Sunday, November 13, 2022

Year C Proper 28 2022 Faith Is Built In Adversity

 Year C Proper 28, 13 November 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Faith Is Built In Adversity”

Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.

"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

Good morning, friends. Today we are going to explore one of the harder sides of living a life of faith. When does belief become faith? When do we shift from it being in our heads &/or hearts, and into our actions?

We say we are a faith community, those who come together under a common understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in his way of loving God, and our particular flavor of that is from the stream filtered through the English, or Anglican, Church and its American substream. As our presiding bishop says, “We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.” 

Our uniqueness in that movement is one of common structure (liturgy, polity, and theology), as well as an open interpretation. As Bishop Shannon said, “There are many right ways to be Episcopalian.” I have always loved that. We try to be open enough, or rather wide enough, in our belief that many can find their way in and grow in Christ, but not so far that people cannot get a handle on what we are about. We are here to be the Church, Christ’s called-out ones from the world, following in his way of loving God with all we are and in all that we do.

An impossibly simple task that is simply impossible to do, under our own steam that is. We are enabled and empowered in this endeavor by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We do not do this alone.

This year we have been working hard and keeping things going. However, we had incurred some significant costs that were unanticipated. We had a major leak in our water line, but in a place where we did not know, we could not know, that it happened until we had an astronomical increase in our water bill. It was literally going straight into the drain. Thankfully the county worked with us, and reduced SOME of our bill. 

This year we had our 70 year old furnace finally reach the point where it was no longer safe to continue using it. Tomorrow new high efficiency heating and air units will begin being installed. But this is another unexpected, or to be more honest, an unplanned for, cost. But through good stewardship in planning, we were able to handle these unexpected expenses.

Finances since COVID have been on par with expectations. People were extremely generous during COVID, giving above and beyond. But looking at historical trends, there is always a dip post-traumas, and guess what? We are normal. There are many uncertainties right now, and anxious people hold back. It is hard to step out in faith on shaky ground. We recognize that. 

Last year’s pledges dipped, just as anticipated, and to balance our budget we were planning on using savings to cover a portion of our budget. Having a deficit budget is a practice that cannot be maintained for long, but we also did not want during our reopening and rebuilding to lessen our ministries, when the need and felt need are even greater. We work very hard to not live above our means. And there will be necessary belt-tightenings and new revenue streams sought.

Inflation does not just affect your bottom line, but the church’s as well. Our bills are increasing as with all of ours individually. We have not done Cost of Living adjustments for our very dedicated and talented staff in my time here. Their bills are increasing, but their pay has not. This year’s budget is being created at a hard time to know what more we can cut. That is why this pledge campaign is imperative. The Vestry, in coordination with the Finance Team, will do the hard work of crafting a budget, but we cannot do it without all of us pulling together to make this church reflective of our values and common commitments.

Nonprofits are not businesses. Of course, we follow good business practices, but our budget is not only a monetary document. It is a statement of our values. Nonprofits exist to fulfill a purpose. Our budget is a moral as well as a mission document. Our bottom line is lives affected and changed. NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THAT. 

I believe that God provides us with all we need. Hard times are given to us to learn to rely more fully on God. This may sound harsh. But repeatedly through Scripture, we see God’s chosen called to move from belief to faith. We can say we believe all we want, but until we commit to it with our actions and our very lives is it faith?

Forgive this old preacher’s story, but I checked, and I cannot find that I have ever used it here. A tightrope is stretched across a wide canyon, and a world famous acrobat tries to make his attempt to cross even more dramatic by walking back and forth with a wheelbarrow. It is an amazing sight to behold. 

Once back across, he calls out to the crowd after silencing their applause, “Who here thinks I can do it again?” Everyone in the crowd raised their hand enthusiastically.

“Who here is willing to climb in the wheelbarrow?” 

Crickets could be heard.

And that my friends is the difference between Belief and Faith. We may find God’s handiwork and miraculous feats amazing, but are we willing to get in the metaphorical wheelbarrow? Are we willing to act on our beliefs?

Today we are calling you to do that. Today we are calling you to put your belief in the good work of this church into a commitment to your time, talent, and treasure. All three. We need you here, actively participating and doing your good works out in the community. We need the unique gifts that only you bring to the table. We need your tithes and offerings to support the work God has given us to do. We can. Will we?

Stepping out in faith these days is so counterintuitive. As I said, it is hard to take a step of faith on shaky ground. But when asked to take a leap of faith, it is like a child in a burning building with a parent down below yelling jump. We may say from the confusion, the darkness, and smoke, “I cannot see you!” But the loving parent urging us to have faith merely states, “But I see you! And I am here to catch you!” Friends, as I started, this is an impossibly simple task that is simply impossible to do under our own power. Thank God, that God our loving Father has us in clear sight and promises to catch us if we but jump. If he knows the number of hairs on our head as Scripture states, how much better does he know our thoughts, our fears, our wants, our worries? He has plans for us, and to get there God calls us to Faith. He is with us always, and wants us to move our belief into our actions. God never once calls for us to be successful, but EACH AND EVERY DAY God calls us to be faithful. The seed you plant, let God use to the best way God knows how!

Stephanie and I give our pledge this year in faith. I ask you to do the same. And our faith is built in times of adversity. An old camp I used to serve had this poster up in the kitchen, a silly way to remind us how much we did and how much we could do in faith:

We the Called have done so much for so long with so little, we are now perfectly qualified to do absolutely Anything with Nothing!

Oh, how I wish it were true. We do so much with so little. Our property team, mostly four guys, save us tens of thousands of dollars a year if we had to hire and outsource their work. Time and Talent at work there saves our treasure. From choir to altar guild to children's ministries to stuffing envelopes, to working in the Clinic to making meals for the meal train, all of this collectively enables us to make this special place happen.

But let us get back to the text for the day. Jesus warns us that there will be hard times. There will be dark, and scary, and tension-filled times. These are the times when we not just develop our faith muscles, but we use them. 

We build up our faith muscles by doing the regular spiritual exercises of steeping ourselves in Scripture and Prayer, through service and sacrifice, through walking with God in the good times so that when the bad times come we know that God is with us, even to the end of the Age. Our Faith is Built in Adversity. But more, our Faith is SHOWN in Adversity. In the Letter of James, maybe even written by our namesake, St. James the Less, it reminds us:

James 1

2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

That “complete and whole” is the same word Jesus used when he told us to be “perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.”

Friends, what we do here today, in our ordinary, day-in, day-out lives, is preparing us for what is to come. What we do here today echoes through eternity. We are preparing to live and move and breathe in the presence of God. And I do not know about you, wouldn’t it be nice to begin living in the abundance and the ecstasy right now?

That is what the Kingdom of God is, and it is at hand. And as we move into now, how glorious will our eternal now be!

The theme for our Pledge Campaign is “Do Not Be Afraid,” a message from the angels and from Christ himself. The Prophets echoed it, too. And weekly I try to find a way to say it again and again and again. The World wants us to fear, because if someone is afraid they can be controlled. Perfect love drives out all fear, and God is not in the Fear business. Ever. God is in the Faith business, and that is ours as well. Always.

Thank you for your faithfulness! May God bless the Time, Talent, and Treasure you give, and may your faith only increase! May we “Not Be Afraid,” and may God be glorified! Amen

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Year C Proper 27 2022 Healthy Boundaries

 Year C Proper 27,  November 6,  2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Healthy Boundaries”

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

When I was teaching middle school in Church Hill (downtown Richmond), I had a student that would start the day in some really harsh way. If I asked everyone to sit down, she made a point of standing up. If I asked folks to be quiet or silent, she then asked her friend about what they were doing after school. One day, her belligerence was over the top, and as we went through this regular dance she looked me in the eye, and said, “You wanna slap me, don’t you?”

In that moment, a lot went through my mind. 

A) you are a little, hurting girl who has to act grown-up to survive in this harsh world you have been thrust in, 

B) that was not even on my list of options that I was considering, 

and C) Noooooo!

In that split second, as she was tensing and staring me down, I actually laughed. Yes, I laughed. As she was gunning for a fight, I was the grown-up. I had full control of my response. She had no power in this situation that I did not give her. 

The laughter shook her. That is one thing she did not expect. I looked her dead in the eye back, and said, “No, I would never hit you or slap you. Nothing you could do would illicit that response. Besides, I love my wife and kids too much to hurt a student and get fired.”

