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Ben Fleming: Follow Me, Matthew 9:9-13

February 20, 2024

Audio Recording

Jesus’ call for mercy over sacrifice and urging unity beyond religious divisions invites both the marginalized and the self-righteous to embrace humility and inclusivity.

Westside Church
Westside Church
Ben Fleming: Follow Me, Matthew 9:9-13

Sermon Transcript:

From Westside church in Bend, Oregon. Thank you for tuning in. Welcome to Westside.

Give me faith to receive all you have for me.

We are in a long series of talks through the book of Matthew, and we're going to talk about Matthew, chapter nine. And we're going to go through a really relatively small section of scripture. We're just going to go verses nine through 13 today. But as we do, I want you to try to go to a new level of depth with each of these verses. There's a richness in this section of scripture as we learn more about Jesus and learn more about ourselves that we can tap into. We're paying close attention if we're trying to read between the lines, so to speak. And I'm going to try to help us do that as best we can today. And as we start, I'm going to read just through, since it's such a short section, I'm going to read through verses nine through 13 all the way. And then we're going to come back through them in a more broken up fashion here in just a moment. So Matthew, chapter nine, verse nine says, this says, as Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector's booth. Follow me and be my disciple, Jesus said to him. And so Matthew got up and followed him. And in verse ten says, later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. That's very important. Pay attention to that part. But it says, and then it goes on in verse eleven says, but when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, why does your teacher eat with such scum? They hit the nail right on the head there. The Pharisees do says, when Jesus heard this, he said, healthy people don't need a doctor. Sick people do. And then he added, now go and learn from the meaning of this scripture. I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I've come to call not those who think they're righteous, but those who know that they are sinners. Let's pray. Father God, speak to us this morning from your scripture. This is nothing if it's just a talk or 30 minutes as part of our service. But instead, if this is God, breathe. If your presence is with us, if you are showing us and instructing us how to live and to follow after you, that is what we're after, lord. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

I follow this Instagram account that's been doing a series of videos that basically says, point of view. You went to high school in this era that connected with. Recently, I went to a pastor's conference with Evan, and I was faced with something that I haven't been faced with in a long time, and that is, I went through a food line. I got all of my food, I got my drink, and I got my fork, and I turned around to this room where I was supposed to pick a spot at a table, and I was like, oh, my gosh, I haven't felt this in who knows how long. Where do I sit? And it's kind of like a big chess game. Socially, I don't know those people, but they're good looking people. Do I belong with those people?

Probably not. Where's the funny guy table? That's what I'm looking for, because I got the funny guy table or I got the empty table. These are my choices. And do I go to an empty table to start a table or to be by myself? Well, I want to project that I'm starting a new table, but really, I want to be by myself. And it's really all these little tiny micro decisions and games that we play with each other and what we're deciding. Because, like we did in junior high and high school, right? This was a decision. Who am I connecting myself with? Where do I belong?

Are the people that I thought I was spending time with. Actually, their table is already full, and it doesn't have space for me. And there's a lot that goes into it, right? It gives you a moment. Maybe some of you are traveling back there, just like me in this moment. And what's happening in the timeline of scripture right now in the book of Matthew is this moment where we're trying to decide who sits where.

As Jesus has been spending time with people that the religious people wouldn't really spend time with, they actually would have pushed them out on purpose for a lot of different reasons that we'll get into.

And then the people that usually are on the outs are all of a sudden finding a rabbi, right? It's not just this guy who's going out there and doing incredible things, but he even calls himself, and other people call him a rabbi. But he seems to be willing to let us into his space pretty often when normally we wouldn't be let in there. So everyone's wondering and asking this question, who belongs where? And Matthew's story is specifically talking in these writings about how religious people are supposed to react to the way of Jesus. Now, Matthew reverences talks with the Pharisees the book of Matthew Reverences, talks with the Pharisees 16 times, if not more. You could make an argument that there are a couple more interactions with 16 times.

He's trying to show these religious people something about the way of Jesus.

And at the same time, Matthew drops his own story of being called. In the middle of all of this, it says, again in verse nine, it says, as Jesus was walking alone, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector's booth. Follow me and be my disciple, Jesus says to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. A lot of biblical scholars would tell you that this isn't probably on the timeline of things exactly when Matthew was called. But these collections of stories are put together in such a way that Matthew is trying to identify himself with this group of disreputable sinners that we eventually see that are sitting around this table. Matthew is telling a story in which to say, I am actually one of these guys. There are other disciples of Jesus that are coming from the other side of the track, so to speak. But these are my people. This is where I come from. And through this story, he expresses the power of Jesus over the natural, the religious positions, the spiritual powers, and the cultural powers that he's facing at this moment and that we face today.

But before he gets into the social deconstruction, so to speak, of this religious people and this religious thought, Matthew wants you to know that he is called first and foremost.

