Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
If you want to become a priest or a deacon, you have to go through a long process. In our diocese, it starts with a conversation with your rector that lasts for at least six months. Typically, I tell interested people that we will need to speak together for a year before moving ahead with any of the other steps. Eventually, I'll pull in a small committee of parishioners who can join me in discerning whether the individual is called by God to serve the church as an ordained person. If they all agree, then we approach the vestry and then the bishop. Once we meet with the bishop, the process has less to do with the individual and more to do with the church. Does the church also discern that this person is called by God to ordained ministry? There are committee interviews, retreats, internships, medical and psychological evaluations, background checks, peer evaluations, and a whole lot of scrutiny. If the person is approved for seminary training, there are another three years of academic, spiritual, and social evaluation before ordination. And through it all--four or five or six years of discernment---any big misstep like a DUI or a divorce or a red flag on a background check is likely to delay if not derail the whole process.
The process for becoming a disciple is the exact opposite. "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" (Matthew:9:9-13). And, because of that, we all have hope.
None of Jesus' disciples came from the religious elites or the well educated. They were fishermen and menders of nets. They were ordinary, working-class people. But Matthew was exceptional. As a tax collector, he wasn't a rough-cut, blue-collar guy who didn't fit in at the synagogue's Annual Bazaar. He was a traitor. He was a criminal. He was a greedy extortionist who made his living by supporting the unholy Roman occupiers by forcing his countrymen to pay taxes to those who oppressed them. Every coin he collected had the emperor's image engraved on it, which meant his entire life was a violation of the third commandment. We don't really know anything about what sort of tax collector Matthew was, and we don't need to know. He was a tax collector, and that says it all. Like a pedophile or a drug dealer, we don't need to know how he conducted his nefarious business. He was, by definition, beyond hope. He had sold his soul to the devil, and the devil wasn't going to give it back.
And Jesus, as he was walking along, saw Matthew sitting at the tax booth and said, “Follow me.” Jesus didn’t run into him at the grocery store. He didn’t encounter him walking along the street or sitting at a café or heading into synagogue. Jesus saw him sitting in the seat of his sin, and still he said, “Follow me.” This wasn’t an accident. This is the one whom Jesus wanted because this is the one who needed Jesus. “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners,” he explained to those who questioned his choice. Jesus knew that becoming a disciple isn’t a reward for holiness. It is hope for the sinful. It is healing for the broken. It is transformation for the one who has no other path to redemption. It is our calling. It is our future.
Jesus said, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. You don’t have to be a saint in order to follow Jesus. In fact, saints need not apply. Those who are well don’t need a physician. Those who are righteous don’t need redeeming. But those of us who need forgiveness, those of us who need God’s help, we are the ones whom Jesus is calling. He is speaking to us. He is speaking to you. “Come, follow me,” he beckons. Will you respond to his invitation? Will you get up and leave your sin behind and follow the one who can lead you back to God?