View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLMDx8u04uw
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.
10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Matthew 9:9-13 – The Message by Eugene Peterson, an interpretation not a translation…
9 Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.
10-11 Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”
12-13 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”
Today we are celebrating Pride Sunday. Celebrating the diversity and talent and contributions and lives and loves of a rainbow people that too often are threatened and beaten, too often have their rights trampled, too often find themselves on the margins of society when they too belong in the greater circle of care and community. Of course they do. Jesus calls each of us to walk with him, to join him at the banquet of life.
I am talking to you. The unseen. The rejected. The ridiculed. Those barely hanging on, the survivors. And I am talking to you, the privileged, the gainfully employed, those with money that exceeds their needs, the movers and shakers of the world. The LGBTQ+ community is represented by all walks of life, all faiths, all nationalities. Jesus invites us all into perfect love. Jesus invites us to follow him. He doesn’t judge any of us unworthy or unlovable or undesirable. Jesus sees us for who we are… a beloved child of God, beautiful and whole, as we are and as we are becoming. We are all equal in the realm of God. No hierarchy. No rejection. Only love and acceptance.
I am talking to you, whoever you are and wherever you are to say unequivocally, you are loved.
Today especially we celebrate and welcome our LGBTQ+ siblings. We celebrate the inclusion and acceptance and love that have come to be known in some circles of life, as we work toward breaking down barriers that still exist in this country and this world; barriers that squash hopes and dreams and lives.
Our scriptures are full of surprises. This scripture opens this morning with Jesus walking along and calling a tax-collector, Matthew, to come and follow him. And Matthew did. That Jesus “saw” Matthew and reached out to him to join his community is surprise number one. As a tax collector, working for the Roman government, Matthew was despised by his own people as a traitor and a thief. That Matthew “saw” Jesus and said yes is surprise number two. Matthew took a risk when he heard and accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. And then Matthew finds himself hosting Jesus and some of his followers for dinner. Likely that is surprise number three. Some of Matthews friends and colleagues show up as well, which draws the ire of the religious elite. This ire, sadly, is not a surprise, neither then; nor now.
Jesus called Matthew to a better life and he calls us all to a better life. So while we celebrate Pride this morning, this afternoon, this week, this month, keep in mind that Pride is not for today only in Ellsworth, or yesterday only in Belfast, or next week only in Rockland or Bangor. Pride is for everywhere, every day. Pride is for everybody. But we are not there yet as a society.
Some still insist on criticizing and ostracizing what they do not understand, what they fear, in much the same way that the Pharisees criticized Jesus for associating with “sinners.” I like Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the scripture, where Jesus’ reply was “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick?”
Jesus was and will always be present with those in need. And maybe, just maybe that includes the Pharisees, even though they cannot see that truth, cannot see what needs to be healed in them. And maybe, just maybe that includes you and me, all of us, even though it is sometimes difficult to see how we need to be healed. And maybe, yes definitely, we should meet Jesus where he is, with the down and out, desperate, hurting, “everybody’s” that Matthew represents in this scripture.
Jesus then goes on to challenge his listeners to learn the difference between mercy and sacrifice, or mercy and religion, depending on the text.
Mercy. Our scripture instructs us to figure out what it means. What does it look like in action? How and when do we show mercy? How is it made visible? And to whom? It should not be a selective process. Our mercy, our compassion, our kindness should be poured out for all.
Jesus encourages us to continue learning about God. Sacrifice was one way to offer praise to God. Jesus was teaching a new way; mercy.
Where have I witnessed mercy and inclusivity and compassion and acceptance this week? One of you kindly sent me a link to a news article from the University of Pennsylvania. Here is what I learned: “ALOK, a gender non-conforming South Asian performance artist, is the inaugural Endowed LGBTQ+ Scholar-in-Residence, a residency made possible by an anonymous $2 million gift to Penn’s LGBTQ+ Center. Many Penn students were first introduced to ALOK on Instagram, where they regularly share thought-provoking posts and colorful couture outfits with their 1.2 million followers. During their four-day residency, ALOK presided over graduate classes, led workshops, gave the comedy and poetry performance, and shared meals with students. Throughout these public and private events, discussions ranged from trans identity and trauma to radical love, belonging, and the human condition.”
Does anyone else catch the similarities? If Jesus were walking the earth today this might be what he, or they, looked like. ALOK, through their words and actions is walking in harmony with our Creator, and seeking harmony, inclusion, right relationship with and for all others.
In other news, since the beginning of the year more than 500 anti-trans bills have been proposed across our country and dozens have already passed. These are bills meant to harm, to limit, to mandate conformity, disguised as protection and wrongly dressed up in biblical mandates. Most, if not all of the sponsors of these bills cite their Christian beliefs as central to their actions.
I ask you, who is showing mercy? Who is the good neighbor? Those citing scripture while legislating harm, or those who seek to make the world a safer more inclusive place for all?
Our scriptures, time and again, show Jesus choosing compassion and mercy over religious conventions and norms. Or mercy “more so” than sacrifice according to one commentator. It doesn’t need to be an either/or choice. Jesus did not reject religion but he did not let religion excuse him from doing what was right, loving, just, compassionate, and merciful.
Jesus welcomed everyone by bringing them into relationship and community.
Because we walk the path that Jesus trod, because mercy and goodness and love require us to pay attention to all people not just some people, anyone and everyone are invited into relationship with this church community.
What is required of you? You simply must accept the invitation, the same invitation that Matthew accepted when Jesus said, “follow me.”
We too invite you to join us, to be in relationship with us. Let us get to know you, support you, laugh with you, cry with you, love you. We will be richly blessed by your presence and pray that you are blessed by ours.
Let us celebrate together. Let us lift up one another.
Rev. TJ Mack – June 11, 2023