Sunday, October 30, 2016

Accidental Saints



Luke 19:1-10
All Saints and Stewardship Kickoff
October 30, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

As we come to this reading in Luke 19:1-10, Jesus is nearing Jerusalem for the final week of his life. On his way into the city of Jericho, Jesus healed a blind man who called out to him, “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!” Now as Jesus passes through Jericho, he encounters another man in need of mercy: a chief tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus.

Luke 19:1-10
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.”

Zacchaeus Was A Wee Little Man
(Veggie Tales Version)

It isn’t easy being a person of small stature. I should know. There are a million jokes about short people – like, “You have to hand it to short people. They can’t reach it for themselves.”

Especially when there is a parade, or a stage show, and a crowd has gathered, it is tough to be short. If you are a child, they might let you move up to the front. But when you are the chief tax collector, and the crowd is gathering to see Jesus, you are at a distinct disadvantage. Being short has always been a disadvantage, especially for men. And being short was a disadvantage for Zacchaeus. He was an outcast. Lowdown. Smallminded.

Everybody looked down on Zacchaeus. Literally and figuratively.

As a contracted tax collector, he’d have been in the position of legally extorting money from his own people. The chief tax collector would buy the tax collecting contract from the authorities, then hope to make a profit on whatever tolls, taxes and tariffs his employees could bring in. So you can see how people might have hated him. They considered him a traitor.

Now this economic oppressor and tormentor of the common folk, this scoundrel, is climbing up in a tree. How very undignified. How funny! They’d have found it comical, and not in a friendly way. It’s always refreshing to have a laugh on the bad guy, and Zacchaeus definitely starts out as the villain in this story.

We don’t have his whole biography. We don’t know if there was a Mrs. Zacchaeus or little Zacchaeus kids. We just know that Zacchaeus is Jewish, that he is a chief tax collector, that his is rich, and that he is short.

And that he wanted to see Jesus.
He really wanted to see Jesus.

At the risk of his dignity, at the risk of being laughed at, at the risk of public embarrassment, he climbed that tree. That’s how badly he wanted to see Jesus.

What do you suppose he hoped would happen? What was he looking for? Whatever his thoughts were, he could never have expected what happened. Because when Zacchaeus saw Jesus, Jesus saw him.

Jesus SAW him.
Jesus spoke to him.

Jesus looked right at him, up in that tree, and spoke directly to him.
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

Wait. What?

Zacchaeus was probably as surprised as the rest of the people there. Jesus had just invited himself to dinner at the home of the chief tax collector. Jesus is always doing that, you know, inviting himself in, and at the most unexpected times, with the most surprising people. It’s how accidental saints get made.

See, nobody would have mistaken Mr. Zacchaeus, Chief Tax Collector, for a friend of Jesus, let alone a saint. Everybody knows that saints are good people, people who do all the right things in all the right ways. They are irritatingly, endlessly, annoyingly nice. They practically have halos, they are so good. Saints are like clergy -- missionaries, ministers, priests… right? Well, no.

Truth is, most of us clergy types are less good than a lot of people; some of us figure a call to ministry was the only way God could save us! Our job is not to BE saints, our job is to equip the saints, to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Saints are just ordinary people, like Zacchaeus. Like you who are sitting here right now.

At some point in your life, someone was a like a sycamore tree for you, lifting you up above the crowded world just high enough to see Jesus. Or maybe that hasn’t actually happened for you yet; maybe you haven’t gotten that glimpse of Jesus that changes people. And maybe you are like a sycamore tree for someone else, or you have been, and you have given someone the chance to see Jesus, and to meet him face to face.

When we do catch that glimpse of Jesus, and meet his eye, we are transformed. It may not be immediately visible. We don’t get any taller or prettier or smarter. But if you see Jesus, and he sees you, and he invites himself to your house, which he will, because he is always doing that sort of thing, he will sit down at table and eat with you, and when you connect with him, you will be changed from the inside out.

That’s what happened to Zacchaeus. He came down out of that tree, into the presence of the Son of Man, and he just stood there and said “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.”’ And Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house…”

That’s what happens when Jesus comes to your house – transformation. Transformed people are generous people. They are saints, not dead statue saints but living saints, saints alive. Today we begin our annual stewardship emphasis season, but you who are here know that we are always called to stewardship, always called to give generously of ourselves, giving our time, our talent, and our financial resources.

The mission and ministry of this church depend on the saints, on the willingness of the saints to be transformed, to be generous. The theme of this year’s pledge campaign is “Saints Alive!” and it is especially appropriate to begin our stewardship emphasis with an observance of All Saints Day, and with a fellowship meal together. In a few moments, we are going to have a time of remembering some of our saints, some of the people whose presence and love lifted us up so that we could see Jesus, so that we could be seen by Jesus and know how God sees us, how God loves us. Those saints gone on to join the church triumphant, and we miss them, and today we remember them and speak their names.

In a few minutes, we’ll have a chance to name those saints, those beloved, flawed, wonderful people who, like us, were accidental saints. I stole the title of this sermon from a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She sees all of us as accidental saints, and I agree with her. She says: “Without higher-quality material to work with, God resorts to working through us for others and upon us through others. Those are some weirdly restorative, disconcerting shenanigans to be caught up in: God forcing God’s people to see themselves as God sees them, to do stuff they know they are incapable of doing, so that God might make use of them, and make them to be both humble recipients and generous givers of grace, so that they may be part of  God’s big project on earth, so that they themselves might find unexpected joy through surprising situations.”[1]

That’s what happened to Zacchaeus –
he saw himself – maybe just for a second! - as God sees him.

When that happens, we are both humble recipients and generous givers,
people who can give more than we thought we had,
people who can forgive more than we expected we could,
people who can take part in God’s project wholeheartedly,
people who can rise above our current limitations,
people who can attain a stature we never imagined,
people who are surprisingly, unexpectedly, because of Jesus,
accidental saints.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.



For Those Who Walked With Us Jan Richardson
For those who walked with us, this is a prayer.
For those who have gone ahead, this is a blessing.
For those who touched and tended us,
who lingered with us while they lived,
this is a thanksgiving.

For those who journey still with us
in the shadows of awareness,
in the crevices of memory,
in the landscape of our dreams,
this is a benediction.

NAMING OF SAINTS

God of the ages: We praise you for all your servants who have done justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with you.
We praise you for apostles and martyrs and saints of every time and place, who in life and death have witnessed to your truth and love.
We praise you, O God, for all those who answered your call to preach the Good News of the Gospel and to administer your Sacraments of grace and love, and for those who devoted their lives to teaching your Word.
We praise you, O God, for those who showed compassion to the least, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and offering mercy and forgiveness to those who have gone astray.
We praise you, O God, and we especially honor the memory of those individuals of this congregation who have lived among us and shared their faith in personal ways, who have finished the race and now live eternally in your presence. We honor the memory of those who have graced our lives at other times and in other ways - those whose names we lift up before you. In particular, we lift up before you with gratitude and thanksgiving….

(here, people may name those whom they remember on this day)

Hear our prayers, O God.
For all the saints from whom their labors rest, we praise you, O God.
We praise you and we thank you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.



[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

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