Now, why does he specifically talk about it in this way? Well, Matthew wants you to understand that following after Jesus is not something that we just simply sit down and consider and eventually make a decision about.

But instead, when we're called into Christianity, right, when we're called in to follow Jesus, there is a giving up of ourselves that happens not just simply a choice of, I like this thing, and I like this piece of this thing. But instead, we are willing now to give up all of ourselves at any moment's notice to follow after the voice of Jesus. There was a time when I was a kid growing up that my mom was an EMT in our little town of Glendale. Now, if the EMT locally didn't respond quickly, you're talking about a 45, 50 minutes trip for an ambulance to get to our small town in order to help with someone. And so this was urgent that you would pay attention, you would understand when you've been called, and that you would respond quickly. So we had a police scanner in the house, and we could be doing anything. We could be eating dinner. We could be watching law and order, which happened a lot. Any other law and order houses in here? Were you developed like me? Nobody. That's great. I'm all on my own online. I trust you today.

But at a moment's notice, everything would be muted. It would stop, and we would say, okay, we got to listen.

Is this for us? Is this for mom?

And then sometimes she would be off. The uniform would go on. She'd immediately leave the room. This is what it's like to follow Jesus.

This isn't Jesus coming to people and saying, look, I want you to know that I love you. And so you just. Do you, man. Go ahead and enjoy whatever it is. Just be reminded that once upon a time, I kind of walked into your space. No, we're invited into something greater and deeper than that, where we surrender and give up our lives to this way of Jesus. Does that mean from that moment forward, following after Jesus is doing it perfectly? That's not it. But it is a willingness to be broken down by the way of Jesus as well as built up from it. That means we're going to be introduced to people and thoughts and ways of living that aren't necessarily naturally our inclination.

Our minds have to be willing to change when we follow after Jesus, because there's a humility that comes along with following along with him. And that's what Matthew is trying to show us in this scripture, that it wasn't simply that he went out and sought out Jesus and began to walk after him for a little while here and there. But instead, Jesus came and called him.

And it was simply a response to give his life to Jesus. And Matthew got up and followed him. This is how all of the greatest adventures begin.

Peter Pan arrives in the children's room, and they go on an adventure. Gandalf shows up at Bilbo's door and compels him to come and to follow on this adventure.

We're taken away by it and swept up by it.

And the cost is that we give up the total control of our lives.

We're on call now, just as Matthew was. And this new life always starts with a call.

So again in verse ten, it says, later, matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and disreputable sinners. Now, I want you to know this is not language that Jesus subscribes to. And it's not what Paul would go on to say either. Paul would say, look, there's no righteous. There's no righteous people and sinning people. This is all people all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But Jesus actually participates in this language with a purpose. And I'm going to show you why here in just a second. Then, in verse eleven, it says. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, why does your teacher eat with such scum? And when Jesus heard this, he said, healthy people don't need a doctor. Sick people do.

Then he added, now go and learn the meaning of this scripture. I want you to show mercy and not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they're righteous, but those who know they're sinners. So this religious language. There's sinners and there's righteous. There's the good people and there's the bad people. This language is designed, especially by religious people, to create haves and have nots. To decide what is safe and what is unsafe. Because so much of what the Pharisees are worried about in this day and age is contamination. Jesus has been spending time with lepers, right? And he's even healed some of them. But what would happen if you ever came into contact with a leper. Is that you would have to go to the high priest. You would have to go through this cleansing ceremony. In order for you to be admitted back into the rest of society. There were clean laws. There were food laws. And Jesus is coming in, and he's beginning to break down all the barriers. And saying, look, all this stuff that you've decided is right and wrong. Isn't necessarily the key to this kingdom. It's not what unlocks it. It's not what makes someone right and someone wrong. It's not what makes someone a righteous person and what makes them a sinner. But the reason that they come up with this language is that so that they can feel justified about themselves. While letting you know that these other people are not justified. Because how do I know if I'm on the right side, if somebody isn't on the wrong side?

And they divide the world in such a way in order to justify themselves?

See, this is another thing that Matthew is trying to help us understand. That we have to walk away from. It's not just a certain era of life, but we have to walk away from our religion, our religious language. We all have our own approach to spirituality or religion. And we're being called away from that into Jesus. And it will break down these walls and these barriers.

We justify ourselves, and it's how we decide that we are right and others are wrong. Now, I want to give some credit to the Pharisees here in that they have been taught to do it this way their whole lives, and they're really, really good at it.

And so when Jesus calls them out and he begins to say things like, the healthy don't need a doctor. The sick people do. It's not just this one thing. It's not just that they're coming to the table and they're so selfish and they're so angry and self righteous. That exists within it as well. But Jesus's statements about their way of thinking is saying that your whole tradition, your whole upbringing is wrong.

