Sunday, June 8, 2008

On the Way with Jesus

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Matthew 9:9-13

We’re all traveling through this life. We’re all on the way. The question is, which way? On the way, some of us make our way into this place once a week. Why is that? Why do some of us see the need for making a stop in here along the way every week? Why do some think that it’s a nice place to drop into only once in a while? And there are those, of course, who don’t see the need at all to find their way in here as they travel through this life.

It would be easy enough to divide everybody up in that way. There are those who go to church, those who do not very much, and those who pretty much don’t at all. But along the way, as we travel through life, there’s another traveler. And this traveler isn’t so much concerned about which category we fit into. What he cares about is which way we are making our way through this life. But that’s why he’s making his way through it, also. He wants us to join along with him on the way.

You can register for a tour of the Holy Land or the journeys of St. Paul or the significant historical places of Luther’s life. A tour guide who knows the history and the geography will guide you through those places and tell you all about them. You will follow that guide along the way and be enriched for the experience. But that’s not the way it will be done in your journey through life. Your life is not a tour, it is a journey.

They have these people now who will be your personal life coach. They won’t take you on a tour, but they will put together a personal life plan, just for you, tailored to what you need for a fulfilling life. But that’s not really the way your journey through life should work either.

You don’t need a tour guide or a life coach. You don’t want to just be along for the ride. And when it comes to your life, you certainly don’t want someone dictating to you your every action. What you need is someone to follow. While you’re on the way in this life you need to be on the way with someone who will get you through. We don’t really know what it means to follow because we simply think of it as the opposite of leading. But Jesus doesn’t lead. He goes on the way with us and invites us into His eternal glory.

It really doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself in life, Jesus comes directly to you. He finds you as you make your way through life. When we hear about Jesus’ call of Matthew we may not think much about it. God has called quite a few people in history and here’s another one. But really think about this one. Matthew as the inspired writer of this Gospel account does not paint himself in a glowing light. He in fact describes himself to us as he is—an outcast and not a very likable person. The reason is that he made a pretty nice living by ripping off his own countrymen.

But here he is, doing exactly this and the God of the universe comes up to him. If this doesn’t present hope for us all, nothing will. Because while we’re on the way in this life, Jesus comes down to walk the way with us. He didn’t wait for Matthew to get it together first. He didn’t compel him to straighten up and fly right. He just came right up to him, right where he was at, in the midst of his own misguided way through this life, and called him out of it.

And the call was to follow Him. To follow Jesus. But that didn’t mean walking around behind Him. There were plenty of people who did that. Very few times Jesus actually used the words “Follow Me,” to people. But there are many instances in the four Gospels of people following Him around. And we know where they all were when it came time for them to really put their actions where their mouths were. They were nowhere to be found. They didn’t follow Him to the cross. They didn’t follow Him into His suffering and death.

What it means to follow Jesus is to live a life of repentance. If it were just going through the motions, walking around following Jesus, like going to church, doing all those nice things we can think of to do which good people do, then it would be easy enough to do. But what happens instead is Jesus going to Matthew’s house. It almost seems odd, Jesus in fact following Matthew home to be with him in his home. But that’s what Jesus does, He comes to us where we’re at. Even if we’re outcasts. Even if we don’t fit in. Even if we’re undesirable. Even if we don’t deserve it. He comes to us in our lives, the way we are, with all our faults, mistakes, and unpleasantness.

Jesus not only ate with Matthew but told him he could invite all his friends. Well, you know who they were. More of the same undesirables. More of the same kind that decent people wouldn’t associate with. As you’re making your way through life, who do you find yourself identifying with? Matthew and the ones who were looked down upon? Or with the Pharisees who wondered why Jesus might just as well have been saying to that vagabond group that they were okay just as they were?

It seems as though Jesus is writing off the Pharisees. Since they’re stuck in their self-righteousness, He hasn’t come for them. Only those who are broken down by the Law of God. Who see their need for forgiveness. But that isn’t the case. Jesus came for the Pharisees also. He came for everyone. It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. If only the Pharisees would see themselves as sinners just as Matthew and his cohorts were! If only we could see that we are suspect in our actions as Matthew and company were as well as a bit too full of ourselves as the Pharisees were.

We have these masks on as Christians. We show up to church with faces that show each other that we’re good people. But during the week when we’re full on in our journey through life we’re suddenly cut off by someone who sneaks into the parking space that we were already taking. Our thoughts are not of how grateful we are that that other person got such a good parking space but of how angry we are that they stole it from us. We’re so caught up in our journey through life that we may not think twice about all the many thoughts of ill will we have toward others, while on the other hand we may get so bogged down in guilt from our sin that we end up not trusting that God truly can free us from our sin.

While we’re on the way, it’s necessary for us to know where we are in our journey. Without that we’ll be wandering aimlessly. What Jesus wants is to come into your life and dine with you. In other words, He wants to come to you where you’re at and befriend you. He won’t treat you as if you don’t belong. He will welcome you, saying that you do belong. His words are a comfort but they might cause us to pause. For those who are at the end of their rope, His invitation is to dine with you. For those who are wondering why He invites those who don’t deserve it, His call to you is a call to repentance.

If our journey as a Christian were as simple is being in church every week we really wouldn’t need to draw any lessons from the call of Matthew. But the journey we take involves a lot more hours than just the one we spend here. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus spoke the words: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The force of His Words were that the entire and daily life of a Christian should be one of repentance. So here with the call of Matthew and to us: when He says, “Follow Me,” the force of those words are that our entire and daily life should be that of following Him.

How we do that is not by wandering around behind Him putting on a good show for the world, watching what we say, doing good things so that we can be worthy. It’s by going with Jesus to the cross. It’s by daily dying and rising with Him. It’s by daily calling to mind your Baptism and the new life you have which flees from envious and lustful thoughts and thinks on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, and the like. It’s by reclining at the Table here at this altar so that Jesus may dine with you. Not just eating with you, but giving Himself to you as the staff of your daily and eternal life in Him. We don’t celebrate Christmas and the Transfiguration of Christ and Easter and Pentecost as the religious equivalents of secular holidays. We celebrate them because we are following Him. We are on the way with Jesus. We are on our way through this life and He comes along the way with us. Our life is taken into union with His life. We’re not just making our way through this life, we’re sojourning toward eternity. On the way, our Lord invites us to bring others also. So that they may know that He indeed has come to save sinners. Amen.


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