Look Who’s Coming To Dinner!
June 8, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In our text this morning we receive the very Words of our Lord. They were the words He first spoke through the Prophet Hosea in our Old Testament lesson; they were the words He spoke to tax collectors, Pharisees and various other sinners in our gospel reading, and they are the words He speaks to us this morning. These words bring life and they bring death. They are the door of Law and Gospel that when it swings, it smashes sin in one direction and when it swings the other, it brings faith. All of our readings this morning are hinged on these very Words; how our hearts receive these Words will determine the work of the Words. If these words are heard with Jesus as the focus, as the subject, then these words will bring to you the forgiveness of sins, by grace through the gift of faith that only He can give.
I. Walk with me now in your mind’s eye down a street in Galilee. We are standing outside of a home and looking through an open door. It is the home of a notorious sinner named Matthew, a greedy and sinful tax collector who has been away for several months but now he has returned. The word on the street is that this notorious sinner has hooked up with Jesus of Nazareth, and He has become a completely different man. He’s changed! He now is reportedly a loving and compassionate man! The common consensus to this rumor is “Yeah right!” You see, his reputation for being a notorious, self serving sinner was well known. He would sit in the customs booth with others in his trade demanding more than what the law demanded as a tax on any business transaction done within the market place. Matthew was a Jew by birth, yet he lived his life and conducted his business as if he never knew the Lord; so when he disappeared, his absence was noticed, even celebrated, but a void creates a vacuum, and soon another low life sinner quickly took his place.
Now let’s move a little closer to get a better look—there we are standing right next to some Pharisees. Let’s listen in on their conversation: “Sure enough, there’s that low life Matthew eating and drinking, laughing and celebrating with His friends. What a sordid bunch of losers this is! There’s the chief tax collector and all of his cronies sitting there as if life was just one big party! And can you believe that those young street punks that roam our streets are in there too?! Doesn’t it make your blood boil seeing them there laughing it up and having a good old time, without a care in the world? When was the last time any of them contributed to temple worship? Why they’ve even rejected our Jewish faith and culture, and shamed their parents by living like a Roman. And there’s the person responsible for all of this…there’s that supposed prophet, Jesus of Nazareth. What kind of teacher would endorse sinners like this? Oh I know what everyone is saying, “He doesn’t endorse their life-style just their life. And they say that Matthew has really changed; they say that he’s trying to make amends for his past sins. Is this how he makes amends, having a gluttonous banquet with an itinerant preacher as the guest of honor? And don’t tell me how these other sinners are here to find out more about how and why Matthew changed, because I don’t want to hear it! A leopard can’t change its spots, scorpions were born to sting, snakes were born to bite, and these men were born to sin. It’s in their nature. They don’t need a party, they need public punishment, and then maybe the rest will have a little bit more fear and respect for God and His laws.”
So goes the mind of the Pharisee and perhaps that is the condition of our hearts as well. We see in our own time very similar conditions. Corruption in public office makes the news almost every week. Banks and financial institutions collapse because of greed. In Mexico, there is a slang word for this type of public corruption, which sums up the action and the result quite well, “la Mordida” which means, “the bite”. Public corruption does indeed take a bite out of society and we see these bites being taken from the lowest levels of our government all the way to the very highest, and it is God fearing folk like you and me that pay for it. Our style of living is impacted because the rich keep getting richer and well you know the rest. But the bite isn’t just felt in our pocket books; it impacts our faith as well. It can be hard to come to terms with corruption in government, especially when God’s Word in the book of Romans tells us that the government is put in place by God Himself for our protection and good. Wouldn’t it be a relief to us if God just intervened right now and punished every one of them? And we even have our own version of those seemingly godless sinners running around our streets too. They seem to be everywhere painting their marks all over our streets with their pants down to their knees, listening to that thumping and bumping on their stereos, living large as if God didn’t matter! Well He does matter, and soon enough they’ll learn …
but if they don’t wise up, before they know it, it will be too late for them! Yes sir, somebody had better do something while there’s still time! Well we’ll pray for them, after all that’s what we Christians do. It’s not like we want them to go to hell, but if it happens, well then they only have themselves to blame. If they would just come back to church like they were taught when they were little, then they would see their need to change and follow the straight and narrow.
Friends, when we think and speak like this, we too are living as if God does not see, but He does see and He is acting!
What the Pharisees could not know about Matthew is that God had done a mighty work in the heart of Matthew, and he was beginning that same work with His friends at a simple dinner banquet with Jesus as the host. Matthew for years did indeed live as if God were blind to his sinfulness. And because of this, God allowed Matthew to leave His love and mercy. In Hosea we read God’s own words confirming this truth: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” Did Matthew notice that he was separated from God because of his sins? Did he even care that he was living outside of God’s love and mercy? Yes he did, and the proof is found in this…
II. In verse 9 of our gospel lesson we read: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.” Dear friends, Jesus saw Matthew and said this simple word to him, “Follow me” and he responded immediately. St. Luke in his telling on the same incident says that he got right up and left everything to follow Jesus. What’s more amazing is that his leaving everything and following Jesus wasn’t just a temporary whim of the heart, but it was a permanent change in his being. The question some might ask is, “How much contact did he have with Jesus or the other apostles before he himself became a disciple?” The truth is we don’t know, God’s Word does not say, but what we do know is that when Jesus issued the call Matthew responded. Jesus was found by a worthless sinner who everyone would have agreed wasn’t even looking for God. Friends, Christ is always found after He speaks. It is through His Word that He is found. It is He Who takes the initiative. We haven’t chosen Him, but rather he has chosen us! He said follow me, and the same divine, almighty power that gave faith to Abraham, converted Matthew and all of the saints converted us. Salvation is always brought to a sinner when Christ as the Author and perfecter of our faith grants us salvation through His means, which is His Word. His gospel is the “power of God unto salvation. [Rom. 1:16] Jesus’ call to Matthew was effective because God’s grace through Christ Jesus always provides faith to believe in the One who calls.
Friends, we like Matthew must understand how radically sinful we are. We must confess how sin affects every part of who we are. We must see and confess that we are completely unable to live up to God’s standards no matter who we are. Each one of us must confess that we are lost in our own sinfulness and that before God that we are in need of a radical righteousness that must come from God alone, and that this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ equally to all who believe. [Rom 3:33] It comes to the Pharisee and the Tax collector, and it comes to you and the street thug all in the same way. And after we confess this sinfulness, we like Matthew come to understand that it is only through faith in Christ as our Savior that we will find forgiveness for our many sins and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of our own that comes from following the law, but a righteousness of faith that comes through Christ alone. [Philip. 3:9] When we understand this truth, then we can say, “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we have done, but because of His mercy.” [Titus 3:5a]
Matthew understood this well and that is why he came back to his old friends and associates so that they too could hear the words of the living God. Like Abraham, Matthew learned by personal experience that the God of heaven and earth is a God “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
III. Matthew proclaimed to his fellow sinners in his own words the same message of Hosea: “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” [Hosea 6:1-3]
Dear friends, we have been given an even stronger hope for forgiveness than Abraham, Hosea, or Matthew because what they hoped in faith would come we have been assured has already happened, and that is the final work through the death and resurrection of God the Son Jesus Christ.
In raising Christ from the dead, God has vindicated and forgiven sinners, even the chief of sinners…you and me! Through Jesus’ resurrection we have been set free from the condemnation of the law for our many sins; in your baptism Jesus has called you out of a body of sin and He has given you new life just as He called Matthew. And now because of your baptism, God’s Word has authorized me to declare to you that you are forgiven, you are forgiven indeed! Isn’t that good news? Then please hear what comes next; that authorization to announce the forgiveness of sins…to proclaim the GOOD NEWS has been passed on to you!
Let me illustrate this final point with this: The story is told about a rich bank executive who lost everything as a result of the tragic savings and loan debacle. He lost his home and his family left him. The only things he had left were 2 $800 business suits and a 5 year old Mercedes Bendz. Every day he dressed up in his business suit and applied for job after job, but no one would hire someone so overly qualified. In the evening, he would park his car near a local homeless shelter and food kitchen and walk to dinner. One day, as he was walking to the shelter he passed a homeless, dirty, drunk half asleep in a doorway. He stopped and said to him, “Come on brother. Their serving dinner in 15 minutes at the shelter and you look like you could use some comfort and nourishment.” Well they sat down and ate their dinner together silently, when the homeless drunk looked up at the unemployed homeless banker and asked, “Do they feed everyone?” Yes answered the banker. “Every day?” He asked. “Yes every day.” “And no one has to pay?” he asked. “Well someone has to pay, but it isn’t you and me thank God!” “You mean you aren’t in charge here?” the bum asked. “No friend. I’m just one homeless bum telling another where the best soup kitchen is at!”
Friends, we deserve nothing from God and yet He loves us eternally. Like the homeless drunk in the story, we know that someone has to pay for our sinfulness, and thank God it wasn’t you or me; it was God the Son who paid our debt for us. Even though our love for him has been fickle like a morning mist or like the dew that goes away early, his forgiving love still comes to us a spring rain refreshing our spirits. Whether we identify with the tax collectors and gross sinners or the self righteous Pharisee, we all have the same need. We are sick with sin and the only cure comes from the great physician Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s work alone we have been given the free gift of forgiveness for all of our sins. Let us rest in that gift and cling to His Word alone which changes a sinful heart into the only heart that can demonstrate true steadfast love for God and our fellow sinful neighbor. And now together as the body of Christ we continue to grow in the knowledge of God’s love and forgiveness. And together, this growing knowledge sends us out into our community to invite other sinners to his banquet table of grace with these words: “Come let us return to the Lord that He may heal us!”
In Jesus name… AMEN!