Summary: A sermon for the 4th Sunday of Pentecost, Series A, Proper 5

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4th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 5] June 8, 2008 “Series A”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for the healing power of your Son, Jesus the Christ, who offers to each of us forgiveness and the opportunity for a restored relationship with you, that author and giver of life. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to be instruments of your redeeming love to those around us. Enable us to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to embrace each other as brothers and sisters of your kingdom. We ask this in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

I would like to begin with a little ecumenical story, which you may have heard before, but bears repeating. Two clergy serving parishes in the same town, happened to meet while walking down the street. One was a Lutheran pastor, the other a Roman Catholic Priest. During their chat, the Lutheran pastor was just bubbling over with enthusiasm as he described his congregation’s decision to build an enlarged nave to accommodate their growing worship attendance.

The priest offered his congratulations. But then the Lutheran pastor, half jokingly, asked the priest, “Wouldn’t you like to make a contribution to our building fund?” With little hesitation, the priest responded, “I’m sure my bishop would never approve of my contributing to the building of a protestant church.”

A few days later, the Lutheran pastor received a letter from the Roman Catholic priest, along with a check for two hundred dollars. In the letter the priest said, “Although my bishop would never consent to my making a contribution to the building of a protestant church, there surely must be some expense involved in tearing your old nave down. I’m sure he would never object to that.”

Aside from the humor in this story, there is a sense of wisdom displayed by the priest. In nearly every addition to an existing facility, there is some demolition work that needs to be done. Even when we built our new addition to the other end of our facilities, adding much needed office space, the plans included tearing out the old office to make our narthex more inviting.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus does some amazing things, not the least of which is coming upon Matthew, a tax collector, sitting at his booth plying his trade, and inviting him to be one of his disciples. Jesus simply said, “Follow me,” and Matthew did just that! He got up from his booth, left a very lucrative, although despised occupation from the point of view of the Jewish community, and followed Jesus.

Later, perhaps even that night, Jesus was having dinner with his disciples. The implication is that Matthew was with them, and perhaps because of his being among Jesus’ disciples, many tax collectors, and known sinners, were drawn to share in this meal. And did that arouse the scorn of the Pharisees, those who prided themselves on being righteous, and upholding all those laws from the Torah, designed to set Israel apart from the Gentiles, sinners and pagans, laws that gave them their unique identity.

“Does Jesus know what he is doing, by sitting in table fellowship with these tax collectors and sinners?”, they asked. “If he is a rabbi, if he is from God, surely he should know better. He is tearing down the walls that set us apart, distinguish us as God’s people in this world. It’s bad enough to call a tax collector as a disciple, but to sit and eat, to share a table with such a bunch as this, is like joining the enemy of our faith. It is scandalous.”

To the Pharisees, Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but hose who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

What a statement, according to Thomas Wright, in his book, Jesus and the Victory of God, [Eerdmans, 1996]. If I might paraphrase his comments, “Jesus was tearing down old walls in order to build something new. Wright believes that Jesus was ultimately crucified because of his expansive notion of the mission of Israel. Wright believes that by the time of Jesus, Israel’s faith had retreated away from being a light to the nations, to being defensive about maintaining its own identity.

Jesus attacked this defensive posture. He ventured forth, calling those who had been previously excluded from the community of faith, with the invitation to repent and become a part of the kingdom of God. But Jesus not only announced God’s kingdom breaking into our midst, he also acted in ways in which the kingdom took concrete, visible form.

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