Faith United Methodist Church
November 1, 2015
All Saints’ Sunday
Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood
Scripture: Mark 2:13-20
Prayer of Illumination:
God promises that those who believe will see the glory of God. On this day when we celebrate the life and faith of the saints of God, renew our faith in the one for whom we have waited. Amen.
Appetizers. Sometimes they are the best part of the meal, right? Cheese and crackers. Nuts. Pigs in a blanket. Meatballs you eat with a toothpick. Yum! It’s easy to make a whole meal out of appetizers. At Thanksgiving I tend to load up on the appetizers so much that I’m full before the actual meal begins.
Today we begin a four-week sermon series (leading up to Thanksgiving) on Soul Food. Of course, this is the time of year we think a lot about food. For our ancestors ~ and some of us too ~ it’s harvest season. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving we shop and bake and talk about what we are going to make for the big day. We dream about our favorites…. stuffing, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole. And this is also the time of year we celebrate generosity, looking beyond ourselves and our wants. In our church this takes the form of collecting food for the Burlington Area Emergency Food Shelf so others can also have a Thanksgiving full of their favorites. We will watch our cornucopia grow and overflow with food over the next four weeks.
So it seems appropriate that our Scripture lesson takes place at mealtime. Have you noticed that Jesus does a lot of eating in the Gospels? With friends, with sinners, with crowds, in the upper room, at the lakeshore….. Jesus was a hungry guy, and he liked to relieve other people’s hunger as well.
But before we get to the meal, a little back-story. In today’s lesson Jesus and his disciples were traveling when they came across Levi (also known as Matthew) at his tollbooth. It was likely that Levi was a kind of second-level tax guy. He probably worked for someone like Zaccheus, who was a chief tax collector. As a toll collector, Levi would collect from those in his community. Yet what he collected included the tax and a portion above that ~ some to keep for himself and some to pass along to his chief tax collector. It was a corrupt system and that’s why toll collectors were looked upon so negatively.
I wonder what the disciples thought when Jesus called out to this toll collector, “Follow me.” Follow me. People like Levi took money from the poor to line his own pockets. That’s why the Jewish book of rabbinic law ~ called The Mishnah ~ says if tax-gatherers enter a house, the house becomes unclean. And still Jesus said, “Follow me.”
And not only that, soon they were all partying at Levi’s house. Appetizers passed around. Jesus’ disciples and Levi’s sinner friends were all invited. Maybe this party was a celebration. Maybe it was a going away party. Levi got a new job as a disciple and his friends wanted to give him a good send-off. But just like any party, they couldn’t keep it a secret from the neighbors. Before they knew it, the “proper police” came knocking on the door. I wonder if Jesus even had a chance to get through his first course before they showed up with all their questions.
Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners? That was their first question. And it was a good question, from the ‘proper police’ perspective. Preparing and eating of food is important in Judaism. According to the Mishnah, Jesus would become unclean just by entering Levi’s house. So why did he do it?
Eating together is a powerful symbol. It seems to me that Jesus’ actions were saying that there is no one outside the kingdom of God. William Loader explains it this way: “The point is that Jesus defines his own ministry and ours not in terms of trying to protect himself and, ultimately God, from contamination, but in terms of spreading love and compassion.”
The question we might want to ask ourselves is: Who are the tax collectors in our life? And, if Jesus threw a party and invited them, would we come? Often we fear we might be misunderstood by the people in our inner circle if we start spending too much time with those who aren’t ‘like us.’ But our Christian calling isn’t to just hang around with people ‘like us.’ Many of the saints of the church are those who didn’t hanging around with the ‘right’ people. St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa ~ even John Wesley ~ spent time with those most ‘good Christians’ would avoid. Jesus was prepared to risk his reputation. Are we?
So did Jesus ever get to enjoy the party? I don’t know. I hope so! It must have been quite a get-together, disciples and sinners and tax collectors and Pharisees all together and Jesus with them. Would you have gone to that party, do you think? I can’t say for sure, but I really hope I would have… it sounds like Levi threw a pretty good party. Pass the hors d’oeuvres! And let us pray…
God, may we open our hearts to all your children and not fear. May we care less about our reputation and more about sharing the gospel message. Amen.