As he ends his 1963 Oberlin College Commencement address, Martin Luther King, Jr, says, “Our hope is found in the words of a slave preacher who didn’t quite have his grammar right, but uttered words of great and profound significance:
Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be; We ain’t what we wanna be;
We ain’t what we’re gonna be; But thank God we ain’t what we was!”
Is this preacher’s profession the truth of us?
- Are we who we want to be?
- Are we someone other than we should be?
- Are we an admirer of Jesus more than we are a follower of Jesus?
- Are we able to realize that while we are a baptized saint that we are at the same time a dyed in the wool sinner?
- Are we making spiritual gains or are we repeating same patterns while expecting different results?
- Are we seeking to do better than last week, or are week rolling along as usual?
Do you ponder such things? I ponder such things. I wonder if the tax collector pondered such things?
Maybe Jesus interrupted his thoughtful pondering with a command: “Follow Me!”
Maybe this command answered the question, “Am I who ought to be?”
Maybe it caused him to wonder, “Is a follower of this teacher who I should be?”
Perhaps he never feels like he belongs. His profession keeps him on the outside of others. Always makes him feel different, even despised. Perhaps, like many of us, the tax collector is well-acquainted with feeling disquieted and discontented, with feeling a pervasive restlessness, with feeling dollar-rich, but peace-poor.
Maybe the follow-me-command, woke him out of this pondering malaise, caused him to realize, “I am who I am, but who I am IS NOT who I should be.”
A person seeking care told me recently how she was engaged in a sinful act with another person, how she knew what she was doing was wrong, how she was wondering to herself while the act was taking place, “What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? This is not who I am.”
She was talking to me because she felt far from God, felt like she’d become untouchable for God, felt outside of God’s society. She gave me permission to share this part of her story because she knows what it’s like to feel beyond the grip of God’s amazing grace. I wonder if our tax collector shared such thoughts? Have these thoughts ever been your thoughts?
I can know my thoughts. You can know your thoughts.
We cannot know our Jewish tax collector’s thoughts; still we can know that another outcast Jew, a rabbi, a preacher who never got further than fifty miles from his hometown, one called a chum of sinners, one accused of being a drunk, one regularly shamed by the religious for being a preacher different from those before, commanded he, “Follow me!”
And our tax collector followed, and our tax collector was never the same. He was never the same. Not even his name was the same. Luke’s gospel calls our tax collector Levi. Matthew’s gospel calls our tax collector Matthew. And John’s gospel takes it a step further.
Tradition says that Matthew is the disciple described in John’s gospel as “the disciple that Jesus loved.” Matthew moved from being a tax collector to being a beloved disciple. Even his name, Matthew, is a derivative of the Greek word μαθητής, meaning disciple.
It is not enough to be an admirer, for being a disciple means to obey Christ’s command, “Follow me!”
It’s not enough to be a pork chop, one has to go whole hog. It’s not enough to be penny-ante, one has to go all in. Grace isn’t about safety. It’s about risk; the kind of risk that turns a tax collector, the author of derision, into a disciple, the author of Gospel.
Going all the way is our response to Christ’s, “Follow me!”
Remember Soren Kierkegaard’s words, “Christ came into the world with the purpose of saving, not instructing it. At the same time – as is implied in his saving work – he came to be the pattern, to leave footprints for the person who would join him, who would become a follower.”
We must be followers for the world to see Jesus making a difference through you and me. We must not give into settle our compromise ourselves into being admirers only.”
For as Kierkegaard goes on to say, “The admirer never makes any true sacrifices, always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, they are inexhaustible about how highly they prize Christ, they renounce nothing, will not reconstruct their life, and will not let their life express what it is they supposedly admire. Not so for the follower. No, no. The follower aspires with all their strength to be what they admire. And then, remarkably enough, even though they live amongst “Christian people,” they incur the same peril as they did when it was dangerous to openly confess Christ. For because of the follower’s life, it will become evident who the admirers are, for the admirers will become agitated with them.”
And this all comes down to the question, ““I am who I am, but IS who I am who I should be?”
Your baptism says who are. Your Lord coming to you in bread and in wine says who you are. But what do your actions, motives, and values say? And if these actions, motives, and values are saying, ‘I am who I am, but I am not who I should be,’ then I’ve good news for you.
Jesus is here today in this Holy Supper, and Jesus comes to forgive you.
Jesus already knows that,
“we ain’t what we oughta be;
we ain’t what we wanna be;
we ain’t what we’re gonna be;
by God’s grace, we ain’t what we was!”
And still Jesus commands you to, “Follow, to take and eat, to take and drink, to go, to make disciples.” So, come to Jesus confessing the truth of you, and follow Jesus to the Table, rise from that Table forgiven and freed, then follow Jesus right out through those doors. And when you get over there on the other side, don’t lag back and be an admirer. Don’t settle for being pork chop, risk it all for Jesus and go whole hog. Somewhere out there a Levi is waiting to become a Matthew, waiting to hear Jesus command them, “Follow me,” listening to hear Christ’s transforming command, waiting to hear that command come to them through the Gospel of Jesus according to YOU!