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The Calling of Matthew

Sermon Proper 5A The Calling of Matthew and Discipleship 11 June 2023

This week, we start a sermon series on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We’ll be talking about this topic throughout the summer.

Two weeks ago we celebrated the Church’s birthday, Pentecost, then last week Trinity Sunday. So this Sunday starts the long season in the liturgical year know as the Season of Pentecost, which stretches from now in early June to late November, with the Sunday of Christ the King.

The seasons of the liturgical year were first established in the Middle Ages, and they were meant to help us see the story of Redemption through time, by marking certain “seasons” that correspond roughly to the stages of the Old Testament and Gospel story. Advent is about waiting for the Messiah, and uses images of gestation and prophecies about a coming King. Then Christmas season is the story of the birth of the long-awaited Messiah, and talks about the infancy of Jesus. Epiphany uses images of light, to tell us the story of Jesus’ short ministry in the world, in which his Incarnation marked the coming of God’s Light into the world through the life and works of his Son. Lent brings us the suffering of Jesus, while Holy Week relates the arrest of Jesus and his death on the Cross. The joyous season of Easter, which lasts not one Sunday but five, recounts the glorious resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, and Jesus’ victory over death. These seasons account for roughly half of the Christian year.

With the Feast of Pentecost, we begin living the life of the Church—the rest of the year, the rest of Christian time in the world, and we end with the Feast of Christ the King in late November that celebrates the coming of Jesus as King.

So since we are beginning the long season of the year that symbolizes the long ministry of the Church in the world, it’s a good time to look at what being a Christian in the world—a Disciple of Jesus—means. And we start by looking at one of the first disciples Jesus called—the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew.

It’s important, I think, that the first discipled called in Matthew’s own Gospel is, fittingly, Matthew himself. The story is told in the third person to give us perspective—Matthew is sitting at his tax collector desk, doing his job. Jesus calls, he follows.

Notice that there is no detail about Matthew’s inner psychological reaction or his reasonings or his concerns. Jesus called. He followed. He leaves his life of calculation, security and predictability to follow a relatively unknown itinerant preacher. Jesus calls, he obeys. As Bonhoeffer says, that’s GRACE and COMMANDMENT all in one. And notice that no one praises Matthew for his obedience—not even Jesus. The Master calls. The Disciple obeys.

What do we mean by obedience? Why is this a Christian virtue? First off, obedience is not a confession of faith. Notice we have no indication in this passage about what Matthew believes. The first step of the disciple is an action, cutting the disciple off from his or her previous life. Obedience places you in a position where faith is possible. Obedience leads to faith. Not the other way around.

Sometimes we want to hold two concepts in our minds at once—a paradox. Does faith lead to obedience or does obedience lead to faith? Which is it: only those who believe are obedient? Or only the those who obey believe? Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness, but also Abraham got up and LEFT his home in Ur of the Chaldees before he ever actually believed in God in a meaningful way.

Bonhoeffer, who was obedient to Christ’s call even unto the moment of his death, said that Christianity without discipleship is not Christianity at all. It’s a Christianity without Christ. The GRACE of Jesus’ call is really all we need. The Grace of the call of Jesus BURSTS all legalisms. It’s why Jesus says what he does at the Last Supper—do THIS. It’s why God says in our Psalm today that he is THROUGH with our sacrifices. They have become, instead of a doorway to faith, a dead-end hallway.

So during this long season of Pentecost, we are going to be studying and meditating and discussing three avenues that lead to a life of discipleship: study of the Scriptures, public actions of mercy and worship. May God grant us wisdom and courage to pursue a real life of discipleship.

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