Today is the second last Sunday in the sermon series we call “SONshine in the Summertime.” And the main idea of the series is that sharing Jesus’ love with others should be just as easy and just as natural as one child passing a beach ball on a beach to another child. And today we are seeing how a person in the Bible named Matthew used Party Evangelism to share Jesus’ love with his friends.
The first thing that we notice about Matthew is that he is a tax collector. We reflected on the interaction between Jesus and another tax collector named Zacchaeus a couple of weeks ago. And mention was made of how tax collectors in Roman-occupied Judea were thoroughly despised by the Jews because the tax collectors were cooperating with the Roman occupiers against their own people and getting rich by extorting high markups on the taxes they charged them.
It is hard to think of a parallel in our own society. To approach the level of loathing the first century Jews had for someone like Matthew, we need to imagine something like an enemy spy running a protection racket. You have to pay him money so that your business doesn’t get burned down, and then he steals your business secrets and sells them to your competitor.
So why would Jesus reach out to someone who worked in a despised profession like a first century tax collector, or a 21st century extortionist spy, or a homeless person, or a prostitute, or a person suffering from mental illness? The reason is love.
God does not need our love or our worship. God is not a childish, self-centred deity who demands our love because He thirsts for it. The God of the Bible is one God who exists in three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—all at the same time. These three persons, who are one is essence, form a community of perfect, choosing, self-giving love. The Father is loved perfectly by the Son and the Spirit. The Spirit is loved perfectly by the Son and the Father. And the Son is loved perfectly by the Father and the Spirit. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are constantly in movement in a kind of circle dance that scholars call the perchoresis.
God created human beings and put His image on them, not because He needed to be loved by them, but because He wanted give His love to them.
Unfortunately, the great human experiment went awry when the first pair of human beings disobeyed God and all of creation was broken by sin as a result. Human beings turned their backs on God and struck out at each other with murderous intentions. Floods, storms, drought, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions reveal the brokenness of nature and the fragility of life.
All of this was not a surprise to God. He knew that the Fall was going to happen before He created the first moment in time. And yet God created anyway, because this beautiful, but broken, creation, filled with divine image-bearing, but broken, people, gave God even more opportunity to love.
We are the ones who need God. Each and every one of us, in our own way, has sold other people out so that we might gain some benefit. Invited into the inner circle of the most popular girl in school, we turn our back on the one friend who has been both trustworthy and true to us. Our boss holds a carrot of praise or extra money before us, and we turn our back on the spouse and children who wait for us to come home in the evening. We visit a friend’s beautiful, spacious new home, and we despise the 30 year old house that the breadwinner of our home worked hard to pay for. You and I are Matthew. We are Zacchaeus. We are first-century tax collectors who deserve prejudice and loathing from our fellow humans beings, and we deserve wrath and condemnation from God.
But God, you see, is not wired like mercurial patriarch with a hair-trigger temper. God’s first intention is always to love, gently, graciously and freely. Yes, God will get angry, but God’s anger is directed at sin and God’s anger is driven by His perfect sense of justice. Any God that does not get angry at injustice and sin is not worthy of our worship or praise. If you want to ally yourself on the side of injustice and sin, then you should prepare yourself to be the object of God’s wrath. But wrath is always God’s second choice for himself and for you. His first choice is to love you.
It was love that moved the Father to send the Son to save you. It was love that moved the Son to wrap Himself in human flesh, live a perfect human life, suffer and die for all sin on the cross, and rise from the dead to declare victory over sin, death and the devil. It was love that moved the Holy Spirit to plant a seed of faith in your heart through the Word and the Sacraments. It was love that moved the Spirit to water and nourish that faith seed so that it would grow and mature. It is love that moves the Spirit to lead, guide and direct you in the new life that Jesus gives you.
And so, Matthew, now that you have been saved by God, will you join with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in reaching out to others with the saving love of Jesus?
One way to reach out to your friends with the saving love of Jesus is through something called Party Evangelism. Now I could have chosen to talk about Grandparent Evangelism, or Business Evangelism, or Soccer Coach Evangelism, but I will leave those up to your Holy Spirit-guided imaginations to figure out, and some of you, I know, are already using some of these approaches. But Party Evangelism is the approach that Matthew used. He threw a party and invited all of his friends who were far from God. But Matthew also invited Jesus and some of His followers to the same party in the hope that good things would happen when those two groups got together. Party Evangelism is something that we can still do today to reach out to our friends, family and neighbours.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on July 13, 2014.)