By Rev. Kris Eggert | June 11, 2023
Read Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
It’s always good to be back with you here at Ledgewood Christian Church! It’s been a while. I was scheduled to be here on Sunday last November but there was an ice storm, or the power was out or something and church was called off. I didn’t take it personally (!) so when Pastor Heidi asked, I said well, if it works with my calendar, I’d be happy to. I know Pastor Heidi’s calendar is more packed than mine. Have you ever known anyone quite so busy?
But then Jesus typically calls busy folks, doesn’t he? Today’s story from Matthew is just one example, as throughout the scriptures, Jesus comes upon people in the complicated and busy daily routines of their lives and says a simple two words – Follow Me!
Jesus called the first 2 disciples – Peter and Andrew – while they were casting their nets for the daily catch. The next two – James and John – were in the boat with their father mending the nets. Each and all engaged in the difficult physical work of fishing to feed and support their families.
In today’s story, Matthew who is a toll and tax collector meets Jesus. Likely at a sheltered counting desk or a booth placed strategically near the route out of Galilee – strategic because he could catch the fishermen on their way home with their catch. Exacting as much from them as he could get by with. Tax collectors were known for their thievery. Matthew was a busy guy, but he was devious and dangerous.
But it is this same Matthew who Jesus calls out to, just like he called out to those first disciples, Follow Me. It wasn’t a request. It wasn’t multiple choice. It wasn’t a think about this and get back to me.
It was a command, and just like those early disciples, in a simple act of obedience, Matthew got up and followed him.
Follow Jesus where exactly? First to dinner in a nearby house where they sit down with an assortment of Matthew’s tax collecting colleagues and others equally nefarious though we don’t know the exact nature of their sins. It’s there that some Pharisees stop by to see what’s going on with this highly unlikely combination of people which gives Jesus an opportunity for a quick teaching moment about who it is he welcomes into discipleship.
Who does he welcome? Anyone and everyone. What does he ask of them? To follow. Simple enough that command sounds, but anyone who has given it a try will tell you it may be simple, but it’s not easy.
Commandments are like that. Straight-forwardly simple. Like these other commandments from our Lord Jesus:
Do to others what you would have them do to you.
Do not hold anything against anyone, forgive them.
You are the light of the world. Let your light shine, do not hide it away.
Get rid of whatever causes you to sin.
Give more than what is demanded of you.
Love your enemies.
Turn the other cheek.
Do not worry about tomorrow.
Do not judge.
Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.
Care for those in distress. For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was a stranger, and you took me in.
Be like the Good Samaritan – even if you think you are too busy to stop and help!
Love one another. Love each other as I have loved you.
Do not fear.
Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbors, even your enemies.
Straight-forwardly simple. It’s us who look for the fine print, points to negotiate, gray areas of escape, and ways to just flat-out ignore the parts we find problematic. Simple, but far from easy. Anyone who’s given this Jesus-follower thing a try can attest.
The commands are simple. And our answer is either yes, I will or no I won’t. The commands are simple, but they are urgent. The urgency of the call compels us to answer immediately and obediently. The commands are not passive, they are calls to action. And the action, for any of Jesus’ commands, is this:
Follow Me. Live Now. Live now in this flawed world as if it is the world God intends it to be. Live now, though your sins and shortcomings may be many. Live now as if you can make a difference.
Live now as if the lion and the lamb were already lying down together.
Live now as if adversaries have already beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Live now as if justice has already begun to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Live now as if we really see Jesus in the stranger. Live now as if what we do in the name of Jesus Christ matters to the future of the world, because it does.
When I began this sermon, I said that Jesus calls busy people. A really good example of that is your dear Pastor Heidi who could be doing most anything quite well and successfully. Pastor Heidi follows Jesus, and the kingdom of God here in Northeast Ohio is better for her gifts and talents.
Jesus also calls people who need to turn away from their greed and avarice like Matthew, those who serve other gods than our God. Jesus calls the people at the dinner table with them who had their own sins to turn away from.
Jesus also calls the distracted, the lazy, the closed-minded, the selfish, the lost, … well, the list could go on awhile given that all are welcome into his fold.
Not everyone listens to the call. Not everyone who listens responds immediately like those first disciples. And that’s to be expected. There is always grace. Scripture gives us a variety of examples of how God’s people answered the call through the ages. Abraham had to leave his past behind, leave his homeland and take his family to a new land. None of which could have been easy, but he managed them all, and here we are as his descendants so many centuries later. Moses initially protested and engaged God in some dialogue, measuring both the benefits and the burdens. King David was called from great sin into a greater life. Sadly, though, there are other stories in scripture, like the rich young ruler who asks how he might inherit the kingdom of God and upon receiving the answer to sell his stuff, considers the costs of following to be too high and just couldn’t be bothered. There are many of his descendants in our world today. Those for whom the cost just seems too high. Those who accumulate for themselves and not for others. Those who want to negotiate about who exactly Jesus came to save and serve.
Where are each of us along the spectrum of how willing we are to answer Jesus’ call to follow? I suspect you, like me, see it as a somewhat sliding scale depending on the day. Some days our commitment is high. Other days we want to close our ears to what God expects of you. Just know this. You’re on the path. You have answered Jesus’ call to follow. Maybe that seems a long time ago, and maybe Jesus’ voice is difficult to hear through all the competing noise around you. Receive the Holy Spirit’s gentle reminder this morning that Jesus has chosen you to:
Follow him. To live now.
To live now as if the world was indeed the garden God intended it to be.
To live now as if nations did not go to war.
To live now as if we loved God with all our heart and our soul and strength.
To live now as if you following Jesus could bring life to the world. Because it can. Amen.