EPIPHANY 8    Feb 25-29

 

Sunday 8

 

Mark 2: 13-22  Sermon 1: “Jesus is not Choosey”

                                                Sermon 2: “Mainly for Rats”    

2 Cor. 3:1-6

Hosea 2:14-20

Psalm 103: 1-13, 22.

 

Through Christ, we have confidence

as we come before God most high.

Our confidence is not our own doing,

it is a gift to us from the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

praise God’s holy name.

 

We are all ministers, not of a written code

but of the covenant in the Spirit.

Rigid words kill, the Spirit gives life

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and all that s within me,

praise God’s holy name.

 

OR

 

As high as the stars are beyond the earth,

so great is God’s love for those who live in awe.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

praise God’s holy name.

 

God redeems your life from hopelessness,

and crowns you with love and mercy.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all God’s benefits.

 

As long as you live, God will satisfy you,

your spirit will soar like young eagles.

Let all places and all creatures praise God.

Praise the Lord, O my soul!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most patient and generous God, you are steadfast in all your ways,

not despising our fragile humanity

but willing to love us to death.

We want to honour you with every corner of our being,

worshipping with minds that are sharp and aware,

with hearts that expand with gratitude and love,

and with spirits that that soar in wonder and adoration.

Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer;

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

 

Jesus said: I have not come to invite the righteous, but to call sinners.

Grateful that his call has reached us, let us confess our sins.

 

Let us pray.

 

Merciful God, holy Friend, if we could be half as loving as we would like to be,

things would be much different for us and those around us.

If we could be as loving as Jesus, the transformation of our attitudes and deeds would be immense.

 

Thank you for not scorning us. Without fear in the presence of  your holiness, we confess the facile decisions that has led us into sin, the pride and stubbornness that have contaminated our relationships, and the lack of grace towards those who have sinned against us that has led us into self-righteous humbug. We confess that even when we have tried hard, and given your way our best shot, we sometimes manage to screw things up.

 

Holy God, it is good to acknowledge what we are in the presence of your all-embracing love. It is good to let go of self justification; to know that forgiveness is ours for the taking, and that renewal is as close as your Spirit; to trust that we are not slaves but your children; to realise again our adoption into your family; to hand over to you the baggage of failure and step boldly once more into the future with light hearts optimistic spirits.

 

Blessed are you, God of our hope and salvation. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

My friends, long ago a psalm writer declared:  “God does not deal with us according to our sins, nor pay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is Gods love towards those who fear him.”

 

If an insightful Jew, living maybe 3,000 years ago could say that, how much more can we who know the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour? We are prodigiously blessed with redemption.

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

            Those who are well don’t need a doctor,

            but those who are sick.

 

Child 1: Remind us, please God,

            that we in this church are not better than others

Child 2: But simply ordinary people who know they are loved

            by the extraordinary Lord Jesus.

 

Child 1: Like thankful people who are being healed

            by a smart doctor,

Child 2: please make us ready to refer other sick souls to Jesus,

            so that they too may find his love and happiness.

 

Child 1 & 2: In his loving name we say this prayer.

Amen!

 

PSALM 103 1-13, 21-22

 

Praise God, O my soul!

            With all my being I give praise!

Praise God, O my soul,

            and never forget your blessings.

God forgives all your sins.

            and heals your diseased spirit,

redeems your life from despair,

            crowns you with love and mercy,

satisfies your deepest hungers

            till you are renewed like the eagle.

 

My God vindicates the innocent

            and comes with justice to the oppressed.

Moses knew the ways of the Holy One,

            the people of Israel saw God in action.

God is generous and gracious,

            slow to anger and plenteous in love.

Rebuke is not the last word

            and anger does not end the day.

 

God does deal with us according to our sins,

            nor paid by calculating our wrongs.

As the immensity of the stars humble us,

            so God’s love leaves us awe struck.

As far as east is from the west,

            so far are our sins blown away.

Just as a father has compassion for his children,

            so does God have pity on us.

 

Praise God, all you starry hosts!

            Praise God all beings who do the Lord’s will.

Let all creation sing its praises

            in every place on every planet.

And as for me I can not keep silent:

            Praise your God, O my soul!

                                                                                                         Ó B. D. Prewer 2006

 

RAT’S ARE CALLED TOO.

 

Tax enforcers are tough as nails

and their ways are ruthless,

but the love of Christ never fails,

and no debtor is useless.

 

Matthew followed and the crowd mocked,

“Why call a rat like him?”

