Saturday, February 08, 2014

Matthew 9:9-13; Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 9, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “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 9:9-13, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It occurs to me that Jesus loves banquets. Over and over again in the bible you see him eating banquets with people. We know what it’s all about, we love our pot lucks, too. I never heard of anyone turning down a pot luck. Jesus likes them because he loves people… all kinds of people… even the people other people don’t like. Just look at the Pharisees, they ask Jesus disciples, “Why does you teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To get what they are really asking we might rephrase it as, “Why do you want to eat with Bikers?” “Why do you hang out with drug dealers?” “Why do you want to eat with ‘those people?’” Well the Pharisees didn’t understand. But we’re not Pharisees, they were unbelievers, they rejected Jesus. We won’t compare ourselves with them. We have a relationship with God, through faith in Jesus.

Jesus likes banquets, I think, because he likes to give. That’s what God is all about, giving. He takes care of us by giving. The whole creation is God’s gift to us. When he created the world, he created it for us. Just look at the everyday ordinary things that God gives you every day. A place to live, a family, a wonderful church, and, of course, food… a banquet every day. More than you’ll ever need. God is a giving God, he loves nothing more than to give. One of the best that we can do is delight in his gifts and give thanks!

Of course there is nothing more important that he has given than eternal life. He gives that to us through the gift of his one and only son, Jesus. Look at the disciple Matthew. Jesus called him. Who was he? He was one of those “tax collectors and sinners.” People in Jesus day wouldn’t be caught dead with a guy like that. But Jesus calls him. “Follow me.” He says. And Matthew responds to the gift. Jesus chose him. Jesus gave him the gift of life.

God does that for you too. He doesn’t do it by saying the words, “follow me.” He uses different words. He actually puts his name on you with water. He pours it on your head and says “You are mine. You belong to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You have eternal life through faith in Jesus.” What God does is apply the life death and resurrection of Jesus to you. He says that everything that Jesus did is yours. What did you do to deserve such a gift? What did Matthew do? Nothing at all. For most of us we couldn’t even form words let alone choose to follow God. Faith in Jesus is God’s gift to you and me. It is the act of a God who loves to give, the act of a God willing to suffer and die for you. All you have to do, actually it would be better to say, what you do is delight in God’s gift.

Think just for a minute about the 10 commandments. You shall have no other God’s before me. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord Your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Those first three commandments talk about our relationship with God. They talk about the gifts that God has given us. They are talking about faith. Why would you want to have any kind of a relationship outside of the one true God? The rest of the commandments talk about gifts of God, too. Honor your father and mother – the gift of family and government. You shall not kill – the gift of life. You shall not commit adultery – the gift of marriage. Etc. When we think about the God who gives such gifts, especially the gift of having a relationship with himself we see the commandments in a whole new light. Not as rules but as realities. It’s the way we live because of who we are… or who we belong to.

That’s what the Pharisees were missing. That’s why Jesus tells them they need to do more research. He said to them “Go and learn what this means.” It’d be like a teacher writing on a paper, “do over.” They didn’t get it. They thought they had a relationship with God because of what they did. They were the “in” group. They kept all the laws as best they could. God must be pleased with them. But they missed what Jesus was all about. “I desire mercy not sacrifice” isn’t talking about us doing good stuff for God. Our problem is that we don’t understand the word mercy right. In our ears mercy means feeling sorry for someone who is worse off than we are. You get a better idea what mercy means from the ESV translation of the OT lesson for last week.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, ESV)

Or the Prophet Hosea,

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6, ESV)

The word “mercy” or here "love kindness" and “steadfast love” isn’t about feelings its about actions. It’s about relationships… relationships with one another and most especially a relationship with God. When we say, “Lord, have mercy!” we are not asking God to feel sorry for us, we are asking him to do what he has promised to do. We are asking him to give us what he has promised to give. (Thanks Dr. Dale Meyer: June 3rd The Meyer Minute)

Would you like an example? You don’t have to go outside the bible for a good example. Abraham is a great one. He’s an example of having steadfast love of God… even to a fault. St. Paul wrote those words about him.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, (Romans 4:20, ESV)

God promised to give him a son, and even though he was very old he believed it would happen. He even believed it so much he tried to make it happen without waiting… he tried to force God’s hand so to speak. Not because he believed that God wouldn’t do it but simply because he trusted God would do it so why should he have to wait. He was

fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:21-22, ESV)

That’s the steadfast love that we mean when we talk about mercy.

God loves a banquet. He loves to give. He calls you to a banquet. Do you know about it? Do you know where you can go to receive what God promises to give you? Well, you must know something about it after all you are here at the banquet he provides you’ve already receive the gifts that he promises to give. Why do you think we start our worship service with a reminder that God has given us the gift of faith? “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is the name of God that was place on you when God promised you eternal life through faith in Jesus. If you want to know who God’s gifts are here for all you have to do is remember that he has claimed you through water and word. God has already today spoken to you about the gift forgiveness, too. Did you ever wonder why a pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” A pastor has no power to forgive, except the forgiveness that God gives. Your pastor only speaks God’s word of promise to you. He speaks “in the stead and by the command of Jesus.” “In the stead” means “standing in for.” And right before that we call upon God to do for us what he promises to do. We say in more fully than this but the dialog could be said like this:

God’s People: God we need forgiveness. Forgive us as you promise you will do.

God’s response: You are forgiven because of Jesus!

God’s people: Yeah! Glory to God! Thanks be to God!

God loves to give especially to give what we need. And forgiveness is it. But there’s more. God’s banquet really does have food too! We’ll gather at God’s altar and eat bread and wine. It’s a very special meal. It’s a meal we need more than any other meal. That’s because it’s not just ordinary bread and wine, it’s the body and blood of Jesus. God just keeps on giving… forgiveness upon forgiveness. And you don’t have to doubt that the forgiveness he gives is being given to you. “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is my body and blood given to you for the forgiveness of sins.” It’s for you right there. You see, when God gives a gift you can be sure of who it’s for and exactly what it does. “Lord have mercy! Give me what you promise to give.”

Now, does that have an impact on how you live in relationship to other people? I should think so. God gives you what you need, you don’t have to do anything to earn his forgiveness. You don’t have to do anything to earn your relationship to him. He gifts it to you. Your response is more than just thanksgiving to God. Your response is to give a gift. Not a gift to God, but a gift to everyone else. After all Jesus says you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14). What does he mean other than that God gives you want you need, so you can give other people what they need. That’s what the Pharisees were missing. They lived their lives doing stuff for God to help themselves. They tried to keep God’s laws to earn his favor. That’s useless. That’s unnecessary. That’s something a person can’t even do. In fact, if we try, we are rejecting the gift. It’s saying to God, “I don’t want the gift of salvation you sent your son to die for. I’d rather earn my own way. Jesus life and death isn’t good enough for me. His perfect life and death aren’t what I want. I expect you to look at my good works instead.” We worship God best when we take what he gives with a thankful heart. Think of the pot luck again: God fills our plate with wonderful gifts. It’s ok to have a very full plate, that’s what God wants to give to you all that you need and more. You’ve got all that you need, go ahead and live for others. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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