Sermon St. Mary's Nanoose
November 3, 2019
Our yearnings and our willingness to open our hearts and homes have much to do with our experience of God.
Some people are easily satisfied, and happy with the status quo. Others are restless, always seeking.
Today’s Gospel story from Luke seems to be about the second kind of person. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, someone appointed by the Roman occupying forces to do the nasty job of collecting taxes for them. Not only was he employed by the enemy, he had obviously found favour with them because he had been promoted to “Chief Tax Collector.” We’re told Zacchaeus was wealthy; in his position he would be able to demand more from the people than he would turn over to the Romans. It’s easy to imagine why, in this position, he would not have been loved or appreciated by the people.
So here is a man who probably had it all by the world’s standards; wealth, power, and status.
So why would a man like Zacchaeus be interested in Jesus? What would bring a man with status like him to do something undignified as to climb a tree? What had he heard about Jesus? What intrigued him?
We are not told. But we are given a description of Zacchaeus: he is short, he is in the employ of the Romans, he is wealthy and he is curious. He also must have been in pretty good shape to climb a tree!
Zacchaeus, knowing his limitations – his short stature for starters, climbs the tree to get a better look at this man, Jesus who he has heard interesting things about.
And here comes Jesus, surrounded by a crowd of people, entering the town of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. With all that noise and jostling of people, you think it would be easy to miss Zacchaeus up in the tree. Surely people were reaching out and calling out to Jesus, wanting his attention, wanting to be healed. Yet, Jesus looks up and sees Zacchaeus and seemingly, without missing a beat, tells him “Zacchaeus, (how does he know his name?) hurry and come down,; for I must stay at your house today.”(19:5)
And how does Zacchaeus respond? Listen to the words again - “He hurried down and was happy to welcome him.”(19:6)
Wow! What just happened?
Zacchaeus didn’t wake up that morning expecting to welcome Jesus into his home; he didn’t even know there was an occasion to prepare for. Yet, what is his response? “He was happy to welcome him.” And Jesus followed him home.
I think this is astounding!
Zacchaeus didn’t defer and say, “Oh no, thank you but I couldn’t, Jesus,” or “Surely I’m not worthy,” or “Thank you, but maybe next time,” or “You must have confused me with someone else!”
No, Zacchaeus jumped down and welcomed Jesus into his house. Even when, and even though, “all who saw it began to grumble and said, “Jesus has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”(19:7)
There’s that theme again….. humans wanting to play God - wanting to decide who is worthy or not. The people around Zacchaeus judged him as unworthy. But Jesus saw something different. As the last words of the reading today state: he (Jesus) came “seek out and save the lost.”(19:10). In Zacchaeus Jesus found someone who was lost.
How many of us are willing to admit we are lost? Would we be ready to welcome Jesus and have him follow us home?
I have a friend who resists love at all turns. It’s only fair to say that this person had a terrible childhood, full of abuse. But for over 10 years I have been consistently loving and compassionate. And still, to this day, this person twists almost everything I say or write into the same message – “I am not worthy. You cannot truly mean what you say or do…… it can’t possibly be so that you really care for me.” I have to tell you, it gets tiring and downright frustrating at times that this person is determined to keep love at bay.
But I wonder if this friend’s default response isn’t an amplified version of what so many of us do. We resist love. We reinterpret expressions of love from others and from God to suit our constricted view of what we deserve.
That’s what amazes me about this story about Zacchaeus and Jesus. There’s seems to be such an ease to this interaction between a saint and a sinner. Zacchaeus must have been so open for Jesus to see into his heart and call out to him. Perhaps because Zacchaeus had it all and knew firsthand the emptiness of a life that seems perfect – a life of wealth, power and status - that he was desperate for that “something more……” that yearning in his heart to know love.
I heard a man recently talk about how when he turned 40 and looked back on his life, even though he had been married at some point, it occurred to him that he might live out his days without ever really knowing love. That thought terrified him and “woke” him up. He saw the emptiness of his life and was moved to change. This man didn’t climb a tree but he did choose a different way. And what he did was to stay with the feelings that accompanied his wake up call … the sense of emptiness, the sense of near panic, and the intense yearning. Interesting to learn that within the month, he met a woman who would become his wife and partner…. a woman who was devout and passionate about her relationship with the divine.
We can’t know the day or time when we will be noticed and invited into relationship with another person or by God. But we can prepare ourselves through paying attention to our desire, our yearning, our sense of emptiness. And we can start to do things differently; drive a different way home, ask someone to go for a walk, journal, spend more time in prayer, consider our life to date, call someone we haven’t spoken to in a long time, or frame a question that speaks to the yearning of our heart. However we can extend ourselves so that our eyes and ears and heart are opened will bode well for us to receive the grace of God who yearns to welcome us into new or deeper relationship.
Are we ready to put ourselves out? Are we ready to have Jesus follow us home?
Jesus states in today’s reading….”Today salvation has come to this house, because he (we) too is a child (are children) of Abraham.
We too, at St. Mary’s, belong to the One who yearns to be in relationship with us, and to set us free. Amen.