But Christ is not one to be shocked

and sinners flock to him.

 

The proud don’t want this doctor’s care,

the sick reach for his hem.

Christ has his own cure for despair,

has time for each of them.

 

Most things have changed for good or ill

and poor folk aren’t consulted,

yet those who seek this doctor still

shall find nothing has altered.

                                                                                                            Ó B. D. Prewer 2006

 

COLLECT

 

Loving God,

without you

            we will only add to the confusion

            and to the pain of the world.

With you,

            all manner of things are possible.

 

By your Spirit

assist us to sift right from wrong,

            that in the complex realm human affairs,

            we may live truly and walk surely.

Empowered by your grace

and led by your light,

            may we become a credit to Christ Jesus,

            our sure Teacher and Redeemer.

Amen!

 

SERMON:  NOT CHOOSEY

 

Mark2: 15-17

 

Later, as Jesus sat at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and other low life were with there. For many despised characters followed after Jesus.

 

When some Scribes and Pharisees saw that he was eating with such low life, they complained to the disciples: “Why does he eat and drink with such sinners?”

 

When Jesus heard this he retorted: “Those who are healthy do not need a doctor, but those who are ill do. I did not come here to call faultless people, but sinners.”

 

I don’t want to know about this story.

 

On the surface it sounds like a nice story about the nice guy Jesus being nice to some of the socially unacceptable people in his community. The kind of story at which we can nod our head in affirmation, or if we are in ebullient mood, we can clap our hands in applause. A nice feeling to be had by nice people.

 

Dig just a little below the surface and we realise that through it Jesus is challenging the very way we live our lives. And that is not at all comfortable, but upsetting.

 

So let us give this brief story the respect it is due. We will start with the custom of eating together at a family table.

 

TABLE FELLOWSHIP

 

Eating together at a common table is one of the significant joys of life.

 

Nothing quite equals the pleasure of a family table. To have guests at our table is precious. To be the guests at their table is precious. To offer hospitality is an honour. To accept such hospitality is a privilege.

 

In these days, as so many people seem to dine out to entertain, rather than open their home and family table, something special is lost.

 

Over the centuries, in most cultures, offering food to visitors, including strangers, was a sign of peace and good will. To refuse such an invitation, was an insult.

 

There were exceptions to this rule. In some cultures differences of status and or caste cut across the general rule of hospitality. In India, for example, for a higher cast person to stand at the door of a lower caste home was dishonourable. To enter such a dwelling, and actually eat at their table, was unthinkable.

 

There was some similarity with the Jewish society in the time of Jesus; no fixed hereditary caste like that in India, but  a social “caste” of the very pious. These were piously scrupulous men, including most Pharisees, who observed strict rules about every aspect of life, including about dining. It was a matter of honour to the Pharisees to be punctilious. No common person (the “people of the land,” or as we might say “the low life” or maybe “losers”) would expect any righteous man to invite them to dinner. Nor would the lower people, no matter how wealthy (like tax collectors) dare to expect a righteous man to besmirch his honour by dining with them. That would be scandalous!

 

The pious where choosey. Pedantic about their choosiness. Table fellowship was limited to those who were worthy. That word “worthy” was a key to them. That word ‘worthy” dominated there lives.

 

Enter the Rabbi Jesus on the scene. Enter trouble. If he once had the key to popularity, he now certainly seems to have lost it. He first dishonoured himself by calling common fishermen to be his disciples. He compounded the folly by calling a tax collector name Levi, son of Alphaeus; the disciple we know as Matthew.

 

HOUSES?

 

Matthew, though Jew , was much despised. He was mercenary. A traitor to his people.

 

Yet, I wonder what his house looked like?

 

Most houses were of mud brick, varying from small homes of about 8 square metres to larger dwellings. If you were upwardly mobile and could afford it, you might opt for the stylish Roman clay bricks. More affluent and you could afford sandstone. Finally, if you wanted to make a big impression, you would splash out and have erected a three story, stone building faced with Italian marble.

 

My guess is that Matthew was into stone. He was one of the newly rich and is likely to have been making a big statement. This would not impress the pious men. As they would see it, a grand house did not bestow worthiness.

 

To Matthew’s home came Jesus for a meal. Maybe Jesus (as in later times he did with the diminutive Zachaeas at Jericho) may have invited himself. The others guests were not pillars of the community but opportunist “low-life” like Matthew, together with their highly painted “trophy wives”  or courtesans, or perhaps an escort girl for that evening. Tax gatherers and sinners, is how Mark describes them.

