Our church is in the midst of a series of changes, which are intended to strengthen our ability to fulfill our mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world. I postponed my last sermon in our James series in order to preach a sermon on our mission. I challenged our church to claim responsibility for the souls of children living near the church who haven’t heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sermon Text: Matthew 9:9-17
The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.
Many of you know that I used to be an engineer, and I helped design machines that put cans in boxes. Really…At Coca-Cola plants—these big machines that put cans in 12-pack cartons. The machine would pick up a flat paper carton, unfold the carton, shove cans in it, glue it and fold it shut, and send it on its way—and the idea was to do it as quickly as possible. I liked the job. Except for one thing. One week out of the month, I had “the phone.”And it was literally a separate cell phone that I would take home with me. And for one week, I was responsible for handling any after-hour calls from all over the world that came in to technical support. I’d take the phone home on Monday, and set it on my night stand when I went to bed. I would often have trouble sleeping because I was just anticipating that stupid thing ringing.
And when it did, I’d have to get out of bed, go downstairs to a separate computer system, dial into the machine—using a dial-up modem, if you remember those—look at the machine’s computer program, and troubleshoot what was going on.
Or I’d be at a restaurant, and I’d get the call. Or I’d be at a football game, and I’d get the call. Or I’d be at a concert, and I’d get the call. For that week of the month, I felt like my time wasn’t my own. I was also afraid of being be too far from home—in case I needed to dial into the customer’s machine. Whatever else I was doing, when that phone rang, it took top priority. When the phone rang, my time, my energy, my talent… they belonged to the company I worked for.
Man, I should have asked for a raise!
Anyway, some of you know what it’s like to have a job when you’re “on call.”If you’re a parent of a baby, you certainly know what it’s like: Nothing is more important than attending to the needs of a crying baby—even when the child wakes up hungry in the middle of the night. It’s hard! It was hard for me to pretend like I was asleep and didn’t hear the baby; and it was hard for Lisa to get up and feed the baby. But parents do these things because they’re on call. Sleep deprivation is a small price to pay to answer that call.
Speaking of answering the call, this weekend we celebrate, honor, and mourn those men and women in uniform who gave the “last full measure of devotion”for their country. They were on call. And for them, even their very lives were not too great a price to pay. We are humbled by their sacrifice. We are grateful that they answered the call.
Did you know that we who are disciples of Jesus Christ also answer the call? In today’s scripture, Jesus calls Matthew. He says, and what does Matthew do? He immediately gets up, leaves behind his tax booth and his livelihood and follows. But it’s not just Matthew. Jesus says in verse 13, “For I come not to call the righteous, but sinners.”You’re not a Christian simply because you were baptized, or because you grew up going to church, or because you got confirmed, or because you prayed the sinner’s prayer once, or because you walked down the aisle and made a public profession of faith—although you might have done all those things with perfect sincerity. You because Jesus Christ, through his Holy Spirit, first called you to follow him as his disciple.
Why is this important? It’s important because there’s a difference between Jesus calling us to follow him, and people volunteering to follow him. In Matthew Chapter 8, for instance, we see a couple of examples of people who volunteered to follow Jesus. One man comes to Jesus: “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go, he says. And Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus understood that this man was not prepared to count the cost of discipleship; he wasn’t willing to give up his comfort and security. He volunteered, but he wasn’t called. Another man said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Which sounds cold, doesn’t it? But Jesus knew that each of these men in his own way was negotiating with Jesus: “I’ll be happy to follow you, Jesus, under the following conditions…I promise I’ll follow you, Jesus, but it will be at my own convenience…”And Jesus’message to them was, “Why don’t you come back when you’re serious about being my disciple.”
This is one of many reasons why I’m not like Jesus. See, I want my numbers to look good. I got to report my “vital signs”to the bishop each week. I can’t afford to turn anyone away. I want to sell the gospel of Jesus Christ as cheaply as possible. “So you want to join the church? Absolutely! Come on down… Wait. You say you won’t be able to come to church during football season because you have season tickets. Hey, that’s no problem at all. Just come whenever you can! Worship is strictly optional. You say you’re not willing to tithe, but you’ll throw in a few bucks whenever you can? Hey, that’s no problem at all. Fortunately, we have other people in the church who will pay your way. You say you can’t come to Bible study? No worries there, my friend. The Bible isn’t all that important anyway. You’re not willing to repent of your sinful lifestyle? No problem…Jesus tells, ‘I love you just the way you are. Don’t ever change!’”
I’m sorry…Is the Baptist in me showing? I hope it’s the Wesley in me showing!
Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I hope you see the point. Disciples aren’t volunteers—of if we are volunteers, we’re volunteers the same way someone in our armed forces is a volunteer! You willingly enlist, but once you do, you surrender your right to be in charge. Your job is to follow orders—even when those orders mean your death.
Heck, even as an engineer I knew that if I got that after-hours call, I’d lose my job if I didn’t answer it. When we’re Christians and Jesus calls us, what does it say about our faith if we don’t answer it?
Matthew the reformed tax collector answered the call and then what happened? He was on call. We can see this in verse 10. Jesus goes to have dinner with Matthew and it says that “many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.”Many tax collectors and sinners.
Where on earth did these people come from? Matthew simply did what his Master did: he called his friends. “Come and meet my Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah. Come…find salvation. Come…find forgiveness of sins. Come…find eternal life.”Think about it: These friends of Matthew’s wouldn’t have been there at all if Matthew hadn’t called them, if he hadn’t invited them.
What about us here at Hampton United Methodist? Are we mostly just waiting for people to come to us. I mean, our doors are unlocked on Sunday morning. Why don’t they come? It’s as if we’re throwing a dinner party for Jesus, except we forgot to send out the invitations, and we wonder why more people don’t show up!
