Matthew Testifies About Jesus

2 Corinthians 2:14-2:17
(The introduction to this sermon was the copyrighted dramatic reading ‘Christ On Trial: Witness, Matthew.’ Written by Elsa L. Clark with Peter Mead, Arden Mead, and Mark Zimmermann. © 2007 by Creative Communication for the Parish)
(Slide 1) Ever felt that you were being looked down upon? Have you ever been looked down upon and you knew it?
Years ago in graduate school I had one of those experiences. It was a leadership theory course designed for the doctoral students in the department and I was a mere master’s degree student. But I wanted to take it.
I remember hearing the professor’s condescending tone of voice reminding me what kind of a class I was in and who it was designed for. After that first class I felt that it was a no-win situation for me and I dropped the class.
What about looking down on people? Have you ever done that? (OUCH PASTOR JIM!) I have always tried to be a fair minded person to everybody I meet but there have been times when an individual rubbed me the wrong way and I choose to ignore them as best I could and not attempt to build a better relationship with them.
Our initial witness, as we examine the evidence against Jesus that will mount as we go through this Lenten season 2007, was looked down upon. He was considered scum. Many ‘straight-laced’ religious persons did not consider Matthew to be worth Jesus’ time. But Jesus thought Matthew was worth His time and He also thinks that you and I are worth His time as well!
This morning we are going to briefly look at two parallel Old Testament passages, Hosea 6:1-6 and Jeremiah 31:32-34, and discover what these two Old Testament prophets said about what I call the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of Easter as it relates to our status in God’s eyes.
Then we will examine our main text in Mark and consider the kind of change in Matthew that took place when Jesus said to him, ‘follow me.’ Finally we will take a few moments to consider what Christ’s call means to us, individually and corporately, in light of this week.
Let’s now turn to Hosea 6:1-6 which says, “Come, let us return to the Lord! He has torn us in pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time, he will restore us so we can live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.” “O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the Lord. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces. I have slaughtered you with my words, threatening you with death. My judgment will strike you as surely as day follows night. I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.”
Notice; please the phrases out of this passage as ‘before’ and ‘after’ phrases of God’s deliverance. First the before… (Slide 2)
He has torn us in pieces…
He has injured us…
I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces
I have slaughtered you with my words…
My judgment will strike you down…
Not a very pretty and loving picture of God is it? He is not happy with the children of Israel. He is displeased with their quickly vanishing love. He is upset over their lack of mercy. He is ready to destroy them. They have disobeyed Him though He says at the end of the chapter in verse 11, ‘I wanted so much to restore the fortunes of my people!’
In the ‘before’ of Good Friday and Easter, there is judgment and there is punishment and there is death and alienation from God. During this season of Lent one of our tasks is the very unpleasant, difficult and sometimes brutal, but essential task of looking at ourselves in the light of Christ’s death on our behalf and facing the truth about our own sinful and flawed human nature that is no different that it was in Hosea’s day.
But, there is an ‘after’ that we must pay attention to this morning. (Slide 3) There is a new movement of God afoot. Jesus makes that clear in various statements to those who were still locked in to the ‘before’ mindset that God wanted to get rid of.
Hosea prophesizes that it will take place…