 

 

WHERE DO WE STAND?

 

What about us? Are we with Jesus or with the Scribes and Pharisees? That’s where things start to unsettle me. It is the situation that makes me squirm.

 

In theory, of course we are with Jesus. Of course we want to be on the side of the poor and the meek, the neglected and the persecuted, the abused and the exploited. We say yes to Christian outreach, yes to prison chaplains, yes to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, yes to fighting for justice and standing up for the underdogs. Yes! Amen!

 

But are we really willing to get close to the action? To get our hands dirty? To risk our respectable reputations?

 

WHAT REALLY GOES ON

 

I have known ministers in country towns who have decided to spend a couple of hours each week in a local pub, meeting ordinary, unchurched people. Such action divides a congregation between approval and condemnation.

 

What about appointing a chaplain to work in the brothels of Kings Cross or St Kilda?

 

Or asking a rural congregation to open their doors to a youth group for indigenous people?

 

Or in a city church, suggesting that some members might like to go some days at lunch time and sit in the city square, sharing a sandwich or take-away coffee with shabby, derelicts?

 

Or to make a public stand for the government agency that plans to establish houses for the intellectually handicapped in middle class suburbs?

 

Then there is another question: How willing are we to open our own homes (that bastion of safe retreat for honourable citizens) and to welcome to our family table folk who either ignored or scorned by most citizens?

 

With Jesus or against him? Choosey?

 

How willing are we to have our reputation sullied for the sake of Christ and for those types of people with whom he gladly sat at table and shared food?

 

ANOTHER HOUSE ANOTHER TABLE

 

Let me take your minds now to another house and another table.

 

This is a building with a typical upper room, reached by an external stair. In that room a table is set. The host is Jesus. This remarkable person shares bread and cup, not with pious men but with a scabby bunch of sinners. He breaks bread with Judas who will shortly go out and betray him. Another at table is the man Simon Peter, who soon will not withstand the taunts of a servant girl, but will deny knowing Jesus. In a few hours the others will forsake him and go into hiding.

 

As I have said, Jesus is not choosey about with whom he shares his table.

 

Which is just as well for us. For if he were choosey, then not one of us would be gathered here

in his name. Not one of us are here in our own right. None are worthy. We are here because Jesus chooses to eat and drink with sinners.

 

Today let us permit his inclusive love be most discomforting example. ; An example which unsettles us and makes us cross-examine ourselves about how effectively we have followed the Lord.

 

But above all else, my sisters and brothers, rejoice that as sinners you are welcome at his table. At the table of Christ Jesus we find the grace to begin again, and yet again, and to take up our cross daily and follow him.

 

 

MAINLY FOR RATS

 

Mark 2: 15

 

Later, as Jesus sat at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and other low life were with there. For many despised characters followed after Jesus.

 

Jesus was at ease the company of those that other good people despised.

 

 

I will start with a story that comes from my third parish in outer Hobart. .

 

Young Trevor  had a hobby. It was keeping chickens and supplying his family with eggs. Al was well until something started eating the eggs. He mounted watch after school each  day.  But nothing came. So one evening he went out at night with a torch. He spotted the culprit; it was a large rat.

 

The next night he was ready with a strong stick. He entered the chicken yard,  cornered the rat and beat it to death.

 

A few days later I was paying a pastoral visit. Trev told me about the rat. Took me outside to the garden and showed me where it was buried. To my surprise he had mounted a small tombstone on which he had printed. “Here lies a rat.”  After killing the vermin, he had suffered pangs of guilt. And tried to assuage it by giving the creature recognition in death. 

 

Here lies a rat? If Matthew had died without meeting Jesus, maybe many neighbours would have said “good riddance” and would have been ready to make those words his epitaph. “Here lies a rat.”

 

Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were like the underbelly of our  community today. They were the thugs, the mafia, the dregs, the rats.

 

You and I might cloud our faces when the word taxation is mentioned. But the tax system in the land of Jesus was worse than anything we know.

 

Palestine was a conquered land. An occupied territory. It was strictly policed by Roman soldiers and administered by puppet governors appointed by Caesar. Tenders were called for collecting taxes from the subject population. Only Jews with no self-respect would tender for the job. These rats, accompanied by their ‘enforcers’ exacted a heavy commission for themselves and became wealthy. Despised but very wealthy. Hated but lived in  grand houses with lots  slaves at their beck and call.

 

Matthew was a tax collector. Matthew was a dirty rat. Matthew was an outcaste from respectable society. 

