Mark 9:9-13; Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Ephesians 2:4-10 “Crossing the Beams”
September 21, 2011 (The Feast Day of St. Matthew) – Caitlin Trussell
Bishop’s Retreat for Metro South Conference, Rocky Mountain Synod
Mark 9:9-13 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.”
The life that has taken shape for me out of seminary and not yet ordained has filled with unexpected and random connections with clergy types of various denominational and confessional stripes. Not too long ago I had a meeting scheduled with one such person that I thought had a pretty clear and tame agenda. When we met together, not one of those agenda items made it into the conversation. This pastor was in such despair over the pastoral call, over the reason for it, for any of it. The clear and repeated question was, “How is it that I am still called when I no longer feel confident about what I’m doing?” And, of course, internship was all that was needed for me to respond perfectly…
Regardless of the qualifications of the listener, the pain and doubt about call spilling out of this pastor to a yet untried one speaks to how muffled the voice of God, the voice of call, can become in the static and blur of congregational life and in the wider life of the culture in which we sit. So, it is fitting that we gather as colleagues and holy friends late in evening on the feast day of St. Matthew. And listen in as a tax collector at a table was called by Jesus.
We can read between the lines here too. Of course Matthew, being called from his current field of tax work, also spoke fluently in 5 languages, had his double-major undergrad in philosophy and comparative literature, an MBA, a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling, doctorates in hermeneutics, leadership, political science and international studies and an MDiv just to round it all out and be super ready to work for Jesus. This sounds as ridiculous as it felt to write it. But how much of the wild expectations that are placed on pastors and that pastors place on themselves emerge from more subtle, but just as ridiculous, expectations. Expectations that are disembodied from the cross of Christ, disconnected from the call of the gospel, that wear away the sense of call like water on stone until the heart of the stone is washed away.
I’d like to do dangerous thing here and cross the beams of Ezekiel and Matthew. (You can chew me out later.) Ezekiel was called by God into the social-political chaos of Babylonian invasion and relocation. Matthew was called by Jesus into the social-political dust kicked up by Roman occupation. Ezekiel eats a scroll from the Lord that is as sweet as honey and then speaks a word from the Lord. Matthew sits and eats in his own house with Jesus and then follows Jesus. Ezekiel is called to speak a word. Matthew is called to follow and eat.
These calls from the Lord to our ancestors in the faith echo into this room, into this time and place, into the socio-political chaos of our changing world and emerge out of socio-political dust kicked up by both people and nature from small to grand scale. The calls leave us with questions like, “Why us? Why are these barriers in the call seem so great, so painful? Why me? Why now?” While the calls may be different, they are also not so much different. God still calls for some to speak and God still calls for some to set the table. Calling with a word and sending with the Word – placing us in sacred space with holy friends who can hold our despair and our joy, our deaths and our lives, our crosses into new life.
And through all these, what remains at the end of the day, at the end of today, is this…the call of the Gospel revealed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, the call that releases you from death into life, through which all other calls to vocation are revealed, nurtured and strengthened… “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”