Monday, September 22, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of St. Matthew: "Follow Me"

+ The Feast of St. Matthew, September 21st, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Ephesians 4:7-16; Matthew 9:9-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”

Today we celebrate one of Christ’s gifts to His Church, to us His people: St. Matthew.

Matthew, was an apostle – sent by Jesus to preach, teach, and give His gifts - the precious currency of Jesus’ holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death – to all men. As St. Paul writes, He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Matthew was also an evangelist. A Good News bearer. A Gospel writer. And an eyewitness to the events he records: Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ journey to the cross, to the grave, and back out again in His resurrection. Matthew even records the stuff that’s embarrassing to him and his fellow disciples. Why? Because they weren’t trying to fabricate a myth, but carefully record and report the facts. And Matthew recorded them alright, penned by inspiration in the Gospel for you to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.

According to many scholars and church tradition, Matthew was also a martyr for the faith, hence the color of martyrdom, as we see today, is red. But, as the church father Tertullian once wrote, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Martyrs are witnesses. And before they are witnesses, before Matthew was an apostle and an evangelist and a martyr, he was a disciple.

Thankfully for us, Matthew records Jesus’ calling him to be a disciple. The whole event seems very Genesis-like. God spoke into the darkness and said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Jesus saw Matthew sitting in the tax booth and said, “Follow me.” Let there be a disciple. And he rose and followed him.

Follow me. Two words. Living words. Words heavy with the weight of glory. Words that give what Jesus requires. Follow me. And Matthew did.

And in hearing God’s call to Matthew, we hear our own.

Matthew teaches us the answer to the question, what does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple?

We could spend a lot of time talking about what a disciple isn’t. Better instead to look at what a disciple is rather than all the counterfeits. For if you know the real thing you’ll know a forgery when you hear one.

A disciple hears and listens. Think of the crowds listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. Think of the disciples in the upper room, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, receiving the Lord’s Supper. Think of Jesus’ closing words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

A disciple listens, but not just to any new, attractive teaching that comes along. No. Paul says, we are not to be like children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, we listen to Jesus’ words, the ones recorded by Matthew and others.

A disciple is a student, a catechumen of Jesus. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel is like one big catechism. He even gives us the six chief parts. 10 Commandments – they’re in the Sermon on the Mount. Creed – read Matthew 16 as Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God. Lord’s Prayer – go to Matthew 6. Confession and Absolution – go to Matthew 18. Baptism – Matthew 28. The Lord’s Supper – Matthew 26:26 – how easy is that to remember! It’s all there in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ Word for you. Jesus’ baptism for you. Jesus’ pardon of sin for you. Jesus’ body and blood for you.

But here’s the big difference between being a student of the Word and a student at school. There’s no graduation from church. You’re always a student of the Word. The Christian life is one great long catechism class. And that’s a good thing.

Disciples listen, learn, and follow…all because they are called. Jesus called Matthew. Jesus calls you.

He calls you first to repentance, just like He did Matthew. To repent is to turn. To have a change of mind. Really, to get a new mind. That’s what Matthew needed – not the mind of a tax collector who was always taking from people, but the mind of a disciple, one who gives Christ’s gifts to people, points them to Jesus. That’s what we need: a new mind. Ours is deadly sick with sin. A lot like the Pharisees in fact.

“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Why are you hanging around those low-lifes, Jesus? Don’t you know they’re not like us? How are we supposed to share the Gospel with them? They look, smell, and speak differently. I thank God that I’m not like that fill-in-the-blank-person-you-love-to-despise. See how the Pharisees reveal their own hypocrisy.

See how they reveal ours as well. We’ve bought into the great lie that our sin isn’t as bad as someone else’s. That we’re better than other sinners. That we deserve mercy for ourselves but our fellow sinner deserves punishment. You see, the Pharisees were all about comparison too, their works and stature with that of their neighbors’. Problem is, the proper comparison isn’t between you and other sinners, but between you and God’s Law.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that there is no room for pride before God’s Law. Repent. You are not well. You are sick. Sin has filled us all with the stench of death. Hear the Great Physician’s diagnosis and treatment for you. 

“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.”

Matthew was sick too. But where we run away from our fellow sinners and condemn them, Jesus runs towards sinners. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus comes only for sinners.

Jesus’ call to repentance isn’t a call to a higher morality, or a call to try harder to obey the Law. No, the call to repentance is to give up on self, and follow Jesus who is a friend to sinners. In Jesus we not list of demands but a righteousness that is given to them from above, as a gift.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light, Jesus declares. For he has born the yoke of your sin upon his own shoulders. He has carried the burden of your guilt and death on himself. For you, the Great Physician infected himself with your disease of sin and death in order to pour out for you a life-giving antidote, his own body and blood, the medicine of immortality.

For you, as for Matthew, Jesus desires mercy. Mercy by his sacrifice for you on the cross. Jesus crucified is God’s mercy. There’s no clearer picture of it anywhere in the world, but there on the cross, for Matthew, for tax collectors, for Pharisees, and for us sinners.

This, then, is the greatest miracle that Matthew records, that in Jesus, in His crucified and risen flesh, our heavenly Father declares us unholy sinners to be righteous in His sight through faith. It was for this message that St. Matthew lived and died.

And it’s this message that we, who are disciples of Jesus, also share with others. That’s simply what disciples do; point others to Jesus. That’s what Matthew did, and still does. That’s what we do. We show the abundance of God’s mercy towards us in an abundance of mercy toward the neighbor. Mercy for our preschoolers and their families. Mercy for our homeless community. Mercy for our members who are sick, grieving, dying, or in need. Mercy in our Hispanic outreach efforts.

Mercy as we follow where Jesus leads us, not in our own ways and wants, but in the life, death, and resurrection of He who leads us. We follow where Jesus leads, to the living word of God and the living waters of Holy Baptism where He gives you a new mind, to the forgiveness of sins in absolution and the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, where He gives you new life.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Matthew’s day than to be here in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day at the Lord’s table. For here Jesus continues to dwell and dine with sinners.

Follow me.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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