 

ALONG CAME JESUS

 

So, Mat the  Rat……. Then along came Jesus and dared to enter the rat’s house and to sit at table with him  and his underworld cronies..

 

That a Rabbi should do this was, from the view point of the pious men, an outrageous thing to do.  Birds of a feather flock together, heh? Maybe some of them were extra offended because it not only fouled the reputation of Jesus, but impinged on the dignity of other Rabbis.

 

Later, as Jesus sat at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and other low life were with there. For many unsavoury characters had followed after Jesus.

 

When some Scribes and Pharisees saw that he was eating with such low life, they complained to the disciples: “Why does he eat and drink with such sinners?”

 

Jesus was by upbringing and life style a good, religious guy. Even some of his critics addressed him as “Rabbi.” But he did not, or would not,  fit the mould.  Jesus was not choosey. His mind and soul were large and warm. He was inclusive, not exclusive. He took it as an honour to dine at any table, be it a tax collector’s or a Scribe’s.

 

He met people where they were, and treated them with respect. Jesus cared for even those who were the outcastes of respectable Jewish society- like Roman soldiers, lepers, prostitutes, peasants, beggars, Roman stooges, aliens like the Phoenician woman, or a mixed-blood person like the woman at a well in  Samaria.

 

Jesus was not obsessed with his personal dignity but with love. Because he truly loved human beings, he could be relaxed in situations where others would have felt not only uncomfortable but violated. Any table was for him was a great place for fellowship.

 

HOW DO WE TREAT THE RATS OF OUR COMMUNITY?

 

Do we welcome the company of tax collectors  and sinners?

 

I suspect we might be inclined to say: “Yes. If they repent their evil ways, and clean up their act, then we might be willing to invite them into our homes and serve them at our family table.”

 

If you are of that mind, eager to add the conditional: clause “if they are repentant sinners,” then I am afraid it is not good enough.  Not good enough for Jesus. If we are to be stung into love for others by the word and example of Jesus, then we must prepare to take bigger risks.

 

Jesus gave unconditional love-

            The mates of Matthew were not repentant when Jesus sat with “tax collectors and sinners” at           Levis Table.

            Zachaeas was not yet repentant when Jesus invited himself to his table for dinner. Repentance    followed; it did not precede the table fellowship

      Simon the Pharisee was not a repentant sinner when Jesus accepts his invitation to dinner.

 

We need to forget that safety clause which we imagine excuses us: : “If they are repentant.” It won’t wash with Jesus.

 

Now you can to see why I said at the outset: “I don’t want to know about this story.” I find it confronting and most unsettling. I, like most of you, am happy to applaud Jesus. But much slower to actually follow him.

 

OCASSIONALY I GET IT RIGHT

 

Doing the Jesus thing is rarely easy.

 

I found that  out very early. As  a young minister in training I was in my “Sunday best” walking down  Flemington Rd , Melbourne, on a wet wintry Sunday on my way to   lead a nearby Sunday School in  what was, back then, regarded as a slum area..

 

Standing in a recess out of the misty rain near the Royal Melbourne Hospital  was a injured, middle aged- prostitute, recently discharged. She had a leg in  plaster and was sobbing. I stopped and asked could I be of help. She said she wanted to get to a women’s refuge, run by the Catholic Church, situated about 700 metres further along the Road. I gave her my arm and slowly walked her (in her skimpy skirt) to the respite house.  I copped  some sneers from other pedestrians, and some wolf whistles from  passing cars. On the way she poured out her heart to me; a sort of pedestrian confessional?

 

Later, on reflection, what made me angry was not the jeering attitude of others, but the fact that I cared about what they thought of me! They made me feel embarrassed. Damn it! Jesus would not have cared.  I did.

 

To that story I can only add maybe another 50 such episodes. Occasions when I have managed to do the Jesus thing with the underbelly of society without fear or favour. That’s not many in almost 60 years of being a disciple of Christ.

 

I n summary then: occasionally I have got it right.   But more often I have chosen a safely first policy rather than the Gospel way of making myself vulnerable by dealing with the disreputable people and their friends. Jesus was constant in taking the risk. I have been spasmodic and cautious.

 

Now I am elderly and becoming feeble. Does that excuse me? Not for one moment! There is no retirement age for doing the Jesus thing

 

OUR EPITAPH

 

If we had to choose our own epitaph, what would it be?  Maybe a suitable one for me would be: “Here lies rat.” No.. no…. hold on a moment!  I am not wallowing in  some guilt attack! Just being honest. Maybe it would be suitable epitaph for you also?

