Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sermon: October 30

Almighty Father, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, has conquered sin and death, illuminating even the darkest valley. Protect us from the enemy, defend us from all evil, and give us grace & hope to walk in the light of your Son, who lives and reigns, with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Poor Zacchaeus

All he wants to do is see him. He has heard all about Jesus as people come to pay their taxes. Not that they were talking to him. He is probably one of the most hated men in Jericho. He collects taxes and he is rich. Many people grumble that he has scammed from the taxes and made himself quite wealthy.

Zacchaeus over heard them speak of Jesus. The miracles he has performed, the people healed. The parables told. He heard he was travelling to Jericho. When the day came, Zacchaeus found he could not see Jesus. He was short and there was such a large crowd. So Zacchaeus had an idea.

He climbed a sycamore tree ahead of Jesus so he could see him. When Jesus saw him up in the tree, Jesus said to him:

"Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

The people rejected him, but Jesus accepted him. Jesus saw his faith & his willingness to give, to set things right and declared him a son of Abraham too, worthy of respect not scorn, one who was lost but was found!

We too are called from our faith to give, to make things right, and to see ourselves as the sons and daughters of Abraham too.

Her parents were both scientists; her mother's mind had a decidedly non-poetic bent. Nonetheless, they read their young daughter poems from time-to-time because they paid attention to what gladdened their little girl's spirit.

Near the end of her mother's life such gladness was mostly a thing of the past as she struggled with the ravages of Parkinson's disease. Her conversations took strange turns. While her brain took her on far-flung journeys from reality, she always came back and knew who her daughter and family members were. She realized the stress her daughter was under; she knew that she had put her work as a writer on hold to care for her.

In the final weeks, her mother made a peculiar request. She ripped a page from a magazine she was paging through - she could no longer read much but she'd turn the pages. Then she asked the woman who was helping to care for her to tape the page to her daughter's bedroom door, up the two flights of stairs she could no longer manage. The ad was for diamond earrings. The woman had no idea why the dying woman wanted the ad taped to her daughter's door. She knew that her daughter had little interest in jewelry - she didn't even have pierced ears.

But when the daughter saw the ad taped to her door, she understood immediately. It wasn't about the jewelry. Below the diamonds, she read the shining letters: "Become a poet." One last wish to her beloved daughter: You, beloved jewel of my heart, be who you are called to be, do what you are called to do. It was her mother's final gift. [From an essay by Heidi Neumark, in The Christian Century, October 31, 2012.]

As a mother expresses a final wish that her daughter realize the talent she has put aside for her, Jesus recognizes and upholds the good in Zacchaeus - good that his neighbors fail to see. Jesus' call to the despised tax collector transforms the life of the man in the sycamore tree.

We are called by Christ in the same way: to recognize our own gifts and abilities and treasure and to be willing to use them to let the light of our faith in the goodness of God shatter the darkness of hopelessness and alienation around us; to make manifest the glory of God within us in order to transform and reconcile our world in the life and love of God.

Jesus calls forth the poetry that exists within each one of us: to transform our lives with the gifts we have – gifts given for reconciliation & generosity that God has written on every human heart.

Let me end with a poem called Zacchaeus – by the Scottish poet George MacDonald

To whom the heavy burden clings,
It yet may serve him like a staff;
One day the cross will break in wings,
The sinner laugh a holy laugh.

The dwarfed Zacchaeus climbed a tree,
His humble stature set him high;
The Lord the little man did see
Who sought the great man passing by.

Up to the tree he came, and stopped:
'To-day,' he said, 'with thee I bide.'
A spirit-shaken fruit he dropped,
Ripe for the Master, at his side.

Sure never host with gladder look
A welcome guest home with him bore!
Then rose the Satan of rebuke
And loudly spake beside the door:

'This is no place for holy feet;
Sinners should house and eat alone!
This man sits in the stranger's seat
And grinds the faces of his own!'

Outspoke the man, in Truth's own might:
'Lord, half my goods I give the poor;
If one I've taken more than right
With four I make atonement sure!'

'Salvation here is entered in;
This man indeed is Abraham's son!'
Said he who came the lost to win-
And saved the lost whom he had won. (Amen.)

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