Who is the God we follow?


Scripture: Genesis 12:1-9 and Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

In the two readings we heard today, we head about God Calling Abraham and Jesus calling Matthew. We also read about Jesus’ Healing ministry.


Tax collector

Matthew was a tax collector. It wasn’t like today when an employee of Revenue Canada sits at a desk and earns a salary for collecting taxes prescribed by Canadian law. In the 1st century, taxes were paid to a foreign country, Rome, and tax collectors could add their own commission to the taxes and in this way many of them became very rich. In other words, they cheated their fellow countrymen as well as serving the hated Roman rulers who had invaded their land. Tax collectors were considered amongst the lowest of Society and were thought to be ritually unclean. As a result, they bould not go into synagogues or the temple to worship. They were outcasts, but this was immaterial to Jesus.

Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his followers. He invited Matthew with the words:  “Follow me”.  Jesus used these words quite often – when he called other disciples, talking to the rich young ruler and when her described the path of discipleship: If anyone would be my disciple, let hm take up his cross and follow me”. Jesus never asked us to worship him, or to accept certain beliefs about him. He only asked that we follow him.

And Matthew, a tax collector, was called to be one of his followers.

Matthew responds

Matthew opened his heart to Jesus and became a new person. This was not an easy decision for him to make. Certainly, Matthew lost a good deal of income when he left all to follow Jesus.

Bur Matthew not only opened his heart, but he also opened his home. He knew that most, if not all, of his old friends would drop him when he began to follow Jesus ; so Matthew took advantage of the situation and invited them to meet Jesus. He gave a great feast and invited all the other tax collectors (some of whom could have been Gentiles), and the Jewish people who were not keeping the Law (“sinners”).  And Jesus joined them and ate and drank with them. Jesus doesn’t see as the world sees; he sees the good in each one of us.

And Jesus calls us to follow him.

When I think about following Jesus, or since the physical Jesus is no longer here on earth with us, following God, I asked myself what kind of God do I follow because this determines what following looks like.  I think if you asked 100 people to describe their God, you would get hundreds of answers. God is so vast, such a mystery, so complex that none of us can fully understand. We all have different perspectives, different pictures if you like, of what we think God is like. And often any one of us pictures God differently on different days. What I ‘m saying today is my view of God.  I respect your view if ts different, and I hope you’ll respect and think about my view.

Almighty God?

One way to think about God is the standard definition of God in the creeds: I believe in God the Father Almighty. The church uses the terms Father and Almighty God very often in our prayers. But I avoid these terms because they are problematic for people who have had a difficult relationship with their earthly father, or those with unanswered prayers who have been taught that God will do whatever you ask, if only you pray hard enough and with enough faith. But that’s another sermon …

The concept of a powerful and almighty God was also the subject of one of the songs we sang today. My God is so Big, so strong and so mighty. There’s nothing my God cannot do.  This is a very masculine, patriarchal God, where strength is paramount and might is right, and seems to me not to leave room for the gentler, divine feminine. Why would a loving God, who can do everything, allow natural disasters, debilitating sicknesses and let us suffer? I believe that, in giving humans free will, God shared this power and made Godself vulnerable.

El Shaddai

But, you might say, the Bible talks about God Almighty or Almighty God. Yes, we read that in many places in the Old Testament. However, the only times that appears in the New Testament are: once when Paul quotes Isaiah. and a few times in the Book of Revelation. Jesus never talks about Almighty God or tries to take power for himself. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I have read from many scholars that the translation of the Hebrew name El Shaddai, translated God Almighty in our bibles, is problematical and could also mean God of the Mountains and even Many Breasted God, from the Hebrew word shad, breast.

“He who has seen me, has seen the Father”

Of note, the Gospel writers never quoted Jesus as using this phrase. But Jesus did say “he who has seen me, has seen the father”. The Jesus who was tempted to take ultimate power at the beginning of his ministry, and refused it, is the one we look at to see God. So what do I see in Jesus? What is my view of God?

Jesus is caring and nurturing

following Jesus
Jesusheals a little girl

I see a person who was very caring; who healed the sick and not only the physically sick but he also restored people to their life in the community as with Matthew. I see a nurturing loving person, who offered hospitality to those members of society who were considered outcasts or unclean. In today’s readings, we saw examples of this. By calling Matthew to be a disciple he called him away from a life as an outcast and restored him to his place in community. And he met with other tax collectors and sinners at Matthews house.

He healed an unclean woman and raised a child from a coma or death, a girl child whom that Society considered close to useless. And there are many other examples in the gospels with Jesus healed people who were outside the community, lepers a blind beggar a man with many demons; we could all add many more examples.

Jesus walks with us

I see Jesus as one who walks alongside us, not as somebody who sets himself up above us. I see Jesus caring for people, healing the sick, restoring relationships and spreading love everywhere. This is the God who nourishes us when we are sick, or sad. This is the God we need on this memorial Sunday as we remember, with thanks, but also with sadness, those who have died and left us here to mourn.

Following Jesus

And this is the God who calls us to follow Jesus.

How can We do that? Look around you, there are people everywhere who need love, who need to be seen and heard and understood. There are broken relationships everywhere. Maybe you have some yourself; maybe you see someone else who needs help in restoring good relations with someone else. Don’t turn away. Jesus wouldn’t.

I learned this song as a teenager in Methodist youth camp: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

But when I turn my eyes upon Jesus, I don’t see the things of earth going away. I see someone who was very concerned about what was happening here on earth. Someone who preached and practiced justice, peace and love. Someone who called on us to practice these things too. Who called us to bring God’s Kingdom here on earth, rather than to seek a heavenly Kingdom.

Our calling is not to follow Jesus to some place of Power. Our calling is to be God’s hands and feet here on earth.

God’s body on earth

I remember the words of St Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun who lived about 500 hundred years ago. She said:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So I challenge you today – no, I challenge us today to go forth following Jesus to be God’s hands and feet for those we meet. To say God’s words and to listen as Jesus would listen. To follow Jesus by being as Jesus would to the people we come in contact with day by day.