Back when I lived in Manchester, my husband Jonathan and I were really excited about international mission. We went to Global Mission Events, learning about justice work around the world we spent a week in a cultural immersion program at the ELCA Center in Mexico City. We even thought about becoming missionaries. The truth was the idea of leaving Manchester had recently become more attractive. New neighbors had moved in across the street, and it wasn’t good: Late arguments, crowds of teens hanging around, lots of traffic at night. We began to worry about our young family’s safety.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Roy, the father of the family, routinely showed up at our door asking for money.
Roy was 42 years old, illiterate, schizophrenic and alcoholic. The whole neighborhood hoped that Roy and his family would move away quickly. One night Roy showed up drunk, but for once didn’t try to get money. He simply wanted to talk. So Jonathan sat outside on the porch and listened as Roy told him about his life— growing up with an abusive father,
his time in jail for assault, his sons, how he loved to work. Then Roy convinced Jonathan to see the model boat he was building. It was a 4 foot model of a 16th century schooner that Roy was making by hand from scraps of wood he scavenged from the trash. Jonathan, a handy guy himself, had never seen anything like it. So he agreed to hire Roy to paint at the house he was rehabbing for one day as a trial. Roy turned out to be an amazing worker.
He did tiling, plumbing, electrical, carpentry—you name it, Roy could do it. But the problem was that every time Roy got paid, he drank the money away and didn’t show up to work for three days. This went on until we went away on vacation. Roy agreed to rehab the windows while we were gone. When we returned, it was clear that the three coats of paint he said were on the windows were not there. Jonathan paid him and said, “If you stick to your story that that’s three coats of paint, then we are done. If you want to work for me again, then I want my three coats of paint.” Roy didn’t show up for three days. But on the fourth he came to Jonathan and said, “I don’t’ want to shoot myself in the foot. Three coats of paint, and we’re good?” “We’re good.”
During the week he finished, Roy talked about his dreams, his problem with alcohol.
One night, Jonathan finally said to him, “Roy, are you a man or a boy?” This was perhaps not the best thing to say to an ex-con who always has two knives in his pockets. “What you saying about me, I’m a man!” “Then start acting like one, Roy. You have five sons who don’t respect you, you lie to me, you drink your money away. Be a man.” After that, Roy stopped drinking. He came to work regularly—not every day, but regularly. Jonathan helped get him a bank account, and Roy started saving for a truck. Against the advice of friends, lawyers, insurance folks, Jonathan set himself up as a contractor with the proper insurance, and hired Roy to do the roof. Roy finished it, all 3200 sq ft, by himself, in 10 days.
Meanwhile, the street fights and nighttime traffic stopped, and even the yelling got a little quieter. Roy became a friend, who looked out for us, fed us beans and rice, and helped us whenever he could.
Roy’s story is a healing story, much like the one we have in our gospel lesson.
The man in our gospel lesson was probably a schizophrenic, too—
He had a ‘legion’ of voices in his head.
The way the people of Jesus’ day dealt with it was to control the man
They kept him under lock and chain, away from others.
In a way, they sought to keep him out of view,
Much the way we treated Roy and his family for a long time
Hoping that they would simply disappear.
When this man in our Gospel was healed, he wasn’t just cured of a physical or mental ailment.
He was restored to human community.
He no longer lived among the dead in the tombs.
He no longer went about with no clothes, like an animal.
He sat at Jesus’ feet, a disciple, ready to learn from his master.
He was ready to follow Jesus, dedicate his life to the one who healed him.
And yet Jesus told him to stay where he is, and to tell how much God had done for him.
It seems odd, doesn’t it, as many people as Jesus told, “Come, follow me,”
That Jesus did not honor the request, the begging of this man, that he should follow Jesus?
Consider this man’s options:
He could stay with the people who banished him to the graveyards
Or he could go with the people who weren’t afraid of him, who healed him.
There was room in the boat, and this man had no one to say goodbye to.
But Jesus said no.
(Mary w. Anderson, “Stay and Follow” Christian Century, June 3-10, 98)
I think Jesus said no because this is not just a story of healing—it’s also a story of call.
While many people are bid to come and follow, this man’s calling is to follow by staying where he is.
The call to ministry for this man meant going back to the people he wanted to avoid
It meant bearing witness to the miracle God performed in his life
It meant loving those who wronged him.
That was the call that Jonathan heard, too: to stay and follow Jesus.
Not to leave the neighborhood to do ministry overseas Not to ignore our neighbors and hope that they would move away But to meet them where they were
And through his words and actions, witness to the Lord who loves and forgives.
It turned out that Jonathan’s ministry was not somewhere across the world-
it was right there, across the street.
From my reading of scripture, Jesus does not reject anyone’s application for discipleship.
You might be praying right now about what the next steps that God has in mind for you
As an individual, and as a community of faith. I hope that you are.
Because today we stand on the edge of something new—
In our third community conversation, we will consider
how we will be involved in the mission of Jesus here at St Matthew.
It’s time to make connections with others who share our ministry passion
It’s time roll up our sleeves and see what each of us can contribute.
The council and vision planning team continues to work behind the scenes to organize and communicate So that we can harness the creativity and energy of our members and make a greater impact.
Our new tag line says it well:
We are St Matthew are “Digging Deep, Reaching Out, Changing Lives.”
We want St Matthew to be a place where you can find support and a spiritual home,
a place to be fueled so that you can use your spiritual gifts in the world around you.
It is a little like being on the shore with the healed man. The boat is there, and Jesus is inside. Jesus calls some of us to stay in the boat of this community and work on ministries right here Ministries of healing and support, ministries of fun and relationship building,
ministries of invitation and welcome to newcomers of all ages and abilities.
But to some he says: “I have an appointment lined up for you.
“Turn around and look out the door. You see the street, the houses, the trail?
Remember what’s further away, the town buildings, the businesses, schools, and hospital.
That’s your congregation. That’s your mission field. Now, go and tell. Go and heal. Go and be my hands and feet.” These are the people who will be fed in this place
and use that spiritual fuel in their neighborhoods and workplaces to set people free
These are the people who will work to heal those broken by life circumstances
And to provide direct care to people who live on the margins-- the homeless, the mentally ill, the forgotten. Our job as modern day disciples is to follow Jesus’ call no matter where it leads. Your leadership and staff is committed to nurturing a community that is intentional about exploring that call Collectively and individually.
Listen carefully, then, wherever you are, in the boat or on the shore, To what Jesus may be saying to you today. Join the conversation and contribute your ideas and unique gifts.
Declare to all who will listen how much God has done for you.