Radical Call, Radical Response

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Luke 5:27-39

Levi, also known as Matthew, one of the twelve, by all accounts was living a good life when Jesus came calling.

No doubt he was wealthy and had many friends and associates. He was wealthy enough to own a large house, a house large enough to hold a party for Jesus and invite many of his professional colleagues—other tax collectors to join them. He was wealthy enough to pay for a feast for all of them. Everyone who knew him likely said, “he was living the good life.”  – a secure job, a good income and many friends.

So, I don’t know about you but I wonder-  why would he give all that up to follow Jesus?- he seems to be successful – living the good life!)

Of course, his job was not one that was well respected, at least by members of his own faith.

“In Jesus’ day, a tax collector was a Jew who had sold out to the occupying Roman enemy, that is, he was hired by the Romans to collect taxes from the Jews for Rome. A tax collector was presumed to be an unfaithful Jew, one who not only let himself be bought out by the Romans, but also was personally pocketing a good amount of the money he was collecting from his own people. The tax collector symbolized the Establishment with all its exploitation, extortion, cheating- everything people hated. “[1]

Maybe you remember the story Jesus told of the Pharisee praying in the temple: He prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this by Text-Enhance”>tax collector.”?

A tax collector was not so different from thieves and adulterers in the eyes of the society.

Despite this, and to the shock of the Pharisees and the scholars– Jesus called Levi/Matthew to follow him and join his first class of disciples.

In response, we are told, that like Simon Peter had done earlier—Levi has a radical reply—he gets up, turns in his letter of resignation—clears his calendar… leaves everything—and decides to follow Jesus.

Then he invites his friends to meet Jesus at the banquet—other tax collectors and sinners.  Causing confusion and anger among the religious righteous who just don’t understand Jesus—who he is and what he is about. He claims to be religious, he is a well known rabbi and respected teacher… he claims to love God– so what is he doing eating and drinking with sinners… and why is he inviting people like them to become his students, his disciples. It doesn’t make any sense to them. In their world, according to their way of thinking about faith: sinners are outsiders, the good people are insiders. God hates sinners and loves good people.

So what is Jesus about? What is he doing here?

Well, listen and he will tell us: “It is not the well who need the doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the virtuous but the sinners to repentance.”

This was a new way of thinking about God. They had assumed (because their scriptures had taught them this) that God had come to reward the righteous and to punish sinners. Jesus was saying that he was sent by God not to reward the good people, but to save those who were sick.

I fear we still have that attitude now and then. Oh, we don’t say it out loud, but there is a temptation in us, is there not, to make sure people are worthy before they are called to follow Jesus… or join the church. Let’s be honest, there are certain people who would make us nervous if they came here. For many we have become, as they say, a sanctuary for saints more than a hospital for sinners.

I remember in my previous church one of the members was on trial for embezzlement. I went to the trial to sit behind him and support him and his family. Another member of the church came to me and said, “I can’t believe you went to the trial. After what he did? I can’t believe you went there.”  He was not worthy of a pastor. He was a sinner!

Some people are just beyond hope and help and not deserving to be in the family of Christ. Some people like Levi. Who was wealthy in so many ways—maybe in every way except morally and spiritually.

Nevertheless, Jesus goes to him—at his office and invites Levi to become a disciple… “Follow Me”—a radical call…

Which leads to his radical response. Levi left everything behind… all in order to keep company with Jesus..  to learn more from him and to learn more about him.

Today we may not be able to physically follow Jesus when he calls us. But that doesn’t mean we cannot learn from him or about him.

One of the main reasons to read through the gospels is to learn from Jesus and to get to know Jesus better. Read through one of the gospels in one sitting. They aren’t that long. You’ll learn a lot… much more than if you simply read a few verses at a time. So, if you want to faithfully follow Jesus how about this: read the gospels. How about that for a book club discussion! That’s why they were written.

Without them it would be nearly impossible for us to know anything about Him. Almost every line of these books has the power to lead us into a deeper knowledge of the person of Jesus. Spiritual guides through the centuries have encouraged serious seekers to constantly meditate on the figure of Jesus as he is revealed in the Gospels.

So take an hour to read one. Catch a glimpse of his relationship with God… witness the deep intimacy and closeness between Jesus and God. Notice the way He relates to people, especially those who live on the fringes of his society—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers and so on. Listen to the words He speaks and the message He brings. Notice the way he sees the world. Listen to what he asks of us to do as his disciples.[2]

But let me warn you… what you learn may change you. After all, Levi was changed. Meeting Jesus changed his life. He didn’t just leave behind his job or stuff… he left behind his old attitudes, his old way of thinking behind… all in order to keep company with Jesus—to learn from him and to learn more about him.