That impressed her. She actually nodded, and said, “Because you’re a real man.” And walked away to her seat to do what I asked. It broke my heart that one so young was that worldly-wise and that world-weary. But it also showed, she was watching, and testing, and amazingly enough, I passed. She was a different kid after that singular encounter. At least with me.

One of the most difficult things we can do as we make our way in this world is to establish healthy boundaries. In fact, that is often where we are first attacked in our day in and day out. It is what it is.

Remember the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park? They attempted to break out each and every chance they had. They knew the fences were electrified. And yet, they tested them anyway. Link. By Link. By Link. That is what they did because they were smart. And because they were smart, they knew that eventually there would be a weak link, an unelectrified section, and they would break free.

When people test our boundaries, that is what they are doing. Looking for the weak link, the chink in the armor as it were.

And you may be asking yourself, “Rock+, what on earth does that have to do with Jesus?” If we look at a straight reading of the text, not much or nothing. But if you look at what they are attempting to do to Jesus, and what he does to block and stop them, this is exactly what we are talking about.

Healthy boundaries.

The question, in and of itself, is moot. The Sadducees have no standing here. They do not believe in a resurrection. “Once you are dead, you are dead,” they would think to themselves. There is no life after this one. But they knew Jesus did, so they tried to trick him on something that mattered to HIM, not THEM. They were playing a game.

But with that in mind, look at their question. "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother…" Yadda, yadda, yadda… "In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Jesus knew, and so do we, those posing the question did not care what his answer was. Whatever he said, they were going to spin it, to skew it, in such a way that it meant something bad. They would use it to make Jesus look bad, or silly, or stupid.

It’s like the no-win question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Any way you answer that you are in trouble.

And how do we protect ourselves in a no win situation?

That is a hard one. And we often face them more often than we want to admit.

Jesus knew that it was silly what they were asking and said as much. "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection."

Marriage is for here, on this plane of existence. Not there. Not then.

And then goes on to talk about how God speaks of those he is in relationship with in the Present Tense, not Past. "And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

Jesus got them in the Gotcha question. They were moot.

But there is something else Jesus is modeling for us here, as I started, healthy boundaries. They are so hard to set up, and so necessary for us to make it in the world we live in.

Unhealthy people trample on boundaries. It could be expressed in a lot of ways. Snide comments. Passive aggression. Belittling. Ignoring politeness because we are “friends”, or some other flimsy excuse. It could be doing things that cross lines, not allowing people the common respect they deserve.

As we uphold our Baptismal Covenant, for us to respect the dignity of all people, that includes how we allow them to be them. And to be responsible and mature themselves. Our interactions should call people to their best selves, and enable us to be who we need to be.

Healthy boundaries, making them, maintaining them, and honoring them are ways that we can show our love for each other, and especially for OURSELVES. No one respects a dishrag.

It takes a more powerful person, a person at home in their skin, a person secure in their identity and belovedness to turn the other cheek. It takes the bigger person to take a hit, stand there, and have the audacity to offer the other.

Wimps cannot do that. Wimps collapse when struck. Wimps wither. Turning the other cheek as Jesus commanded us to do takes a strong, mature adult knowing the cost and willing to pay the price.

A person with healthy boundaries can live up to the call of Jesus for us to turn the other cheek, or to give our tunic in addition to our shirt, or to go the second mile if the first is demanded. These are not the actions of those insecure in themselves.

Healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships. This is allowed and it is appropriate. 

Beware those for whom your boundaries are an issue. They do what they can to make you guilty over keeping things simple, and healthy. See right through them and what they are trying to do. Manipulators attack your boundaries first.

Just because you choose not to play their game does not mean you cannot. It means that you love yourself, and hopefully them, enough to have clear lines of what is acceptable and what is not. 

The holidays are coming up, and there may be a relative with whom you have a recurring script. They play their part. You play yours. You see it coming a mile away. Remember the Wolf and the Sheep dog Looney Tunes cartoons? Many of you may think it was with Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, but it is not. The Wolf, Ralph, is nearly identical to Wile E. with a few minor paint corrections. But Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog would walk to work together, clock in, and then they became mortal enemies. One going for the sheep, and one protecting them. They were fine and good until they stepped into their roles. How often do we play the same ridiculous type of game?

