1st Sunday after Pentecost
Author Willie Morris became the yougest senior editor ever of Harper’s Magazine. Best known for his book North Toward Home he known for his lyrical prose style and reflections on the American South. One of his books, My Dog Skip, was turned into a movie and released in 2000. The setting of the movie is Yazoo City, a small town Mississippi, during World War 2.
The movie is about Willie, a shy boy who is small for his age, bullied by bigger kids and has trouble making friends. His only friend, it seems, is 18 year old Dink Jenkins who lives next door. Willie idolizes Dink and sees him as his hero. When Dink is drafted and leaves for war, Willie feels like he’s been abandoned and lost his only friend in the world. Hoping to help, his parents give Willie a terrier puppy for his ninth birthday which he names Skip. Willie and Skip are inseperable and because of Skip, Willie makes new friends while becomes well known and much loved throughout the community.
When Willie discovers that Dink is returning home from war, he’s excited and can’t wait to spend time with his friend. Unfortuantely, Dink is coming home under less than honorable circumstances. He was discharged as a deserter and coward. In disgrace, Dink turns to alcohol in an attempt to drown his shame. Willie can’t understand why his friend no longer wants to spend time with him anymore.
When Skip gets lost, Dink tries to comfort Willie by telling his to think of the one place he hasn’t looked yet. Willie runs off to search for Skip just as Willie’s dad steps out of the house. Which sets up a poignant conversation between Dink and Willie’s dad who lost a leg in the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Morris tries to convince Dink that people’s opinions will fade in time.
Dink responds, “You got a purple heart. I got a yellow strip. You can trust me, they don’t forget about cowards.”
Mr. Morris counters by saying, “Well, folks like to keep things small, Dink. Fit you into one pocket or another. Give a man a label, and you never really need to know him. My son looks up to you, Dink. Not because you can run or throw a ball. You’re his hero because you’re his friend. That’s what he needs, a friend.”
There’s a awkward silence. Dink looks down at the ground, ashamed of how he has failed his friend and challenged by Mr. Morris’ words. Knowing it’s not to late to start over, heads out to look for Willie and the dog.
“Well, folks like to keep things small, Dink. Fit you into one pocket or another. Give a man a label, and you never really need to know him.”
What powerful description of what we do to people. We label them, we pigeon hole them, we stick them in their own little box and never had to really get to know them. We do it all the time. And it’s done to us all the time.
And there’s no harder place to overcome thos labels and social barriers than in a small town like Glen Rose. And the sad thing is, those labels may not even truly be ours, they may have been handed down by what the town thought of one of our relatives.
Oh, and if you befriend someone who has one of those unacceptable labels, your status is in jeopardy. The people with whom we associate reflect who we are. If you’re into social status then you know you won’t move up the social ladder by hanging out with those kind of people. You can’t climb the ladder by hanging out with weirdoes. If you do, people look at you like you’re crazy and pretty soon they label you as one of the weirdoes. But, you know what, that is exactly what Jesus did.
Jesus hung out with the weirdos and outcasts. He even asked a few of them to be His Disciples. Let’s look at the passage for the message this morning and you’ll see what I mean. Matthew 9:9-13.
 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.
 And as Jesus sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.
 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
 But when Jesus heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
The Pharisees sounded like a bunch of snobs, didn’t they. But did you notice Jesus’ answer? Listen to how Eugene Peterson’s The Message puts it: “Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: “I’m after mercy, not religion.” I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.’”
Pretty strong stuff isn’t it. And yet, that’s exactly what the Church’s work is all about. We’re called to reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ. And if I remember the Great Commission correctly Jesus used the word “all” and there’s no asterix listing exceptions. All means all. And as we look at this passage from Matthew about Matthew it contains A CHALLENGE, A CALL AND A CURE.
I. THE CHALLENGE:
A. The Challenge is simple. Accepting the Challenge is the hard part. The first thing any of us have to overcome is the same thing that Dink had to overcome. For Matthew, the tax collector, the challenge was to improve his reputation, not lose it. For Jesus, the Challenge was the tarnishing of His own reputation for the sake of Matthew and the rest of the world.
B. I hate to be like the pig in the Geico commercial and give away the ending of the movie, so Spoiler Alert. In the very next scene, Dink redeems himself by rescuing both Willie and Skip.
And redemption is what it’s all about isn’t it? Our redemption and the redemption of others. And that’s the challenge. Jesus saw what redemption would do for Matthew and Jesus saw the potential for ministry in Matthew. The thing is Jesus sees what redemtion can do in the life of every outcast, every sinner, every human being. Jesus sees the power of Redemtion in our lives and the potential for ministry within each of us. The Challenge for us is to look at one another through the eyes of Jesus; through the eyes of faith. When we look through the eyes of Jesus, all the social barriers, all the social stigmas, everything that divides us melts away. All we see is what Jesus sees, a child of God in need of the Redemptive work of Jesus.
