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FOLLOWING JESUS 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 Matthew 9:9-13

Yesterday was St Matthew’s Day which is why we’ve got the gospel reading about the call of Matthew who was one of Jesus’ first disciples or followers. He eventually became a leader in the Church and wrote one of the four gospels or accounts of Jesus. Another follower of Jesus, though one who came a little later on, who never actually met Jesus in the flesh, was St Paul. He wrote the words in the first reading and in some ways they echo what St Matthew tells us about how his life was changed by meeting Jesus.

Two Responses
I sometimes come across two different objections to joining the Church. Some people say something like: I’m not good enough to become a Church member. Others feel that church members are hypocritical and that they would not want to be associated with such kind of a group. In some ways both attitudes are opposite sides of the same coin. Both are to do with comparing yourself with others and either saying “I’m not good enough for them!” or “I’m better than they are!” In a way that might have been the attitudes of both Matthew and Paul before they got involved with the followers of Jesus who became what we now call the Church. Matthew’s way of life was one that his fellow countrymen had problems with. A tax-collector in his day was seen as a cheat and a traitor because they took more taxes than they were supposed to and pocketed the difference. No-one could touch them, though, because the Romans were in charge and protected the men who collected their taxes. So St Matthew may well have taken the attitude that he was not good enough to become a follower of Jesus.

For his part Paul started off with a superior attitude towards the followers of Jesus. He didn’t accuse them of being hypocrites, but he did see Christians as being dangerously misguided and did all he could to stop the growing movement. One day he was stopped, literally in his tracks and had a vision of Jesus that changed his life. From this point on he began to change his ways and grew to become one of the most daring and energetic leaders of the early Church. The section of one of his letters that we read just now is one where he feels he has to make it clear why he preached the gospel. His conscience was clear, he did not use bad methods to persuade people but preached openly and clearly, challenging people to make up their own minds about Jesus and whether to follow him or not. The message about Jesus is as clear as light and St Paul perhaps had in mind the light that had shone into the darkness of his own life when he was stopped on the road to Damascus and converted.

Today we are baptising Sophie. We are joining her to the Church, the same church which St Matthew and St Paul helped to found. The same church which causes people to have different attitudes towards it: either that they are not good enough to join it or that they are too good to join it. So what are we to make of this? Is this something we really want Sophie to be part of?

An important difference
The first thing which we need to be clear about, which I have not made clear until now is this: there is a difference between being a member of the Church and being a follower of Jesus Christ. Of course, the two are very closely linked and that’s why they can often be confused. Although the followers of Jesus Christ together as a group form the Church, those who refuse to become involved with the Church don’t see that it is Jesus Christ who is the reason for the Church. Our job is to spread the new about Jesus and to call people to follow him. None of us can match up to his perfection but that is missing the point. Just as Jesus called Matthew who wasn’t good enough and Paul who was too good, so he calls each and all to follow him today. The Church is an always will be imperfect. In a way the recent statements of Pope Francis are saying the same thing: the Church has been too focussed on the negative and on petty minded morality. We have to get back to the positives and the bigger picture. The Church will never be perfect – so those who are not good enough will fell right at home. Those who think the Church is hypocritical expect the Church to be perfect when it never can. But the Church’s role is to help people to become followers of Jesus Christ.
So what we are doing when we baptise Sophie today is bringing her into a place where she can gradually understand that Jesus is also calling her to follow him. Our job both as her immediate family and friends and as the wider Church, is to help her grow in ways that will enlarge her awareness of what it’s all about. As we all seek to do that together, we allow Jesus to change our lives just as he changed the lives of Matthew and Paul. Matthew stopped cheating people and instead dedicated his life to helping people enjoy the kingdom of heaven and the riches of a life lived with God. Paul stopped trying to put the growing Church down and instead let God use his energies and his intelligence to start building the Church through many places around the Mediterranean sea. A lot of the NT is made up of Paul’s letters and we would be so much the poorer were it not for the thoughts and teaching Paul wrote down. Thank God that Matthew and Paul both responded to Jesus’ call to follow him!

Conclusion – Call to Follow
That call wasn’t just for the apostles of old, either. Millions of others have responded to Jesus’ call to leave their old way of life behind and to follow Jesus. There may be a little of Matthew or Paul in each of us – we may sometimes feel either unworthy of being called a Christian or of not wanting to be associated with people we see as somehow suspect. But the call comes to each of us, too. Have you heard that call? “Follow me!” Jesus says. Never mind how you measure up to others – I want you to follow me! There’s not just what following Jesus can do for you (and there’s plenty of that), but also what you might do for Jesus if you accepted the call to follow him! The world is a better place, despite its suffering and problems, because of those who accepted the call to follow Jesus and gave their lives, their gifts and their energies to him. Let us pray and look for Sophie, too, to grow up so that her gifts and talents and energy can serve Jesus and the world which she is going to be a grown-up in one day!

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith