Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Gives Us Worth” based on Matthew 9:9-13 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, February 16, 2020

It’s amazing the difference a day can make. Actually it’s amazing the difference a moment can make in a person’s life. It worked that way for me.  There was a moment in my life that changed everything. You all know about it; in fact, we just read about it earlier.

I’m sorry, I should probably introduce myself. My name is Matthew.  Yes, I am the one who wrote the gospel that was read earlier. Allow me to tell you a little bit about myself. In fact, let me tell you about that moment that changed my life.

That particular day started off like any other.  I got up, got ready and walked to work.  The people I passed didn’t greet me with a kind Shalom a friendly nod – they never did.  I was generally ignored.  That’s because I was a tax collector.  Andrew, Peter, James and John were all fishermen before they became disciples of Jesus.  I was a tax collector.

You have IRS agents.  They make sure people pay their taxes.  And from what I hear, IRS agents aren’t the most popular people in your country.  But they at least follow codes and regulations.  In my day, there wasn’t too much oversight.  Between Herod and the Roman government, there were a ton of taxes.  People were taxed on their goods, their livestock, their land, their income.  There were religious taxes and secular taxes.  Collectors like me – we could overcharge the people in each one of those areas – and keep the extra for ourselves.  The people knew this.  They despised it…and they despised us, the collectors.  We weren’t allowed to go to church (I was Jewish so my church was called synagogue, but I was basically kicked out of the synagogue).  We couldn’t be trusted to give testimony in a court of law.  Tax collectors were outcasts.  I was an outcast.

But one particular moment changed all that.  There I was – at my booth…and Jesus shows up.  We had all heard about Jesus…unless you lived under a rock, you heard about Jesus.  News about his powerful preaching spread.  When he healed a man with leprosy just a few miles away – we heard about it.  Everyone was talking about how he healed a Centurion’s servant without even going to his house.  The latest buzz – this Jesus just told a paralyzed man to get up, pick up his mat and walk…and he did.

But now this holy man…this powerful man…this miracle worker was headed my way.  He walked closer…and closer…and then he looked right at me.  He didn’t yell.  He didn’t scold me.  He didn’t give me the cold shoulder or look down on me – that’s what I was expecting.  Instead I could see the love and compassion in his eyes.  He looked at me…and he simply said, Follow me.

And just like that – in that moment, I went from Matthew the tax collector…the outcast…to Matthew the disciple of Jesus.  He found me – before that I had been lost.  He called me – when I deserved to be shunned by Him.  That moment changed my life.  Wouldn’t it have changed yours?

When I was growing up my mom and dad taught me the Psalms.  One particular psalm I remember – Psalm 130 – If you O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?

My record…my list of sins was pretty public.  People knew what tax collectors typically did.  But even after I became a disciple of Jesus…even after I had the opportunity to grow close to him and hear him teach…even then I still messed up…I still doubted…I loved the things of this world more than Jesus…I was still a “sinner” after I became a disciples.  Isn’t that the point Jesus was making when he said to the Pharisees, “it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”   We are all sinners.  We are all sick with the disease of sin.  Trust me; if the apostle Paul calls himself the chief of sinners, I am more so.

I look out over this gathering.  I can’t be the only one with a checkered past.  I can’t be the only one who is ashamed of my record…of my list of sins.  I can’t be the only one who admits the term “chief of sinners” ought to be stamped to my chest.

If you O Lord…IF…you O Lord, kept a record of sins…BUT he doesn’t…instead the psalm verse goes on: But with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared. 

You and I might be separated by 2,000 years.  We have different upbringings and cultures and vocations.  Here’s what we have in common.  Jesus found us – before that we were lost.  Jesus called us – when we deserved to be shunned by him.  Jesus forgives us…loves us.  He is just that compassionate…that loving…that gracious.

You know, looking back, I was a pretty wealthy man.  I made a pretty decent living.  But it wasn’t until I met Jesus that I realized my true worth…that my worth came from Him.  That changed everything…

  • Changed the way I used my wealth
  • Changed the way I looked at people who were caught in their own sins…they way I treated people
  • Changed my purpose in life – I went from scamming people to trying to help rescue people…from getting all I could from people to giving them the best thing every – the good news about Jesus.

Do you mind if I offer a few observations before I say Amen?  You have some very nice houses and apartments.  Your indoor plumbing is pretty great – hot showers, dish washers, refrigerators.  You even have heated seats in your SUV and cars that can parallel park themselves.  But to borrow a term from wise Solomon – all that is meaningless!  Your worth…your value comes from Jesus.

You were sick…you were among the “sinners” – still are – that Jesus came to save.  He SAW you…FOUND you…CALLED you…Called you to be his own…called you to follow him…called you to love others as he has loved you…called you to seek out other tax collectors and sinners just as he has sought out you…called you to see the value of all souls as he values yours.  There is much work to do.  Amen.