St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (observed)
Sunday, September 19, 2010
“St. Matthew: Called to Follow, Called to Serve” (Matthew 9:9-13)
On the church year calendar, the Festival of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, falls on September 21, which is this Tuesday. But since our congregation is named in honor of St. Matthew, we have decided to observe that commemoration today, on the Sunday closest. We’re calling it “St. Matthew’s Sunday,” a day to celebrate the ministry of our congregation and to rally support for our life and work together. Because whether we’re talking about St. Matthew the Apostle or St. Matthew the Congregation, in each case we’re talking about “St. Matthew: Called to Follow, Called to Serve.”
“Called to Follow, Called to Serve.” Notice, the call to follow comes first, before the serving. So that’s where we’ll start. And we’ll start with St. Matthew himself. Only, when we first meet Matthew, he wasn’t much of a saint. On the contrary, he was a sinner–a big sinner, a tax collector even, with all the baggage that carries with it. Now I can’t imagine tax collectors have ever been very popular, but that was much more the case in the first century, in the land of Israel. Tax collectors back then had a very bad reputation, and deservedly so. As a group, they were known to be corrupt and collaborators. They overcharged, lining their own pockets, plus they were working for the hated, pagan Romans, the occupying force at the time. Not good, not good at all. And our boy Matthew was one of them.
Is this the kind of guy you would pick to be one of the founding members of the church? Hardly. But Jesus does: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”
This is Jesus’ call to follow him in faith. To come and learn from him, to listen to his teaching and wisdom. To come into the lifelong–and life-filled–relationship with the Master that we call discipleship. It is the call to leave behind whatever was your idol before and to pursue a new path, a new way, the way of wisdom from the one true God. And Christ will be your leader in this. Indeed, Jesus Christ himself is the way, the truth, and the life.
This is a life and a wisdom that is far greater than any wealth you might accumulate at a tax booth. Nothing can compare. The call comes from Jesus, and it is an invitation to a life of adventure and grace, the likes of which–well, there is nothing else like it!
Have you heard this call? Yes, you have. From the time you were baptized, the Spirit has opened your ears to hear this call and heed it. Every time you’ve heard the gospel preached from this pulpit, you have heard the call of Christ. And now you are hearing it yet again today. Jesus is speaking to you today: “Come, follow me.”
And so St. Matthew the sinner–and St. Matthew the church full of sinners–we rise and follow Jesus. We know that when we hear his voice, we are hearing the sweet sound of God’s grace and mercy. This is God stooping to save sinners and, amazingly, welcoming us into a life of fellowship with him. He sits at table with sinners, eats and drinks with them. And this rankles the self-righteous, those who think a decent God should only associate with good people, that is, people like them. Jesus ran into this critique, didn’t he? Our text says:
“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Do you see yourself in that picture? Or I should say: How do you see yourself in that picture? As one of the righteous or as one of the sinners? If you are satisfied with your own righteousness, that it’s good enough for you to stand before God on the Day of Judgment, then I guess you have no need for a Savior. But if you know your sinfulness, your wretchedness, your lack of righteousness, then listen, Jesus is calling you!
You see, Jesus is in the business of redeeming sinners, saving them and calling them into his fellowship. That’s why he came. He came to rescue us lost sheep from the wilderness we were wandering in. We were trapped in the briars and brambles of our own sins, the devil’s snares, and the world’s allurements. Jesus frees us, calls us to himself, and leads the way out. Christ sets us free by virtue of his blood shed on the cross, the price it took to save us. He paid the debt we owed, all of it, paid in full. God’s own Son gave himself as the sacrifice for your sin, to set you free. And then he rose from the grave, showing that this forgiveness he won for you is so strong, it will free you from the cords of death itself and carry you into eternal life.
Jesus is in the business of calling sinners into his fellowship. He builds a whole church out of sinners, guys like Matthew–and people like you and me. That’s why this church is here, isn’t it? To call sinners into fellowship with Jesus. This is the place where Christ’s voice is sounding forth. This is the table where Jesus feeds us with his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. That’s why St. Matthew Lutheran Church exists. This is an outpost of life on the frontier of God’s advancing kingdom. This is an oasis of grace in the grim desert of despair. This is a family, God’s family, a fellowship of brothers and sisters who know God’s love and care and share it with others. That’s what this church is. It’s just what you need–and so does our community.
And this is where our St. Matthew’s is called not only to follow but also called to serve. Just as St. Matthew of old was called to follow in faith and then to serve others with the same gospel he himself had received, so it is for us. That St. Matthew served as an apostle and an evangelist. That is, Matthew was one of the twelve “sent-out ones”–that’s what the word “apostle” means–sent out by Christ to establish the New Testament church. Plus, Matthew was one of the four “evangelists,” that is, writers of the Gospel books bearing their names–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As both apostle and evangelist, St. Matthew served with distinction. Christ called him to that office and empowered him to do the job.
Now what about St. Matthew the congregation? We too have been called by Christ. Oh, not as a foundational apostle or a writer of a New Testament book. But we too have been called to serve, both collectively as a church and individually as members thereof. We preach the same gospel here at this place. We teach the Holy Scriptures, Old Testament and New. We carry forward the continuing call of Christ, to our people, to our community, and to our world. To the people we meet, we bear witness in word and deed to the Christ who has called us. His grace and his mercy are for everyone, in every walk of life, young and old, rich and poor, lifelong church members as well as people who have never heard the good news. Christ is calling all of us into his fellowship. And, remarkably, he will use us, and the gifts he has given us, in the carrying out of that mission.
How can we serve? How can you serve? How has God gifted us, together as a church, and you as a member of this body? Ask yourself: Where is there a need where I can help? What are some new opportunities that could lie before us? These are exciting questions to ponder. God wants to bless this congregation and use us in the carrying out of its calling. Think of it. We can strengthen the good ministry we are already doing, and we can expand that ministry even more under God’s blessing. There are people to love in our midst. People with needs whom we can help. There are neighbors and friends and relatives we know who are not currently, actively part of a church, and thus are missing out. We can reach out to them. We can invite them to come with us and join us here in this house of mercy.
There is work that our larger church body is doing on our behalf, here in the States and around the globe. We can be supporting that work financially. Likewise with our own ministry here at Bonne Terre. We can give of the resources God has given us, through our offerings, through our volunteering, to support and strengthen what we are doing as a congregation. This is a busy, active calling we have been given, called to serve, and God has gifted us to accomplish it. Let’s think about that, let’s talk about it, let’s pray about it. And then let’s go, let’s get to work.
By the way, did you know one of the best ways you can serve your brothers and sisters here in this congregation is simply by showing up every week? Your physical presence in the pew is an encouragement to your fellow worshipers. Your voice, added to the confessing of the Creed and the singing of the hymns–the sound of your voice will bless and build up your brothers and sisters when they hear it. Besides which, of course, you yourself are being blessed! Forgiven and fed, strengthened and renewed by the blessed Word and Sacrament–what a joy to be here! So I highly recommend this practice of regular, every-Sunday worship attendance! And Bible class, too! Jesus is here to bless us through his Word.
That’s the way it goes, doesn’t it, for all of us “St. Matthews.” Jesus first comes and calls us sinners to follow him in faith, into his fellowship, receiving from him his gifts of forgiveness and salvation and life. And then this same Lord Jesus Christ calls us into his service, gifting us and using us to accomplish his purposes. Yes, this is the blessed, exciting life of a St. Matthew, old and new! Whether it’s the apostle of old or the congregation of today, either way it’s “St. Matthew: Called to Follow, Called to Serve.”