"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district. Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ!
So...did you hear the one about the pastor who walks into the bar at noon one day? Turns out, some of this pastor/s members were in a meeting at the top floor of the office building nearby, and looking down from the window as they were wrapping up the details of a multi-million dollar business deal, one of them sees his pastor walk into the bar just across the street. At noon. On a workday. His very own pastor. The one who baptized his kids. The one who stood with them when his wife's father died.
Well, the jaws began flappin, the cell phones came out, and within minutes, the pastor's visit to the bar went viral with the local congregation, and beyond. "We just saw Pastor Dave go into the bar at noon", and more, on social media. Did our pastor have a drinking problem? Was he meeting up with another woman, carrying on an extramarital affair? Was he meeting his bookie to look at the racing form for later in the day? What good could come from a pastor going into a bar at noon, they asked? Something's up!
That Sunday, without prior knowledge, the pastor was called to a special meeting of the church council after worship to address his drinking problem, or gambling problem, or whatever he was evidently dealing with? "Pastor, we know this is difficult, but we noticed that you were at the bar near my office one day last week. Is there something that we should know about before we take further action?", they asked.
As it turns out, the pastor went into the bar to meet with a member of his parish - a woman whom they knew but who for the sake of this discussion, would remain anonymous. She had asked the pastor to meet her there because it was one of the few places she felt safe being out of the house. She was evidently in an abusive relationship with her husband, and she had asked the pastor for some help in finding a place to take her kids, where she could be free of the abuse. The pastor was able to refer her to a a local shelter for abused women, getting her and her kids out of the house and away from the abuse. THAT's why the pastor was in the bar.
But it was too late. Word had gotten out to the congregation that the pastor had a drinking problem. The pastor was forced to defend himself to his congregation the next Sunday morning. His good works, done on behalf of one of his own flock, were overshadowed by gossip, innuendo, and false assumptions about why he would be in a bar at noon.
The whole congregation had gotten up in a tizzy about their pastor, based on false assumptions, the lack of information, personal views about clergy and bars, and who knows what else. His saving work on behalf of this one woman who had a real need, and who had reached out to her pastor for help in getting her and her kids out of imminent danger, had caused the good reputation of the pastor to suffer in the eyes of his congregation, all because they didn't have all of the information before coming to judgment.
In some way, this one woman's life, and that of her kids, was spared that day. But at the same time, the life and reputation of the pastor, doing the right thing, was sullied because of a rush to judgment on behalf of some of his parishioners, who thought that any pastor going into a bar must have had a drinking problem.
Or did you hear the one about Abe, who listened to God, and picked up all his belongings, his aging wife, Sarah, and moved to a land God had intended to give him, in order to start a great nation? His friends thought he was crazy. Some of his family disowned him, by Abe's willingness to trust God to make a new life. And yet, God was faithful to Abe and Sarah. God did a new thing in and through him, based on Abe's faith.
The lessons this week are like this. A tax collector is judged and put out by his community, and branded a sinner. And Jesus dines with him. The leaders of the temple laugh at one of their own when he goes to Jesus, begging Jesus to heal his sick and dying daughter. And yet she is healed by "her faith", the text says.
The woman at the well, Nicodemus meeting Jesus at night, and more. The woman with a bleeding problem for 12 years or more. The gospel accounts are full of people, sinners like you and me, in need...searching...abandoned by family and community, and more. People who have been judged by their own community as unworthy, unclean, unfit, and then put out. And yet, it is to the likes of these that Jesus comes, himself facing the same judgment that the ones he dines with, heals, teaches, frees, who find freedom in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus himself. It is to the likes of these - those whom the world has judged as unclean, unfit, etc. that Jesus leans into. It is to those whose world has judged them, that Jesus comes, not in judgment, but in grace, and love, and inclusion.
Who among us has not judged someone in our circles as unfit for God's love? Who among us has not made assumptions about others, based on incomplete or inaccurate information, thereby enabling us to exclude them from our own "circles" of righteous people? Who among us has not judged someone based on their skin color, their gender orientation, their poverty, or religious beliefs, or other "labels" we attach to them, and deemed them unfit? Unacceptable? Unworthy of God's love, grace and inclusion?
The gospel of Jesus is a gospel of inclusion. Of acceptance. Of loving those whom the world cannot or will not love. Of, in fact, dying, not only for these, but for those of us who judge unfairly. I, you...we...are those Pharisees who mock the father begging Jesus to help his dying daughter. I, you...we...are the ones who judge others unfairly, even as Jesus sees us, and welcomes us into the kingdom of God.
Those at that business meeting seeing their pastor walk into the bar judged him based on incomplete information. Don't we all do the same thing in our own way?
Thanks be to God that Jesus sees us...sees our sin, our brokenness, our need for a Savior, and suffers death...a painful, shameful death on a cross, so that we might be cleansed of the stain of that sin. Jesus extends life to the dying, dignity to those who live on life's margins, hope for those who have no hope. This is our Jesus. The loving, sacrificial, bleeding Jesus, who hangs willingly on a cross for our sake. And then, isn't finished yet. But who beats death itself so that the bondage of death...death that we deserve, is broken. And that we may live in newness of life in Christ.
I'll say more on Sunday, but you get the point. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hope to see some of you tomorrow.
"Rock of Ages"