Sermons 2005
"Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Proper 5A 2005 Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 5:15-6:6

“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples.. About which Jesus said, Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

As June 15 approaches many of us might be tempted to fall into the pharisaic trap. It’s that time in the quarter when we have to render unto Caesar’s tax collectors our quarterly tax payments. When I was in the Army I didn’t have to worry about quarterly payments. The Finance Corps automatically deducted monthly taxes from my pay, as they do from my pension. But with my salary here, largely because of the special tax laws concerning clergy, it seemed simpler to pay the quarterly. I have to admit that I find myself falling into the pharisaic trap, especially since I was audited formally once, of thinking of them as the “godless commissars of the IRS.”

Labeling. It’s usually a mistake to label people and institutions, to lump them together in categories like tax collectors and sinners, just because we don’t like how different they are from us. How often have fallen into the trap of labeling the guys who hang around the Corner Market day in and day out as “those people”, with all the overtones, nuances, and connotations that class, economic, educational, and racial differences can pack into two simple words.

I was stunned when I saw the headlines as the identity of “Deep Throat” dominated the news this week. (1) I had been convinced over the years that someone else had been Deep Throat. I don’t think I ever considered Mark Felt as a possibility. I don’t think I ever knew who he was or what he did. Now I know more than I want to know.
Immediately after that revelation, former colleagues of W. Mark Felt changed their opinions of him as reflected in the labels they applied to him. Some people, who for the past thirty years thought of him as an ally, now thought him a “traitor.” Others, who approved his criminal conviction because of his role in illegal FBI surveillance activities, now offered fulsome praise of him as an admirable public servant. And I’m not sure how I feel about it, myself.

Such a use of labels is the first level dynamic apparent in this Sunday’s reading from Matthew.

“Tax collectors and sinners” was a label used by those who wanted to disqualify some people from eating at the same table with Jesus. Similarly, “Pharisee” is a coded label used by the gospel writes -- and others -- as a broad category for the enemies of Jesus.

That Mathew was a tax collector and that collecting taxes for the Roman authorities was a disreputable occupation to most Jewish minds – these two things are not in question. Instead, the question is whether being and doing such things automatically excluded people from close association with Jesus and his disciples.

There is no question that some members of the Pharisee party of Judaism opposed Jesus and, after Easter, the church at every opportunity, but that was not true of all Pharisees. Nevertheless, in this Gospel passage the term is used with clear implications that these Pharisees are interfering with Jesus.

Using labels to create in-groups and out-groups within a single community has continued in the church, and the global society, throughout history. Some of us remember painfully a time in adolescence when we were not allowed to be part of the really cool “in group.”

Labels separate people according to their races, ethnicities, ages, opinions, preferences, genders, manners of dress, or any other difference. Even here on the Northern Neck labels and categories can divide: born here, come here, come back here, and the like.
Such labels may be valid descriptors and applied accurately; nevertheless, they divide members of the congregation from one another and from the people they might serve as the Body of Christ in the world.
In such cases, differences become more important than unity; exclusion more important than inclusion; uniformity more important than diversity; and agreement more important than community.

Jesus’ response to his critics is in our Old Testament lesson: Hosea 6:6. The Hebrew “hesed” is usually translated “steadfast love”. But it encompasses a readiness to forgive and begin again after tensions or estrangements. It reaches over barriers and labels and categories of class, economics, education, and race. As attributes of God heseth means the divine kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, absolute goodness, faithfulness, unconditional love, and acts of kindness in history.

The full verse in Hosea couples “the knowledge of God” with steadfast love, indicating a complete, faithful, and close relationship, not unlike that of marriage or of parent and children. In Hosea, the point is that any act of worship, any relationships, without “steadfast love” and “the knowledge of God” is empty and meaningless. (1) The Old Testament and the New are clear that we who call ourselves Christians are to imitate God in all these things.
Let me close with a story about what such an imitation and such heseth love could look like.

It’s about the most Special Olympic Race:

John Beck used to be a football star for the University of Kentucky. Later on he became a preacher and was named as Chaplain of the U.S. Olympic Teams. For a number of years he traveled with our Olympic Teams all over the world, leading in their devotions, counseling & praying with many of the athletes.

As he watched these young men and women train for the events in which they competed, he decided that this was a picture of what Christianity really ought to be. Here were people who were sincere and fervent and dedicated to the task before them. They were willing to pay any price, regardless of how much suffering or pain they had to endure. They were willing to pay any price to be number one, to win.

Then one day John Beck was invited to visit the Special Olympics. Special Olympics, as you know, are made up of special athletes. All of them suffer from some kind of mental or physical impairment. He watched them as eight runners lined up for the 100-yard dash. They all took off when the starting gun fired, and he was amazed at how good they actually were. But as they reached halfway in the race, one of the boys fell down, skinned his knee on the track, and started to cry.

He said that what happened next was both beautiful and amazing. All seven of the other runners stopped, and all seven of them turned around and went to the boy who had fallen. Together they helped him to his feet. And the eight walked to the finish line together. Beck said that he then realized that he had seen the true meaning of Christianity, not in the Olympics, but in the Special Olympics. (2)

Heseth: love in action. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples.. About which Jesus said, Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy -- heseth, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”


1. Ted Johnson, “Labels”, BodyBuilding newsletter for 5 June 2005,
2. eSermons illustrations for 5 June 2005,

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579