Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Saint Matthew
September 21, 2014, 6:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 21st September 2014

Two weeks ago, Marilyn and I had to travel from Vancouver to Seattle to attend a family party. For Canadians, crossing the border to the United States is straightforward, but it is more complicated for non-Canadians entering by car. At the border crossing point (looking a bit like the toll-booths on the Severn crossing), we showed our passports and were told that we must pull in for a personal interview with an immigration officer. This meant joining a long queue, and after about forty-five minutes we reached the desk. The immigration officer was quite affable, scanned our fingerprints and retinas, and let us go. We then had to pay six dollars each to another officer (which was in addition to the fee we had paid before leaving for our visa waiver). Our Canadian cousins were very patient- normally they just show a plastic card to a machine and carry on. On the way back, we all re-entered Her Majesty’s dominions with no fuss at all.

What is the relevance of this to St Matthew, whose feast we keep today? Well, it is likely that he (whom we normally call a tax-collector) was one who collected the tolls as people crossed a border. King Herod the Great, the king who massacred the innocents, ruled over a territory which included not only modern Israel, but a large part of what is now Syria and Jordan. When he died, this territory was divided between his four sons, and the boundary between the Tetrarchy (or quarter) of Galilee belonging to Herod Antipas, and that of Gaulanitis, modern Golan, belonging to his brother Philip, was more or less at Capernaum. Whereas a few years before anyone could cross without let or hindrance, now they had to pay. This, you may imagine, was not popular. Imagine how the citizens of Berwick-on-Tweed would feel if the Referendum had gone the other way, and they found they now had to pay a toll to cross into Scotland.

Officials are never popular if they have to administer unpopular laws. It isn’t their fault, they are just doing their job. Some may be officious Jobsworths who make things difficult for everyone, some may be sympathetic and friendly, but they still have to cope with resentment and abuse from the public. The fact that Matthew responded so readily to the call of Jesus suggests that he was open-minded and open-hearted, and truth to tell probably rather glad to leave his despised post and follow the Lord.

On the whole, boundaries and barriers between human beings are not good things. They arise from suspicion and mistrust, from making distinctions between “us” and “them”. In ancient times, one of the great divides was between Jews and Gentiles. The very term “gentile” or “goy” meant much the same as “heathen”, a term of contempt. It was hard, even for Christian Jews, to overcome that prejudice and accept non-Jewish Christians as equally members of the same family. Christianity is (in part) about abolishing such distinctions, recognising our kinship with all human beings.

Yes, there is a difference between those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord, and those who do not; but we know, do we not, that our acceptance of Christ is not due to any superior wisdom or morality of our own, but purely to the grace of God. Those who do not yet know Jesus are still our brothers and sisters, to be won for him only if our own lives are Christ-like. They may put up barriers against us, but we should never put up barriers against them. It was hard for us to enter the USA, but easy for us to re-enter Canada as (like our Canadian cousins) fellow-subjects of the Queen of Canada, the Queen too of this thankfully still United Kingdom. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords: our good fortune, our grace, is that we already recognise this, whereas others do not yet.

In general, human beings are always “Better Together”. There are enough divisions in the world without creating more. On the eve of his Passion, our Lord prayed that we might all be one. One humanity, redeemed by one Lord Jesus Christ and acknowledging one God and Father of us all, to whom in the Holy Spirit be all glory and honour, now and for ever. Amen.

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