now he will heal us.
now he will bandage our wounds
he will restore us

Then, over in Jeremiah 31:32-34 we read:
“The day will come,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their family, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins.”
Again, notice the ‘after’ of God’s new covenant. (Slide 4)
I will put my laws in their minds
I will write them on their hearts
I will be their God, and they will be my people
I will forgive their wickedness
(I) will never again remember their sins
This is the ‘after’ of Lent and Easter. This is the result of Easter. Forgiveness, a second chance, a new relationship based on an internal change of heart not a subscription to an agreement that became externally focused and performance driven.
Now as we turn to our main text I believe that we can safely say that Matthew is a pre-Easter illustration of what Hosea and Jeremiah spoke of in their respect writings. He is an illustration of God’s grace and mercy being given to someone that was considered hopeless and beyond help. His life situation and condition illustrate the reason that Jesus Christ, Our Savior, came to earth.
Matthew mattered to God!
Others did not see that. They only saw a ‘sinner.’ They saw someone who had turned their backs on their people and their faith. They saw a traitor. They saw someone who was not worthy of God’s mercy and grace.
Tax collectors were probably viewed with the same contempt as lepers who, according to one source, had to cry out ‘unclean, unclean,’ when anyone came close to them. Lepers had to live outside a city or village if it had walls around it. They were truly outsiders. So were tax collectors.
This source also indicated that Matthew perhaps did not have a choice when it came to choose his occupation. It indicates that the Romans appointed their Tax Collectors.
But, Jesus called Matthew away from them and that position. (Ever wonder what the Romans thought about Jesus because they certainly had numerous opportunities to observe Him in action!)
Matthew would no longer take advantage of others. Jesus called him to a new role, one in that required a new kind of investment in people.
Something changed in Matthew (something profound) when Jesus said ‘Come, be my disciple!’ What was that something? (Slide 5)
I think hope flared up within Matthew in that moment. In the blink of an eye Matthew had an experience with Jesus that caused him to get up from his wealth and power and follow this teacher, this rabbi, who Matthew would later proclaim as the Savior of the world to others and write one of the gospels.
I also think that the shame and pain of his position left him. In spite of what he did, Jesus saw Matthew for who He was – a person who mattered to Him and the Father.
He also felt redeemed and even human again. That glimmer of hope I just spoke of burst into flames of hope when Jesus called Matthew to leave behind his way of life.
His obedience was immediate. Jesus’ call to be one of His followers was a life changing experience for Matthew. The faith of his people was no longer a source of despair and rejection. The Messiah, the redeemer of Israel, (though not everyone agreed that Jesus was the Messiah) had called Matthew, ‘to be my disciple.’
I remind us again this morning to be a ‘disciple’ was more than a student or pupil. It was someone who developed a close relationship with one person which results in an unreserved following and obedience.
All of us are disciples. The question is, ‘To whom or what?’ Being a disciple is a dangerous and risky thing!
Think about what Matthew had just done. He gave up a very lucrative job because tax collectors usually took more than what the tax rate indicated.
He also jumped, as we often say, from the frying pan into the fire! Now his Jewish elders were even more upset with him because he joined in with this Jesus who they did not like. It leads me to ask, ‘Hey, what would you have him do? Stay in the job the Romans had for him?’ or ‘Would you have him join you?’ (I think that we know the answer to that question.)
Also we need to remember that not only did he leave his job, he also left his employer, the Roman Empire! They had appointed him to his position. Now, he simply got up and turned his back on them!
The changes Matthew made were major and substantial changes. His whole way of life changed not just in that moment when Jesus said, ‘come!’
It also changed over the next three years as Matthew, and the other eleven, followed Jesus as He performed miracles, healed people, cast out evil spirits, was betrayed, arrest, tried, crucified, and… resurrected.
Matthew would never be the same again. He could never go back to the tax booth again.
I wonder how long it took Matthew to write his gospel account. He wrote it under the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit.
But I can’t help but believe that as he wrote his mind was flooded with many, many memories of those days, months, and years and how often might he have put down his writing quill and got lost in thought as he thought about how his life had changed because of that look of love and care and that voice calling him to a new life.
How has God changed you? Can you, like Matthew, look back and see the difference that the call to ‘follow me’ has made in your life? The events of this week we now
Come, let us return to the Lord! He has torn us in pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time, he will restore us so we can live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him!
God looks at us like He looked at Matthew, with love and mercy in His heart and our forgiveness in His plans as He says, ‘come be my disciple.’ What is your response this morning to His invitation?

What Do You Crave?

