The Feast of St. Mathew
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ
Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard this, 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, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
She came into the church after nearly everyone had left - some to their cars and their afternoon plans. Others to coffee hour, a cookie or two and some caffeine and conversation. She came as the door was being looked and the lights extinguished, both halted so that she could kneel at a pew and weep. Softly, deeply, with tears streaming down her face, she wept.
Jesus came to call not the righteous, but the sinners.
Sinners, that Paul reminds us, that have been saved by grace through faith and notice he is quick to point out that this is not our own doing.
The woman did not speak at all. She had slipped in through the still open door, had made a beeline for the pew and then allowed the dam in her heart to burst, the swollen river of grief or pain or confusion or anguish, who knows what, to flow. I tried once to offer some comfort, some assistance, anything, her grief overwhelmed me. Surely I thought, God sent her to us so that we could shoulder some of weight, but no. No. She ignored me and then warned me off with the slightest shake of her head. It occurred to me that I was invading some private holy moment. The insight came hard and fast and left me confused, full of some small doubt about what to do next. I moved away until her sobs were lost to the sound of the air conditioning and she fell from view as I shuffled papers on my desk. I busied myself doing nothing.
Do we come to church knowing that we are sick and in need of healing - knowing that we are broken and in need of wholeness - knowing that we are lost and in need of being found...with a heart yearning to be encountered by Christ - a heart that fathoms that grace is a gift undeserved, yet freely given. A gift of such great cost to the giver, that none of us could pay the price even before the costs of gas and insurance and homes went north and our returns and income went south. A cost so great that a lifetime of good deeds could never accumulate enough equity for a down payment on it? A gift that could only come from God. A cost that could only be born by Jesus and only then by his giving of his life? Do we come to church knowing that? As smart as we are?
Do we come to church, to worship, knowing that our place perhaps is better expressed in a woman kneeling, sobbing, face wet with tears, pouring herself out before God, then a thousand other thoughts and deeds that captivate us on a Sunday morning?
Or do we come with a shopping list of demands that we desire to be met - of expectations that we need to be filled - with an attitude that says "here I am - what are you going to do for me today?" Or of boredom and routine and motions that could be sleepwalked if we so choose?
With what heart are we encountered by Christ Sunday morning here in this place?
I will admit to have poked my head out of my office a time or two to check on the woman, there in the dim light, in the ninth or tenth row of pews, just guessing. I didn't count. On the aisle, still kneeling. And part of me was full of compassion and a much smaller part, and not to my credit, felt just a bit awkward. How long will she stay, I wonder. Do I approach her again? Do I slide on next to her in the pew and pray alongside in support? Oh, the ridiculous thoughts that enter my mind! I do not think that it is a stretch that most would feel awkward . Wonder what her problem might be. Partly out of compassion and partly to support our own dream that we have it mostly together. That we're OK. That this woman is an exception. That surely our life compared to hers must be A-OK. She makes us feel better about things. We keep that thought quiet.
Jesus is there eating with Matthew angering the Pharisees who consider people like Matthew traitors - sinners of the worst kind. Tax collectors were typically Jews who ripped off their own people by over charging them for their taxes and pocketing the difference as salary. One must figure that Matthew knows what they are saying. When people talk about us we know. Sooner or later we know. And they probably want us to know. They want us to know that people are talking about us. So Matthew probably heard. We know that Jesus got word rather quickly.
A teacher like Jesus, a man of God, would not knowingly, voluntarily eat with a house of of people who sin as a matter of course. By their very life's work. By their occupations. This puzzled them greatly. Confused them to the point where they just had to know. So they did what so many people do - instead of asking Jesus, they asked those close to him. And what we learn is that Jesus is a big fan of mercy on the part of those who love God. Not self-righteousness. Mercy. And to be stewards of mercy we must put aside the thought that our own good deeds earn God's favor. That we participate in some obscure way in our own salvation. Far from it!
To be stewards of mercy is to sit like Jesus with those whom God is calling you to be with, to talk with them as if you were talking to Jesus himself, despite what others might think. Might say. Might do.
Quietly, just as she had arrived, she left and was gone. No name. No request for help. No, nothing, yet everything. When we realize in the depth of our being that we are completely, utterly, in meekness dependent upon God through Christ Jesus for everything, for our very lives, we might just find ourselves sneaking back into church and falling on our knees in the dim light and quiet, with no one around, so that our own tears can pour out before our God. Alone, because others might just Us there on our knees opening our hearts in deepest gratitude, in absolute dependence.
Attention Servants and Stewards!
Those called and interested - folks will be meeting during coffee hour this Sunday to pick our next duty week for the Church-based shelter program. See Lyn Joseph right after second service in the hall.
Those called and interested - Janean Baumal's house meeting for Bold Justice will also be meeting - same time and place.
Those who desire to do some planning for this fall and winter for our labyrinth please meet with Pastor Keith - same time and place (feel free to vote for the shelter week 1st)
Next Saturday is our Coffee House Talent Show at 7PM. Sign up on worship slips or on the poster in the narthex for your talent or dessert. If making desserts is your talent - well - there you go!
Next Sunday there will be an important meeting for those involved in the pumpkin patch right after second service during coffee hour with Kathy Velelz.
Ongoing: Trinity's food pantry that serves our local community is experiencing unprecedented use. Over four dozen families have gotten a boost in recent weeks from its shelves and freezer. Though Thrivent is ever generous is assisting us - we need to step us and re-stock them. Please bring in non-perishable items and place them in the shopping cart in the narthex.
In our Intergenerational Sunday school we will be turning our focus to "Invite" of the the Seven Marks of discipleship. And to practice, I want to personally invite you (single, couple, young, old, family or extended family) to come and be a part. 9:30AM in the hall. We supply the coffee.
Looking ahead: Light the Night Walk
sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphomas Society
Saturday, October 25, 2008
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Downtown Fort Lauderdale - Huizenga Plaza