We have to just stop it. Break the cycle. When Uncle Mort, or whichever relative again goes down that well-trodden trail, maybe even ask, “Uncle Mort, I love you. I want it to be easy to love you. You are trying to bait me here. I see it. I acknowledge it. I refuse to do it. What other ways can we interact so that we do not have to go down that path again?”

Now you might get lucky and Uncle Mort may hear you the first time, but it probably will not be the case. You may have to politely walk away. Jesus may be the Door, but we do not have to be a doormat.

Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

We are in the midst of things that are out to break our healthy boundaries and limitations that we set. We do not let them. We set clear healthy limits, and protect theirs as well. No means no, no matter what age is saying it. No means no, no matter what age is hearing it. As we protect those we love and ourselves, we are doing what Jesus would have us do. Do not forget that.

In the living of these days, having clear and firm limits is all the more necessary. Healthy boundaries! Amen

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Year C All Saints' Day 2022

 Year C All Saints Day, 1 November 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA


Collect: Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,

for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."

"But woe to you who are rich,

for you have received your consolation.

"Woe to you who are full now,

for you will be hungry.

"Woe to you who are laughing now,

for you will mourn and weep.

"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

In my sermon on Zacchaeus on Sunday, I talked about how we are social creatures, designed to be in relationship. We are made to be with one another, and for one another.

But as the cynic points out, “Man’s the only animal that knows he’s going to die.” Those relationships come to a close, at least in a physical sense. Death is one thing we can count on, and some would add taxes, too. But even before there were governments, Death was inevitable. Some cultures celebrate and honor it, like Dia de los Muertos. Our culture, for the most part, avoids and ignores even the hint of it, probably to our detriment.

I was speaking with a widow this last week about how she still talks to her husband, but even more, there are times and places where she can feel him close. I love that.  I think she is right.

This period of time in Celtic understanding was when the worlds came close, the world beyond and our world. Today, November 1, was their New Year’s Day. One would do what one could to scare away the bad spirits with costumes, fires, hollowed out vegetables with scary faces, etc. But all this pageantry was to welcome in the beloved dead who may swing by for a visit. Christianity, as it spread from the Mediterranean and encountered new cultures understood that a universal God would obviously have preceded their missionary endeavors. And because of that, God’s fingerprints were already there. Sociologists call it syncretism when Christians say, “This festival or deity you have is really this in the Church.” Or we stole it outright. It may seem like cheating to get more to convert, but actually it was finding parallels for invitation and welcome. Truth is truth wherever it is found.

All Saints Day carried on the tradition of including and remembering those whose paths on this earth have ended, but continue on in the world to come. I have only been here 5 years, but already there are friends who have passed, stories that are told, fond memories cherished of who they were and what made them special.

Sarah Sanders sat in front of where my family sits now. My father-in-law saved her seat for her. One Sunday he missed it, and a guest sat in Sarah’s seat. My kids said that they had never seen someone that nice throw that much shade when she saw someone in her favorite spot.

Churches are filled with stories like that. Little moments of joy and personality that embraces the loved ones that were. And who are we to think that they are gone? We have pictures and plaques. We have stories and guesses on what they would have thought of what is happening now. They are, in so many ways, still among us.

I have had more than one person say how thankful they were that (fill-in-the-blank) was already gone before COVID because that would have done them in. We still are, and will be for years, overcoming the personal, social, and societal trauma of the Shutdown and deaths. Our education system will be playing catch-up for years to come, if they will ever make it at all. Mental Health. Physical Health. Spiritual Health. It all paid a price going through what we did. By ignoring death like we do, it makes it hard to deal with the trauma we experienced. 

So I am thankful for this day, this day when we remember the Saints of God, and include them in our thoughts and prayers. Time, beyond this limited physical world, means nothing. God is not caught up in another part of his creation. He is beyond space and time, both. God made them and can step away from them. So in praying for the Saints, and with the Saints, we enter the Eternal Now that is promised after Judgment Day, when all creation will sing its praises to God.

I am thankful for this day when we lean on the tradition that has come before. As Anglicans, Scripture, Reason, and Tradition are the three legs of our theological stool. We claim the heritage of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. We include traditions from every branch of the tree of Christendom. Thankfully and unapologetically. That is our uniqueness, our openness.  As G.K. Chesterton reminded us, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” They still get a say in their church.

