The following sermon was preached by Dr. Thomas Korcok in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service in observance of the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, 21 September 2021.
What is the world to me? Well, for much of the time, quite a bit. I am sure that is what Matthew thought as he sat in his little tax collector’s booth. The world had given him financial stability. He was relatively well off. He could buy what he wanted. Problem is that the reality was that the world had also made him poor. His job resulted him being hated by his neighbours. He didn’t even have the stature of a wealthy tax collector – like Zacchaeus who was in charge of a whole district. All Matthew had was a crummy little toll booth. A small thing, but what he looked to for happiness, regardless.
But then came the call of Jesus. Direct and simple: “Follow me.” To which St. Luke tells us that Matthew got up and immediately left it all behind to follow Jesus. It was a clean, permanent break. He walked away from it all–abandoning the only thing that gave him is personal wealth for a new spiritual wealth of Jesus. Most certainly this wasn’t the first time that Matthew heard Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel the Sermon on the Mount precedes his call and Matthew was probably one of the members of the congregation. There he heard Jesus proclaim “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth”, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, and “No one can serve two masters.” All preached to him not by a new Law giver but by the great Law fulfiller.
No one can serve two Masters may have made sense to Matthew, but we can probably do a pretty good job of balancing the two. The righteousness of Christ is good, yes of course, and we rely on Him exclusively–except, of course, when it comes to money, or security, or health, or wisdom. Then, using our wit and wile, we try to do a work around. We try to figure out a way we can both cling to Christ and trust in the world to come through for us. Unfortunately, there is no work around. Jesus’ words are true; and while we may fool ourselves into thinking that we can do a spiritual balancing act, we always end up serving the world.
I like to get under the hood my car. I’m not very good at fixing things, but I think I can, and that is all that counts. Most often I believe that I can do this without changing my clothes. Sure, I may have a dress shirt on, but if I am careful I won’t get any grease on it. It never works out that way–ever. Clean clothes will always get dirty when working on a car.
With Christ’s call he has dressed us in these fine baptismal robes, gleaming white. They are robes that have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross and they mark us as followers of Jesus; and not just followers, but inheritors of Jesus himself. When Jesus stood before Pilate he declared, “My kingdom is not of thia world.” By saying this, Jesus was declaring to Pilate that his world was one of sin and death, one that robbed men of every truly good thing that they might desire, but the world of Jesus was one in which God himself would give to his people all that they desired and more. This is the world which Jesus call us to. In the words of Georg Pfefferkorn, the author of today’s hymn, he is your treasure, your life, your health, your wealth, your friend, your love, your pleasure, your joy, your crown, your all, your bliss eternally.
Right after the call of Matthew, Jesus masterfully uses the Pharisees to teach us about this wonderful life. Matthew instinctively invited his fellow tax collectors and other sinners to his house so that they, too, could receive the healing gifts of Jesus. The Pharisees had gathered around the house where Jesus was dining with these people and he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick.” You see, the Pharisees acknowledged that these were indeed sin-sick people in need of healing. If they were not, there would have been no reason for Jesus to be there. Because they were just the people the Pharisees judged them to be, Jesus had no choice but to come with his good gifts.
Now we don’t want to be one of the Pharisees. No, we want to be a Matthew so that we too might receive these good gifts. We might well ask ourselves, “How do I become like Matthew?” Ah, but you see, that is the wrong starting point. The correct starting point is that we already are like Matthew. Our starting point is finding ourselves in our own little tax collector booth, realizing that, each in our own way, the world means far too much to us; but in spite of it all, our dear Jesus has come down the road and stopped where we are and issued the call first heard in our baptism – “Come follow me”. When you first received that call, especially if you were an infant, you didn’t hum and ha over it. You didn’t try to figure out how you were going to manage it. The efficacious nature of the Word saw to it that immediately you left behind this devil, all his works and all his ways, including the ways of the world and followed Christ.
What is the world to me? Probably it is far too much. Lord have mercy. What is Christ to me? Far, far more. Thanks be to God.