April 27, 2008
Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the classic
Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that he might have become a pastor except for one problem. Most of the pastors he knew acted like funeral directors.
Abraham Lincoln said, “If all the people who fell asleep in church on Sunday morning were laid out end to end … they would be a great deal more comfortable.”
I heard about an editorial in an English magazine. The writer talked about how most people had lost faith in the church and had stopped attending worship services. The title of the article was, “God to Leave Church of England.”
Following the precedent set by leading former Anglicans, God has indicated that He too is to leave the Church of England. … According to sources close to God he’s been unhappy for some time with the direction the Anglican Church has been taking and has now finally had enough. A Church of England spokesman said, “Losing God is a bit of a blow, but it’s just something we’re going to have to live with.”’
There was a small town where almost everyone went to the same little church. One man was caught doing some very bad things, and he was banned from church. When he went to the doors on Sunday morning, they told him to go away. The man walked away and complained to God, “They won’t let me in, Lord, because I’m a sinner.” God answered him, “What are you complaining about? They won’t let me in either!”
Read Matthew 9:1-17.
Sometimes religion has a way of sucking the life out of us. Sometimes religion dries up our grace and love so that the more religious we become the less love we feel and the less grace we show to others.
Jesus came to change this.
In our passage today, we have three very different stories: a paralyzed man who gets up and walks, a sinner who becomes a disciple, and some questions about religious duty. In each of these stories, Jesus challenges our view of religion.
In the first story, some people brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. They carried him in on a mat. Jesus was so impressed by their faith that he forgave the paralyzed man. Did you catch that? The paralyzed guy didn’t do anything or say anything. He was just laying there.
There’s a lot we could say about this, but here’s the basic point for today. Jesus forgave the guy before he had any faith, before he repented, before he even said, “I’m sorry.” Jesus forgave the guy before he did anything. Jesus gave him a total offer of forgiveness with no strings attached: “You are forgiven. Your sins are wiped away. Your relationship with God is restored.” The guy had not changed or prayed or even made a decision to change. He was just there in the presence of Jesus, and he was forgiven.
In the second story, we meet the bottom of the moral society: a tax collector. Tax collectors collected taxes from Jews to give to the Roman rulers, and they were also free to collect extra taxes to keep for themselves. They abused their people for their own profit.
I’ve been trying to think of what would be a modern-day equivalent of a tax collector. A tax collector might be like a drug dealer or a pimp. They make their money by destroying the lives of others. They manipulate the lives of others for their own profit. They are the parasites of our community. Most of us feel a deep sense of disgust or even hatred toward pimps and drug dealers. They are morally repulsive to us. We could not imagine even having a friendly conversation with one of those people.
But Jesus walks up to a tax collector – think drug dealer or pimp – and says, “Follow me and be my disciple.” Remember, being a “disciple” didn’t just mean listening to Jesus teach or trying to be a good person. For a Jewish rabbi, like Jesus, his disciples were people who were training to become rabbis. So Jesus says to this tax collector – one of society’s greatest moral failures, “Follow me and be my disciple. You’ve got what it takes to be a rabbi. You can become like me. You’ve got what it takes to teach people what God really wants.”
What? Are you kidding me? Sure, maybe he could become a “Christian” – whatever we think that means – but a Rabbi? A moral instructor? A preacher? Jesus invites the lowest of the low to become the highest of the high.
Again, notice that Matthew didn’t repent first. Matthew was still sitting there at his tax table doing his dirty business, stealing from his own people. Jesus interrupted his life with grace and said, “I’ve got something better for you. Come and be like me.”
Matthew – the tax collector, Matthew – the pimp, Matthew – the disciple, Matthew – the Rabbi.
The story continues when Matthew throws a party. Matthew invites Jesus and all of his religious crew and all of his old tax collector buddies and “other notorious sinners.” These weren’t the people who forget to read their Bibles or accidentally-on-purpose sleep too late on Sunday morning. These were the people who had stopped trying to be moral. They were the out-in-the-open sinners, and all of them come together with Jesus for a big, fat party.
The religious people have finally had enough. They demand, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
See, this was a big deal. Jesus was breaking the rules big time. In Jewish culture, sharing a meal together is like signing a pact of friendship. It is “a guarantee of peace, trust, fraternity, and forgiveness: the shared table symbolizes the shared life.” In his book Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan explains, “By accepting them as friends and equals Jesus had taken away their shame, humiliation, and guilt. By showing them that they mattered to him as people, he gave them a sense of dignity and released them from their old captivity. … Moreover, because Jesus was looked upon as a man of God and a prophet, they would have interpreted his gesture of friendship as God’s approval of them. They were now acceptable to God.”
