Monday, November 01, 2010

getting out of the tree

Notes from yesterday's (October 31, 2010) sermon

Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and 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.

Love changes things, relationships change things, paying attention, doing uncomfortable things like making friends with supposed enemies, and inviting yourself over to strangers houses changes things, showing hospitality, opening ourselves up to other people’s perspectives changes things.

Now we may not be particularly interested in being changed, we may not really be into the idea of being transformed by the Spirit, or climbing out of our trees, or making surprising friendships --- that’s okay but we’re not going to be saved by fear, we’re not going to be saved by our self protective illusions of security, we are not going to be saved by minding our own business and ignoring what’s going on around us.

In today’s gospel we meet Zacchaeus a short guy with deep pockets, who was rich and may have gotten that way by collecting taxes for the enemy, the Roman occupiers. I say may have, cause who knows he may have inherited that money or got it some other way. The gospel just says --- this little guy was a tax collector, and was rich. So Zacchaeus saw a crowd gathering around Jesus and something must have made him want to find out who that person was, and what they were saying. So Zacchaeus climbs up in a sycamore tree to get a better look. Now Sycamore trees are not just any old tree, they can grow quite large having a dense round crown of spreading branches and they were cultivated almost exclusively by ancient Egyptians.  The Egyptians of course once enslaved the Jewish people, these are the same Egyptians that Moses, Miriam and their people escaped from --- I don’t think the author of this gospel accidentally tells us that the tree was a Sycamore, that was intentional. The author perhaps wanted those reading this gospel to notice, wants us to draw a connection between this rich, tax collector in the tree, and those old, distant oppressors of the people. But there’s also another interesting thing about the sycamore --- the leaves are heart shaped.

Perhaps this tree climbing was 1st century surveillance, but instead of remaining inconspicuous Jesus notices Zaccheus and seems to know him, calling him down and inviting himself over to his house. Maybe Jesus likes a little luxury every once in a while, I mean as scripture says, “foxes have holes, and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”  --- or perhaps Jesus knows just how significant, how transformative being in relationship with this wealthy guy might be.  The grumbling, anxiety and fear begins immediately though --- the crowd doesn’t like what they see, Jesus the revolutionary teacher, the rumored savior and redeemer of the people becoming pals with that rich traitor. Jesus doesn’t seem to be bothered by the whispering, they’ve barely spent much time together, haven’t even made it to Zaccheaus’ pad, but Zaccheaus hears the crowds horror at the sight of Jesus hanging out with him that he is moved to give away half of his possessions, to the poor; and pay back four times as much to those he may have defrauded.

This is one amazing story. But what does this story mean to us here at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church on the corner of Turk & Lyon Street as we approach our 50th anniversary in this spot? How are we to respond to this story of strange friendship? Who are the Zaccheaus’ we as the body of Christ may be called upon to befriend? Or are we up in the tree just checking things out, minding our own business ---- how do we respond to Jesus taking an interest in us, are we prepared to be transformed, to give away stuff so that salvation may be experienced in our house?  Or are we like that poor crowd anxious, offended, and scared by the very thought of a relationship between that rich traitor and Jesus?  What transformative things might happen in our lives, homes and communities if we open ourselves to unexpected blessings. What might happen if St. Cyprian’s more and more became a community who befriended tax collectors, traitors and sinners, what might happen if we instead of watching Jesus from the sidelines, accepted his intrusion into our homes, what shift would happen in us, could we be in for a similar redistribution of our resources ?  What if instead of being hostile to the surprising friendship between that rich guy and Jesus, we too sought out our opposites --- if we’re doing okay financially, what would it be like for us to individually become friends with someone who is struggling? Or if we’re having a tough time, what if we made a point of really trying to become part of the life of a rich person?  In a city like this one, there’s plenty of wealthy and plenty of poor to befriend --- perhaps those of us in the middle need to make some introductions?

From where I stand, up here in this pulpit --- I see a lot of befriending going on, a lot of new relationships emerging, I’ve actually been quite surprised by who has taken a look at our little community, sometimes checking us out from above, sometimes from below, and on the side --- my prayer is that we together can become more and more comfortable being joyfully surprised by these new friendships, open to whatever might happen in our hearts and in the hearts of others --- ready to experience salvation in our lives and community. 

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