It’s all about relationship
Ven. Richard Brand, 18 September 2016
Proverbs 3: 13–18; Matthew 9: 9–13
Come Holy Spirit: what we know not, teach us; what we have not, grant us; what we are not, make us; for your love’s sake. Amen.
For two years I lived in New Zealand. Whilst there I remember someone telling me their experience of studying at St John’s Auckland, the theological college that serves the Anglican Church in New Zealand. He told me that in the library there were four computer booths. On day 1 he sat down at one of these and noticed it was named ‘John’. ‘Probably all named after the gospel writers’, he thought. But on day 2 he found the booth had ‘Paul’ on it. ‘Ah’, he thought, ‘the New Testament greats’. Day 3 he checked out the other two: he understood all when he read ‘George’ and then ‘Ringo’.
Today we are keeping St Matthew’s Day, giving thanks for the gospel written in his name, giving thanks for this parish and praying for God’s blessing on its life, on our service and mission.
The call of Matthew appears in the first three gospels (provided we see ‘Levi’ as referring to Matthew), but Matthew’s own account is the briefest and tightest description of this moment. There’s no prevarication or hesitation; no vocations discernment morning he goes on or extended application and appointment process. Jesus said to him ‘Follow me’ and he got up and followed him. It has been said that Matthew stood up, followed Jesus and left everything behind … except his pen. However, dipping into biblical analysis, many here, I’m sure, will be familiar with the view that it is generally thought unlikely that the gospel bearing his name was actually written by Matthew.
What we have in the gospel under his name we give thanks for in its particular emphases and gifts. It’s a gospel with a strong Jewish flavour; a strong emphasis on judgement; a sense of the imminent end of the world; it’s a teaching gospel; and it’s the gospel most concerned with the ‘church’, the word ecclesia appearing twice in Matthew and not in any of the other three. And it’s in Matthew we find Jesus’ great charge to Peter about being the ‘rock’ on which he’ll build his church. Whilst all the gospels leave us with challenges to our discipleship, these emphases in Matthew’s gospel perhaps most of all leave us with the question ‘What does this mean for me in terms of faith and in terms of obedience?’
Returning to Matthew’s version of his calling, it’s interesting that Matthew places this episode amidst a couple of chapters of healing miracles by Jesus. It’s not, as it is in Mark, amidst other callings. For Matthew, his calling is a healing: he is changed – a changed man, a new man. It’s not surprising he throws a Zacchaeus-like feast to follow. This is a new beginning in a new order; new life has begun.
But life is a gift: what does this new life mean in terms of faith and obedience? Your pew sheet today puts it like this:
Matthew the Apostle, our patron saint, challenges our attachment/addiction to material possessions and gives an example of walking more freely with Christ.
Part of what Matthew’s gospel means for us is that faith begins with the liberating life of God calling us to accept his healing, his well-being, his salvation, and so to find that freedom which comes in obediently living the mission of Jesus.
Faith begins with the liberating life of God calling us to accept his healing, his well-being, his salvation.
Matthew, putting his call amidst healing accounts, tells us something further we might notice. You’ll remember in this morning’s gospel Jesus saying ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick’, and then ‘I have come to call not the righteous but sinners’. He had explained Jesus cannot call the righteous because they aren’t listening; they consider themselves ‘well’ and therefore aren’t open to healing; they know no need of God.
Jesus saying ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ echoes Hosea (6: 6), ‘For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.’ ‘Go and learn what this means’, Jesus says.
Steadfast love. ‘I desire steadfast love.’ It’s all about relationship. If we learn nothing else in church, if we learn nothing else in our Christian life, pray God we learn this: it’s all about relationship. Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. The Christian faith is about an invitation to share in the very life and love of God, in relationship. The Christian life is about living out that relationship.
Alongside our gospel we had a passage from Proverbs this morning. I love Proverbs; it’s full of wonderful insights and thought-provoking nuggets. But, as so often, there’s a danger of misunderstanding. So this morning we had, ‘Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding’.
The search for many in life is to find wisdom and understanding. ‘Will someone just explain what it all means?’ But such a search is so often in the wrong place. Wisdom is to be found in relationship with God, by understanding that putting our faith in God we find what we need through all life brings.
Next Sunday you’re keeping ‘Back to church Sunday’. (Might I say how wise to do that the week after the archdeacon has gone – when it’s safe to come back to church.)
I wonder what your thought processes have been in who you might ask? The good news is that research shows that there are many people who used to come to church who would come again if someone asked and accompanied them; it’s taking that first step they find hard.
But the bad news is that most of us don’t ask anyone. So what are we saying? Are we saying we’re a bit embarrassed about what goes on here? Are we embarrassed about being a Christian? Would we rather not risk ‘coming across a bit heavy’ on the Christian front by asking someone and perhaps upsetting a friendship and endangering a relationship? Do we just not think it important enough an invitation to get round to asking? After all, ‘Why pay the vicar and do all the work ourselves?’
In one of his sermons St Augustine wrote these words:
You sing, of course you sing, I can hear you;
But make sure your life sings the same tune as your mouth.
Sing with your voices
Sing with your hearts
Sing with your lips
Sing with your lives.
The singer himself is the song.
Someone else put it this way, ‘You can tell whether you believe something or not by whether or not you behave as if it’s true.’
And one more quotation, in case we need it: Teresa of Avila. You’ll know the words:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now.
As we remember the call of Matthew we are reminded about God’s invitation through Christ into a relationship that changes everything. We’re reminded about the healing, the freedom, the well-ness God offers us in relation with him. Life in all its fullness. Why wouldn’t we want others to share this relationship, this journey? Even if a friend declines the invitation, my bet is that the invitation reinforces your integrity in their sight. Why not ask, ‘Would you like to come along with us next Sunday and see what goes on at our church? It would be really good to have you with us.’ Surely this is a place of which you can be proud? It isn’t after all you who’ll make the final difference; it’s an invitation into the spaciousness of God. So be it, Amen.