Today's Winkel celebrated St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. The following was preached upon Matthew 9:9-13.
Homily for St. Matthew’s Day
When Jesus says “Go and learn” we’d best do what he tells us. He sends us and the Pharisees to school again. To relearn the basics. To relearn the a-b-c’s of God. The first thing he lays down is that what pleases God is mercy and not sacrifice. Now wait a minute, Lord, we cry out: the sacrifices weren’t our ideas, you know. God himself had laid them down and given some pretty strict rules about how they were to be carried out. Now you’re telling us that they are all worthless? How can that be?
But he didn’t say that sacrifice was worthless. He said that what pleases God is mercy. We are always wanting to let love for God come unglued from love for the neighbor. We wish we could have a relationship with God independent of our relationships with other people. Me and Jesus, you know, off doing our own thing. “I come to the garden ALONE.” Well, sorry, with Jesus there is no coming to the garden ALONE. With him there is no coming to the garden at all without the neighbor. Jesus reminds us that He who said: “love me with everything you got” is the same one who said “love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, no, he won’t accept from our hands “sacrifice” - that is, anything we do for him and give to him - if our hearts are not merciful toward other people, toward all the people he has placed around us. It’s not that he doesn’t want the sacrifice, it’s that the sacrifice that pleases him is a sacrifice offered by a heart filled with mercy, kindness toward others.
They’re big beef with Jesus was that he was eating with the tax collectors. Sitting down and whiling away the hours together with all the wrong sorts. Even having a good time, laughing with them over food and drink, and telling them all the while about his Father. “Sacrilege!” they cry. “It’s a no no. You defile and demean yourself by associating with the likes of them! Jesus, what are you doing?”
Comes the answer: I’m the doctor attending to the sick. I don’t worry about catching something from them. My only concern is to heal them.
The Pharisees think: But you might catch something from them. You might. You might catch their uncleaness. You might die.
Comes the answer: Hmm. So I might. So I shall. Their disease will kill me. Yours too. I’ll catch “sin sickness” from you all. But that won’t stop me being merciful. Mercy doesn’t calculate the outcome in regard to self. Mercy only asks what the other needs, and then mercy acts. Mercy is being there for others, whether or not being there is a danger to yourself much less an inconvenience. I came among you in mercy, I came to heal. And so, yes, you’ll find me right here in the hospital, where the sick one are, they are my clients, the broken and the bruised and the battered ones. Those who’ve been hurt and torn up by sin. My heart is filled with pity for them and I have come to do something about their sorry state. I’ve come to heal them, set them free and raise them up.
And he looks at his detractors long and hard. He says: I am only come for the sick and the sinners. Will you admit to being such too? Will you admit to being in need of the healing I come to bring? Aren’t you tired of the sorrow of sin yet? Will you check in to my hospital? Go and learn: mercy, not sacrifice. Come, let me heal you too.
And the day came, surely came, when the sin-sickness seized hold of the heavenly doctor. The day came - a black day of wind and storm, when he was stretched out and fixed to a tree. And there all our uncleaness, all our sorrow, all our rebellions coursed through his veins and the sickness of our race, the sin that leads to death, it killed him. His contact with us, his breathing our poisoned air and touching our foul uncleanness finally took him down. Our Physician died. And there you see the mercy of God. Mercy and not just sacrifice. It was mercy and so it was the acceptable sacrifice. A sacrifice that the Father received and rejoiced in because it was given entirely and wholly from a heart of mercy. The heavenly Physician made the ultimate sacrifice out of mercy.
And so the Father raised Him up! Early that first Easter Day, death was undone. It’s power over the human race broken once and for all. Broken by the merciful sacrifice of God’s only Son.
And risen in glory He sent his own out with a message. Not a new message, but the old message He had lived before them and spoken to them all along. A message about how God welcomes sinners. A message about how he longs to sit down at table with them and eat and drink with them. A message about how he heals them from the sorrow of sin by his gentle touch and his kind words.
The doctor from heaven, Jesus, still spreads a table. Still invites the most disreputable sorts, even pastors, vicars, and deaconesses, to sit down with him and eat and drink. Still he touches us - and its the same body and blood that touched and healed Matthew and the others so long ago. It’s only a foretaste. A teasing anticipation of heaven, where the healings are final and the sorrows forgotten and the feast never ending.
“Follow me!” Jesus said to Matthew. Matthew got up and left everything to sit down at a table with Jesus. “Follow me!” he still cries. There’s room at his table, a place just for you. “Follow me! - and welcome the undesirable and the outcasts. Throw your arms open wide and welcome them home. Don’t be afraid of their sin. I’ve dealt with that just like I dealt with yours. All of it forgiven. Follow me into a life of mercy and so a life of acceptable sacrifice! Follow me and I’ll lead you all the way home.” Amen.