How We Live

Proper 5A-23

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me. And Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9).

It is unfathomable to me how God has chosen to work in the world.  The motto of the Evangelical Church in America is, ‘God’s Work, Our Hands.’ God entrusts the whole project of calling the world into relationship to Christ by way of his cross, into our hands. When it comes time to look for the Church, it is startling to realize it all comes down to you and me and the Holy Spirit, working with a bowl of water for baptism, a bottle of wine, some bread for eucharist, a bible to hear God’s Word, and the strangers among us we are called to serve and to disciple.

God’s master plan seems even more preposterous when you realize that everyone in Matthew’s gospel who raised their hand to take the job of being Jesus’ disciple was sent away.  People do not volunteer to be disciples (see 8:18-20).  Jesus rejects the people who suppose they can become disciples on their own initiative.  Instead, Jesus calls the rejected (New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8, p.235).  God has called sinners, and no-accounts.  He’s called us who are more comfortable sitting on our hands, to put our hands to the holy plough.  God opens fisted minds.  God chooses those who dismiss themselves to show them the satisfaction that comes from getting their hands dirty.

Perhaps this should not surprise us, but somehow it does. After all, the history of democracy in the United States is the story of a dream “kept alive primarily by marginalized Americans who have worked to expand our rights and bring the principles of the Declaration of Independence to life.” (Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, 6/10/23) Likewise, our church is continually renewed in mission, roused to new life, and held to account until our words are matched by our deeds by love of neighbor, stranger, and enemy.

Somehow, mysteriously, and miraculously, as we join hands in fellowship –as we lift our hands to God in prayer and praise, together, we become Christ’s hands alive in the world.  Together, we are the body of Christ. In our gospel today Jesus literally embodies the radical mercy of God, reaching beyond the boundaries of social sin, disease, even of death, to heal where we are most hurt. “Jesus’ willingness to reach out and touch people around him – the woman with the hemorrhage, the dead little girl – violated the purity codes of his day and inspires us to question our own taboos and hierarchies.” (Kari Jo Verhulst, Sojourners) Our gospel quotes our first lesson from Hosea,

“But go and learn what it means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ (Matt. 9:13; see also Matt. 12:7, both quoting Hos 6:6). In other words, worship must inspire us to love one another, or we are no better than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1).

Jesus said follow me.  Follow the leader.  I will show you what it means to be alive. There’s an old preacher’s story about following and discipleship.  Maybe you’ve heard it.  It’s about a young girl and her Grandmother, who every day in the summer, left their small home in the mountains to pick berries for the family meals.

They walked through forests and valleys. The wandered and meandered often very far from home, but the little girl was never afraid while she followed her grandmother.  She knew she was safe and was never lost. For years, it was their job to go out together like this. They spend hours and hours together, walking, talking, walking—and their relationship grew very close.

One day, when the little girl was approaching her teenage years—after they had already walked very far from home and their berry baskets were full—the grandmother turned to her granddaughter and said, “Now it’s time for you to lead the way home.”

The little girl was surprised.  She never expected to have to find the way herself. Through the years she had become sort of familiar with all the places they went, but she wasn’t sure she knew how to get back home.

Still, she was excited by the new-found opportunity.  She began to lead, and her grandmother, faithfully followed.  And so, they went, twisting and turning, sometimes in the wrong direction and they had to double back.  Once, they had to forge their way through a dense patch of thistles, still, the grandmother followed.  She didn’t complain or try to correct her granddaughter.  When once, they tried to come down over a grassy ridge that was too steep, they rolled and slid to the bottom in a fit of laughter, spilling so many berries they barely had any left.

Well, it took much longer to get home that day, but the time was not wasted.  They didn’t return with many berries, but they had been very productive.  They began the day, as grandmother and granddaughter. They returned as two strong and capable women, both of whom knew the way that leads back home.

Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:15).  We do God’s work with our hands. Here at Immanuel, we strive to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace. Today we have a marvelous opportunity to live our mission to be sanctuary by hosting neighbors who volunteer their time at the local food pantry, Care for Real.  I am so thankful for all of you who have responded to the call to set up, clean up, serve, grill, and/or contribute to the potluck today from 2:00 – 3:30.  There’s still time to help—just show up—welcome our neighbors—tell them how thankful we are for their service.

Today is the Second Sunday after Pentecost and the Christian year has moved into what is known as “Ordinary Time,” a long season that lasts until Advent.  The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green. “Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation,” according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, “a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ.” This is the time of verdant faith.

Serving a potluck meal may feel rather ordinary.  You may not think yourself especially praiseworthy for setting up a table, showing someone where to find the restroom, or by being interested and curious enough about a stranger to learn a little bit about their story. Ordinary Time is an invitation to follow God through the everyday landscapes of our lives. But it isn’t a call to the spiritually humdrum. Instead, following Jesus “in the midst of the ordinary is to awaken ourselves to the extraordinariness that surrounds us. We’re invited to find the unusual, the unbelievable, and the wonder of daily life. We journey through the prosaic to discover the poetry of faith. The mundane is transfigured and magical” (Diana Butler Bass, Jesus Through the Ordinary, Sunday Musings, 6/11/23). Follow me, Jesus says, let me show you how to live.