I visited another church Sunday and the pastor delivered an excellent sermon built around the calling of Levi in Matthew 9. Levi, of course, is Matthew, the writer of the gospel. He was tax collector when Jesus encountered him on the road at his “toll booth.” The pastor pointed out that Matthew, as a tax collector, was hated by his own people, the Jews, not only because he was working for the IRS, but in those days, he was seen as a traitor because he was working for the Romans who occupied the region at the time. He also cheated and extorted money to make his living. He charged an exorbitant amount at his toll booth, and, most likely, was wealthy (and despised) because of it.
He was no doubt a loner. He had “friends”, if you want to call them that, but they were fellow tax collectors and other riff-raff who couldn’t be trusted. I’m not sure Matthew would call them real friends. So when Jesus comes along, and invites Matthew to come along with him, Matthew had to be looking around behind him and saying, “Who? Me?!?” You’d think there was more interaction between Matthew and Jesus during this encounter, but if there is, it doesn’t show up in Matthew’s gospel, nor the two other gospels where this story also appears. Matthew simply gets up, leaves his toll booth behind, and joins Jesus.
As the pastor shared, acceptance is a powerful thing. It pulled Matthew from his toll booth. It pulled him away from his old life in an instant, without any reasoning or convincing. Acceptance is a powerful thing. As the pastor continued, he said it’s acceptance that convinces youngsters to join gangs. It’s acceptance that makes peer pressure so powerful. Acceptance is a powerful thing. Just ask Levi the (former) tax collector.
Knowing that God accepts you no matter where you are in life, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how you’re doing in your journey with God… if you’re riding high or down in the depths… on the mountaintop or weeping bitterly… knowing that God accepts you and loves you… well, it has the power to transform you. It did me.
When I discovered in my heart what I knew in my head: that God loved me and accepted me when I succeeded and when I failed… when I prayed a lot or when I prayed very little… when I go to church every single week and say “yes” to every invitation to serve or help or when I skip church, spend time home alone with family… that no matter what, He loves and accepts me, it brought new freedom into my life. As I’ve said before, not freedom to live my life selfishly or lazily, but freedom to trust God with every fabric of my being. It is a freedom from performancism (is that even a word?) that makes me so grateful, I naturally want to seek more of God.
All God wants is for us to come. He invited Matthew that day along the roadside. And he invites you and me.
Acceptance is a powerful thing. Just ask Matthew… or me.