Today, we’re talking about Zacchaeus and this particular chapter of Len Sweet’s 11 indispensable relationships you can’t be without, our sermon series this Fall, asks the question – “Who’s Your Zacchaeus? You Need a Reject.”
Did you ever climb trees as a kid? We had a magnolia tree in a neighbor’s backyard that was perfect for climbing. If you know anything about magnolia trees, their branches are close together, which makes it an easy tree to climb. We spent many afternoon of my childhood climbing trees. That’s why the story of Zacchaeus has always fascinated me.
Not to mention the song we learned in Sunday school, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. Jesus said, “You come down for I’m coming to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.” I can’t believe after all these years I still remember that. Which leads us to our scripture reading for today…
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus and Zacchaeus
19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Sweet says, “One of the oddest people Jesus ever befriended was a short, wealthy, self-made entrepreneur named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector which made him one of the most hated people. Have you ever heard people say nice things about the IRS? And Biblical tax collectors were even worse. If there were pictures with definitions of words, he would be the one with the caption “ostracized.” Are you surprised that Jesus decided to go over to his place for lunch? Not at all. Jesus was at home with social outcasts, lepers, women of ill repute, AND the chief tax collector. Jesus didn’t care much for the hyper religious or the wealthy. So this was not out of the norm for Jesus. But have you noticed that it always disturbs/upsets the crowd. They are surprised every time. What company do we keep? Would the crowd be surprised with whom we hang out?
Most of the characters within the series have something to give us – Jethro – the butt kicker, Jonathan – the true friend, Deborah – the back coverer. But Zacchaeus is different than these. It all begins with fully seeing Zacchaeus for what he is, and inviting him down from the tree. If we let them, the Zacchaeus’ of our lives help to illuminate our own need for grace. Because we’re all in fact a little bit messed up. Not one of us is perfect. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us are walking and talking “steaming cauldrons of moral failures and ambiguities.”
Zacchaeus doesn’t need to be told he’s a sinner. Society’s already made that clear. He doesn’t need people to tell him he’s an outcast. He already feels it. Most people know that the Inuit have a hundred words for snow. The English word sin is used to translate at least six Hebrew and seven Greek words. Soren Kierkegaard defined sin this way. “Sin is the steadfast refusal to be your one true self.” That is a very different understanding than the typical definition of sin. Evigras of Pontus’ understanding of sin is that sin is a “forgetfulness of God’s goodness.” Hmmm…Jesus actively sought out sinners and made room at the table for them, maybe he was searching them out reminding them of God’s love specifically for them.
Jesus didn’t seem to mind that he was getting a “reputation” for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. Everyone that he encountered, he saw as a person in need of God’s love.
There are no outsiders because no one is out of the reach of the love of God. Nothing can separate us from it, actually. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus taught us to see others not as “others” but as “one of us” as “oneanothers.” So y’all don’t know about my LOST obsession. Scores of students were subjected to this madness as sermon illustrations poured forth each week for years and years. They had the ability to weave their way into my sermons. Josh alluded to it on our Fall Retreat but you’re about to see a clip of Jack’s live together, die alone speech.
I imagine Jesus would have given a similar speech and he would be befriending con man Sawyer and criminal Kate. What made LOST special was that it delved into the messy-ness of the survivors lives. It showed in real and tangible ways the flaws of each one. Characters were never pure evil or purely good. But they were REAL. And you pulled for their redemption.
This episode ended the first season. And it was here that a motley crew of people triumphed. A community. Michael and his son Walt, and their complicated relationship of abandonment and reunion. Jin and his wife Sun – their evolution as characters from Jin working for Sun’s father to their estrangement and to their eventual homecoming. The reason that LOST worked so well for those who watched it and dare I say were obsessed with it, was because you bought into the characters’ stories, and you saw a little bit of yourself in each of them. It helped to have a full orchestra that performed each score – conveying emotions!
We have quite a few “characters” in our lives. People that are either larger than life or a bit peculiar or a bit “off” or those that march to the beat of a different drummer. What “characters” do we have at Gator Wesley?
Often we have to find the Zacchaeus’ of our lives. Sweet writes, “We have tried to “live in” rather than “live out” the gospel. It is time for Christians to “Get out more,” to try alfresco forms of faith and community. The Christian church is too “in here” and not enough “out there.” Late fourth century philosopher Caius Marius Victorinus was afraid to show up in church with his pagan friends and said this about the church, “Do walls make Christians?” That’s the reason for Wesley lunches on Tuesday and Friday, Love Campaign, and leadership team discussing whether to do Evensong on the Plaza of the Americas once a month – TO GET OUT OF THE BUILDING! This outward focus is a natural part of the Christian faith. We are to be the church in the world. SO WHY ARE WE NOT OUT THERE?
In essence, moving from inward to outward is central to the revelation of Christ by the church to the world. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, called the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion an “outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same.”
Thus leading us to an obvious segue to Communion that we celebrate each week. But I want to make sure you get something. It bears repeating. Zacchaeus’ are obviously “out there” – the social misfits, the anarchists, the people on the fringes or outside society’s norms, BUT there’s a bit of Zacchaeus in all of us. We’re all Zacchaeus. Jesus would have come into the world for any one of us. Like the parable of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep. All for one. So this scene from the Rise of the Guardians is a turning point. You see Pitch, the villain in the movie, has wiped out the whole world’s belief in the Guardians (Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Sand Man, and a new guardian Jack Frost) and only one boy is left that believes.
All for one.
I’m not saying all of those things are real, even though Enoch and Evy believe them to be, and I find it problematic that as parents were supposed to enlighten our children one day that they’re not real, however saying at the same time that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit also that they can’t tangibly see – are real? I’ll let you know how that conversation goes down. However, I know what I will say, that God will give you the evidence you need to help you believe. Like in Luke 9:24, when the man of the child that Jesus is healing says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Just ask. Jesus desires a personal relationship with each one of us. That’s why before we even have understanding of it, God searches us out and draws us to God’s self in God’s prevenient grace. We recognize we’re in need of God’s grace – that that grace is for us – in justifying grace. God doesn’t leave us where we are in the mire and the muck. In God’s sanctifying grace, God helps us to grow and mature as Christians. Growing in grace and growing the depth of our faith that the world may see and know that our God reigns and God’s grace is available to them. Tax Collectors. Prostitutes. You and Me. Amen.