Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Nov 03, 2019

    The 21st Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 19:1-10

    Preacher: The Rev. Greg Farrand

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Our gospel reading today is one of my favorite stories. In just a handful of sentences we hear about the radical transformation of this tax collectors life.

    It’s so popular that there’s children’s songs written about it, fun anecdotes about how short and this wee little man Zacchaeus was. It’s such a charming story that it is easy to miss the transcendent wisdom on display.

    Jesus embodies and models spiritual wisdom for us in such an effortless way it’s easy to miss the world changing invitation for us.

    In fact, I genuinely believe that this small story contains the balm, the cure for so much pain we’re experiencing in our world right now.

    A couple of weeks ago Bishop Porter Taylor preached about a disease that is rapidly spreading across the States.

    He said that disease was despair.

    The result? Fear, division, anxiety, anger, us versus them dualistic thinking.

    We begin to stop viewing people we disagree with as 3 Dimensional people. We view them as straw men, as caricatures.

    You can know you’ve fallen into this divineness when you think of someone and there is no compassion, no grace.

    You can vehemently disagree with someone and still remember that they are God’s beloved child.

    Bishop Desmond Tutu who faced the brutal ugliness of systemic racism in South Africa said, “God loves you. And God’s love is so great, God loves your enemies too.”

    This is the love that Jesus embodied. When the Roman soldiers had mocked and tortured Jesus and were driving the nails into his hands… did Jesus curse them? Did he say they were despised gentiles? No. Even as he suffered this brutality he said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

    That is love.

    But it is so easy to lose sight of that… and we get stuck in our ideologies. Stuck in our heads and not at all in touch with our hearts or bodies.

    On top of that, we are constantly bombarded with messages that reinforces the despair… that calcify dualistic thinking.

    This dualistic thinking has become so commonplace that it’s as if understanding and compassion have become bad words.

    If someone is not in your camp then they are automatically corrupt or foolish and kindness to them is viewed as betrayal. This divisiveness is insidious and spreads all over the place.

    A couple of weeks ago comedian Ellen DeGeneres went to watch a Dallas cowboys game and posted a video of herself sitting and laughing with George W Bush. Well, the backlash was fast and brutal.

    She was labeled a traitor, she was called a hypocrite. One celebrity, after scorching her with curse words, said she had cuddled up with a mass murderer.

    Her response? She said, “Here’s the thing: I’m friends with George Bush, and in fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t just mean the people who think the same way that you do, I mean be kind to everyone.”

    Such a simple, seemingly obvious message but in our current context it’s shockingly rare.

    Just last week Joe Biden went to church and approached the alter rail to receive communion. But when he held out his hands, the priest refused to give him the body of Christ because of Biden’s stance on abortion.

    The priest felt the freedom and maybe even the duty to deny the grace of the Eucharist to someone he concluded was outside of his camp.

    It’s helpful to remember that when Jesus instituted communion at the last supper he broke the bread and shared it with Judas who Jesus knew was about to betray him.

    Our role is not to be judge and jury… our job is not to choose who’s in or out or exclude. The church and this alter rail is a space where all are welcome. Why? Because God made and loves and welcomes all!

    To welcome someone you strongly disagree with, to extend compassion and kindness towards an enemy is not hypocrisy… is not betraying your ideals… it is embodying the love of God revealed in Christ!

    To see people this way is to see through the eyes of God… Richard Rohr calls is non-dualism. When we can see past the binary categories and all the labels that identify people to see everyone in wholeness… we see the world through the eyes of Christ.

    In fact, if we want to heal our divided country, if we want to see the kingdom of God grow, if we want to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven then we, those of us in this room right now, this morning, need to embody the welcoming love of God. We need to cultivate non-dualism.

    And our Gospel reading reveals how to do just that.

    We meet Zacchaeus, and we are told off that bat that he is a chief tax collector. As Sarah mentioned last week, tax collectors were despised and viewed as traitors because they opted to side with Rome. They worked for the oppressive occupiers. And to be a chief tax collector meant that he was not just a worker bee, but had risen through the ranks as a clever and most likely harsh deal maker.

    We learn he is wealthy… most likely because he had the muscle of roman soldiers to force people not only to pay their taxes to Rome but add additional funds on top for him.

    He was despised but at least he had power and money. He clearly thought that those things would bring him happiness.

    And he is a little guy who can’t see over the crowd gathering around Jesus so he climbs a tree. He’s heard about this rabbi, this teacher who is also a miracle worker and he wants a glimpse.

    And that’s when something unexpected happens. Jesus stops right under Zacchaeus and looks up at him.

