“Jeffrey, you have a phone call on line one,” our secretary stated.

Martha, a well-meaning mother, had called the church looking for the “person in charge of youth ministry.”

“How can I help you today, Martha?”

“I have a daughter named Emma. She is a sophomore in high school. She’s been hanging around with the wrong kind of people lately.”

I considered interrupting Martha and asking her, “Do you mean the same kind of ‘wrong people’ that Jesus hung out with after He asked a chief tax collector to be His disciple?” I carefully packed that wise-crack away for a later time. Then Martha said what we people who work with youth on a regular basis hear regularly.

“My daughter needs a little church.”

Again, I wanted to say, “A little church? Well, you’re in luck! Some gnomes just started a little church down the street. It’s right next to the church the leprechauns started.” I cataloged that one in the file called “Obnoxious comebacks I’ll never use.”

It was a Wednesday when Martha called. Every Wednesday night our congregation offers a mid-week event: dinner, fellowship, Bible study, small group. We typically have between 75 and 100 teens at our “little” church every Wednesday. I encouraged Martha to bring Emma by that same day. I promised Martha that I would introduce Emma to as many perfect, non-bad influence teens I could find.

Emma arrived roughly 10 minutes before the Bible Study began.

I introduced her to 10 or so teenagers. As I introduced Emma to Jeremy, they stopped and looked at one another as if they had met somewhere before. They were lab partners in Biology and had recently dissected a cat together. Persian, I think.

Emma no longer needed me. Jeremy and she were off…talking to a small group of coffee drinkin’, iPod listening, cell phone texting teens.

An hour passed. I taught confirmation in another part of the building. A youth ministry volunteer led a Bible study on the book of Judges that included chocolate pudding and PVC pipe.I speed walked back to the Youth Room where Emma would be. I caught her moments before she walked out the door.

“Emma, how was small group?”

“Can’t talk now, we’re going out for pie and coffee. See you next week.”

I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t think we’d see Emma “next week.” You know how it goes: You do your best to make the Bible relevant in the lives of young people but a schedule full of soccer games, piano recitals, and part-time jobs often become more important in the life of today’s teen than making it to Bible Study.

I was shocked when Emma did, in fact, return the following week and she brought two friends! I’ve had life-long Lutherans, members of Holy Cross, never bring even one friend to our church.  Now, Emma has brought two.

Martha, Emma’s mother, was right. Emma needed a “little church.” It would be even more accurate to say that Emma needed “a lot of Jesus.” But isn’t that true for all of us?

Jesus knew that Matthew, a chief tax collector, needed a “lot of Jesus.” When Jesus called Matthew to be one of the 12 disciples, several people must have wondered, “Why him? He’s such a sinner.”

Peter, Andrew, James, and John might have been thinking the same thing. They understood their lives as fishermen. No, they weren’t saints, but they weren’t crooked either. They knew what it meant to spend sleepless nights bending over the boat dragging in heavy nets full of fish. While others were sleeping, these fishermen were working hard to make an honest wage.

Then the chief tax collector comes along. A traitor. A friend of Rome, not of the people.

He takes from each fisherman what is owed to Caesar and then skims off a bit more for himself. The fishermen foursome had every right to dislike people who shared the same occupation as Matthew.They knew his type. Now he was one of the disciples; one of them.

It probably came as not surprise to the disciples when even the Pharisees questioned them as to why Jesus was hanging out with so many sinners, especially Matthew. They may have been wondering the same thing.

Matthew 9:12 continues the story and says, “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”

There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of teens just like Emma who need both a “little church” and “a lot of Jesus.”Many times I am like the Pharisees. We recently had three new teens begin attending our church. All three come from solid Lutheran backgrounds. Their families moved to Colorado Springs for work. All three immediately plugged in to Sunday school and confirmation. I thought to myself, “Sweet! What wonderful additions to our youth ministry. They will have a great influence on the rest of the teens here.”

When Martha called, a part of me thought, “That’s all we need, a troubled youth who we’re going to have to take turns watching because she is slipping out to sneak a smoke during small group.”

Is that what Jesus thought? No way.

As Martha, Emma’s mother, picked up the phone on that Wednesday afternoon, Jesus knew that for Emma is why He came to earth.

As Emma got into the car and headed off to some church that her mother forced her to go to, Jesus knew for that reason is why He came to earth.

When God designed that Jeremy and Emma would be cat cutting lab partners, knowing they would soon become inseparable at Holy Cross, Jesus knew that for them is why He came to earth.

Furthermore, when Emma described to a couple of pre-churched friends about a place where people accepted her, called her by name and told her about a man, but also God, who died on a cross and rose from a tomb for her…Jesus knew for that reason is why He came to earth.

Something just dawned on me: I wonder if the two friends that Emma brought to Holy Cross were the same people who Martha thought were a bad influence on Emma?Wouldn’t that be ironic?

If Jesus has anything to say about it, the two of them might be prime candidates to serve as disciples of Jesus. Matthew was.