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God Is Dwelling Too

Matthew 9:9-26

The Rev. Jon Roberts

8 June


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, 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, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
[Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. And no one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”]
While he was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment; for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said, “Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.

God Is Dwelling Too

The prophet Hosea, Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia, 18th C.

“Where mercy, love, and pity dwell, God is dwelling too”[1]
“With the poor and them that mourn, the faint and overborne,
Sin-sick and sorrow-worn,”[2] God is dwelling too.

With loving zeal, with fervent prayer, with one accord and joyful song, it is only right that we are inspired to dwell there too. It is a place that goes to the heart. It goes even further. It is a place that goes to the soul. Somewhere within each of us, we are all called and made ready to show compassion. Compassion for those who are poor and those who mourn; those who are faint and overborne; those who are sin-sick and sorrow-worn. We don’t have to go looking very far. There are people like that every day all around, and many will admit, lately, it seems, as if the numbers are growing. If we are called and made ready to show compassion, how is it expressed? Is it done with a loving zeal? Is it done with fervent prayer? Is there one accord and a joyful song?

Driving thirty miles each Sunday morning to Church, and every Wednesday night for bible study, a man, and his wife long ago, decided they would be committed to serve the Lord. They packed up their station wagon with their two small children, and they started off on the highway. They came to this warm and inviting community that enjoyed having their family attend so religiously and who noticed times were hard. He worked three jobs. She raised the children and prepared the home. Sometimes, they really didn’t know how they were going to pay for electricity and groceries. Every now and then, when they needed the relief; an extra bottle of milk would be left by the milkman; a new set of tires was given for only the cost of an oil change; or an anonymous check came to them in the mail. His wife watched the children act in the Christmas play this one year with tears in her eyes. She knew they had hardly anything left, but she watched her husband put some more money in the offering plate. She couldn’t understand and was confused. Why would God allow us to be poor? At that time an elder lady had been noticing her struggles. She came beside her and quietly said, “God doesn’t want your money. He wants your obedience.” She looked into the eyes of this woman, and knew, that she had been where she now was. Her husband was not being foolish. She realized at that time; he was being obedient to God. She was thankful for the compassionate relief given by this woman. This woman who didn’t have to say anything. She could have kept to herself but instead, out of a loving zeal, and having a fervent prayer, she gave a unified and joyful message. “God doesn’t want your money. He wants your obedience.” This was a radical statement, creating mixed thoughts, for sure.

For those taking on righteous tasks for the well-being of the Church, they may have second thoughts. For those who take on such things as Stewardship Campaigns or pledge drives, or for those who put together and maintain a budget, they may be fearful of what this message might do. It may also stir up the clergy who depend on the sacrifices and tithes of others. Perhaps if we put it in its proper context, alongside our gospel today it may make better sense.[3] Here on the border of Capernaum and Galilee, sits Matthew at his roadside office, watching the caravans that pass through, exporting their produce and herds. The identity of Matthew has been obscured. Much to everyone’s surprise, he does not go door to door, taking the widow’s mite, nor the children’s milk money, as many suspected. This is a modern-day conjecture. His job was like the person you see on the interstate, who regulates the traffic of transfer trucks. In those days, a prominent Roman citizen could purchase a toll-gathering location and would hire a local to work at collecting taxes on all goods that were exported. Times were hard, and it was a living. Unfortunately, everyone who lived there looked at this as a great corruption imposed by a foreign ruler. They used the tax collector as an excuse for their troubles and made them an outcast. Many tax collectors made deals, and bartered and finagled from one merchant to another, but there may have been hope for Matthew. Adding to this, he would have seen honest and hardworking people, who did not know the system, only to return home with a bare minimum wage. He would have been disgusted with the ritual acts he heard were going about in synagogue. As the Pharisees and the Levites, gave special deals to those who brought fatted calves but negated the poor who presented a blemished lamb, Matthew could have wondered why he was treated so poorly. When these so-called priests, were supposed to be holy and righteous, yet no different than the tax collector, he would have seen them as hypocritical. Perhaps he simply had enough when one day he heard Jesus say, “Follow me”; and so, he did. Matthew was looking for righteousness and justice, and he found them in this man Jesus.

Mercy, love, and pity. The three things he yearned most dearly was summed up best, as Jesus said, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” Mercy, compassion, we are tapped into an abundant and never-ending source. Where God dwells, is a place within, where God desires us to act upon our nature of being compassionate. God is not telling us to stop making sacrifices. Instead, he is telling us how to make them good and righteous. Showing mercy, love, and pity for those who are experiencing tough times, we find that special place where God is dwelling too.

[1] William Blake, c.1820.
[2] H80 #537.
[3] See Proper 5 Collect.
[4] Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

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