    The crowd most likely is hoping for a sharp rebuke of this traitor. He’s then one who steals their money under threat.

    But instead of a rebuke, Jesus calls him by name. And says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

    And we are told that all the people grumbled. He has gone to eat with a sinner. They only say Zacchaeus as a sinner, a traitor a tax collector… and Jesus saw beyond the categories and saw a deeply struggling child of God.

    Eating with Zacchaeus didn’t mean that Jesus endorsed his cheating or extortion or life choices. But there was a love that went deeper than categories… deeper than Zacchaeus’ choices.

    And this is where the magic and power of God’s welcoming, nondaulistic love is revealed.

    When Zacchaeus realized that Jesus knew who he was and welcomed him and did not condemn him… well it was like a ray of light piercing through the years of darkness.

    When he felt that welcome and loving acceptance it shed light on the darkness of what he thought would bring him happiness. All of that power and money looked like dust and chaff in the light of Christ’s welcoming love.

    Zacchaeus declares, "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."

    He will not only pay people back, and not just an additional 20% penalty required in Jewish law… but commits to 4 times the amount which is what Roman law required, but required only for those who were convicted criminals. 

    He is admitting his guilt and willingly letting go of his amassed wealth because the love of Christ is worth more than all the gold in the world.

    It’s an interesting side note that the word Zacchaeus comes from the Hebrew word which means, “clean, pure, innocent.” A name that certainly does not reflect his life before he met Jesus. But after experiencing the welcoming love of Christ, he has been set free… he has reclaimed his innocence.

    In the words of Jesus, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

    That is the power of the non-dualistic, welcoming love of Jesus.

    And I am guessing at some point in your life you’ve experienced that kind of welcoming love.

    On this All Saints Day, a day we remember not only the famous saints of old but all of those we have loved and lost.

    As we hold space for their memories can you think of someone who loved you well in your life? Maybe a parent or grandparent, maybe a teacher or a friend?

    I am guessing that what you remember about them is not how well they articulated their political ideologies or theological stances. My guess is they simply loved you and showed that love with small acts of kindness. A hug, a smile, a cup of hot chocolate when you were a kid.

    It was through a small act of loving kindness that Zacchaeus’ life was transformed. It is through the loving welcome of God expressed through small acts of kindness that you and I are changed. It is through this welcoming love of Christ the world is healed and changed.

    But living out the non-daulistic, welcoming love of Christ takes practice and intentionality. We need to cultivate this love so let me end on a practical note.

    Be aware of input.

    We are bombarded endlessly with messages to be fearful and reactive. A few weeks ago when I was driving with a van full of pilgrims to Kentucky to walk in the footsteps of Thomas Merton I realized how inundated I was with constant news. Every time I opened my news apps I would feel my stress levels rise and often become anxious and angry when I read the days stories.

    So I decided to delete all my news apps. And over the past few weeks my news input has reduced by about 80% and I can say, it feels awesome. I still hear about the big, important stories from other folks but choosing to not immerse myself in the toxic vitriol of the 24 hour news cycle has been wonderful. So simply be aware of input and maybe choose to give yourself some space.

    Choose to pause and unbrace.

    But I still hear things and feel my anxiety and anger rising. I feel my temptation to stop viewing people I disagree with as people and begin to view them as fools or traitors. That’s when I pause and simply become aware of what’s happening. I often realize I am holding my breath and my shoulders are tense and my jaw is clenched.

    I choose at that moment to slow down, and take a deep breath. I choose to relax my shoulders and unclench my jaw.

    More and more studies are showing that simply by relaxing our bodies we activate the parts of our brains that enable us to respond with compassion and self awareness.

    Allow your frustration to be an invitation to pray.

    And finally, with an unbraced body I pray.

    I allow my frustration to be the doorway to pray. I pray for myself to see through the eyes of Christ. I pray for the person or people I was becoming angry with the experience the love of Christ and live out of God’s wisdom. I pray that I would grow in awareness of the plank in my own eye and not obsess with speck of dust in the other persons eye.

    And if we cultivate and practice the non-dualistic, welcoming love of Christ, if we extend this welcoming love through small acts of kindness to our friends and our enemies… well that is how the world is healed.

    You have heard me say it many times from this pulpit… in the words of Desmond Tutu, “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

    So when you look at the world and all the anger and chaos, don’t fall into despair. The day will come when the world will be at peace, the lion will lay down with the lamb and swords will be beaten into ploughshares. And we hasten the manifestation of that reality when we choose, every day, every hour to allow the welcoming love of Christ to flow through our lives and into the world. Amen.