Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
1 July 2018
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time
OT Scripture Reading and Prayer – Isaiah 58:6-14 (ESV)
Collect: O Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Sermon: Luke 5:27-39
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
I think I first became aware of the IRS and tax collectors while driving around Dallas with my parents. They listened to the Beatles and one of their songs got me thinking about taxes. Some of you know the Taxman.
Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman
If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.
Don’t ask me what I want it for
If you don’t want to pay some more
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
That song got me thinking about taxes and helped understand why people don’t like dealing with the taxman paying taxes.
A few years ago I got one of those scary “Dear Taxpayer” letters from the IRS. I didn’t quite understand the problem so I called the number they provided to ask a few questions. At one point I said, “Can you tell me where I made a mistake? I just want to make sure I did the forms correctly?” In reply the Tax Lady said, “Yes, sir. If what you desire is a full audit, we can assist you with that.” To which I replied, “No, thank you. That won’t be necessary. I can figure this out or get a friend to help me.”
Tax collectors in Jesus’s days were no less feared or despised than they are in our day. Tax collectors were stigmatized as corrupt, dishonest, and greedy. Some were even considered to be spies and snitches for the Roman government. One commentator (Joel Green) says they were “the social equivalent of pimps and informants.”
In this story, Jesus was going around town and he saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. So, when Luke says that Jesus takes notice of Levi the tax collector, we should all feel a little shock.
Jesus saw him and spoke to him. (That’s very different than Jesus looked at him and lectured him about what a terrible person he was.) Jesus re-humanized a man who had been demonized by his community — perhaps for good and legitimate reasons. Maybe he deserved it. Maybe he took more than the fair share of taxes. Maybe he pocketed the extra. Maybe that is how he became a wealthy man.
Whatever the case, Jesus saw him and spoke to Levi. A man named after a tribe of Israel, which was named after Levi, one of the sons of Jacob. The Levites were known to be a little fiery and forceful at times (Levi helped a brother avenge their sister Dinah in gruesome manner.) Moses and Aaron descended from Levi. So did John the Baptist. All the OT priests were from the tribe of Levi, although not all Levites were priests. And yet, Levi was a tax collector, and not a priest nor the servant of priests.
Perhaps he did not come from a family of priests. Perhaps he was just the black sheep of his family.
Perhaps he could not cut it as a priest, so he joined the dark side and got entangled in the Roman cartel and became a tax collector.
Ironically, in some ways, Levi was doing what his namesake did. The first Levi helped sell his brother Joseph to the Midianites for a few silver coins. But this Levi sold his own people — his fellow Jews — to the Romans for a few pieces of silver at a time. Perhaps he was keeping an old family tradition after all — as a sellout, a traitor, a betrayer.
All that changed when Jesus called him.
We hear the story and it seems to us like Levi was just sitting in the booth and out of nowhere decided to leave everything and follow Jesus. But there is more to the story than we realize — or remember.
A couple of weeks ago we saw John the Baptizer preaching repentance at the river. “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’”
Do you remember who came out to hear him? Who came out to ask him questions? Tax collectors!
Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Just do the right thing.
It is more than likely that Levi was among the tax collectors who were baptized and instructed by John.
Remember why John was preaching and baptizing in the first place — To preach good news to the people and prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight.
Levi had heard the words of this desert prophet and his heart was now prepared by the word and Spirit for the moment when Jesus saw him and spoke to him:
At these words, Levi stopped whatever he was doing and started to follow the way of Jesus.
Do you remember what it was like when you first started following Jesus?
Not just going to church, or participating in worship, but following Jesus. Reading the scriptures. Paying attention to his story. Watching his every move. Trying to imitate him.
Remember how you felt this zeal to change your life? To do better. Make things right. Remember how you felt this burning desire to do something for the Lord?
That’s how Levi felt. So he does the first thing that comes to mind: He throws a big party, a fiesta, and he invites folks just like him from his community. Outsiders. Misfits. Folks without hope and without God in the world.
And he did it all for Jesus — Levi made him a great feast.
Not because the Law required it, but because he wanted to do it.
