St Matthew’s Day Sermon

We are returning to just providing the sermons now.

Here is the sermon for St Matthew’s Day, 2020.

Living the life we are called to
St Matthew’s Day
(20 September) 2020

Matthew 9:9-13,
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13
St Matthew’s Hastings

So it’s St Matthew’s day – and I guess you’re expecting me to say something about St Matthew.
We’ve just heard the story of his call: that he was sitting at the tax booth and Jesus walks along, sees Matthew, says to him “follow me”, and Matthew gets up and follows Jesus. All very simple and straight forward, isn’t it. A call, an immediate answer, and a changed life.
Now, that may be your experience, but it isn’t mine – and it may in fact not be the experience of quite a few of us here this morning. So let’s not talk about Saint Matthew – let’s talk about us instead.

The question that Gospel reading raises for us, and especially if we add in the reaction of the Pharisees to the dinner party Jesus attended that evening, is a hugely important one: who can be called to be a disciple? Remember that the Pharisees were the ones who really took their
relationship with God seriously; they were the ones who kept the religious rules, who put in the time, who wanted always to do the right thing. If they had had vestries back then, they were the ones everybody would want, and they would probably organise the fair as well – as long as it wasn’t on the Sabbath. For the Pharisees, the people who might be called to be a disciple were people like them. The idea that Jesus could call, spend time with, and eat with tax collectors and sinners was something they found strange and indeed quite offensive. For them, Jesus was someone with friends in low places, and they didn’t like it. Back then tax collectors weren’t simply someone who might work for our equivalent of the Inland Revenue Department; they were collaborators with the oppressors, with the Romans who ruled
Palestine. It was assumed that a tax collector was also a thief because they collected more than they were entitled to, they profited from their position and their power, and were probably ritually unclean since they associated a lot with Gentiles. But here was Matthew, the tax collector, and he was one whom Jesus called to follow him, to be a disciple.

So that’s the first thing for us to remember: that we don’t have to have a perfect life, an approved-of life, a life that keeps all the rules, before we can be called as a disciple. If we think we have to meet some preconceived standard before following Jesus we can drop that idea right away – just as Matthew (and, indeed, the Pharisees) had to drop that idea. And while we’re at it, if we think that what happened to Matthew when he responded to Jesus’ call was an instant change of life, that’s probably another idea worth dropping. Because that’s not the picture we get from the letter to the Ephesians. The writer begs the Ephesians, and begs us also, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” and then goes on to speak of growing into maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. As those of us know who have watched children or grandchildren, or who can remember that far back in our own lives, growing into maturity doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time, and there’s usually a few missteps along the way. That’s why there is all that advice about how
we act to one another, showing humility and gentleness and patience and bearing with one another in love – because as we are growing as Christians we also come into contact with everyone else’s growing pains. We are all works in progress, and sometimes it shows. That is
what I find so encouraging about the New Testament letters: the picture they give us of how difficult Christian community life can be. I find this encouraging, rather than depressing, that sense of a whole lot of us – who are all different from one another (as different as Matthew
and the Pharisees) – growing into Christ and helping each other to do so. Who are those people, both in this parish and earlier in your journeys, who have helped you grow up in Christ? Who is it that you are helping to do this?

What unites you and me and Matthew is that God is the one who has called us, and it is into the life of God, the life of Christ, that we are called. This calling is not about a particular activity or occupation – it is about the whole of our life in Christ. People sometimes think of a calling, or in church jargon, “a vocation,” as something that relates to a particular church job, the sort of thing that gets associated with being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, the sort of thing sometimes associated with ordination. Maybe that’s another idea that we should drop. Don’t get me wrong: God still calls people to the ordained life, and one of the most humbling experiences of my role as Ministry Educator is walking alongside those who are discerning a call to ordination as deacon or priest. But those are not the only vocations
that God has in mind: people are also called to be teachers, lawyers, gardeners, builders, grandparents, and public servants. And let’s not confuse a calling to a specific role with the call that God has placed on each of us to live the Christ-life and to minister wherever and however we are. Our relationship with God also involves our relationships with our neighbours and our communities, and that relates to a whole bunch of different ways of being.

And because we are thinking this morning about ourselves rather than about Matthew, have another look at the Collect we prayed earlier: “… through your son Jesus Christ you called Matthew from his place of business to be an apostle and evangelist …” Well, that may have been true about Matthew, but if applied to us, I find it really unhelpful. It implies that when someone is called to follow Jesus, they are called away from what they are doing. An apostle (there’s another jargon word) comes from the Greek word for ‘sent’ – as in someone who is
sent to do a task; an evangelist (the jargon count is quite high this morning isn’t it) is simply someone who tells others the good news of what God has done in Christ. And those are things that can be done in any context. Today very, very few people are called away from their place of business, but all of us are entrusted with the invitation to share with others what we ourselves have received: a desire to follow the way of Christ, and the sense of being on a journey together. All of us are ones who are sent to let others in on the amazingly good news that God loves them and wants to be in a relationship with them. We’re called – but not called away from anything. We’re called to stay where we are, and to live – there, in that place, amongst those people – to live the life of Christ. And to do that, we’ll need the help of one another, and (above all) the help of Christ himself.

Perhaps next year when St Matthew’s day comes around again, you might think back to today, and reflect on how you have grown, and how you are living life worthy of the one who called us, who gave us gifts, and who gave us himself.

The Rev’d Deborah Broome
Ministry Educator, Anglican Diocese of Waiapu

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