Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In Good Company

Luke 19:1-10                                                                                                           October 30, 2016

You have no idea how much I detested this story when I was a kid. Every time it came up in Sunday School it was accompanied by That song:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
a wee little man was he;
he climbed way up in a sycamore tree
Lord Jesus for to see.
And,  of course,  everyone in the class looked at me, many with a smirk on their face. I never wanted to hear this story again!

Then, when I was in Seminary, I learned that the Greek in the oldest Manuscripts of Luke is unclear, but it may well be that it was Jesus, not Zacchaeus, who was the wee little man! I like that! Like Zacchaeus, that puts me in really good company!

Jesus met Zacchaeus where he met a lot of people whose lives he touched: at home on the road. While the "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, the Son of Man didn't have a place to call his own." Mary and Joseph were on the road when He was born, and again shortly after when they fled to Egypt. He was on the Road when He called Simon and his partners, James and John; and again when he called Matthew. He was on the road when his hungry disciples picked grain on a Sabbath and aroused the ire of the Pharisees. It was on the road that he healed the Centurion's daughter and raised the widow's son at Nain. He was on the road in the region of the Gerasenes when he was confronted by, and healed, a demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs. It was in a crowded street that a desperate woman reached out, touched the hem of his garment, as was healed.

Later, Jesus sent his disciples on the road to heal the sick, teach the masses, and proclaim the Kingdom of God. On the road to Jerusalem, he met a Samaritan woman at the well; and he often taught his followers as they walked along the road. Indeed, the Gospel of Jesus may be the original Road Trip story.

On the road again, Jesus entered Jericho where a man named Zacchaeus lived. He was in charge of collecting taxes and was very rich. Jesus was heading his way, and Zacchaeus wanted to see what he was like. But Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree. (SEE 19:3) When Jesus got there, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today." I don't know about you, but when I was young I learned the hard way that it is considered rude to invite yourself to lunch. But Jesus isn't about rules and etiquette, Jesus is about repentance, forgiveness, and fresh starts.

Upon hearing Jesus invite himself to Zacchaeus' house, the self-righteous in the crowd immediately began muttering: “He's going there for lunch?” “He's going to share a meal with a tax collector?” “Isn't he afraid some of Bacchus' sin will rub off on him?” It did, of course, but that's another sermon.

So Jesus is at the house of this despicable character, a Jew who sold out to the Romans to make money from his neighbors. Suddenly Zacchaeus blurts out: "I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have,” ever cheated." Yeah, right! You and I are pretty certain that isn't going to happen, and I would guess Jesus had his doubts,too. But if so, he didn't show it. The rash promise reminds me of Fr. Mulcahy in M*A*S*H. A young soldier who has been snatched from the jaws of death by Hawkeye and the medical staff says: “FR. When the attack came, and there was all the noise, and all the shooting, and all those enemy soldiers coming at me, I promised God that if I got out of there alive, I'd become a priest. Father, I don't want to be a priest!” With the understanding and compassion he so often exhibits, Fr. Mulcahy let's the young man off the hook. “If God demanded every fox hole promise to be kept,” he explains, “We'd have more priests than people who need them.”

Jesus may, or may not, expect Zacchaeus' promises to be kept, but he welcomes and rewards the spirit of repentance in which they are made. "Salvation has come to this house today,” the Lord proclaims, “for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham.” It is not the promises, but the change that has come over Zacchaeus, that matters. When we encounter Jesus we come away changed. When we truly come to know Jesus, nothing is ever the same again. After the resurrection, Simon tried to return to fishing: he couldn't do it-he had changed. Certainly Bartimaeus and the ten lepers were never the same again. The centurion's daughter and the widow of Nain were forever changed; and so are we.

You simply cannot be touched by Christ and remain the same. It simply isn't possible. That's why we call it “Born Again,” because we are a new person. John Wesley taught that this new birth brings about great inward changes that affect our entire existence. Before encountering Christ, he writes, we lived under a thick fog that thwarts us from hearing or following the voice of God. After encountering Christ, after our new birth, the fog is lifted “The eyes of our understanding are now opened and [we] seeth Him that is invisible. We become able to receive the divine Spirit that God continually breathes into us and to respond to God through faith in love and prayer.” (The Wesley Study Bible, Abington Press, Nashville, 2009. Page 1522) Such change in the reborn is as continuous as the seasons as we move from glory to glory until we are transformed into Christ's likeness. If your life with Christ is not chainging you, invite Him to lunch.

You know, cell phones really are a wonderful invention—even if they do cost a $5 donation to UMCOR when they go off during church. Before cell phones, Fay and I would wander aimlessly through the mall looking for each other. Then, when our paths finally crossed, I would be on the receiving end of a stern lecture on the sin of not staying in one place. Now, when we get separated, I just hit her number on speed dial, and, assuming she has her phone with her, we can quickly make arrangements to meet.

Like Fay and I wandering through the mall, like Abram in search of a new land, too many Christians and would be Christians wander from placer to place never really knowing where they are going or what they are looking for. They visit church after church, ministry after ministry, seeking the right sermon, the right song, the right prayer, the right scripture that will let them find Christ. They are pilgrims without a pilgrimage. The truth is, there is no right church, there is no right sermon, no right prayer, no right scripture. While they are wandering around seeking who knows what, Christ is right there in the middle of the road; right there in the pew; right there in the office or store; right there, wherever they are: “Hello, I'm right here? Won't you invite me to lunch?”

Are you spending your time and effort up a tree looking for Jesus? fumbling your way through the fog? or on the road, walking with him? Maybe you walked with him for a while, but now you've wandered off and are lost again. There is no better place, and no better time than here and now to start, or renew your walk. Look, He's here on the road beside you, calling for you to come down from that tree; to get off the sidelines and into the game; to walk with him in the peace, presence, and power of the Holy Spirit. Come, as we rise and sing #2151 FWS I'm So Glad Jesus Lifted Me. AMEN

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