9 As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.
11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13, Common English Bible).
I ran across a survey this week. Me running across a survey isn’t anything unusual. I do that pretty often. But, this one was a little different. The poll was of American high school students. The question was asked of these high school students, “If you could hang out with anyone famous for the day, who would it be.” Many of the results wouldn’t surprise most of us but there were a few I did find surprising, particularly the top two. If it had been a musician, an athlete or a film star, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all. The survey didn’t say how many students were polled but it did say there were more than 50 different answers given.
Number 1 on the list, Me. I don’t mean, Keith Broyles, the preacher. The students were talking about themselves. Number 2 was similar but equally surprising, “Nobody.”
Now, as I proceed, please don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t make this stuff up. Number 3, Taylor Swift. Number 4, Barrack Obama. While you may not agree with him, you may not like him, that one really shouldn’t surprise you. Number 5 is a four-way tie between Sandra Bullock, Michael Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber.
Since we had a four-way tie for number 5 we drop down to number 9 where we find two ladies, Lady Gaga and Carrie Underwood. At number 11 we find Beyoncé, Demi Lovato (I had to look her up, she is a singer), Cristiano Ronaldo (he is a soccer player), and Jesse James, no not the outlaw. This Jesse James owned West Coast Choppers and became a television personality on the Discovery Channel. He is most famous for once being married to number 5 on the list, Sandra Bullock.
There is a long list that begins at number 15 it includes Thomas Jefferson, George Strait, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump, Michelle Obama, A Drug Kingpin, Hugh Heffner, Charlie Sheen, and God.
There were several more, some I was going to read as “Honorable Mentions,” but I think that is enough for today. There were several things that did surprise me. Barrack Obama being there but not Donald Trump. I was quite surprised to see Thomas Jefferson on the list but not George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. It also saddened me that Jesus was not on the list at all.
God made the list, tied for 15th place along with the likes of Charlie Sheen, Hugh Heffner, and a drug kingpin among others. I find that to be a sad state for our society.
So, who would you hang out with, if you could hang out with anybody, living or dead? I will admit, Jesus wouldn’t have been at the top of my list either. It surprised me it didn’t make the list at all. For me, I would find Jesus a bit too easy of an answer and way too predictable. Mine would still be kind of predictable, but I would want to talk to either John or Charles Wesley and I guess if I could only pick one it would be John.
But, who would you pick to hang out with? Before you answer, did your mother ever tell you to be careful who you did hang out with (I know, she didn’t say that, modern vernacular) because you could end up guilt by association.
When I was in junior high I had a friend named Alan. I have no idea where Alan is these days. I haven’t seen him in about 45 years. For whatever the reason, she never did tell me, my mother did not like Alan. She did not want me hanging out with Alan. She knew Alan was going to get into trouble and I would be guilty by association.
She told me, my dad backed her up, and I would guess that your parents taught you much the same, to be careful about my choice of friends and to make sure I picked the good kids to hang out with. They wanted me to be with kids who enhanced my reputation, not hurt it.
It bothered me when I became a parent and I would suddenly hear one of my parents using my mouth. I was horrified by the idea that I could hear them talking and saying things but it was my voice I was hearing. And, they never gave me a clue how they did it so I could do the same to my kids when they went to messing with my grandkids.
This morning we are continuing the sermon series we began last Sunday titled, “Why Jesus?” During Lent, we are looking at different aspects of the life of this man we worship and follow. Today we are looking at the people who we allow to surround us.
When we start looking at the people Jesus kept company with, that Jesus hung out with, were not the kids that were part of National Honor Society when they were in high school. When they went off to college they weren’t the ones making the deans list but they probably were ignored when it came time to pledge a fraternity.
When we look at today’s lesson we find Jesus calling one of the disciples, Matthew. What was it Matthew did for a living before meeting Jesus? I can’t remember, what was that? Oh, yeah, thank you. Matthew was a tax collector. He was quite possibly the most hated man in Jerusalem. No one wanted to hang out with Matthew. Well, except for Jesus.
Jesus wanted this low-life to come and hang out with him and the disciples. Those who were seeking to tear Jesus down didn’t think it appropriate at all for Jesus to be hanging out with a sinner as terrible as old Matthew.
I have some understanding of that. When I worked for the FDIC one day there was a knock on the door of my office. My boss walked in with a woman and introduced me to her. She was a former government employee who wanted to come back and the FDIC was a great place to work. Then we found out she was a former IRS agent/auditor/programmer. She told us she loved her work. So, since she couldn’t get back with the IRS and FDIC was looking for people with her skills and the IRS was not.
She came to work there and because of her former employer, our stall made efforts to exclude her. We didn’t want, we didn’t need her there. There was always speculation that if ever said anything about our personal finances, before the day was over, we just knew she would have us sitting at the IRS room being audited. It never happened but when I left a whole lot of those folks were worrying over a former IRS agent working in their midst.
Jesus didn’t just hang out with IRS agents (aka, tax collectors), there were other unsavory sorts that managed to get close to Jesus, and, he welcomed them. There is a story in Luke I want to share with you. I read from The Message:
36-39 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town prostitute, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”
40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh? Tell me.”
41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived, she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.” 49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!” 50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
That is right! We might not like to think about it that way, but Jesus also hung out with prostitutes. There are those out there who argue that this woman, as well as the woman caught in adultery, are both Mary Magdalene but there is no real evidence in the Bible that such was the case. But, make no mistake, whoever she was, the Bible is clear on her. She was a prostitute.
