Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

11/03/13 Sermon - Ed Wynne

UP A TREE. . . OR AT THE TABLE WITH THE SAINTS?

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Luke 19:1-10

 

Our life in the contemporary world often seems to be tightly constricted and heavily hemmed in.  The weight of the pressures seems to choke and choke until we become dizzy from the enclosing structures.  The past can shut us up very tightly, almost like being in a coffin.  The weight of tradition-- we've always done it this way-- can bury us.  The burden of guilt from past failures or actions can shut us off from the present life and joys.  The future can hem us in as well.  Will we be unemployed next week or next month?  How long will I have a job?  I am not far from retirement-- will my pension be enough for me to survive on?  Will there be Social Security when I retire?  Should I take the transfer the company is offering and uproot the family?  Where should I go to school, if at all?

But the present also grasps us tightly in its stranglehold. Can I write another sermon this week?  I've got visits to make, and, Oh my God, the committee meetings every week!  How can I make it with my spouse in the hospital fighting cancer?  My parents just do not understand me and how much pressure there is to conform and not do well in school.  Why do they rattle my cage all the time?  I'm choking to death!  The pressure is killing me!  I cannot break the chains that entrap me and hold me fast.  Where is there room to live in?

And one way we seek to obtain that room to live in is to take everything into our own hands.  Drugs and alcohol are used to deaden the pain of the choking structures.  We simply give up and go along.  We dull our minds and hearts, and stumble blindly through life as though that is how it was meant to be.


But our Gospel Lesson for today promises us something different than that.  It says clearly there is One who breaks into our prisons and bursts asunder the chains that bind and hold us fast.  That One is the living God who is revealed as the One who surprises us.  Where we expect death, God gives life.  Where we think there is defeat, God works victory.  Where we look for vindictiveness, God forgives.  Where we anticipate anger and rejection, God accepts and loves.  That is the God who is merciful and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, who is righteous and holds the future, and who brings salvation to the outcast here and now.

Now let’s put ourselves in that Jericho market many long years ago. Here we are, minding our own business, standing in front of a fruit stand, picking through the raisins and dates, when someone jostles us. We reflexively reach for our pockets, to see if they have been picked, but our money is still there. We turn to see who has elbowed us, and we notice a short, stocky man in a fine linen robe, pushing other people out of his way. Our irritation turns to amazement as the little man jumps up and grabs onto a branch of a sycamore tree near the curb.. He tries to swing his legs up and grab the branch, but he cannot, because of his long robe. So he hitches it up, tucks it into his belt and manages to get his legs around the limb. He rolls over on the branch on his belly, and then stands up and climbs up another limb.

As we are thinking how odd it is for a grown man dressed in a fine suit of clothes to be climbing trees, we are shoved again. This time a flood of people in a hurry come around the corner and are flowing out into the street. The crowd of both women and men is loud and boisterous. At the front and center of the mob is a man who is obviously in charge. Like a presidential candidate working a crowd, he smiles, talks to many people at once, shakes many hands at once. We figure it’s just one more crowd of loud Galileans on a pilgrimage.


Then we notice the crowd lurch to a halt when the man in charge stops under the tree where this short man in the fine suit is perched. The crowd looks up and begins to laugh. Someone next to us says, “That dog Zacchaeus is going to catch hell now. They say Jesus is a friend of the little guy. Zacchaeus up there is such a crook, he’d steal the coins off a dead man’s eyes!”

We look up and see a swarthy little man, sweating profusely, his fine linen robe all wrinkled and twisted. A little trickle of blood runs down his leg where he has scraped his shin in climbing the tree. He is like a trapped animal, run up a tree.

We wait for Jesus to give this pushy runt the searing sermon he deserves. Instead, Jesus invites Zacchaeus to come down. “Let’s go have supper,” Jesus says, “and you’re buying!”

According to Luke, Zacchaeus had made his fortune by stepping on people. He had used his own Jewish sisters and brothers as stepping stones to power and wealth. He squeezed the taxes from the little people, sent the money to Rome, and Rome in turn had made him a big person. To get to be the chief tax collector, he had not walked only on the peasants; he had also scrambled over his colleagues as well to get to the top.

 Zacchaeus had become accustomed to the best seat in the house. But on this particular day, being elevated above the rest meant only the street urchins could look up his skirts and the dogs could snap at his stubby feet dangling from the limb.

It was Jesus who gave the man a graceful way down. Jesus did not condemn or lecture. He did not point out the obvious to Zacchaeus– that his greed and ambition had left him out on a limb. Jesus treated the man as one of his best friends. And he helped him down.


The crowd did not like what Jesus did. But Zacchaeus stood his ground. He raised all of his five feet to their full stature, and he made some astonishing promises about what he planned to do with his money. That day Jesus helped him down out of a tree and raised him back up to a new life.

How does God continue to come to us today?  Where is the place of divine action that forgives us and sets us into life with room and space?  What is the promise of God today that breaks the shackles of a fearful future?  How does Jesus Christ come today with the gift of salvation that radically opens and frees life for us?  Surely it is in Word and Sacrament, but how else and where else does this surprising God burst into our cramped lives and open them up?

In the story of Zacchaeus, the reality of the gift of salvation is told by the reaction of Zacchaeus to Jesus' inviting himself home with the sinner.  Jesus does not command Zacchaeus to do anything.  But Zacchaeus promises to restore all he had wrongfully taken and even more than was demanded by the Law.  The confined life was burst open, and new possibilities and opportunities were called forth from him.

Is that same reality not also ours when the living God comes into our lives and worlds, breaking the chains constricting and confining us?  Salvation is here today, and brings into being new realities and new ways of living.  Is that not what having space to live in as God's freed people makes possible? 

And that’s the hope for the likes of us, my friends. If Zaccaheus could come down off that limb and become a saint of sorts, then perhsps we might have the making of saints, too. For today, Jesus invites us to supper, but he is buying! And thanks to that gift, we could hope to be counted among the saints!