(Mark 2: 13-17)
Relationships. They’re great, aren’t they? Every once in a while, someone will post on Facebook that they’re in a relationship. It’s as if they want to announce to the world that someone likes them, someone sees something in them that’s worth developing a closer relationship. Then, there are those times when that other person says that they want to be exclusive, you know, have you all to themselves or, worse yet, they tell you they want to see other people. Life is all about relationships and they come in different forms and dynamics. Some relationships are life-long, some short-lived and for a limited purpose, some a matter of necessity or convenience, some beneficial to the parties, some suck the life out of you, and some end badly.
And the need for diverse relationships is what I got out of our scripture reading this morning. Jesus was in Capernaum and had just healed a paralytic man and was continuing upon his way when he saw a man named Levi sitting at the tax collector’s booth. Jesus approached him and told him to follow him. Levi, later to become known as Matthew, got up and followed him and they went to Matthew’s house where Jesus joined him and other tax collectors and sinners for dinner. I read all three of the gospel accounts of this meeting and dinner and none of them tell us what kind of sinners these other people were and leaves it to our imagination. But we do know that tax collectors were not a favored people in Israel. They were Jews who were appointed by the Romans to be the area tax collector and made their money from a commission they took from the taxes they collected which, more often than not, was excessive. They were not popular with the Jews because of this reputation for cheating their own people, and for working with the hated Romans. So, it’s not hard to understand that decent people wouldn’t want to befriend these tax collectors so you can imagine the kinds of people who would freely associate with them. Mark tells us that; When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” This really perplexed the Pharisees because if this Jesus really was the Messiah he shouldn’t be hanging out with these kinds of people. He should have an exclusive relationship with them, the Jewish religious authorities. We are told that upon hearing this, Jesus said to them; It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to have a relationship with the Pharisees. They were righteous and should have known better than anyone else how to have a relationship with God. Jesus wanted to develop a relationship with these sinners, these people who needed to know the healing power of God and the kind of life they can live if they have the right kind of relationship.
So, having a relationship with Jesus enables us to have the kinds of relationships with people that God would have us have. So, as followers of Jesus Christ and Methodists, what kind of relationships are we talking about. Well, in your bulletin you’ll see an abridged version of John Wesley’s Manifesto. This was sent to me earlier in the week, so I did a little research on it as it seemed pretty interesting. Wesley didn’t actually write this manifesto but if he did, this is what it would probably look like. It was compiled by New Room Bristol Church historian Gary Best a couple of years ago and each one of the 12 points is inspired by Wesley’s writings and actual quotes. New Room Methodist Chapel is in Bristol, United Kingdom and is the oldest Methodist Chapel in the world. It looks like a great place to visit. What’s interesting is that Wesley was born in 1703 and died in 1791 and these were pressing issues during the 18th century and, if you’ve ever looked at the Social Principles in our Book of Discipline, they form the core of what it means to be a Methodist in the world making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And, I think you’ll agree these remain to be relevant issues in the 21st century.
Wesley believed it was incumbent on Methodists and society to reduce the gap between rich people and poor people. The conditions of the poor he saw in 18th century England were deplorable. He felt it was important to help everyone to have a job. Wesley did more than preach, he created jobs for women to help them support their families which was especially important to widows with children. He urges helping the poorest, including introducing a living wage. Isn’t that something our local politicians talk about every two years here in Jefferson County? And, he feels that it is important to offer the best possible education. Another hot topic in the upcoming national elections. Help everyone to feel they can make a difference. That’s one we really try to instill here at Community whether it’s the people who attend here regularly or those who come to us looking for help. Promote tolerance. That’s a big one and in today’s political climate tolerance is in short supply. Promote equal treatment for women. In the 18th century women really were the weaker sex. They had no status or power and were relegated to second-class citizen status. Women in America have come a long way but still have further to go, and women in other countries really need support. He felt we should create a society based on values and not on profits and consumerism. The pursuit of the all-mighty dollar and consumerism, buying the next unnecessary gadget has blinded us to what is really important, valuing life and the lives of others. End all forms of slavery. We may think slavery is dead in the United States, but it is not, and it is alive and thriving in other parts of the world. Avoid getting into wars. See last week’s sermon on that topic or just read the paper and judge for yourselves if war could be in our future. Share the love of God with everyone. Wesley wanted us to get out of our comfort zone and meet people where they are and to share the stories of our relationships with God and what He can do for them. And last, but not least, care for the environment. God created the earth and all that is in it and we must be better stewards of the earth. It’s the only one we have and the only one our grandchildren will have.
Every single one of these twelve points involves relationships. Relationships we must be in if we are going to make a difference. So, today is Human Relations Day, one of the six special Sundays in our Methodist tradition. According to paragraph 263.1 of our United Methodist Book of Discipline, Human Relations Day calls for the church to recognize the right of all God’s children in realizing their potential as human beings in relationship with each other. The purpose of the day is to further the development of better human relations. But I think it’s more important than merely recognizing the right of all God’s children in realizing their potential as human beings in relationship with each other. It’s important that we take our cue from John Wesley and Jesus in actively putting ourselves out there and developing those relationships that truly make a lasting difference.
The self-righteous Pharisees were indignant that Jesus would eat a meal with such sinners. But Jesus gladly associated with sinners because he loved them and because he knew that they needed to hear what he had to say. Jesus spent time with whoever needed or wanted to hear his message whether they poor, rich, bad or good. Jesus chose to spend his time not with the proud, self-righteous religious leaders, but with people who sensed their own sin and knew they were not good enough for God. They needed to know they were good enough. We, too, must befriend those who need Christ, even if they do not seem to be ideal companions. We have to ask ourselves if these people we’ve been neglecting are being neglected because of their reputation or station in life? They may be the ones who most need to see and hear the message of Christ’s love in and from you and us. What we do here really does matter.
So, if you aren’t in a relationship for God, don’t you think it’s time? Take a look at Wesley’s Manifesto and pick at least one to begin with and see what you can do to get into a relationship that will change someone’s life (and yours) for the better. And, ask yourself what can I do to help our church create these relationships right here in our very own community where there are countless people longing to be in a relationship with you, with us, and the God we love and who loves us and the lost and longing.
Please pray with me.
Gracious and compassionate God, you sent your Son to live among us to show and teach us how to have meaningful relationships with each other. The kind of relationships that make a difference in people’s lives and in the world in which we live. Move us through the Spirit to look outside of ourselves to where we can see the plight of others and guide us in our efforts to work in harmony and love to build strong relationships with the lost and searching. Help us to form relationships with other entities within our community, including other churches, to form strong relationships that will allow us to combine our resources to where we can have a greater impact in the lives of your less fortunate children bringing you praises from the people and glory to your name. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.