II. THE CALL:
That’s The Challenge and The Call. Just as Jesus called Matthew and said: “Follow me.” We too are called to “Follow Jesus.” We’re called to live a life like His. Now, I’m not talking about becoming an itinerant preacher gathering disciples, preaching in fields and performing miracles. Don’t give up your day jobs. But I AM talking about being a disciple, being a follower and not just a fan.
I AM talking about living a life whose sole purpose is to glorify God and to become more and more like Jesus every day by striving to live as Jesus taught.
The Call is to spread the Good News of Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins, who gave His life so we might have life. Who died and was buried, then three days later rose from the grave destroying death completely and offering us resurrection and life eternal.
The Call is simple, to become more like Jesus and to tell the whole world about Jesus.
III. THE CURE:
A. Why? Because there is a sickness in this world called Sin. It’s Sin that separates us from God and from each other. It alienates us and isolates us. It causes us to make things and people small so we can label them and put them in our pockets and not really have to get to know them or about them.
Jesus not only has the Cure but He IS the Cure. He’s passed it on to us and we now have the Cure for the Common Coldness of Life.
I ran across an old story about a man who was visiting a friend who had five children. Dad got called to the phone which left the man with the kids. He asked one of the little girls about her doll collection: “Which one is your favorite?”
“Promise you won’t laugh if I tell you?” she answered. “No I won’t laugh,” he said. She went into the next room and brought back a doll that was the most tattered, dilapidated, worn-out doll he had ever seen, a real refugee from the trash heap. All the hair was missing, the nose was broken off and an arm was cracked. He didn’t laugh, but he couldn’t cover his surprise.
So, he asked, “Why do you love this one the most?”
The little girl replied, “Because she needs it the most. If I didn’t love her, nobody would.”
Jesus said that God is like that. And in reflection, I think that has implications for us. What if we moved beyond the Common Coldness of Life ? What if we took the same attitude as that little girl toward the outcasts of today? What if we reached out to the maginalized? What if we embraced and loved the aliens among us, illegal or not? What if we loved the gay and lesbian communities with this same kind of love?
That’s what God’s love is like. I think God loves us the most when we need it most, just like any good parent does. That’s not to say that God doesn’t love us when we’re good; when we’re on the right path; when we’re living in God’s will. God loves us always.
But somehow, God’s love is deeper, closer, more focused when we feel broken and abandoned. I think it’s because God’s heart breaks for us and with us. And God desires for us to be healed and whole. And through the love of Jesus, god offers us that healing and wholeness.
Jesus IS the Cure and offers us the Cure. It was purchased on the cross and began to be dispensed the moment of the resurrection. And Jesus has passed it on to us. The Church as become the dispensary for the world. Through our faith in Christ, through His entrusting us with His message of salvation and healing, we now have the Cure for the Common Coldness of Life. And we’re called to despense it.
Last Wednesday, June the 25th was LEON Day, the half way mark until Christmas. So, I thought a Christmas story might be appropriate. One Christmas season, members of a Church were preparing for their annual Christmas Pageant. In this Church there was one little boy who had been crippled by polio. He wore ungainly leg braces and walked with crutches.
Now this little boy was so in love with Jesus and so in love with his church, that he wanted to be a part of everything. And this church, which had loved him from the time he was born; took the vow made at his Baptism, to “nuture him by their teaching and example,” very seriously. And now he wanted to play a part in the pageant.
By the time the leaders found out, all of the major roles had been given out, Joseph, the Wise Men, Shepherds. The boy was disappointed. But, finally, it was decided that he would play the role of the innkeeper.
This boy was a very sensitive boy and it really bothered him that he was going to be the only person in the play who would have to reject Jesus. All during rehearsals he was excited to be in the pageant and got his part right. “I’m sorry, there’s no room in the Inn. You’ll have to go somewhere else.”
Everyone else stumbled over their parts but not him. He got it perfect every time. But while he got the line right every time, he was still troubled by his role.
The night of the performance, the auditorium was packed. The play began. And then came the part where Joseph knocked on the door of the inn. The little boy’s big moment had arrived! He couldn’t restrain himself any longer. He threw open the door and shouted at the top of his voice, “Come on in! I’ve been expecting you.”
The audience roared, thunderous applause broke out, and they all agreed later that this was the greatest Christmas play they had ever seen. In his own special way, that little boy had expressed the spirit of the Gospel, the Spirit of Jesus reaching out first to Matthew, then to us and then to the whole world: “Come on in! I’ve been expecting you.”
Maybe the greatest act of Grace you and I can experience is the grace that allows us to see the need for Grace in the lives of others, those folks who the world see as outsiders, outcasts, those kind of people, the Sinners of the world. And maybe the greatest act of Grace we can offer is to throw open the doors of our hearts and our churches and shout at the top of our voices: “Come on in! we’ve been expecting you.”
Or better yet, what if we not only threw open the doors, but then went out to the highways and biways as the old song says, and asked them to join us. I think that’s THE CHALLENGE, THE CALL AND THE CURE all rolled into one.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.