11 June 2023 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a TRANSCRIPT of the homily. It may vary considerably from the prepared version. Please do not cite without permission.
Jesus turned everything upside down. Eating with all the wrong people touching and being touched by all the wrong people, having very important people bow down to him a seemingly less important person, the son of a carpenter. He chose a different kind of people to eat with. These were not pious people. They were described both by him and others as sinful physical contact with some of whom would have in the eyes of Jewish law, rendered him ritually uncleaned. He turned everything upside down. Today, our attention is drawn to a particular class of such people with whom he socialized, the tax collector.
We remember that in Jesus time, tax collectors were considered traitors of his sword to the Jewish people. Not only did they enforce and enrich the Roman Empire by collecting taxes, they were known to inflate what was old so that they could line what was owed so that they could take a share themselves and line their own pockets. Tax collectors were roundly viewed as among the worst of sinners. But these were the people Jesus chose to sit with. And if you read the full Gospel of Matthew, you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t ever admonish sinners, or tax collectors. He does begin his ministry in the book of Matthew by issuing a call to repentance. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. And he does denounce Pharisees and scribes, but never wants to see criticize sinners and tax collectors. Instead, scandalously, he sits down to eat with them.
I often read this kind of passage, and without even consciously knowing I’m making the choice. I implicitly tried to put myself in Jesus shoes. If Jesus sat with tax collectors, if Jesus never once in the Gospel of Matthew condemned sinners, if Jesus desired desired mercy, more than sacrifice, and came to be a physician to those who were sick, not those who were well, then we should offer that too, right? We should sit with tax collectors and sinners, we should offer companionship to the marginalized, like Jesus, we should focus not on the righteous, but on those who don’t necessarily sit comfortably at the tables of the righteous, right. That’s my typical unconscious response to passages of this sort. Try to be like Jesus.
For whatever reason, I had a different response. This time, a different thought, struck me and stuck with me. If Jesus came to call not the righteous, but the sinners. What do you ever wanted to eat with me? If Jesus were here today, would he take a seat at my table? You see, I had somehow slipped out of unconsciously identifying with Jesus’s perspective, reaching out to the center the marginalized as a way of following Jesus teaching. And I had slipped into the persona of that righteous person. Would Jesus come to my house on a Friday night? Would he choose to eat with me? I can imagine the table that Jesus seems to have found a seat at it is a full table, and food and drink are plentiful. And the meal goes on for a good long time. And there’s raucous conversation going and laughter and irreverence. That’s the kind of table I can see Jesus wanting to sit down at. I can see why he was known for sharing meals with the sinners and the tax collectors. It seems much more entertaining, more life giving more joy filled than the pious table. But is that one my table? would Jesus want to sit down with me? Sometimes my table might fit that description, but not always.
So where does that leave me? Where does that leave us with Jesus be sitting in the pews at all saints this morning. The good news is I think he would. Because you see, there’s a third perspective in this passage, one I sometimes overlook, one that I sometimes try to avoid, one that I think we’re implicitly taught to avoid. I can be so busy trying to walk in the path of Jesus trying to follow his teachings are so busy trying not to be one of those righteous people caricature it in the gospels, that I can forget sometimes, to identify with this sinners. With the tax collectors, I forget that I am a sinner. I am the one who falls short of the glory of God. We can be so busy trying to do the right thing. We can walk through our days trying to make things work out trying to control our circumstances and our outcomes. And we can forget that we all fall short. And when we forget, it can get in the way of us opening ourselves to God, of noticing, of knowing that God is always with us. But this is the good news. As we heard it this morning, Jesus desires mercy more than sacrifice, God became human to heal, not those who are well, but those who are sick, to call not the righteous, but the sinner. Us.
See, I believe that Jesus wants to meet us all, where we are. I believe that Jesus would be at all of our tables. As much as Jesus is shown in table fellowship with sinners and tax collectors. And people of this or God doesn’t only show up for the lively, full, raucous table, as attractive as that image may be, at least for me, I want to be at that table. But Jesus also shows up in an intimate moment, with the woman at the well. Really seeing her. He fiercely defends the integrity of God’s house of worship against money changers. He curses a fig tree because he’s hungry. He cries at the death of his friend. He’s studious with the teachers at the temple, gets mad at his mom when she tries to tell him what to do. He quietly but publicly prevents a young woman from being stoned. God through Jesus wanted to be with us in all of our moments.
Now to be clear, I’m not encouraging us not to be thoughtful not to try to make moral and ethical decisions I am though, saying let’s just be who we are. God wants to be our companion. We can be sick, we can need mercy. We can be sinners. And we can throw great dinner parties if that’s life giving for us. But it is in only truly being ourselves. That we can open ourselves up to fully notice God with us to invite God to be our companion. Sort of freeing, isn’t it? So we can sometimes fail to see God to connect with God because we’re too busy trying to be the person we want to be. Instead of being the sinners we are. We all fall short of the glory of God. We are all gloriously human and flawed and loved. I want Jesus to sit at my table. How about you?