I wonder can anyone remember the name of the man we were introduced to at the start of our Bible reading today? Levi - but he's not the guy who makes the denim jeans. What was his occupation? He was a tax collector. [Get a volunteer to be Levi, sitting on a chair at his tax booth]. Levi was very unpopular. No one liked him, because he was working for the Romans, he took their money, and kept some for himself. He was rich because he cheated. [Get all the children to walk past the tax booth paying their taxes].
One day, though, Jesus came past and said two words to Levi. Do you know what they were? 'Follow me.' Levi got up from his booth and left it all behind, and followed Jesus. We're going to think about why Levi did that. Why would Levi (and why would we) want to follow Jesus? The reading gives us three reasons:
1. Jesus is the doctor for sin-sickness
Levi was so excited about following Jesus that he threw a big party at his house. He invited all his friends along - but who were his friends? They were other tax collectors. You see, if no one else likes the tax collectors, then they were friendly with each other. Levi has met Jesus, and now he wants his friends to meet Jesus too. They're having a great time, but not everyone is happy.
In the reading we heard of the Pharisees. They were the very religious people who thought they were better than everyone else. They especially didn't like tax collectors. They looked down on them. They were upset that Jesus was spending time with the taxmen rather than with them. So they complained to the disciples.
Now, I've brought something along, I want to see if you can guess what it is. [Produce a stethoscope slowly] It's a stethoscope. Now who uses something like this? It's a doctor, isn't it? Now when do you go to see the doctor? Do you go when you're feeling fit and healthy and on top of the world? No, of course not. You go to the doctor when you're sick. You need to be made better, so you go and get the doctor to fix you.
Here's what Jesus says: 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' (31-32) The Pharisees thought that they were perfectly good by themselves. The tax collectors knew they were bad and needed fixed, healed. Jesus has come like a doctor to fix our sin-sickness and save us.
That's good news for us - as we know that we're sinners and need a Saviour, Jesus is the doctor who heals our sin-sickness.
2. Jesus is the bridegroom who brings joy
The Pharisees still weren't happy. They took their religiousness very serious and fasted - they went without food. Yet here is Jesus having fun at a party, eating and drinking. They don't like it, and complain about it as well.
Have you ever been to a wedding? What happens at it? After the service, and the photos, there comes the party, with the food. Have you ever been to a wedding that has been really sad? A wedding without food and partying? Of course not! Weddings are happy occasions, full of joy.
Jesus says that he is like the bridegroom - where he is there is a party; how could you be sad and glum when you're at a wedding? The Christian life isn't sadness and gloom - it's not a funeral, but a wedding. We're not the frozen chosen; we're happy, joyful, excited, because we are with Jesus.
3. Jesus is bringing something entirely new
But that's still not all. We've already seen that Jesus is the doctor who heals our sin-sickness and the bridegroom who brings joy. We come to the final reason for following Jesus, but first I've brought something to show you.
Here's my lovely red t-shirt. I've had it for ages, it's really nice. Shall I show you the front? It's great, apart from this big hole in the front. It might have been the washing machine chewed it up; maybe our dogs got a hold of it. Either way, do you think I could wear this t-shirt now? No, it wouldn't be right. Shall I show you what I'm going to do to fix it?
I've got a brand new, still in the box, grey shirt. And what I'm going to do is to cut a big patch out of the new shirt and sew it onto the t-shirt to fill the hole. Isn't that a great idea? Do you think that would work?
No? Of course it wouldn't work. The new patch wouldn't match the old t-shirt - different colour and material. Would I be able to wear my new shirt? No, because it would also have a hole in it then... I would need to buy another shirt to patch the new one! What should I do? I need to get rid of the old t-shirt and instead to wear the new one. I can't patch up the old - I need to put it away and instead put on the new.
Jesus says that if you've got a tear in an old garment, you don't patch it up by cutting up a new garment. Jesus isn't just a patch to apply to the hole in your old way of living, rather he is the new garment, a new way of living, a whole new way of doing things that we accept or reject. Think of Levi - he left behind his old way of life and started to follow Jesus, a completely new way of life.
Jesus makes the same point as he talks about old wine and new wine. Now, I must confess, I don't know much about wine, but I was thinking about how to explain it. Here's what I came up with. Has anyone ever tasted flat coke? You know old, unfizzy, yucky coke? I've heard of some people drinking that if they've got a sore tummy - it will either kill you or cure you... Now imagine that you like flat coke. It's all you drink, you make sure the fizz is out of it. Now imagine that you pour that flat coke into a glass. It won't fizz up, so you can pour the whole amount straight in.
Now what would happen if you did the same with fresh, fizzy coke? What would the result be with fizzy coke going straight into a glass? It would fizz up, it would go all over the place, it couldn't be contained! This is Jesus' point - he is this something new, that can't be contained by the old religious ways. He brings a fresh start, something entirely and completely new.
You can't keep going on the way you always have, with Jesus patched on. He demands a new way of life, following him. Yet, as Jesus says, some people won't like it. They'll claim to prefer the old wine - the way they know, the religious life, and so they reject Jesus.
Jesus called Levi to follow him. Jesus calls us to follow him, because he is the doctor to cure our sin-sickness; he is the bridegroom who brings joy; he is the new garment bringing a new way of life. Will you follow him today?
This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 17th March 2013.