And I'm thinking, if I'm a pharisee, I'm going, I've died for this. You're talking about coming and following after you, but I've come and I've followed after this. I've given up so much for this way of life. I've given up so much for this tradition. And you can't just come in right now and tell me that other people belong in this thing, because that might mean that I'm actually not someone who belongs in this. And that's what terrifies them the most. Jesus beginning to open the door to the sinners and the scum, right? Again, not language that he would use, but he's trying to help them understand something by using their language.

It's not about these people are in. And now that you're out, what the Pharisees miss is that there's actually room at this table for absolutely everyone.

It doesn't create contamination. Instead, the spirit of God does exactly the opposite thing.

For the first time in history when it comes to faith. It's not that when you come into contact with something contaminated that it contaminates you. But instead, the one who comes into contact with what is contaminated actually brings healing.

And so a lot of the Old Testament metaphors of how we have to build walls and buildings and temples, because this is where the spirit of God exists. We have to protect it at all cost. Jesus says, I am the temple. And now I've come to stand on your very doorstep. The temple is right here. The presence of God is here with you. And instead of a wall, I consider myself to be a river. And wherever the river flows, wherever the water goes, that's where life begins to flourish. And so I can walk into these areas of homelessness, and I can walk into these areas of sickness. And instead of the water itself becoming contaminated, there is new life where life has not been able to exist in an eternity.

That is the goal of Christianity. That's the goal of Jesus is not to build up a wall that we call a church, or not to build up a wall that we call a family or our political ideology, but instead understanding that when the way of Jesus is actually going forward, that's when healing is happening in a world that is our aim and our mission.

Now, again, the Pharisees have a point. We can underestimate the power of community for our formation.

Meals are a place for intimacy, and face to face with others and with Jesus changes absolutely everything.

But now we get to be face to face with the temple, the spirit, and the presence of God itself.

I was watching Netflix this week and watched one of the new World War II documentaries. I think it's called on the front lines. I think it's called something like that. There's a bunch of them on there. They're all good.

But I heard this story told from a british soldier named Ray who was fighting near Egypt, and his entire platoon got wiped out except for him. And then he was taken as a pow with thousands and thousands of others.

And he was taken to southern Italy as a Pow. And they were marched right down main street of this city, essentially to be mocked by everyone there.

And this is what Ray says. He says, we'd been starved.

We're a broken down group of men. And the street was lined with people spitting at us and jeering us.

They would say, this is the british army. Look at them.

And then somewhere out of the crowd, a young girl came and pressed into my hand a big peach.

And then the girl ran back again and hid herself.

I can remember eating it and holding my cupped hands around my mouth.

I don't think anything ever tasted better than that peach. I just burst into tears. And it made me realize that when you think the whole entire world is against you and things are going wrong, I like to believe that there's always a girl with a peach somewhere.

It was wonderful, that feeling. It gave me hope and made me believe that things might actually change.

I love that Jesus doesn't come and bring a message, a teaching only to these disreputable sinners. Some that the religious people would have called scum for a group of people that have been considered on the outs, or as Ray would said, a group of people that it would have felt like the whole world was against them.

They're brought into a place to share a meal.

A people that have constantly felt like they were on the outside are welcomed all the way in, as in as you can get with the rabbi and disciples.

So I want to offer an invitation to a couple of different groups of people today.

If you are in the room or you're online, anyone under the sound of my voice feeling like that you are someone that just finds yourself on the outside all the time.

I don't belong. I don't wear the right clothes and say the right words. And my past doesn't line up with all of the right ways and doings.

I want to give you an invitation. Jesus wants to give you an invitation to come and to follow him and to sit and eat at the table that you thought has never, ever belonged to you.

And maybe you feel like the whole world is against you, or at least your circumstances are against you, right?

It's funny, but maybe you've seen the movie dumb and dumber. And there's that moment where Harry and Lloyd are talking to each other, and I can't remember which one of them says, we got no food, we got no jobs. Our pets heads are falling off.

There's four people that love that, and it's like everything is out to get me. Nothing is going right. I must be doing this wrong.

And there's this group of people sitting around this table that have done their best to try to find a way to make a living or to survive. And some of them have kind of sold their souls to the roman government in order to make that happen. They've made poor decisions, or sometimes they made desperate decisions. Nothing seems to be going right. We don't belong anywhere. We got no food. We got no jobs. No one cares about my plight. And maybe that's you in the house today, and you're saying, I feel like I'm at the end of my rope and nothing is going right. Jesus would invite you to the table today.

And then I want to bring an invitation for those of us maybe who have always belonged.

I want to invite you into a maturing of faith that walks you into a very, very muddy place.

This is where understanding exactly who is right or who is wrong.

Sometimes what is right and what is wrong becomes very, very difficult.

