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Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
September 21, 2014
Jesus doesn't spend much time calling, selecting disciples.
He spots a potential follower.
Says, "follow me."

Responses to these invitations are similarly direct,
more or less immediate.
and, so far as the written record goes,
are nearly always in the affirmative.

Case in point with Saint Matthew.
After having been invited by Jesus,
he simply "got up and followed him."

Seemingly, there's not much to it.
Jesus is ever effective.
A magnet.
For disciples.
And countryside crowds.
And people in need --
in need of just about everything.

I wonder how many people said "no."
How many he said "follow me" to
took a few days to think about it.
I wonder how many sent Jesus packing.
There must have been some such interactions.
A few dozen.
Perhaps a large number.
Later in this same chapter,
Jesus himself will comment:
"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few."
My guess is he tried to recruit many laborers,
many disciples,
but wound up with a small,
and somewhat sorry lot.

Viewed not from the perspective of
attracting hundreds of devout disciples
as presumably a charismatic leader would,
nor from the perspective of a highly-selective application process
such success might suggest,
but rather from the sense that Jesus struggled to find laborers,
struggled to find disciples
who would follow him anywhere
and everywhere he went
-- to a cross! --
no wonder Jesus has so much trouble with those first Twelve.

They certainly aren't the crΓ©me de la crΓ©me.
Not the brightest of the bright.
More often than not they misunderstand him.
They argue among themselves over who is the greatest.
Break Sabbath laws.
And in no way bring Jesus good repute.
One even betrays him.

And then there is Saint Matthew,
the last of the original Twelve.
A tax collector.
A subcontracted subcontractor tasked with the Roman Empire's dirty work.
A profession not regarded for its honesty.

The Pharisees may seem benevolent in
parsing Jesus' table companions as tax collectors and sinners.
When in fact it would be hard to predict
which group would take greater offense
at being conflated one with the other.
Tax collectors called sinners.
Or sinners lumped together with tax collectors.

One thing is certain,
to his detractors,
Jesus looks pretty desperate.
For his are not Yeshiva students.
But failed fishermen.

Not saints.
But sinners.

Not religious leaders.
But tax collectors.

And he parades around the countryside
and into the city with them.
Goes to his hometown.
To Synagogue with them.
Goes to their homes
and out to the plains and valleys with them.
Sits at table with them.
And countless others.

Prays with them.
Heals them.
Forgives them.
Breaks bread with them.

And sends them to go and do likewise.
To make disciples likewise.
Disciples of all people and nations.
Baptizing them
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit.

Establishes this body we have come to call
the church
with them.

With you.
With all of us.

"I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

If there is one word that shuts down conversation
among people outside of church
more than any other
it is the word: church.

To many the church of Jesus Christ
is the largest collection of
hocus pocus believing,
Bible thumping,
judgement prone,
division loving,
two faced,
goody two-shoes
on the planet.

One that looks to others
more like what the Pharisees had in mind
-- if they know or care at all who the Pharisees are --
than what Jesus called into being.

Which means the church at once
has a massive PR challenge on its hands.
And the means to address it.

O mortal, eat.
For no matter who you are,
or where you come from,
or where you are going.
No matter your pedigree,
your age,
your gender,
your sexuality,
your status,
your nationality,
we all need to eat.
And breath.
And live.
And have our wellbeing.

Right now here in New York City,
a collection of people are marching
to bring attention to the adverse effects of climate change.
Rising sea waters.
Delicate, disturbed ecosystems.
And the most vulnerable of the common home we call earth
struggling to survive.

A march, people marching who
are acknowledging that there is something,
that they have,
that we all have done something terribly wrong to our planet.
That we are sinning against God and our neighbor.
And that we need not despair,
but turn in hope and resolve.
For God in Christ Jesus
"calls not the righteous but sinners."

In Christ, repentance leads to forgiveness.
Forgiveness engenders love.
Love endures even through death to life.

What a refreshing approach to life.
At a time when everything around us is being monetized.
Billable hours and returns.
Carbon tax.
When it seems our very lives are being monetized.

Christ's call frees us from these ways to live
ultimately and only
by the delight of loving God and loving neighbor.

Its not a profitable way of life.
Making decisions about life,
decisions about our environment for example,
out of love for God and neighbor,
may mean, likely means
the Almighty Dollar is not the governing concern.
But rather the welling of God's creation.
Our home.
Our neighbor.
For we are our neighbor and our neighbor is us.

I have no idea if Saint Matthew
could appreciate the gift Jesus was giving him the day he said "follow me."
If he felt he had had it with tipping the scales
in favor of Rome or his own pocket.
But this we know:
this way of forgiveness and love and life
cost him his life.

Caravaggio's depiction is perhaps the most memorable.
A herculean youth wielding a sword
and towering with great strength
above aged Saint Matthew lying helpless on the floor.
Heavenly and earthly onlookers gasp.

That's how devoted this tax collector, this sinner came to be
to Christ.

It all began with an invitation.
Follow me.

Which gets me back to the church's PR dilemma.

I am not suggesting you approach your best friend.
Or a colleague.
Or some random people on the street or in the subway.
Exclaiming "You are a sinner, the church is for you."

But instead.
Acknowledge them for who they are.
Where they are in life.
Who they are as a fellow human being.
Matthew, a tax collector.
Which to the Pharisees
may have looked like desperation.
But Christ Jesus looked like a moment to offer free grace.
A gift from God.

And a meal at table.
With others.

Set the table.
Set it generously.
And lovingly.
And humbly.
As Jesus sets it.

Who knows.
The tax collectors and the sinners might come.
And we'll all be church, together.

Pastor Jared R. Stahler

Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
September 21, 2014 - 11:00 AM Mass

Ezekiel 2:8-3:11
Psalm 119:33-40
Ephesians 2:4-10
Saint Matthew 9:9-13