Scripture looks at those who have come before with a beautiful metaphor…

Hebrews 12:1-2a

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…

I am thankful that we can look back to those who inspire us to be more like Christ. Growing up in the evangelical wing of the Church, I never gave saints any attention. I was honestly a little frightened of anyone who would pray to anyone but God, so Saints were not liked or appreciated.

But in the years since, I have been fascinated and overwhelmed with joy and appreciation for saints. Most days I look up “The Saint of the Day.” And each day has many.

I have made vows to try and love Jesus like St. Francis did, still a model almost 800 years after his death. (1226 was the year of his death.) I love the crazed devotion of St. Brendan. The quiet humility and ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. The dedication and systemization of discipleship of St. Ignatius. So many ways of loving Jesus, the study of this great cloud of witnesses could never end.

However you approach this night, however you remember those who have come before, however you look to the pilgrim path that you are on that only ends in one place, I pray God’s blessing on you. We need not fear death. As St. Paul instructed us, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) We do not rush to die, for as long as we live we have something we can do for God. But we see it as a transition, not an end.

As the Saints surround us, and maybe even come close today, think on them. Thank God for them. Maybe even tell them how special they are in your life, still. May their lives still be an example for us in the living of these days, and in our following of Christ. Amen

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Year C Proper 26 2022 Picked First

 Year C Proper 26,  October 30, 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Picked First”

Collect: Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

Jesus 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."

There is a way of reading Scripture where we picture ourselves in the text. We use our imaginations to read, and when it really works, to be read by, Scripture. Often called Lectio Divina, “divine reading” or “sacred reading,” God speaks to us by our innermost thoughts and feelings. By envisioning ourselves in the story, it can stop being our imaginations, and it can become our very life.

This story of Zaccheus came into reality for me in some of my earliest days. Never say childrens’ ministry is not important. In those days of carpet squares and felt story boards, I heard the Word of God, felt the Call of God, and experienced the Grace of God. And it started with this story, along with several others.

It became so real for me because of how I could picture it inside my mind. I do not remember how old I was when I first heard it, and the song I learned around it, but it was early enough that this story has been a part of my conscious life as far back as I can remember.

We practice Lectio Divina at the beginning of our Vestry meetings, and in speaking with our spiritual leadership I was surprised that they had never heard the song about Zaccheus! It was a favorite of my childhood, and as big a part as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Little Bunny Fufu

I was surprised that it was only something from my childhood. If you learned it, by chance, please sing along. 

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.

And as the Savior passed that way, he looked up in the tree, and said…

Zacchaeus, you come down! 

For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going to your house today!

I call this my earliest Lectio Divina because even as a preschooler I could envision being small. I was small! I could envision climbing trees. I climbed trees! I could feel the bark on my fingers, my arms wrapped around the limb. I could envision looking down on Jesus, and seeing him there below me. I could see him looking me in the eye, and telling me to get down. My mom did that to me when I climbed too high all the time. The only stretch in this was the idea of Jesus saying he was coming to my house today. And that was not much of a leap. I was a child with an active imagination.

I remember one day we were heading home from Vacation Bible School and we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. And there, right in front of us in line, was Jesus. I remember looking up at my mom, and saying, “Mom! It’s Jesus!” And she shushed me. We had stopped for a Happy Meal and we bump into the Almighty! The Bible verse that day must have been “Suffer the little children come unto me!” because I was not letting it go! I knew Jesus would want to meet me. Little did I realize in my tiny body and mind that this was the early 70s and this was a hippie not Jesus. But it was so real! Having a precocious and curious child can be a gift and a curse.

Zacchaeus was curious, too. Jesus’ reputation had spread. And here he was about as low as he could get. A tax collector, he was despised. He did not only gather taxes for the Romans, he had to bribe them to get the job. So a traitor, and most likely a crook to boot to pay for the bribe, Zacchaeus was about as low as one could get. And even more, this was Jericho and geography must be taken into account. Jericho sits at the junction of the Jordan River and its entrance to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on planet earth. The low man in town at the lowest spot on earth. And even more, he was short. We are talking snake belly low.