But we arrive at this muddy place, and we get to proclaim the good news of Jesus and allow and encourage and exhort people to go to him.

There's this early stage of our lives, especially in Christianity, where we develop this stage of checklist. This is right and this is wrong, and this is what I'm doing. This is what I'm not. And that's not just the place that we're meant to stay.

As we get closer to Jesus, we're asked to live into the nuance of his kingdom.

It's about Christ being with us that is the most important thing. Not that we find ourselves on the correct side of the tracks or the other side of the tracks, but instead it's about Christ being with us no matter where we live and where we stand.

Because when Jesus shows up at our doorstep and he asks us to follow after him, it's different than memorizing the Torah and going through all of the traditions that these religious people would have been doing.

You're asked into something deeper and greater.

So who belongs at this table?

I'll even ask us this question. Who belongs at your table as Jesus in the middle of this incredible scripture, when he says, I desire mercy and not sacrifices. What Jesus is doing is he's speaking the language of the religious people, and he's quoting from the book of Hosea six and chapter six and verse six that says exactly this, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. If you're not familiar with the story of Hosea, this is how it goes. Hosea is a prophet who God comes and tells him, you're to marry a woman named Gomer. Now, it doesn't say that necessarily. Gomer has been a prostitute or whatever, but she lives in a loose fashion that is unbecoming of a prophet.

Now imagine being Hosea.

And he's got posters on his wall, right, of Elijah and Moses and Aaron and all these great historic figures of the faith. And what they've done, right, they've seen burning bushes, they've taken out huge groups of people from desperation and slavery and into a promised land. And now Hosea hears from God, and God says, you need to marry Gomer. And he's like, what?

Oh, come on.

That's not it.

There's not what a prophet does, but it's this illustration that God shows his people that even when you become unbecoming of God, God seeks after you not so that he can exact a sacrifice from you in your life, but so that mercy can overflow and overwhelm our situation and circumstance.

And so with that in mind, these religious people are then asked to decide, well, who belongs at your table?

Now this is an interesting exercise for me, and I am going to ask you to close your eyes in just a moment. Envision that table. Not just a table that you see across the way, but a table that you're willing to sit at and who is willing and who you're willing to have at it, but just to get a little bit raw for me right now. And maybe some of you can identify with this, and maybe you can't. Over the course of my time in religion, right, in Christianity, I've actually become much more comfortable with a lot of the scum of the world.

I like spending time in homeless camps. I like spending time with people that have done the wrong thing, that have gone down the wrong road, that are strung out and having great difficulty. I do not mind spending time at tables with these kinds of folks.

Good job, Ben.

And in the process, I have grown to hate people that would manipulate scripture, that would use prophecy to create fear among people.

I began to hate so much of the religious establishment, even, that I grew up in. I can picture people in my mind, faces of people that in my soul, I know I have been overcome with, again, not just a dislike or a distaste, but a hatred for what I feel like. Maybe they've done to me, or they've done to the christian faith, they've done to their church, they've done to other people. And there have been moments where this is, in my opinion, in my weakest moments, I am finally doing it right. Because I'll sit at the table with the drug addicts. And I will mock the religious people that have spent time in my life.

Oh, and it feels so good and tasty for a moment. Until you realize I'm simply doing the exact same thing the Pharisees were doing in the scripture.

Because you notice what Jesus says through the sermon on the mountain, through this portion of scripture. He doesn't look at them and say, look, it's only poor people. It's only addicts. It's only these people that belong. He says, no, it's easier for these people to understand. Because they felt the lowest of the low. They've been on the outs. And so when I offer an invitation to them as their savior, they find it much easier to connect and to hear me. Because those who are rich have much more difficulty. Because they often are able to make themselves their own gods in their own lives. But Jesus is not saying, so the poor people are in and the rich people are out. No, he says, the poor in spirit. Those who are humble enough to hear my words, those people will understand the kingdom of God while others won't.

And so this spirit that has come up in me, that would clothe itself in this self righteousness of. I've gone to the other side of the tracks, and I've embraced the people that much of the world won't embrace. But at the expense of crushing the people that have been in my life. Jesus would look at me and he would say, no, repent.

This is not the way.

The kingdom of God is not just slicing the pie into another direction and calling it holiness. It still divides. It still gives you a right and a left. And really that's all the difference between conservatives and liberals, between the rich and the poor, between those who would fight against this group and then against this group. It's not that one of us is always right and one of us is wrong. It's just how we divide the world in order to determine righteous and unworthy.

God is calling us into a state of humility today where we could find ourselves imagining and closing our eyes and sitting at the table with the most staunchly religious, with the manipulative, with the broken, those who have made bad decisions, with those who smell, those who we feel like just simply wouldn't belong. God is asking us to sit at the table with each and every one.