Psalm 1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on God's law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Luke 5:27-32 Jesus Calls Levi( Matthew)After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table[a] with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.” Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’
"Hi Neighbor!" Mr. Rodgers opened every episode for 33 years with the same two words. He's grown in popularity recently, especially in the release of the documentary that bears his name. FaceBook is full of Mr Rodgers memes, or for you non social media folks, quotes with pictures, and people are fondly remembering the man who spoke about unconditional love like it was the norm. Mr. Rodgers sang songs like "I like you" and "It's You I like." Who doesn't need to hear those words over and over? Listen to a few of the lyrics:
It's you I like, It's not the things you wear, It's not the way you do your hair But it's you I like The way you are right now, The way down deep inside you Not the things that hide you, Not your toys They're just beside you. But it's you I like Every part of you."
Such a simple message- when asked about those lyrics Mr. Rodgers said: “When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed."
And all at once the message hits home. Each of us recognizes that part of us, no matter how hidden, that burns within us. We all, at our core, want, need, feel, the same thing. It's why his simple message was so powerful- It's a message of healing. Mr Rodgers was able to look past the surface, what we do, how we act, why we hide, and tap into the deep part of us that longs for acceptance, hopes for peace, and stands for love. "Someone sees me; someone knows there is another part of me, deeper than what I show to the world,' and all at once, we're not alone. We're reminded of our humanity- of our connection to one another on a deep, spiritual level.
Today I read you a scripture where Jesus is sending a similar message to Levi, who is also called Matthew. When we left off last week, Jesus had just called some of the disciples- "From now on you'll be catching people," he said. When Jesus left the beach that day with Peter and James and John and who knows how many others, he began to teach exactly what he meant by that phrase.
First in the net was a leper- an untouchable- seen, touched, loved, healed and restored to community by the one who looked past the surface, into the "you I like" part of the dis-eased person. Next Jesus heals a paralyzed man- one so incapable of movement that their friends had to bring him to Jesus, as no small aside, through the roof of the building because the room was so crowded. "It's you I like" says Jesus, and the man is no longer stuck in one place- but takes up his mat and walks tall.
The critics shouted: Blasphemy! Who do you think you are? Those sinners, they are God's problem; don't tell us that is our responsibility, to forgive like that, to to love like that, to heal like that!"
So Jesus takes it a step further- he looks at Levi the tax collector sitting at a tax booth, and says "It's you I like."
Look at the picture on the front of your bulletin. (top left) This painting is "The Calling of Matthew" "Caravaggio's painting powerfully depicts the momentous encounter between the young and charismatic rabbi and the jaded tax collector. Matthew points to himself questioningly, as if he cannot quite believe he is being singled out by Jesus, and he is not sure he even wants to respond if he is. Caravaggio portrays Matthew and his companions in what was then contemporary dress. In doing this, the artist shows that this is a timeless moment, not something in a distant past, but applicable to us all. Matthew, like a dubiously honest businessperson of Caravaggio's (or our) time, is being looked upon with mercy and called by Christ. His companions, all dressed in finery and probably also tax collectors, look up at Jesus with surprise. The apostle Peter stands with Jesus, both of them dressed in biblical style clothing — the present and past linked artistically in a kairos moment — with Peter's hand gesture imitating that of Jesus."(1) Or perhaps Peter also can't believe it. Tax collectors were among the most hated in Jesus's time; most were ruthless, many times overcharging peasants so they could skim off the top and add to their commission. Willful sinners, we would call them; corrupt, greedy people who are aware they are cheating others and continue as if it doesn't bother them at all.
"It's you I like," says Jesus. And Matthew says, "who me?" and Matthews friends say "Him?" and Even Peter says "really?" And Jesus continues: 'The way you are right now, the way down deep inside you, not the things that hide you, not your toys, they're just beside you." And something happens to Matthew- he is seen, loved, touched, healed, restored to community by the one who looks past the dis-eased person.
And as they are having dinner that night at Matthews house, the critics shout, :Blasphemy!!! Who do you think you are? Eating and drinking now with those sinners, they are God's problem! Don't tell us its our responsibility to forgive like that, to love like that, to heal like that!"