In his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party, author, and church growth guru Tony Campolo tells about throwing a birthday party in a greasy spoon diner Up a side street I found a little place that was still open. I went in, took a seat on one of the stools at the counter, and waited to be served. This was one of those sleazy places that deserve the name, “greasy spoon.” I did not even touch the menu. I was afraid that if I opened the thing something gruesome would crawl out. But it was the only place I could find.
Campolo said he was in Honolulu to lead a conference. Yes, sometimes these things land in great places. He was dealing with jetlag and the inability to sleep that sometimes goes with it. He left his hotel and found a small diner. There were no booths or tables, just stools at the counter. He said he didn’t even look at the menu out of fear of what might fall out of it. The cook came out, wearing a greasy apron and asked what Campolo wanted, then brought him his cup of coffee and doughnut.
While he was eating two prostitutes walked into the diner and sat on either side of Campolo and they began talking over him to each other as he uncomfortably sat there trying to eat. In the course of their conversation, the one to Campolo’s left mentioned the next day would be her birthday. The other asked, “No kidding? What do you want me to do, throw you a party?”
The first woman said, “No, I just wanted to tell you it will be my birthday.”
With that, the two women left the diner. Campolo called the cook over and asked, about the woman. The cook told him, her name was Agnes and that she came in about that time every night. Campolo then asked if he could come back the next night and throw Agnes a birthday party. That excited the cook who called his wife out and the three made plans. Campolo would get the decorations, the cook would prepare a cake (Campolo said he wanted to buy one but the cook insisted and he cringed) and his wife would invite a few people she knew would come for Agnes.
At 2:30 the next morning Campolo arrived at the diner and got the decorations up. About 3:00 people, the prostitutes who knew and loved Agnes began showing up. By 3:15 the diner was packed with prostitutes, a cook and his wife, and Campolo. It was not the time or place you would expect to see a Christian author.
About 3:30 Agnes came into the diner. Everyone yelled, “Surprise” and sang Happy Birthday. The cook brought out the cake and handed her a knife and told her to cut the cake. She turned to Campolo and said she didn’t want to cut the cake. Would it be OK if she took it home to show her mother and then she would be back in just a few minutes? Campolo told her yes. Then she grabbed the cake and headed for the door. As the door closed Campolo said there was the most awkward silence he ever experienced. Not knowing what else to do he said, “Why don’t we pray?” He said he wasn’t sure why he said that but it was the right thing to do and they prayed that no matter who you are or what you do, Jesus can make you new.
When he finished the prayer the cook said, “I thought you were a writer. You’re a preacher. What kinda church do you preach at?”
Campolo said in one of those moments when God gives you just the right words he said, “The kind that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”
To Campolo, this is the kind of church Jesus came to build. A church that takes messed up people, meets them where they are and gently leads them to a better way.
There is one more group Jesus hung with, and he literally hung with them. Thieves. Luke tells the story of the crucifixion with a bit of a different twist that the other gospel writers. Luke says that one of those thieves asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. The most righteous part of us, at our core, wants to say, “No Jesus. He was a thief. He stole from people. He deserves what he gets.”
To that Jesus says to us, “I know.” (I do know that part is my artistic liberty). Then he turns back to the thief and says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He didn’t get what he deserved. But, neither do we.
Donald was an ex-con and a thief. Shortly after being released from prison he robbed a number of volunteers at a church in his hometown. Then he fled to California where after a short time he found himself attending a different church. That congregation changed his life. Well, God did but the congregation allowed God to work through them.
After a few months, living at the church and talking with the pastor, Donald walked into a local precinct and turned himself in. He was extradited to New York where he awaits trial. From jail Donald wrote to the congregation:
“Although I did suffer several rough spots, that I am confident of the fact that I left Santa Monica and the Lighthouse Church a better man than I have ever been,” he wrote. “You taught me how to love, care for and respect all people in my life, most importantly, myself. I have a long and prideful history … I have a rough road ahead of me but I no longer plan to walk this road alone. “I do have several responsibilities to rectify. I have begun to do this and will someday see you all again as a proud, free, Jesus-loving man.” “I wish to once again thank you all for touching my life. You have all, in your own ways, saved this man from a certain life of hell,” he wrote.
His pastor said Donald’s turnaround shows “that God can arrest people’s hearts if God’s given a chance.”
It sounds to me like he asked Jesus to remember him. I think Jesus will.
The Company we keep. Well, what your Mama told you when you were a kid, it isn’t bad advice for a kid. But, someday, you have to grow up and do what God calls us to do, to share the love of God with the world.
As a grown-up, if all your friends are good, church-going friends, you need to expand your base. We all need friends who are not attached to the faith. We need to know them and love them.
We have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, we don’t need those friends to drag us into their mess. We have enough sin of our own. But, at the same time, if we want people to know the love of God as we know it, we have to build relationships with all kinds of people.
I love the title of Campolo’s book, The Kingdom of God is a Party. We are about to celebrate Jesus’ ultimate party for the faithful. It is a time for us to come and remember and celebrate what He has done for us. It is also a time to ask God to lead us to relationships where we can make a real difference in people’s lives, in the name of Jesus Christ who receives all the glory forever and ever.