Sermon: Heritage Sunday / Feast of St. Matthew

The Inspiration of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio

A farm boy got a white football for his birthday. He played with it a while and then accidentally kicked it over into the neighbor’s yard. The old rooster ran out, looked at it, and called the hens to see it.

“Now look here,” the rooster said, “I don’t want you girls to think I’m complaining, but I just want you to see what they are doing next door.”

If I were a chicken, I don’t know if that would motivate me or get me to cross the road and find a less demanding farm.

When it comes to cats, I don’t believe there is anything that motivates them. They do what they want, when they want, although The Queen is motivated to have a nip of scotch when I pour myself one. On the other hand, dogs can be motivated by all sorts of things: affection, play, food (I would make a good dog), and other games they enjoy. People also have motivators. Food, money, fame, power, love, and such, but we are also motivated by negatives: shame, societal expectations, fear, and more. Whether positive or negative, human or animal, a motivator is an external factor that stimulates a desired response and is something learned. In addition, if the motivator is removed—the reward is no longer given, the fear is no longer present—the person or animal may revert to who they were before. If a person is motivated by money and you cut their pay or their hours, then you’ll likely see their productivity decline. That great motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, said, “Of course, motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” Motivation is good.

What is similar to motivation is inspiration, but where motivation is an external force that pushes in hopes of attaining a specific response, inspiration is an internal awakening that draws us and pulls us to something greater. The reward or punishment is not present with inspiration. It is nice if there is a reward, but if you’re inspired, you’ll do whatever it is, regardless. Leonardo Davinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa because someone offered him a cookie. It was an inspiration, something within him that needed to express itself.

Our life with God is the same. Some are positively motivated—they want the reward of heaven—and some are negatively motivated—they’re afraid of hell. That’s one way to do it. These external factors push us toward the desired response: I want to go to heaven, or I want to avoid hell, so I’ll behave in a certain way. However, to be inspired to follow God and his calling on your life is to be drawn in—not for the reward or avoidance of punishment—but by love, by desire, by passion, by relationship.

The image on the front of your booklet this morning is named, The Inspiration of St. Matthew and is located in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. When we study it, we begin to see the inspiration of God at work.

The angel is making several points, ticking them off with his fingers, and Matthew is staring up at him. Although his pen and tablet are on the desk, Matthew only has eyes for the messenger of God. His focus is singular. Matthew is not concerned with himself—you can’t see it all, but he is standing at his desk with one knee propped up on the seat. The seat itself is tilted and about to fall over, yet Matthew is not concerned with his discomfort or the precariousness of his position. His hand is poised for action, ready to write. And notice the background of the painting—it is all black. Nothing else matters other than the angel and the message. Matthew is not motivated—he’s not looking for a reward or in fear of punishment—Matthew is inspired, and he wasn’t only inspired to write a Gospel. He was inspired from the very moment Jesus walked into that tax collection operation and said, “Follow me,” for we are told, “[Matthew] got up and followed him.” Jesus did not promise him heaven or threaten him with hell. Jesus’ words and presence filled Matthew with such a deep inspiration, a deep sense of call, that without hesitation or any concern for self, discomfort, possessions, danger, and everything else that accepting a call from the Savior can produce, he got up and followed Jesus with his entire self. 

Question: why are we not inspired in such a way to follow Jesus so passionately? I can come up with a few answers but I think, for the most part… we simply won’t allow it. We want to follow Jesus with complete abandon, but we will not give ourselves permission to do so. We say, “Yes, Jesus, I will follow you, but… but I’ve got a family. But I’ve got a job. But I’ve got responsibilities. But I’m afraid of what people will think.” That’s a pretty big “but.” But! what we fail to understand is that Jesus is not asking us to abandon family or job or responsibilities, etc. Jesus is asking us to abandon our lives to him so that he can inspire our life with family, our life at work and with our colleagues, and in all those other areas of responsibility. The Lord does not want our day-to-day life to be separate from our life with Him. So often, in following Christ, we think we’ve got our life with him over here and our life in the world over here, with this nice barrier between them keeping them separate. To be inspired by Jesus as St. Matthew was is to remove that barrier and allow Jesus into every aspect of your life. In doing so, you will no longer feel as though there is this conflict between the two but will instead experience peace in knowing that your life is entirely under the kingship of Christ.

It is not in the prayers we have today, but in our Rite II service each Sunday, the last sentence of the Post-Communion prayer is, “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart….” It is that peace, that gladness, and that singleness of heart—our daily lives—that enters us when we allow Jesus to inspire the entirety of our lives. 

Jesus says, “Follow me.” Be inspired, be passionate in your walk with Jesus, and follow him in every aspect of your life.

Let us pray: We thank You, heavenly Father, for the witness of Your Apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of Your Son our Savior; and we pray that, inspired by his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

3 Replies to “Sermon: Heritage Sunday / Feast of St. Matthew”

  1. As we have 250 chickens at our ranch, I try to motivate them with kindness everyday. When I give them water, when I gather eggs, I let them know they are doing a good job. I think kindness can motivate every living thing.

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