As we've been preparing to go outside the backyard for the past few weeks, we've talked about our call, our message, why our words matter, and even what we need to leave behind in order to follow Christ out the back gate. And I believe most of us are pretty aware that the people we will encounter will be the marginalized, the lepers or outsiders, or the paralytics, people stuck in one manner of thinking or another... but what do we do when we meet Matthew? You see, with the leper or the paralytic, it's easy to share our story... it's obvious that we are to talk to the lonely or the isolated, to minister to the sick, to see, love, touch, heal, and restore to community the ones we see suffering.
But what of the Matthews of the neighborhood? The greedy. The wicked. The ones not just hated by society, but who we also can't bear to look at much less be around... I mean we're great at naming them... actually name-calling them... we're great at judging them; avoiding them, debating them, and are pretty darned comfortable wishing they all would just disappear... we're great at most everything but loving them.
'But pastor, come on- they are wicked! They don't care about the planet, they want to cut aid to the poor, they want to legally discriminate, they want a 30 foot concrete wall for God's sake- the greed, the selfishness, the corruption- Tax collectors and sinners!!! '
"I did not come to call the righteous by the sinner to repent; I didn't come for the well but for the sick." says Jesus...
Interestingly, he didn't say that to Matthew or point to Matthew when he said "the sick." Jesus called out the Pharisees- the church people- the ones questioning why love of Jesus was being shared with the people the church had deemed 'the enemy.' And perhaps we can be more comfortable with this story because Jesus changed Matthew's heart- Matthew repented- turned his life around, left the dark side and came over to the light- we have that privilege as moderns reading the text 2000 years after the fact. But for the Pharisees, now being told they are the ones who have suddenly missed the mark, well, I'm not sure what they must have been thinking... "Did he just call us sick? Did Jesus imply that we're the ones with the problem? Why is he sitting there laughing and eating and drinking- why is he not calling them out? Like we do!!!
But are we not called to do what Jesus did? Are we not called to love all? Respect all? Cherish all? Are we not called to look inside a person-and find the place in them that allows us to connect through compassion- or in the words of Fred Rodgers, "that part of [them] that knows that life is far more than anything we can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of them that allows all of us to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed." The problem of course, comes when we convince ourselves that "they" (the Matthews of the world) don't possess that part- that there is nothing under the hair or the toys.
And that's where discipleship begins. When we embrace that God's love, the love that transformed us simply by Jesus standing in front of us and saying "It's you I like" , the love that transformed us by tapping into the part of ourselves we thought we'd left behind out of hurt or fear or guilt or shame, the love that transformed Matthew and Peter and yes, even some of the Pharisees, that love is the same love transforms all and is for all. It's the love which helps us see all of humanity through the eyes of compassion- to recognize the deepest parts of a person- the spirit burning and yearning within them. To recognize that we are all of us- all of us, first a foremost, God's children. That's how its done, my friends. We love, not because we are better than- but because we are connected to. And I tell you sincerely, unless we begin to do this, the world is truly in a lot of trouble.
This week I am asking us as a part of this beyond the backyard series to act for the first time out there, in the neighborhood. I'm challenging each of us to find a Matthew - and by that I mean, someone different from you, who has a different lifestyle, or is a member of a different political party, or another religious group, or social circle... someone that you may have gone out of your way to avoid in the past, or maybe have had disagreements with. Someone who you have maybe even written off- or written out of your life. When you've identified them, connect. Originally I was going to ask you to have a conversation with them, but I realize that may be too difficult in some situations... so instead, just connect. If you cant talk to Matthew just yet, wave. If you can't wave, smile. If you can't smile, just make eye contact. Look at them, instead of in disgust, or disdain, or even apathy, with the eyes of compassion.
"It's you I like," Seek out their humanity. Look for the Spirit. Hope for their good- desire the best for them, say a prayer for them, love them. Spend more than a few seconds on this and you will feel a shift inside... spend more than a few minutes and it could change your life, or their life, or both. And I promise you the God of Love and the Christ of compassion will be with you every step of the way.
(1) Nancy Enright, Pope Francis and Caravaggio's 'The Calling of St. Matthew' share a gaze of mercy ://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/pope-francis-and-caravaggios-calling-st-matthew-share-gaze-mercy-0