In today’s scripture the Pharisees are unhappy that Jesus is eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”The Pharisees, after all, were trying their hardest to be holy—and they thought that if they got to close to the “tax collectors and sinners,”then that sin would rub off on them and contaminate them. So their strategy was to separate themselves from sinners. Problem is, if you separate yourselves from sinners, how do you tell them the good news of our Lord who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” How do you give them a chance to repent and find salvation? It’s like you just give up on these people. It’s like you’re saying they’re beyond hope.
I know that we haven’t done that intentionally. But I wonder if the result isn’t the same. We’ve decided that there are certain people around here we have no hope of reaching, so we don’t even try. We don’t pray for them. We don’t invite them. We don’t call them to discipleship. Even though they live down the street. They live around the corner. They live within a few blocks of our church.
And this is why we’re making important changes in the life of our church—especially in the area children’s and youth ministry. What these changes boil down to is doing what the tax collector Matthew does in today’s scripture: inviting people from this community to experience the life-changing love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At church council last Tuesday, Paulla said that these changes weren’t just directed “our children.”And she’s right. I get what she’s saying. But when she said that, I thought, “We need to totally change our way of thinking. I need to change my way of thinking!”Because these changes we’re making are really all about reaching our children. It’s just that so many of our children…are outside the walls of this church. So many of our children are growing up never hearing the stories of Jesus, never hearing about how much he loves them, never hearing about he died to save them.
Don’t you see? Those are our children out there. That’s why God has put this church right here.
I was talking to a fellow pastor last week, and he was talking about churches in our area. And he said, with a hint of jealousy in his voice, “You know that church over there has three billionaires in it.” And I said, “I just need one—one tithing billionaire to accomplish everything we need to accomplish! Listen, if billionaires lived around our church, then billionaires would be our mission field—as it is now, Jesus is calling us to reach the people who live around this church.
And the fact remains: our community around this church is filled with people who are lost, who, unlike most of us, have not received the gift of God’s saving grace. Unless or until they repent of their sins and receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they are bound for hell. They are bound for eternal separation from God.
And here’s another sobering thought: the difference between hell and heaven for them could be us. It could be this church, Hampton United Methodist. In Acts chapter 20, the apostle Paul is saying goodbye to the elders at the church at Ephesus. He had spent three years ministering to them, and it was time to say goodbye. After detailing all the good work that he did among them for God’s kingdom, he says: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” I’m innocent of the blood of all…
In other words, if someone in Ephesus wasn’t a Christian, it wasn’t because Paul hadn’t done everything within his power to convince them of the truth of the gospel and invite them to respond.
Could I say the same thing? Could you? Could this church?
Unless or until we can, let’s please join together today—let’s join together and agree that from this point forward that we’re going to make reaching the lost our church’s top priority? Are you with me on this? “It isn’t the healthy who need a doctor,”Jesus said, “but the sick.”
Don’t we spend enough time worrying about the healthy?
I could probably make an excellent career out of ministering to the healthy, because that’s my comfort zone. After all, there is within me this sinful desire to make people happy or at least keep people happy. And I really want everyone to like me. Obviously I’ve chosen the wrong career for that, but still…It hurts me to think that there are people out there who don’t like me—I mean, if they only got to know me better; I’m really a great guy!
But given that this is who I am, I hope you can appreciate how difficult it is for someone like me to instigate changes that risk making people unhappy… and angry. I assume that the 25 or 30 people who regularly attend [the 8:30] service are happy attending this service, and I hate to mess that up. I assume that many people at the 9:45 service like things just the way they are. And here I am, messing with it.
And all I can say is, as much as I want to keep everyone happy, as much as I want to maintain the status quo and not risk doing anything to anger anyone, as much as I want everyone to like me, I want to reach men and women, and boys and girls, with the gospel of Jesus Christ even more. And I believe you do, too.
We’ve got to try. We’ve got to do something. Right? Because if we simply maintain the status quo, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, this church will die—it’ll be a long, slow death, and I’ll be long gone before that happens, and so will most of you. But it will die. And more importantly, the spiritually sick in our community will die without receiving the eternal-life-giving medicine offered by the Great Physician.
That’s the big picture for us: It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Jesus Christ didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. And he’s calling us now—not simply to reach people who are already Christians, but people who aren’t.
In his book Deep and Wide, pastor Andy Stanley updates a well-known parable: “Suppose you had seven credit cards in your purse or wallet and you lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the six and go search for the missing card until you found it?” He said he lost a credit card recently, and he never once pulled out the credit card that he hadn’t lost in order to celebrate that he still had it. He felt no urgency about his un-lost credit card. He didn’t call a single person to say that he lost his Visa, but—no worries—he still has his American Express!
No, he said, you tend to obsess over things you care about. He writes, “Remember the last time you couldn’t find your phone? Remember the embarrassing, ashamed-to-admit-it, I’m-such-an-American panic that started to filter past your common sense? You took no comfort in all the other un-lost electronic gadgets lying around your house. You were on a mission. Why? You lost something important.”
I would love for us to obsess over the lost people in Hampton, Georgia, because they matter that much to us!
In today’s scripture, the Pharisees tried to separate themselves from all these sinners who lived all around them. Sin was like the flu and they didn’t want to catch it. Jesus, by contrast, loved us sinners way too much to stay away from us. In fact, he got so close to us sinners that, in a way, he did catch what we had—on the cross, where he took the sickness and disease of our sin upon himself. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He lived the life that we were unable to live, and he died the death that we deserved to die.
And he did that because he loves you and me that much—and right now he is calling us to share this message with the children of this community—our children. And he wants us to bring more of our children out there in here where they belong. Amen?
 Psalm 103:8
 Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 314-5.
 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV.