St Michael’s, 16th June 2013
Reading – Matthew 9:9-13
Have you ever noticed you can guess what kind of TV programme is on just by watching the adverts? Sometimes when I flick over to another channel, I don’t even need the menu guide or the Radio Times to tell me what I’m watching. So, for example, if it’s a sport’s programme, then half-time will feature lots of gruff, middle-aged men shouting at me to “bet in play now”, and the latest odds plastered all over the screen. If it’s a daytime quiz show, then the break will contain lots of gentle soothing music with veteran actors showing how this or that product can make your life easier in your later years. And if it’s a romantic drama, then you can spend a happy five minutes seeing how many top models and sports people you can spot advertising the latest innovation in healthcare and beauty, or if it’s Christmas, marketing the latest perfume.
Marketing is big business. We live in a world where image is everything. Everywhere you go there are pictures of rich and famous people displayed on computer screens, in magazines, at railway stations, even occasionally in churches. We are encouraged not only to buy their products, but to look like them, smell like them, even talk like them. Indeed many sports people earn far more from what are known as image rights than from actually playing. So someone like David Beckham or Wayne Rooney, for example, is far better known across the world as a brand or an icon than for their performances on the pitch.
I’ll leave you to decide whether you think that is a good or bad thing. I know that churches have a history of looking down on the whole world of celebrity culture. But at the same time I’m aware that such churches also tend to have a whole history of judging people solely on their appearance – whether they are dressed right, or they can read fluently, or indeed whether they seem respectable (whatever that means). And I know from conversations with folk that one disapproving glance or one cutting remark can often be enough to put people off church, if not for life, then certainly for a very long time. No matter what we say, we leave outsiders with the impression church is not for people like them, that it’s actually only a social club for the religious and the well-educated.
And if there’s one message I want to get across this morning is that church was never meant to be like that. Indeed a church which puts barriers up and stops outsiders from coming in is acting in a way that’s totally opposed to all that Jesus said and did.
Now in our reading this morning we come across a brief encounter between Jesus and some people called the Pharisees. Who were the Pharisees? Well, they started out as a group of religious teachers who wanted to reform their lives, to try and perfectly obey God’s law and teach others to do the same. And let’s be clear – they really did have good intentions. But where they went wrong was in the fact they looked down on people who were not as religious as them, or who were quite happy living bad lives, or didn’t seem interested in obeying God. They judged people who were not like them and they avoided their company.
And the Pharisees hated Jesus. Because here was Jesus going round doing all these wonderful miracles and teaching people about God. And yet at the same time he was mixing with just the sort of people the Pharisees condemned. So, for example, in our reading today Jesus sees a tax collector called Matthew. Now you have to understand that in the Pharisees’ eyes tax collectors were the lowest of the low. In the world of ancient Israel they made a lot of money for themselves by doing the dirty work for the occupying Romans. Matthew was the equivalent of a city banker living off his bonuses and massive pension scheme. And not only did Jesus speak to him, he even accepted his invitation to come to dinner and meet all his mates.
That wasn’t the way a good religious teacher was supposed to behave. But then Jesus never judged anyone by what they looked like, whether they were respectable, or by what job they did. He had one simple message for everyone, “Follow me”. That’s not too hard to understand, is it? “Follow me”. “I am here to forgive your sins, give you life, and help you become the person your Heavenly Father wants you to be. Come just as you are. Leave your old life behind, and trust in me”.
And it’s the same message that Jesus gives today – whoever you are. You may be in church for the first time this morning. You may have done lots of bad things. People may say you are not respectable. None of that matters. What Jesus is looking for is the response of the heart.
Because that’s what counts first and foremost in Jesus’ eyes. Not whether we have our baby baptised, or whether we come to church, or whether try to live a good life. Of course all these things are important in themselves, and we should aim to do all these things. But what counts above all else is whether we have decided to follow Jesus, whether we have trusted Him as Lord and Saviour and accepted Him into our lives.
In our Bible reading this morning Matthew heard Jesus’ call and followed Him. Even more than that, he invited Him into his home. Now as we have seen Matthew was counted by the religious and respectable of the day as the lowest of the low. But he listened. He believed. He accepted Jesus into his life.
So the question is – what about you? The problem with famous people and celebrities is the fact they really are just icons and images. We cannot ever really know them and they have no real power to change our lives. But this Jesus I am talking about this morning is alive, is real and is right here with us by His Holy Spirit. And He is calling you today to follow Him, whoever you are. He wants to give you His forgiveness, His love, His peace. Because He has died on a cross for you. So will you listen? Will you believe? And will you accept Him into your heart?
Let’s all of us decide what response we should make …