Saint Matthew

Sermon Title:  Saint Matthew

Date: 21 September 2014

Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers

Church Calendar Date:  Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist and Martyr

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 9.9-13

Some of you may remember years ago, that we had to wear hats and gloves, and for men, suits to church. And if someone came dressed in less than this, they were looked down upon…how dare they! It was the expected dress code!  We would argue this is God’s house. You must come dressed appropriately including the children who were also to be quiet.  And we Anglicans are all for ‘good order’ so it was pretty hard to not be judgemental about who came to church. Of course, back then it was also the place to be seen and so it was difficult to ‘let your guard down’, and always to appear as though we had it altogether.  At least that was my recollection.

I wonder if the calling of Matthew the tax collector may not have gone down well in the past. And although we don’t have such a strict dress code these days, are we any different? I wonder do we appear to those ‘outside’ to belong to a rather exclusive club, where good, ‘healthy and virtuous’ people belong and where the sinners are to be excluded?

Have we lost the significance of Matthew’s calling?

We need to listen afresh to this story of the calling of Matthew for today and to be aware of when we may be blocking out a merciful God.  A God who has come for those who know they are broken and need God, no matter their appearance.

So who was Matthew?  Why did Jesus call Matthew to come and follow him? “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.” Matthew 9:9

Matthew was a tax collector. “Such people lived on the fringes of Jewish society.  Working to gather taxes for a foreign power, they had sold their birthright to make profit from the presence of a non-Jewish government in God’s land.  This, of course was the most serious reason for hatred.  However, they were also well known as people who overtaxed, to create a comfortable margin between what they had to pay, and what they could keep as personal profit.”  [i]

Jesus called this outcast to be one of his followers.  And not only that, went back to his home to have dinner where there were more tax collectors and sinners. ‘Sinners’ was a generic term applied to social outcasts, people made unclean through their breaking of certain laws or their following a disreputable profession.

Now in a sense the Pharisees were correct in asking why was Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. If he, Jesus was a ‘holy man’ how could he? This goes against their laws.

And Jesus as usual, broadens the expectations of the accepted religious authorities. Not that they liked that very much.

Jesus had come to fulfil the plans of God and so he quotes the Prophet Hosea who said “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice” Hosea 6:6

Jesus, the physician, has come for those who are sick. Those who know that they haven’t got it all together.  Those who are broken in body, mind or spirit.

Thank goodness, Jesus is here for someone like you and like me! When we know that we haven’t got it altogether, we are more open to God’s mercy for ourselves and also for others.

We can then cope with the criticism that people may put on us as believers or church goers.  We know that we need God.  We know that there is something bigger than ourselves..a higher power that we are connected to.

I often have one on one chats with people, who are struggling with life, with bodies that are wearing out, with relationships that are falling apart or relationships that are challenging and those who have had difficult upbringings and have at times gone down the wrong track.  They want to be listened to and heard.

They wrestle with who or where God is and who they are.

Jesus has come for people who are aware of their humanity. He looks straight at them with warm, loving eyes and says ‘come and follow me’. And we all need to hear this again and again ‘come and follow me’. I will give you life in its fullness.

In the hymn we will sing at the end of this service, The Summons, one of the verses says this:

“Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found to shape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?”[ii]

I expect that Matthew, who was sitting at the tax booth, was ready to respond to Jesus.  He was open to a bigger life than he was living.  He was open to see the kind eyes, the loving expression of Jesus…to him..and him alone…and he responded.

There is not a lot written about Matthew in the New Testament. His calling is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark. Although in Mark he is given the name Levi, the son of Alpheus.   He is named as one of the twelve apostles in Mark and Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles is named when the eleven were choosing another apostle to fill Judas’ spot.

Do we need a lot written about ourselves for us to be ‘important’, ‘noticed’?

I don’t think so.  The calling of this tax collector, this outcast, is a strong reminder to all of us, that Jesus doesn’t look at what we wear, how successful in business we are, how creative we are. Etc.

Remember it is Jesus who calls.  He sees our hearts. He wants us as the reading from Proverbs says today to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”  Proverbs 3:5-6.

And as the writer of Ephesians says in today’s epistle reading:  that we are “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Each of us has been called by God. It wasn’t our initiative, even if we would like to think it was.  We have responded to the call.

We know that we need to be reminded of the ‘Source’ from which we come and for which lives in us.

The church is made up of women, men and children of different backgrounds, cultures, age groups and traditions.

The church is for all of us and we come when we feel sad, empty, hurt, confused, joyful and thankful.  We come with illnesses: physical, mental or spiritual. We come to be fed. We come to be with those who care for us. We come because we are drawn here to be in God’s house and to strengthen that connection.

“Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.

Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.

In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.

Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.”  [iii]

The Lord be with you


[i] This is the Gospel of the Lord by Francis J. Moloney Year A

[ii]  The Summons from the Iona community: John L. Bell

[iii]  The Summons