This was unacceptable to the religious people. “Sinners are sinners, and we need to treat them as they are – unacceptable outsiders.”
But for Jesus, they were already forgiven. For Jesus, the door was wide open for a restored relationship with God. That Matthew Party was a picture of the
Some people go in to the party.
Some people stay outside and complain that God shouldn’t throw parties like this – letting just anyone in.
The third story builds on this. The disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus and complain that Jesus’ disciples aren’t religious enough. All of the other religious people spend large amounts of time fasting and mourning. They go for days at a time without eating and cry out to God in repentance and sadness. But Jesus disciples live like there’s a constant party. What’s the deal Jesus? Why aren’t you’re followers doing the normal religious stuff?
Jesus says, “Wherever I am, there is a permanent party! I’m like the groom at the wedding reception. As long as I’m here, people need to eat their cake, drink their punch, and get out on the dance floor and celebrate!”
Then Jesus talks about patching old clothes with a piece of new cloth and putting new wine in old wineskins. The new cloth shrinks and rips the old clothes. The new wine expands and breaks the old wineskins. The problem is that the new stuff is changing and dynamic, but the old stuff is too old to change.
Everyone is invited to the party, and the party itself becomes an atmosphere of healing. Brennan Manning explains, “The living presence of Jesus awakened joy and set people free. Joy was in face the most characteristic result of all His ministry to [outcasts]. … [They] discovered that sharing a meal with Him was a liberating experience of sheer joy. … The contagious joy of Jesus … infected and freed his followers.”
Walter Kasper brings this all home for us: “Salvation is joy in God which expresses itself in joy in and with one’s neighbor.”
Celebration changes us. It gives us life. It restores our souls.
I’m reading a leadership book about Southwest Airlines, the only major
Maybe that’s why Jesus made more wine for the wedding in
Here are our basic choices.
Option A: Be like John the Baptist and the Pharisees. Do you want to go around pointing out how wrong everyone is? Do you want to beat yourself up all the time because you aren’t good enough? Do you want to spend your time complaining that your church isn’t what you want it to be?
Option B: Be like Jesus. Do you want to forgive before people even ask? Do you want to receive God’s radical grace for yourself and share it with others? Do you want to live with joy and freedom? Do you want to eat and drink and celebrate in the ongoing party of God’s Kingdom?
Option B sounds like a lot more fun. Option B sounds a lot more like Jesus.
So here’s what you do to choose Option B.
Step 1: Accept God’s party invitation. You are invited to the feast of grace. You can’t buy your way in or stay in by being good enough, but you have a free ticket – just because of God’s love. Accept God’s radical grace and join the party.
Step 2: Learn to party. Most of us have spent so much time outside of parties that we don’t know what to do when we get in a party. We just kind of stand there with a drink in our hand looking around feeling awkward. We’ve got to learn to party. We’ve got to learn how to enjoy life, learn how to celebrate, learn how to live with joy and freedom and acceptance of others.
Step 3: Invite others to the party. Be like Matthew. Throw a Matthew Party. Get together some religious people and some irreligious people, and throw a great party. Your party will become a living sermon explaining the
If we do this, we will change the world! And we’ll have fun doing it.
[After the sermon, our church will sing some very upbeat praise songs to help us respond with celebration. Then we will truly CELEBRATE the Lord's Supper. As soon as I call the people up to receive communion, a series of music videos will begin, starting with Kool and the Gang's "Celebrate." It will be a party atmosphere. We will have 3 different couples serving communion. After people receive communion, they will move on to the front of the church where snacks and drinks will be set up. We will be passing out balloons and doing face painting. Hopefully, it will all be a lot of fun and something that will really help us understand what it means to join the party of the Kingdom.]
 All of the above are from Nicky Gumble, Questions of Life, (Colorado Springs: Cook, 1996), 11, 217.
 Nicky Gumble, “Christianity - Boring Untrue And Irrelevant?” Alpha, downloaded 4.24.08. http://www.thewellcc.org.uk/website.asp?page=Christianity%20-%20Boring%20Untrue%20And%20Irrelevant?.
 Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, (Sisters,
 A “pimp” is a business manager for prostitutes.
 Manning, 59.
 Quoted in Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel, 60.
 Manning, 61-63.
 Quoted in Manning, 63.
 Quoted in Manning, 143-144.
 Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, (Austin, Texas: Bard, 1996), 177.