Isaiah 55:1-55:7
(Slide 1) A public reading of Isaiah 55:1-7 followed by a dramatic reading entitled ‘Christ on Trial: Witness: John’ written by Elsa L. Clark, Peter Mead, Arden Mead and Mark Zimmermann. © 2007 Creative Communications for the Parish.
Several weeks ago I got sick and spent a day and a half at home on the mend. I was frustrated by being home because there was a lot to do and I did not have time to be sick! But that time turned out to be a very valuable experience for me because I was able to do some serious reading that the Lord used to call my attention to some ‘cravings’ in my life that needed to be addressed. More about what I mean in a moment.
In one book of the books that I read, Soul Feast, by Marjorie Thompson, I was reminded of the importance of fasting during this season of Lent. (I would remind us that ‘fasting’ is a spiritual discipline of giving something up, like food or TV, for a certain period of time for, among other things, the purpose of growing closer to God.) She makes a case that in giving things up like ‘chocolate, popcorn, chewing gum, or other food frivolities’ what we have done is to participate in ‘the trivialization of a very profound discipline.’ ‘Lent,’ she says, ‘is not a six-week inconvenience in an otherwise abundant year, during which we have to somehow please God with voluntary if minor suffering.’
She goes on to note that in the early history of our faith Lent ‘was understood as an opportunity to return to normal human life… as we recognize that ‘the discipline of fasting has to do with the critical dynamic of accepting those limits which are life-restoring.’ By the time I finished that chapter, I felt God speak to me and say ‘you need to fast from such and such until Easter,’ because I was made aware that I needed to create more space for God in my life by fasting from things (other than food) which brings me to our main text for this morning that I want to re-read to you.
“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul!
“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David. He displayed my power by being my witness and a leader among the nations. You also will command the nations, and they will come running to obey, because I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”
Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the people turn from their wicked deeds. Let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong! Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
One of the challenges of fasting not just during Lent but anytime of the year is that we become aware of our cravings. And in my fasting I have become aware of my cravings which have often caused me to lose sight of God. During this period of fasting, I am very grateful however, that space has been created in my heart and mind for God to speak to me in several different areas of my life that need some attention.
(Slide 2) What are you craving this morning? We crave many things (2A) such as food, love, power, work, success, and money to name a few. But do these things truly satisfy us? The truly honest answer is ‘only for a time, if at all’ and then we want more.
Notice what God says through Isaiah…
(Slide 3) Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!’
(Slide 4) “Listen! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?’
(Slide 5) ‘Listen! I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul!’
(Slide 6) Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.
Come, listen, and seek… three very important actions in finding, believing, and walking with God! But how can we find, believe, and walk with God if we are not coming to Him, listening to/for Him, and seeking Him?
Furthermore how can we do this when we are preoccupied with our cravings for love, food, work, and other things that God has created us for, but we become so obsessed with them that we can’t experience the Lord? What God is saying through Isaiah is that you need to come to me, to listen to me, and to seek me because what I want to give you what truly satisfies.
(Slide 7) What are the cravings that cause you to ‘lose’ God?
In other words, (7a) what are the habits, the desires, the attitudes, even the substances, that you are irresistibly drawn to that cause you problems and affect your relationship with God?
What we read in these verses is the truth that we must come to, listen to/for, and find the Lord and nothing but the Lord! Our experience must be first hand, not second or third hand.
The only truly satisfying way to experience food for our soul is by experiencing the grace and truth of God in our lives. Nothing else will do.
Isaiah’s audience understood what God meant. They were familiar with, as we heard in our dramatic opening, the concept of bread because they knew it meant ‘the word of God.’ In their history then knew that when they had bread they had been saved from death.
The manna of their journey to Promised Land came when they needed it. They also knew what God meant when He spoke of needing bread because they would have heard what we now call Deuteronomy 8:3, “he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people need more than bread for their life; real life comes by feeding on every word of the Lord.” So bread symbolized the active and living voice and presence of God in their lives.
So when Jesus says, as recorded in John 6:47, ‘Yes, I am the bread of life,’ they knew the history behind His words. But what He really meant, they were not prepared to hear or really understand. They were confused as they thought that He was literally going to become their next meal. But what Jesus meant was that He was going to become spiritual food that would satisfy our deepest and most profound human cravings well beyond the manna that had kept their ancestors physically alive.
Then, in identifying Himself as the ‘Bread of Life,’ Jesus added to His list of titles, notably the Son of God, that labeled Him ‘blasphemous’ or irreverent and offensive. But, as we get closer to Good Friday, we know what Jesus meant. We know that His body and His blood, in a hard to understand yet essential way, was to become food for our souls and our salvation.
This past Wednesday at our community Lenten Service, my colleague Sue Socha, shared a story that reminded me of the power of cravings to affect our relationship with the Lord.
She spoke of a book written by the late Henri Nouwen on the prodigal son. In it Nouwen wrote of an experience he had after a substantial cross country speaking trip that left him very tired and open to all sorts of temptations and cravings. He felt lost and in need of God’s care and embrace and found it, of all places, in a painting at a friend’s office.
(Slide 8) It was a copy of this painting, Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son. Sue noted that Nouwen realized, almost at once, that this is what He needed, to be embraced again by God just like the prodigal son was embraced.
Can you see the son? Unkempt and dirty. Much different than the father and the others gathered around him.
Is Jesus guilty of being irreverent or offensive? No, He is not guilty of being irreverent or offensive. Is He guilty of being the Son of God or the Bread of Life? Yes, He is guilty of being the Son of God and the Bread of Life.
What is the deepest craving of the human heart? To be loved.
Our experience with human love, if we are honest about it, has been mixed. But in the love of God, that Jesus is guilty of giving to us, there is a deep satisfaction that can help us satisfy all of our cravings.
Is there space for God in your life right now? Where is there space for God in your life right now? What do you need to either fast from or giving up to create space for God in your life?
I encourage you this morning to do the following: (Slide 8)
1. Admit your cravings. Everyone of us has a craving for love, food, and significance to name a few.
2. Turn them over to God. God created us to need these things and more, the desire for them is natural. But in our efforts to meet them we have made choices that have wounded us and others.
3. Ask God to start satisfying your cravings in His way. If God created us for our cravings, then He wants to help us experience them in the right way. He wants us to be our source of life and strength.
May you experience such satisfaction today through Christ. Amen.

