to be around, for those who we don't like, for those who may very well hate us at this moment – for those are the very ones whom Christ has called us to.
This morning Jesus calls a tax collector, a sinner, a man who is nothing and says, "follow me, come be my disciple." The man follows him and is transformed. He goes on to pen the Gospel account, which we read this morning, and then to ministers in Persia and Ethiopia, perhaps being stabbed to death while ministering to the sick and dying. Just as Jesus came to him, just as Jesus patched him up, he went out and did likewise.
My friends – this is our call – that we would go out and welcome in the sick – the least – the hurting – the angry, and the painful, that we would love even those that want to persecute us. My friends – the church is not a country club for our pleasure – but a hospital for the sick, a place that we have come to heal, and grow – and a place in which people from varying backgrounds come and heal all alike in our desperate need for the incredible changing power of Jesus.
Let us be a place for the sick, let us be a place for those who are hurting. Let us not point our fingers at the other and look down upon them, but with bended knees, lift them up with prayers and ask the Lord to teach us to love them well. For Christ "came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.