And what he learned as he follows Jesus was this: Jesus was calling him, as he calls everyone of us—to a new way of acting and living and organizing our lives. Not just amending our lives… or adding a little Jesus to our lives and our present way of thinking…Not just asking Jesus to bless or baptize our sinful attitudes or way of thinking or living–  Jesus says that would make about as much sense as putting new wine into old wineskins.

No, this is a radical call that requires a radical response. It requires: repentance: which means changing from who you are now to what Christ invites you to become. It might even mean changing your way of thinking.

What Luke seems to be saying is this: a Radical Call requires a radical response.

Following Jesus is not an avocation—it becomes a person’s main vocation… main purpose in life. Want to find your purpose in life? How about this? Your reason for living may be to follow Jesus.

Of course, you may not know everything about who he is and what he is teaching… the first disciples certainly did not on the day they were invited to follow… but you follow anyway.

And in the following, you discover a life you never knew was possible.

On our mission trip, my friend from Cary Presbyterian, Kyle Allen asked the returning members of group why they first went to Guatemala. There were lots of answers.

Craig Nygard shared the Buechner quote we like that talks about you being called “where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”  That resonated with many in our group. One member commented how they discovered their passion for music could meet a need. It felt like a call.

But what really struck me is that many didn’t discover their call until after they followed Christ to Guatemala. So they went—most using vacation time and work time—not knowing… but in the following, they discovered their call. Some discovered their healing. Discipleship—following led to call… led to healing not the other way around.

Radical Call… required a radical response to leave behind your security and to trust the one who called you… and to follow where Christ leads.

This is certainly true of the faith that gave birth to Christianity in Scotland.

One of the most transforming spiritual experiences of my life was my trip to Iona during my sabbatical. First, there is a sense that you are leaving so much behind even to get there. After about 6 hours of  a long train trip, a couple of bus rides and ferry rides to an island far off the beaten path… you sort of feel like you have left stuff behind to get to the Island of Iona in far western Scotland.

What I didn’t know is that I was actually going to the place where Christianity began for the Scots and thus for many of us Presbyterians… in some ways the very beginning of the American Presbyterian church when came to us from Scotland.

There on Iona, back in the 6th century, St. Columba found his way from Ireland and established an outpost from which he evangelized all of Scotland. Eventually, he shared a Celtic form of Christianity that engages both the head and the heart… focusing on Christ who leads us into a new way of thinking and being.

Centuries later there was a rebirth of this form of Christian faith from someone who responded to a radical call with a radical response. George MacLeod, a Presbyterian minister, felt called to leave a popular parish in Glasgow during the 1930s. He had the vision to take Seminary Students and poor working class people from Glasgow to the Island of Iona and rebuild a Benedictine  Abby in ruins.

That led to the formation of the Iona community… a place of deep spirituality with a concern for loving neighbor.

Today the community gathers people from all over the world—spiritual seekers— some are outsiders who do not feel welcome in the church because they are not good enough… And through their worship and their programs what I hear is this: Christ inviting people to follow him… to leave an old way behind in order to return to the world a new person… ready to share the gospel with those who are sick… those who society casts out…

On Iona, they say the whole reason to come there is to leave… and to return to your world as an engaged disciple of Jesus Christ.

You will hear this in the song we will sing which was written by John Bell… who has become the best known composer and preacher from that community today.

“Will you come and follow me” is one of his most famous hymns. If you listen to the words the text is prophetic… “The Summons” of Christ is to a radical Christianity. We are challenged to “leave yourself behind” and to “risk the hostile stare”, “to set the prisoner free” and “kiss the leper clean” and to “use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around”

As I think of that and I think of discipleship, my mind goes to Albert Schweitzer who answered the summons and reshaped the world around him… He shared the call to follow Jesus this way at the conclusion of his book on the Quest for the Historical Jesus:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side (or the tax office)  He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time.

He commands.

And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

To which I would add, as a gift to us, we also learn who we are and why we are here. That’s quite a gift. Amen.


[1] Richard Rohr, p 107-  The Good News According to Luke

[2] Adapted from Hudson Trevor , Questions God Asks us – Kindle location 915-919

Leave a Reply