This is akin to what the scriptures call a freewill offering. Jesus had led Levi from guilt and shame to grace and mercy and Levi responded with gratitude.
Just in case you don’t know this: showing hospitality to your circle of friends, to your community, to outsiders, is one of the best and most effective ways to introduce them to Jesus. That’s what Levi did — and it’s something we should consider doing as well.
Just know that hyper-religious critics are always lurking and will always criticize and complain. “Look at the waste of resources! Look at all that that meat and beer! Look at all these foul-mouthed sinners!”
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Some professing Christian people believe that separating from “tax collectors and sinners” prevents them from getting contaminated by them.
But Jesus does not share their belief.
He ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners because he wanted to hang out with them, to heal them and to help them change.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
This is good news for those of us who know that we are “tax collectors and sinners” — we are the ones who shirked our calling, bucked family traditions, wrecked shop. We don’t have it all together. We’ve made massive mistakes. We’ve ruined marriages. We’ve neglected children and parents. We’ve sat alone in our booth, at a dead end job, watching the sand fall through the hour glass, wondering Is this all there is to life? “We’ve sat our table and waged war on ourselves, feeling like it’s all for nothing.” (REM)
I don’t know if Levi felt that way, but some of us do.
But Jesus saw us and spoke to us.
Jesus took notice of us and called us to follow him, walk in his steps, take his yoke upon us and learn from him. That has made all the difference.
Religious people criticize and condemn the sick and the sinners, but Jesus calls and comforts them. Aren’t you glad he saw you and spoke to you by his word and Spirit?!
Today, if you hear his voice, I urge you with all your heart — get out of your booth, leave the prison cell of your past behind, and come with us and follow Jesus into anew future.
Well, the religious critics hate the gospel of God’s grace, so they try to change the subject. Here they play the comparison game. They compare this church with that church, Baptists with Pharisees.
And they said to Jesus, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”
But Jesus cuts them off.
It’s not enough to compare different churches and their customs. Who cares what they do? The real question is do they know Christ? Do they follow Jesus? Some who fast and pray do. Others who eat and drink do not.
And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”
In other words, like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, Jesus says there is a time and place for everything under heaven. There is a time to fast — like on the day of atonement, or in a time of grieving. There is a time to pray — like before you eat, or in your morning and evening devotionals, or during worship. And there is a time to eat, drink, and be merry.
The reason Jesus and his disciples were feasting and not fasting is because the Christ was present. This was a time for feasting and rejoicing. As we saw last week this is the time of Jubilee. As it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord sent Jesus on mission
to proclaim good news to the poor.
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And that is what Jesus was doing — that is why he was eating with tax collectors and sinners.
Now, to drive home the point, Jesus also told the critics and complainers this parable:
“No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
That is how he answered the question about why his disciples eat and drink with sinners, instead fasting and praying with “saints”.
What do the parables mean?
The parables of the patches and wineskins answer the question about why Jesus and his disciples eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners instead of fasting and praying with “saints”.
It is a matter wisdom.
Not eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners would be as foolish and destructive as tearing a new patch and putting it on an old garment. It would be as foolish and wasteful as putting new wine in old wine skins.
Not eating and drinking with them would be detrimental to the mission of Jubilee.
So, in effect Jesus said, “We eat and drink with sinners because that’s what God would do.”
God is the author of hospitality and this is what God has always done.
In the OT, God ate with his people in tents, on the mountains, in the desert, at the altar. In the NT he eats with us at the table.
As the psalmist said, “He spreads a table for us in the presence of our enemies. He gives us all we want and need. He fills our cup to the brim and makes it overflow.”
He wants to eat and drink with us. That’s why this table — the Lord’s table — is set before us. When we come to this table, Christ will once again eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners — because he will be eating and drinking with us.
See? The old wine of God our Savior is better than the new wine of scribes and Pharisees.
You have heard that it was said, “The only things you must do are die and pay taxes.” But I tell that you must also repent and believe the gospel for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. And you must appear before him with a pardon in your hands or perish in your sins. So, turn and trust in Christ with faith, hope, and love. Do it from the heart, and you shall be saved.”