So traitor, crook, short, Zacchaeus may not have even tried to see this wandering rabbi first hand. He knew not to push his way into the mass crowding in to see Jesus. Why bother? He was curious, though. What could this guy be like, if all the stories were true? Could he really heal? Were his stories and teachings as transformative as people said? Maybe, just maybe, if I could get a glance, Zacchaeus may be able to get a feel of this Kingdom of God that Jesus yammered on about.

And so the stage is set. All the actors are in place. A crowd, the good, bad, and ugly shoving their way in to see this one about which so much was said. Our meager Zacchaeus, his wee self, perched up in the tree only hoping for a glimpse. And Jesus and the followers passing 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. 

No one, NO ONE, saw this coming. No one envisioned this at all. Especially Zacchaeus. He climbed down lickety-split, a happy man. A wee happy man.

Being chosen is always a joy. We want to be wanted. We want people to see us. We want people to acknowledge us. We want people to appreciate us. We all want to be chosen. Our social selves are wired to belong and to have a part. We are made for one another. Each and every one of us, Zacchaeus included. 

But we all know that as joyful as this could have been, there has to be some conflict or people would not have remembered it, much less included it in Scripture 2,000 years ago.

All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." 

They all were aghast. Does he know who he was talking to? If this guy is so holy, he would not be mixed in with filth like him! You can hear it. Grumble grumble grumble grumble. Human nature has not changed that much in 2,000 years. And here human nature stays true. We approach life like some zero sum game. For me to win, there has to be a loser. And I am happy to have a loser, as long as it's not me. 

But contempt is easy. Rich. Hate him! Tax Collector. Hate him! Short! 

🎵Short people got no reason, short people got no reason, short people got no reason to live…🎵 (Thank you, Randy Newman) It is hard as the priest of St. James the Less to talk about being short, as “the Less” could very well have meant “the Short.”

Contempt is us looking down on someone else thinking it will make us feel better. As Samuel Johnson reminded us, “Contempt is a kind of gangrene which, if it seizes one part of a character, corrupts all the rest by degrees.” And if the Grumblers had contempt for Zacchaeus, it was then carried over to Jesus as well.

But then we see the movement of Grace, the immense shifting of glaciers before our eyes. Zacchaeus was as transformed as the Grinch, whose heart grew three sizes that day.

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." 

No one asked this of him. Most of us, even the most despicable, know what it is that we should be doing. The good we could do is out there. The question is will we?

For Zacchaeus, he did not need to do what he did for Jesus to come over. But in being seen, acknowledged, and chosen the dam broke. The Grace of the moment became the Grace of a life. A flood gate opened up and Grace poured in, and in doing so, it poured out.

We cannot pay back Grace. Grace is a gift freely given. It can only be accepted. Zacchaeus accepted it. And in its reception, his response to Grace was to mend his ways. Grace was his response to Grace. Grace came first. It always does. It always will.

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."

And here we see Jesus saying, this is what I came to do. It is not about the righteous feeling better about themselves. It was to show the world that we are all seen, acknowledged, and chosen.

And what is chosen, truly chosen, cannot be let go of. In Roman culture, adoption was forever. You could disown a child if they brought dishonor. You could divorce a spouse if unfaithful or tiresome, even. But once one was adopted, it was forever. Jesus chose Zacchaeus. He would not let him go.

Even with the Grumbling. 

Even with the Contempt.

Even with the Scorn.

And he was happy to do it. He came to seek and save the Lost. That was his mission and purpose. He came here to invite the Beloved of God home. And we are all Beloved.

This Tuesday night during our All Saints’ service we have the joy of baptizing two adults, Tim and Hannah, who have chosen to be identified as Christ’s own forever. I love baptizing babies and standing with the families saying that they will raise the children in the faith. But when people choose to be baptized into the faith, especially as adults, we rejoice. They walk into it with eyes open, maybe tear stained, but eyes open. Like Zacchaeus, today, salvation has come to this house. How beautiful! How wonderful! How fresh and new as it was for Zacchaeus. We are often surprised by Grace. We are always Amazed by it. And there will always be Self-Righteous Grumblers. Always. That’s okay. It just shows they just do not get it.

Love people anyway, especially those hiding away thinking the parade going by is not for them, or people like them. But friends, if this story teaches us nothing else, the parade is just for them. Thanks be to God!

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.

And as the Savior came that way, he looked up in the tree, and said…

Zacchaeus, you come down! 

For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going to your house today!