Matthew 9:9-17

Introductory Talk

Place four clocks on a table within full view of the church and ask, 'Which one is the odd one out?'

Accept the reasons you are given as to why any of the objects might be the odd one out.

Talk about the clocks one has bigger hands than the others; that clock has a metal case; this one is plastic). Yet each one is a clock and they are all (more or less) equally good at timekeeping.

Point out that we do the same with people. We treat certain people as 'not one of us'. They might include: skin colour or ethnic origin; voice or accent; their age (very young or very old); the job they do (office cleaner or big boss) or what school they go to; what they wear (tie round neck or stud in lip) or where they live (small council flat or big private house).

Often the reasons why we think of someone as different are quite trivial. Each one of us is cared for equally by God, and in his eyes we are equally good (and equally bad) at being people. In today's gospel reading Jesus calls some one who was unpopular to follow him.

Main adult talk :

Today we start a sermon series called, 'What does Jesus offer'.

G Campbell Morgan in The Gospel According to Matthew: 'The world sees all sorts of things in us the accidental things. Christ will not see them, although he sees everything. He sees the person. We may be bruised and broken and scarred, and it may be all our own fault; but in each case he sees the person; and he calls us in the same sweet voice that Matthew heard: 'Follow me.'

When Jesus passed Matthew's tax office as he walked out of Capernaum he was

already the talk of the town. He'd healed a centurion's servant, Peter's mother-in-law,

the paralytic and countless others in response to faith. He'd challenged religious people about the weakness of their response to him and he'd stilled a storm on Galilee with a word. (See Matthew 8:1 9:8.)

How do you think Matthew felt? Was he indifferent, intrigued or excited by what he'd heard? What might he have felt when Jesus called him?

Thrilled, perhaps, and surprised. Like him, maybe you've seen what Jesus can do in other people's lives. But can you imagine him calling you? When Matthew said 'Yes' to Jesus, he learned that there are three things on God's agenda, and we need to learn them too.

1 People are more important than prejudice.

A tramp was sitting weeping on the steps of a fashionable city church. As he wept, Jesus came, sat next to him, put his arm round him and asked, What's the matter, friend?'

They won't let me in,' sobbed the tramp.

'Oh, don't worry about that,' Jesus replied. 'I've been trying to get into that church for years. They won't let me in either!'

Jesus saw 'a man' (v 9): the Pharisees saw 'tax collectors and "sinners"' (v 10). The Pharisees counted people out of God's kingdom because they failed to keep God's (and their) laws.

Jesus counted people in. For all Matthew's flaws and faults ( and he had them like anyone else) Jesus saw him as a human being made in God's image. He saw what Matthew could become when redeemed and renewed through Jesus' death and resurrection.

We need to ask ourselves how we regard people on the margins of church and society. There is the danger that we regard them as outcasts: they're 'not our sort'; 'there's no hope for them'. They're different. We wouldn't choose to speak to them, let alone care for them.

Yet Jesus died for them too. And we're not perfect. We have all sinned and done wrong in God's sight. There are no 'grey' sins that God overlooks. All sins are black, whether they are ours or those of people we look down on. The people who aren't our sort are just the sort Jesus calls us to care for.

When people who look, live or dress differently to us come to Christ, we are to rejoice and welcome them openly, not grudgingly. Jesus did not come to call respectable people, but outcasts ( Read v 13 ).

2 Generosity is more important than greed

By his mid-thirties James Nelson Rockefeller had become, through drilling and selling oil, one of the richest men on earth. But he was utterly miserable, plagued by all kinds of physical and emotional illnesses. Every newspaper in America had his obituary sitting in their files. Then a friend persuaded him to begin to give some of his great wealth away. He formed the Rockefeller Foundation, initially to provide educational scholarships to poor people from the southern United States. As Nelson Rockefeller took an increasing interest in the developing work of the Foundation, his illnesses left him. From being hard, bitter and unyielding he became warm and generous. He lived to a ripe old age. The work of the Foundation continues to this day.

Jewish tax collectors in Jesus' time were notoriously greedy. ( Zacchaeus is the classic example - see Luke 19:1-10.)

They were even less popular in Jesus' day than now. Many Jews viewed them as traitors serving the hated Roman empire. To make things worse, they worked on a commission basis, allowing them to set their own rates, which often led to extortion. Matthew equivalent job to customs officer today, yet still despised by Jews. They dealt with Gentiles so were treated as ceremonially unclean i.e. they couldn't take part in the Jewish religious life.

But when he came to Jesus he threw a big feast for him in his house and invited all his friends along (see Luke 5:29). From being greedy with his time and money, Matthew became generous with it.

Sheer generosity, without hope of reward, enhances our dignity as human beings. Yet we are often mean with our time and miserly with our money. We may need to take time out of our busy 'Christian' schedules in order to mix with 'tax collectors and other outcasts' (v 10) or even just ordinary people! Sometimes we pass by on the other side because we're so preoccupied with what we consider to be important that we don't notice what, and especially who, God considers to be more important. Let's not judge by human standards, but by God's.

3 Freedom is more important than formality

The Pharisees criticised Jesus for the company he kept because, in their view, he became unclean by mixing with them and, thereby excluded himself from God's presence. They'd failed to understand that their own law demanded kindness before religious duty (v 13).

John the Baptist's followers wondered why Jesus' followers failed to fast according to current tradition. They had failed to see that, in Jesus, God was with them like a bridegroom welcoming his guests. The wedding banquet of God's kingdom had already begun (v 15).

How many traditional churchgoers does it take to change a lightbulb ?

101. 1 to change it and 100 to say they preferred the old one !

Jesus uses the illustrations of a new patch and new wine to show that his kingdom needs a new way of doing things. The danger is that we let a certain way of doing things come before the ways of Jesus. This can happen when a church adopts new ways of doing things that tramples on the feelings of those who are used to the old way of doing things. It can equally apply to a church that refuses to move and, for example rejects modern worship songs outright.

These are two, extreme examples, but they illustrate the principle of mercy. This demands that we think of others before ourselves, including others who are 'different' because they have different needs and personalities.

Conclusion

Luke records that Matthew 'left everything' such was his trust. By following Jesus, Matthew turned his back on a lucrative government job, home, security. By following Jesus Matthew was transformed from being rejected by his own people to being accepted by Jesus. People would not have trusted him but Jesus did.

Matthew changed from putting his job and money before everything to putting Jesus first. He was gradually transformed into a loyal disciple who applied his orderly mind to organize this account of Jesus' life.

This is the transformation that Jesus can bring into our lives. He holds out the hand of friendship & acceptance. He looks at what we can be, not what we are. He provides us with security that the world cannot.

The 'new wine' of God's Spirit can cure us from too much conformity to the world's way of thinking. By putting people before prejudice, generosity before greed and freedom before formality, we can start to live in the way God wants us to. And that will enable him to work through us in ways we never dreamed were possible.

He wants each one of us to serve him as much as he wanted Matthew to serve him.

Martin Luther King in The Words of Martin Luther King:

Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve, you don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second law of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

So let's follow Matthew's example and say, 'Here I am, Lord.'

This week, why not do this little exercise? Each time we see someone who you consider to be different', pray for them. Let's say to ourselves, Jesus loves you. If he was here now he'd want to call you to be his disciple too, just as he called Matthew.' And then let's say to God, Please, Lord, let them hear your voice as I've heard your voice. And help me to love them and respect them, and not to look down on them. Amen.