 

 But there would need to be a slight extension for you and me. It should read “HERE LIES A RAT WHO WAS, AND IS, BEING SAVED BY THE GRACE OF GOD IN JESUS.”

 

You see, my friends, none of us is righteous. Not one.  We are all, to some degree, members of the rat pack. And almost certainly our worst sins are those that neither we, nor our good respectable friends, even recognise.

 

“It is by grace we are saved through faith. And faith is not our of our making but it is the free gift of God through Christ Jesus.”

 

Later, as Jesus sat at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and other low life were there. For many despised characters followed after Jesus.

 

When some Scribes and Pharisees saw that he was eating with such low life, they complained to the disciples: “Why does he eat and drink with such sinners?”

 

When Jesus heard this he retorted: “Those who are healthy do not need a doctor, but those who are ill do.  I did not come here to call faultless people,but sinners.”

 

Thanks God!  Yes I say , thank God!  For that is our salvation. Our faith in Jesus is truly our one, saving grace.

 

 

THANKSGIVING PRAYERS

 

In an age of Doubt

 

Loving God, our elusive yet all-sustaining Friend,

     in spite of the negative doubters around us,

     we dare to celebrate your glorious Presence!

 

In this post-modern world

     where the illusion of your absence

     is felt keenly by numerous souls,

     we praise you for your agents of light

     that break through to nurture us.

 

We give thanks

     for the accumulated sanity

     of the Holy Scriptures

     through which you speak to us

     even when our hearts feel cold.

 

We give thanks

     for the caring communities

     of your holy church

     where you are present

     with encouragement and healing.

 

We give thanks

     for those special, holy times

     when for a few seconds or hours

     this world’s illusions crack open

     and we glimpse your glory.

 

Most of all we give thanks

     for the gift of Christ Jesus

     planted disconcertingly in history,

     making plain your saving love

     in the midst of this deceptive era.

 

Loving God, elusive but faithful Friend,

     in spite of our scrappy faith and love,

     we dare to celebrate your glorious Presence!

     Hallelujah!

                                                                                                         From- Jesus our Future

                                                                                                         Ó B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers

 

INTERCESSORY PRAYERS

 

A bidding and response may be used:

            L: God of tax collectors and sinners

            P: hear our prayer and make us a blessing to others.

 

Loving God, we thank you for the friend of tax collectors and sinners. In his name we pray for all outsiders, those who are relegated to the margins of community life, or who huddle together in enclaves that heighten suspicion or hostility.

 

We pray for migrant groups, especially those from the Middle East who feel their every move is watched with suspicion of being a terrorist.

 

We pray for cultural minorities, many of whom are largely locked out of the job market; among whom resentment and anger may be brewing.

 

We pray for any folk who are disdained as socially inferior; those who do some of the most menial and dirty work in our community.

 

We pray for those who live in down-market suburbs where vandalism and crime are widespread, and one’s neighbours may be a constant threat to the peace.

 

We pray for the workers in the so called “sex industry,” especially those who feel compelled to remain in its coils because of drug addiction or who are bullied by cruel pimps.

 

We pray for indigenous people, many who feel scorned, treated like aliens in their own homeland, particularly for any whom this very hour are suffering neglect or abuse.

 

We pray for those among the elderly who are forgotten or patronised; those who feel unsafe on our streets or even in their own homes.

 

We pray for any falsely convicted men and women who are in prison, and those timid petty criminals who are daily bullied or sexually abused by other inmates.

 

We pray for any in here this daywho feel like outsiders even in the church of God, or who believe that their talents are ignored or their opinions barely tolerated in the church.

 

God Jesus Christ, God of inclusive love, reshape each of us to become more like Jesus, so that other folk, near or far off, may receive that enhancing respect and love that belongs to those for whom Christ died.

 

In his name, and for your realm of love, we pray.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Through Christ, we have confidence

to go out to serve our God again.

Our confidence is not our own doing,

it comes to us from God.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

praise God’s holy name.

 

God will redeem your life from hopelessness,

and crown you with love and mercy.

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all God’s blessings.

 

We are all ministers, not of a written code

but of the love-covenant in the Spirit.

Rigid words kill, the Spirit gives life

Praise the Lord, O my soul,

and all that s within me,

praise God’s holy name.

 

The priceless grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the prodigious love of our God,

and the empowering warmth of our Friend, the Holy Spirit,

be with you today and always.

Amen!