Monday, September 24, 2012

For St Matthew's Church, Broadford

St Matthew’s Patronal Feast, 23 September 2012
 We don’t know a lot about St. Matthew outside of the reading from today’s Gospel. He is called Levi, son of Alpheus, in the accounts of Mark and Luke, but pretty much all we know about him is that he had been a tax collector in Capernaum,  probably working as a sort of independent contractor authorized by the Roman ruler, in this case Herod Antipas, to collect funds for the  government in power. Jews who were successful at this could become quite rich, but they also would be hated, seen as collaborators in the pay of occupying outside forces, considered greedy profiteers and treated as outcasts  by the rest of the Jewish population of the land.

So 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.

So Jesus calls him, and Matthew responds to that  call: Jesus invites  him to dinner, and that surprising dinner invitation gets Jesus into trouble with the good religious folk. It’s understandable; how could he ask Matthew to share a meal?  In the name of all that is considered decent, How could the tax gatherer be a table companion, a follower, any kind of friend of Jesus? would we want people like that around? He might be looking good to Jesus, but the man must be a hypocrite!

Have you heard the one-liner, “I don’t go to church because there’s so many hypocrites there.”  The best response for that might be: “Yes, and there is always room for one more;  In fact there’s room for all of us!” 

So nobody really want Matthew to stay around, but he does. Matthew follows Jesus all the way. He is one of the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension, even one of the four evangelists accorded the honor of being names as one of the authors of our Gospels. How do you follow that? Later Church fathers such as Ireneaus and Clement say that Matthew preaches the Gospel in Hebrew around Judea for some fifteen years before going off to evangelize in farther countries and finally dying as a martyr. He follows him to the end. 

So 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.

And I wonder, when they saw each other that first time; who looked first? Who reached out first to this almost impossible possibility, that a man who had done such bad things could have a good heart, a good hope? Did Matthew look for this even knowing how difficult this new life would be? Or, when he first saw Jesus, did he have some new new hope born in him.

Robert Browning writes that, “a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?” And Matthew might have seen, the Kingdom of Heaven come so close that day.

So Jesus said to him, “Follow me.’” And Matthew gets up and follows him, follows him into a celebratory meal with a ragtag band of undisciplined disciples, comes to be seen with him; carefully watched by the larger community of good religious folk and government officials who are both concerned and coming to dislike all these assembled friends of Jesus. Watched by those who are coming to wonder what they might stand for, and  how they might be stopped. 

And for Matthew, as for any of us, it probably always wasn’t a lot of fun to stay on the way with Jesus; to leave the old way behind, to be willing to be faithful, to be renewed, to take on that discipline, that discipleship, to be changed into someone new.  

Because it is never easy or pleasant to stand in the breach between where we are and where we think we should be; in that little hollow that appears when we see the difference between the dark facts and the bright hope, where there is always a little shadow that can keep us from going on.. 

As T.S. Eliot puts it:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow...
But that crossroad is right where Matthew moves in faith! And that’s where I think we’re called to follow him; because when we hit that crossroad,(where the light of Christ comes into our lives, where the shadows come into view), that’s where we can clearly see our darkness, and that’s good! In the light of Jesus' selflessness, we see, with greater clarity than ever before, our own selfishness; in the light of his outpouring love and his endless self giving, we see our careful self protection, our mixed motives, our holding on for dear life to those things that keep us secure, but at such an awful cost. 

It could not be easy. Matthew had worked hard to make a profit as a tax gatherer, find some security in a dangerous world with such grinding poverty all around: is he ready to give all that life away? We can see that; but can we see what hope helped him to cast his self-made security away, to open his heart to the chance that following this Jesus would lead him to a new way,  to walk faithfully in the possibility that, “we are called to exchange our living death for Christ’s dying life?”

Maybe some people would say that is what it means to be born again. But I think for Matthew, and for most of us, being born again is not a “one time fits all” proposition: instead it is a following along, a daily taking up and giving away, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,”  now after now after now, day after day after day.

So Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And Jesus says to us, “Follow me.”

As the letter to the Ephesians says, “There is one call,” and we are baptised into Christ’s dying and rising only once, but the baptismal journey continues in this community gathered, in this Eucharist, in this unlikely shared meal. On this and every Sunday morning, we proclaim and participate in Christ’s sacrifice and salvation, death and resurrection,once again. On every Sunday, we come to be called and recalled, welcomed to the great feast, the open celebration; again and again and again. On Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. The calling, the baptism, the community in conversation and conversion, the long journey home, continues. 

But we’re not there yet. And if Matthew has good room for questioning, so do we. For here we stand, two thousand years later, right with him as hopeful hypocrites, undisciplined disciples, in a hope and in a tradition resounding with the greatest wisdom, the greatest justice, the greatest prophecy, the greatest poetry, the greatest ethics, the greatest hope the world has ever known. Here we stand in a community that has made mercy and compassion part of the world for the last 2000 years. 

And sometimes we think we’re getting older, and we’re getting smaller, and we wonder, what in God’s name is going on with this truth we hold, with this hope we had such hope in. Where is our good news going in this noisy world?

But Matthew followed Jesus then and Matthew has good news for us now: all we have to do is follow him. 

Two thousand years ago, Jesus called a Tax collector named Matthew to come to dinner, to turn around and see his life in a new way; see where he came from, where he was going, and the great company of which he was a part. And Matthew turned and found the glory of God: in the midst of his shadows, in the moonlight of a garden, in the surprising sunrise on Sunday morning, on a way that took him beyond all he had known, and more than he had hoped for, and finally brought him home at the last. And we are here today to celebrate his life and ministry and to share in his joyful calling.

Blessed Matthew; Tax Gatherer, Disciple, Apostle, Evangelist, Martyr and Saint; In this church called by your name and as people sharing your calling; We give thanks for you and we pray with you to the Lord our God. 


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