Proverbs 3.13-18; 2 Corinthians 4.1-6; Matthew 9.9-13
Well all I can say is – at last. I have been coming here to Mass on St Matthew’s Day for nineteen years now and finally I get to speak.
And what a wonderful occasion this always is - a chance to meet with friends old and new. Perhaps people we only ever hook up with when we are here. St Matthew’s is most definitely a church where warmth and hospitality abound.
You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep and you can tell even more about them by looking at those they call friends – just look at people’s Facebook pages!
That’s why the Pharisees in today’s Gospel were so scandalised by what they saw. Not only did they find that Jesus had called Matthew from the seat of custom, from his tax desk, to follow him, but then Jesus accepts an invitation from this new disciple to dine at his house along with Matthew’s friends – a whole bunch of tax collectors and sinners.
The tax collector no longer sits in his booth on the street corner. At this time of year he appears instead on television and the radio urging us to complete our self-assessment forms before the end of September. St. Matthew’s day is now conveniently set as a reminder of a key date in the fiscal calendar. Tax, we are told, doesn’t have to be taxing.
Tell that to my eldest son, who is setting up his own business not far from here and who is making the painful discovery of just how much of his earnings the government will claim by various means. Tell that to thousands of people like me who put off filling in their tax forms to the last possible date. In my case normally the last week in January.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Cor 4.6
It’s a funny word ‘glory’. We use it a lot in church. As a boy, my theological development was greatly hindered because I had an Aunty Glory, and thought that all references in hymns and the Bible, were to her. When I spoke at her funeral a couple of years ago I discovered she was named Glory because my grandmother had given birth to 7 boys and when the midwife said ‘it’s a girl!’ The response came back - ‘glory be!’ And so she was.
The Church of England in its present form no human power can save. Not said by AN Wilson in last week's Spectator, but by Dr Thomas Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby in the 1830's, so if you think we are in a mess today, just have a sense of history.
Mind you, Arnold had a point. A third of all incumbents in the 1830's had a second living. Only four out of ten parishes at that time had a resident incumbent. The Bishop of Durham earned today's equivalent of £750,000 a year, whereas a curate earned today's equivalent of £3,200.
Laudabo Nomen Domini
Jesus saw Levi son of Alphaeus at his seat in the custom house and said to him ‘Follow me’, and Levi rose and followed him. Mk 2.14
Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom house and said to him ‘Follow me’; and Matthew rose and followed him. Mt 9:9
A very happy birthday to you all. And thank you for the honour you do me by inviting me to preach this morning.
It is quite something to change your name. It’s not likely to apply to most of us. Our ‘Johns’ and ‘Mary’ - even ‘Wesley’ - go back into the mists of antiquity. But ‘Matthew’, that was a new name for a tax collector. First century people loved tax-collectors even less than we do. Even in these days, when relations between taxer and taxed are correct, letters or phone calls from the Inland Revenue terrify.