Review of Quitting Church by Julia Duin

A conversation that I have had with increasing frequency over the past year with ministerial colleagues has been about declining church attendance. It is a subject addressed from many quarters and is given many reasons why it is happens.

Because of my personal experiences in previous churches as an associate, one reason always comes to my mind, ‘they don’t like the pastor.’ Such a belief, I have come to learn, is not necessarily the reason.

So why are people “quitting” church? Why are long time members “quitting” church?

So, as I stood in the Family Christian Bookstore in Anderson, Indiana last week during the North American Convention of the Church of God, I prayed about which two books to buy as part of my travels and participation at that event for I treat it as not just church ‘business’ but as a continuing education event as well.

I had several in mind but one I decided on after reading a few pages was Julia Duin’s Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do about it.

It rattled my cage…

Duin, who is the Religion Editor at the Washington Times, told stories about people who for a wide variety of reasons, have ‘quit’ church; not the faith; but the church.

Her stories and her story gave me pause for serious reflection as I thought through the ministry views and values that I have held over the years and that perhaps they need some ‘adjustment.’

Two chapters have given me the most to think about. The first was chapter 5, “The Loneliest Number: Why Singles over Thirty-Five Are Saying Good-bye.” As I read it, I felt conviction about how I have approached those over 18 and single the past several years in a manner that has been harsh and uncaring. Duin honestly and caringly reminds us that those who are single are not the ‘sex crazed’ adults we often have been made to believe they are.

Instead, they honestly and deeply struggle with sexual purity and the desire to be married is one that has been framed by some quoted in her book, as not God’s will. Though I do not tell people that it may not be God’s will that they marry, names and faces came to my mind as well as a desire to make some things right with some that are a part of my congregation today.

The second chapter was chapter 6. “Not So Solid Teaching: Why Christians Cannot Exit the Obstetrics Ward.” In this chapter, Duin shares the honest desire for solid teaching that seems to be non-existent in the minds of some. As I read, I was reminded that I have been in “The Ministry” for so long that I have forgotten the struggles of those who live and work in very different environments and often have to make difficult decisions regarding values and priorities that I have all too easily dismissed as bad decisions. I need to “hear” more often from those in the pews about what is going on in their life.

I wish that I would have heard from some more diverse voices such as those in rural and small town America as most of her subjects reside in the D.C. and other urban areas and were, for the most part, well educated. But the book is valuable in that there are some very human reasons people have left and are leaving the church.

Slowing down and listening I think is a place to start.

(Note: I bought this book for personal and professional reasons and wrote my review simply to share my thoughts about it.)

