A global plague, a lantern fly pestilence and so far this year the sun refuses to shine as Canada burns creating havoc for those with respiratory problems, travel plans or just breathing in general.
I feel like I Should be preaching from Revelation today. Believe it or not there is actually a commonality between the call of Matthew in our Gospel today and our callings in Revelation.
Perhaps the last book of the Bible is the most misunderstood book of the Bible. The terrible plagues and devastation and wars brought about by the worship of money gets all the air time. While the work of Jesus stepping in to save us from ourselves is often overlooked. God does not destroy the world in Revelation. We destroy the world. God steps in to save us from ourselves. The book encourages us to be of good cheer and to be about the work of the Gospel, proclaiming the victory over death, and the goodness and faithfulness of God in the worst of times. It encourages believers to continue to do the good works that have been set before them and to not lose hope. In short It tells us to follow our callings.
So today the story about the call of St. Matthew, our namesake here is the same-"the theme in a nutshell: Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things ... and he still does."
A word about tax collectors-the often despised lot. Chef tax collectors were appointed by the local government, Herod but worked for Rome. Run much like a syndicate, if someone got behind on taxes they would either go to jail or they could enlist as a sort of junior tax collector running the booths where tolls were paid and taxes collected. These people seldom got rich. The tax overlords made sure of that. It can be argues that no one wanted to be a tax collector but often found no other choice to make a living when they got in debt. They were shunned because they worked for the Romans. The religious officials called them sinners. Another job that no one wanted was that of others called sinners, according to the religious leaders- prostitutes. Tax collectors and sinners on the lips of the priest and Pharisees meant people who were caught up in a job that no one aspired to do. They were usually desperate people caught up in a web of despair.
Brain Stoffregen, a Lutheran pastor out in California translates this passage as Jesus coming to call the shunned.
At its heart this passage tells us that everyone has a calling, no matter what the circumstances are of life, regardless of ability or education, social standing or age. We are each a part of God’s plan to make the world a better place. That gives us an importance, a purpose and a blessedness.
So what of our callings?
Pastor Martin Lutheran King was one of the stories of callings that inspired me the most.
Dr. King, after graduating from Crozer Seminary he took a call at Dexter Ave Baptist Church in Montgomery AL.
He went there in a year of much turmoil. A teenager named Emmet Till had been murdered in Chicago by two white men. They admitted to the murder in a newspaper interview but an all white jury still refused to convict them.
Reading about this murder a woman named Rosa Parks in Montgomery, decided that this outrage should be addressed and in her own little protest decided not to give up her seat to a white patron on the bus on the morning of December 1, 1955. She was arrested.
Up until this point Dr. King had never led a march or given a speech about civil rights. Other than his valedictorian address at
Crozer seminary and his weekly sermons, he had been quiet. NO speeches, no boycotts, no marches, no protest.
But on December 1 that changed. Members of his church, his flock were being arrested, The church was called on to help with bail and the legal defense of Mrs Parks.
He knew prejudice well, he knew the evils of Jim Crow laws. He had studied Niebur and Herzel in Seminary and he knew in his mind the necessity of and role of the pastor as prophet but it had not been an action for him. Now it was personal. It was on his doorstep. It was placed in his lap. And thus was born the Montgomery AL bus boycott which today is widely seen as the first non-violent civil rights action that led to the voting rights act and the breaking of segregation in our country.
The calling to be a prophet, the calling to be a civil rights leader, the calling to action and the eventual calling to martyrdom was handed to him. He did not go in search of it. It was placed in his path. While he was doing his job, raising his family, going about his business, in a single day an injustice too profound to ignore came knocking on his door almost out of the blue.
Matthew was sitting at his booth, shunned by friends, family and society when Jesus came by and said follow me. I have come to call even the shunned.
Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things ... and he still does.
God places in our paths, our callings. Our brothers and sisters in the streets, was this church’s calling placed in our path to feed and house thus the Shelter and LTM. Not every church is called to do this.
When I came to this church almost 5 years ago, I had a tome of papers to fill out describing my calling as a pastor. We ask this of our pastors. What we don’t ask is that of our parishioners, our members. What is your calling? Some people know this very well, others may not.
According to the Gospel, your calling finds you and not the other way around. Maybe you feel you haven’t found your calling or at least still restless about what God wants you to do. We spend time worrying about the meanings of our lives, our purpose and our worth.
God finds us and puts in our pathways at work, at home the things that we are called to do. Most of the time it is not as dramatic as the Montgomery bus boycott. Are as eloquent as one of Dr. King’s speeches.
The hard part is to listen and look and respond. Jesus called the disciples- that appears to be the easy part- taking care of those places in their pathways was not. Oftentimes they felt Jesus just was not doing enough and they wanted something bigger, a revolution to overthrow the government. They didn’t get it.
If you are here in church today, God has called you here. Your attendance is a calling. The hard part is listening and discerning what to do next.
Listen to this. Your life is valuable. You have meaning and purpose and God can and will use you to change and make the world better. God will place in your path the
things that are necessary to bring about the kingdom of heaven.
Discerning It's not always easy - A story about a pastor in Columbia SC. For some years he would announce he was going that he was being called to retirement and then apparently God would change the divine mind and the pastor would stay a few years. The congregation decided to help him with his discernment and bought him a new home, in the mountains some hundred miles away.
Listen, trust your heart, look for signs and wonders, buy your pastor a beach house. You are part of God’s plan. You are called.