By Amy Meyer
Hate. Bigotry. Terrorism. Gun violence. Homophobia. The opiate epidemic. Refugee crises. Dysfunction in Washington. The list goes on… a daunting stream of bad news. So bad we risk become inured… shrug it off as the “new normal,” or wring our hands and despair, deciding we can’t possibly do anything about it.
Meanwhile we are taught that God is Love... infinite love. God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God created the world and everything in it, and God loves us all. Do you believe this? I do.
But it often feels like there’s an enormous disconnect between all the trouble in the world and trust in a loving God who is omniscient and omnipotent, who is taking care of us all.
What could God possibly be thinking in allowing some of this stuff?
Well, I don’t know. And my guess is you don’t know either. And it’s sometimes a test of faith to accept that God created us exactly as we should be… with all our human imperfections. But I believe that God is perfect, and that God knows exactly what God is doing. I think part of being human is being challenged to accept Reality, as God made it, praying for God’s help to do our best with what we have, and praying for God’s forgiveness when we’re wrong.
God gave each of us a conscience, free will, and some guidance in making moral choices. And God speaks through people… us, and actions speak louder than words. This means that what we do matters. And with all our imperfections, amid an often bewildering cacophony of Real-World problems, we need to keep trying to do God’s will as best we can, with God’s help. As the old farmer said, “Pray for rain, but keep on plowing.”
Most human behavior is far less spectacular than the genius of Leonardo or the selflessness of Mother Theresa. They were outliers who used their special gifts to push the boundaries of what it means to be human. The rest of us often feel satisfied with coloring within the lines, working for a living, fulfilling our family and civic responsibilities, appearing at church, giving to charity. Most of our failings involve lesser sins like procrastination and carelessness.
Sins of omission. Thinking about doing things we know we should do, but not doing them because we’re tired, or got a better offer, or have to catch the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” Multi-tasking, half-listening to our partner while watching the news and making a grocery list. Sins of denial. Excuses for inconvenient aspects of Reality. How much does my vote really count? Do I really need to sort my trash? Turn off the lights? Send a get-well card? Does it matter? Or can someone else do it?
Do you remember Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller, The Tipping Point? He argued for everyone trying to do the right thing all the time, recognizing that it takes just that one last right thing, maybe your act of kindness or your vote… to tip the scales in the right direction.
Actions do speak louder than words, and even tiny little right things add up! Did you know that if you use a revolving door in summer when A/C is on, this can save enough electricity to power a light bulb for 65 minutes? I didn’t either, but I saw a sign to this effect last week while visiting a friend in the hospital, so now I know.
As President Obama said after the Orlando massacre: “Outrage isn’t enough. Prayer isn’t enough. Moments of Silence aren’t enough. We need action.” Of course people need to grieve tragedies like Orlando, but then we need to move on to positive action rather than paying lip service with platitudes or wallowing in despair. Walk the talk! Take a little more risk. Be purposefully kind. Encourage or compliment someone.
We know what to do. But we often don’t do it because we are frustrated or unsure or fearful. But always trying to do the next right thing is a high form of spiritual practice, which works. We improve and the world improves if we respond to God’s challenge, not to be perfect, but to grow into our best selves and together, make the world a better place.
As all spiritual practices, this takes… uh, practice… and sometimes we get discouraged. But we can always do better, and as dangerous and chaotic as the world is, when we each keep nudging things in the right direction, we just might tip something… maybe something big… in the right direction.
Some suggestions: Switch off the TV, or watch the ballgame instead of CNN or Fox. Dial back the social media and name calling in this supercharged political season. No one is insane, a moron, or a “world-class liar,” just because he or she disagrees with you. Keep your phone off during dinner. Listen more attentively, even if you’re heard it before. What is someone you care about really trying to say?
Get to know someone you don’t like, or someone you have always ignored, or someone of another race or religion. Really get to know them. It’s amazing how different personal experience is from hearing about “problems” on TV or the internet.
Disconnect. Chill. Smile. Go for a walk. Go to bed… you get the idea.
We were all made by God, we are loved by God, and forgiven for our human imperfections…let’s recommit ourselves to facing each day in our troubled world, with less frustration and anger, and with more determination to focus more on the precious small things we think of doing but often don’t do.
Let each of us, as St. Francis prayed, work consciously and mindfully at being a channel of God’s peace and love and hope. Amen.
By Amanda Grant-Rose
Grace be with you my friends and peace.
I am pleased to have the privilege of meeting with you and sharing the good news of the Gospel this morning.
To help focus our next few moments I find it helpful to pray. So, if you will, please join me with prayer.
Today’s bible passage is the Wedding at Cana.
A very recognizable story.
It is the first of the miracles. Water is turned into wine.
This scripture often highlights Jesus’s actions. His first of the miracles. But today I want to look at Mary.
There was a journey. From Jordan to Cana. A Wedding.
In Palestine the marriage ceremony usually began at twilight.
The feast after the marriage was at the home of the bridegroom.
It could last for days
But in this case it seems poverty limited the wedding feast.
The festivities are underway when Mary realizes that there is no more wine. Jesus response may feel short, clipped, but it is more a moment of self doubt. He says to his mother “My hour has not come”.
But Mary must have had an intuition that Jesus was about to do something. I bet there was a mothers’ look in there somewhere.
She turns to the servants and says “be ready…do what he tells you”
Jesus says get the jugs of water that were used to clean and purify people. He asks the servants to fill the water jugs. They did. Filled to the brim.