Review of The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Stearns begins his book with a question, “What does God expect of us?” He answers by telling his journey from CEO of Lenox Inc., to CEO of World Vision, by outlining what poverty really means in our world, and why and how the Christian Church needs to be involved with the important task of caring for and empowering the poor that Jesus laid out in the gospel accounts.

A strength of this book is that Stearns does not lay on a ‘guilt-trip’ but simply and effectively shares how to help alleviate poverty in our world and how God called him to assist in this important task. His story is a common story for both a Western and a Western Christian audience.

One personal result of reading this book is that I now have a better understanding of poverty than merely being “the absence of things.” (page 128). The illustration of having his wife going without water for a day and then her decision to take a bucket and go the lake several miles away to get water gave me a clear picture of what millions of people daily face to simply “survive.”

I am sure that not everyone agrees with Stearns’ assessments and approach. But, he offers an approach that is about doing something with what one has and not what one does not have to offer. It is not a sociological or even political analysis of the problem.

Stearns offers a caring, practical, and doable solution to the Christian church (really, all human beings) on how to feed, water, cure, and clothe the “least of these.”

Review of The Short List by Bill Butterworth

Butterworth begins his book, The Short List, with a very important question that arose out of this experience with his then youngest child after being gone much of the time speaking to groups and working as a counselor: ‘How Will My Children Remember Me?’ Butterworth, with wonderful wit and humor, then responds to his own question by indicating that from that moment, “I wanted to leave a legacy of lasting significance for my children and everyone who knew me.”

He goes on to list four important values or character traits that he believes are basic and vital to leaving the right kind of a legacy. They are love, honesty, faith, and courage.

Butterworth then illustrates each of these qualities (that he calls his ‘short list’) with a story that I could related to because he finds it expressed in every day life. Then he effectively follows the story up with a Biblical exposition of that trait which is illustrated with real life situations and good question. For example, Butterworth illustrates the importance and place of love with a memorable story about little league baseball and how our daily choices can be expressions of that love.

This is a wonderful book for parents (especially dads) to read and it would great for a small group as it contains a discussion guide that would enable good discussion and perhaps the creation of one’s own short-list.

Review of Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future

In this book, Gardner, a professor at Harvard University, introduces us to ‘five minds’ he believes we need if we “are to thrive in the world during the eras to come.” (p. 1)

They are, in the order presented:

The Disciplined Mind

The Synthesizing Mind

The Creating Mind

The Respectful Mind

The Ethical Mind

There are many good quotes in this book and I very much appreciate his critique of current educational practices, notably the over-emphasis on testing.

Yet, what I value most about Gardner’s book is that he takes us back to some bedrock values that are part of these five minds. And I summarize them as follows ‘Good thinking, good work, good values.’ (The first two are his words and not mine.)

I would use this book in all my classes, if I were a college/seminary professor, at the beginning of each class before teaching ‘the course subject.’ Why? Because I believe that what Gardner says should be understood by those who are seeking to be professional and ethical people.

A book for your library and yearly review.

Review of Helping Those Hurt

I joined Nav Press’ Blogger Review program last month and as part of getting a free book (two of my favorite words) to review I have to post the review on my blog, their site and one commerical site which for this book will be amazon.com Here is my review of Barbara M. Roberts book Helping Those Who Hurt

Helping Those Who Hurt, written by pastoral counselor Barbara Roberts, is a very helpful guide to quality and Biblical care giving. It is a comprehensive guide for caring in a variety of settings from hospital visits to domestic violence. Roberts provides significant practical tips to pastoral caregivers in nine different areas of care giving as well as ways to identify and understand dynamics in each of those nine areas: illness and hospital visitation, crisis, aging, death, grief, trouble marriage and divorce, addiction, domestic violence, and rape.

Within each topic is a variety of lists describing issues to be aware of and ways of providing care appropriate to the situation. For example, in the chapter on domestic violence, Roberts offers a very helpful checklist to help pastoral caregivers determine if a couple is engaged in verbal abuse or lacks helpful conflict management skills. Such lists are helpful to pastoral caregivers as they make initial contacts and assessments of the situation and issues involved with a particular person or persons.

Of note, is a very helpful and significant concluding chapter on forgiveness as it relates to care giving and spiritual growth. This volume would be a welcome addition to a pastor’s library and for both informal and formal care giving training.