Lift the Water; Drink the Wine.
Hear the Good News: the first miracle is one of abundance.
Overflowing abundance. There is plenty of wine.
The groom is rescued; Jesus helps him fulfill his social duty.
Look at it from Mary’s viewpoint.
She sees that the wine is almost gone.
She knows that this will be an embarrassing situation
She asks her son to do something.
He says “it is not my time”.
But Mary does not stop.
She prepares the servants – tells them:
Now let me tell you another story…
The community you support was started in the summer of 1994, the Rev. Deborah W. Little began meeting with homeless people on the streets of Boston, offering sandwiches, friendship and helpful referrals.
From that simple beginning, common cathedral has evolved into an ecumenical church community that engages homeless and privileged people, service providers, clergy, seminarians, artists, and professionals of all kinds in activities that work to meet the physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of homeless people and their friends in Boston.
We are the church community of the un-housed and their friends.
You are part of us; you are housed and yet of the un-housed.
We have 4 main programs:
Outdoor ministry: Our staff and pastors take time to be present on the street. Meeting new people and checking with our congregation members.
Common cathedral: Lunch and worship on the Boston common every Sunday Rain or shine.
CityReach: a weekend in Boston for housed congregations to learn about homelessness in Boston – directly from those who have experienced it.
Common Art: Through leadership and self-expression community members gain self-confidence and experience God's grace. For many common art members, art is a way of life. For others, it’s a new discovery. But for all, art is passion and expression. It is life affirming, a defiant or gentle "yes" in the face of stigma and the constant struggle with poverty and homelessness.
In all we do, Mary’s voice can be heard. Be ready. Be ready to create the miracle of abundance. Be ready to be the faithful community of the housed and the un-housed.
But you and I do even more!
A year ago you and I and the community of faith created Boston Warm.
Can you hear Mary’s instruction? Be ready. Sister. Be ready. Brother.
Boston Warm started in the midst of crises. The Long Island Bridge had closed. People were forced onto the streets. Newspapers ran banner headlines. Politicians called meetings.
Quietly, purposefully the community of faith gathered. This time last year the basement of Old South Church was being cleaned and prepared. One year ago tomorrow Boston Warm opened. 40 un-housed people waited at the doors for opening day come Monday morning.
Our community comes alive at Boston Warm.
We see people as their best selves.
Not as the man struggling with sobriety but as the man who comes in every day and makes coffee – contributing to our community.
Not as the man living on the streets but as the father of two who writes his girls every week.
Martin Luther King saw himself as a drum major for justice and the restoration of community. I see you as people of justice restoring Boston’s community.
Mary calls, be ready. Not just words. Show me. Hospitality is required. Lift the water; Drink the wine.
And you and I opened the door of Boston Warm. Concrete, positive action.
Howard Thurman of Marsh Chapel at Boston University once said:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Without passion one tires and drops away.
But if our aliveness is sustained in faithful community we get to sway the course of history.
We gain surprising powers, great resilience.
Our presence is persistent.
Come alive. And are able to respond.
Mary says be ready.
Be ready to Lift the water, Drink the wine.
Be ready to be the beloved community
You have been ready. Three weeks ago this church filled 80 … count them 80! … backpacks filled with necessities for the un-housed of Boston.
Amazing. Thank you! You helped Lift Water; that all can drink wine.
Common cathedral’s congregation is present in many ways. In prayer, in the breaking of bread, in artistic creation, in common community. (I invite you to join us for worship mid-winter on Boston Common.) In all there is a tangible piece that links all of our work.
Our cross witnesses to the Good News.
This cross (hold up cross) was created by a community member and adopted as our symbol, a symbol that our community knows and trusts. If you are in Boston wearing this cross many will stop you and they will know that you are safety in an unsafe world. People will know that you are bringing the good news.
The stories of our community, those that wear this cross, vary. Women, men, homeless, sheltered, housed, paroled, sober, wanting to be sober and it continues.
It is the cross and our desire to tell the good news that brings us together. Brings is to park benches to pray. Brings us to canvas to paint.
This morning you will get to hear more of these stories. They should not be told by me.
You should hear about Bryant and the beautiful capes he has created.
From Frank about his paintings.
From Mable about her beadwork.
As you do I hope you hear their passion.
The Good News that they share.
As your relationship with us deepens
come on a Sunday to worship
bring your youth group to CityReach
and you will hear the deeper stories.
Of choosing to sleep in the common because it is safer than the shelter.
Of struggling with staying sober and how if feels to be out of control.
Of getting kicked out of the door way at 4:00 AM because the delivery truck has arrived.
Of being apart of common art, choosing to create, of wearing our cross, choosing to believe in the good news.
Hear the person who comes to common art and says “I came for the art and stayed for the love”.
Hear the Good News.
It is when someone has come lunch every Sunday but stays for the first time for service.
Hear the Good News.
It is when housed communities like yours invite us to be present and share our gifts.
Hear the Good News.
And invest in mission that returns a profit many times over.
Friends, it is time. To be ready.
By Dean Denniston
This coming Sunday is Easter Sunday-a time of, rebirth, renewal, celebration and the triumph of life over death, light over darkness, love over hate and hope over despair.
On Saturday of this same week, April 4, the eve of this sacred day with all of its promise and hope, many of us will pause to remember the life, and legacy of the Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr. whose life was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet forty seven years ago on that date.
I always find it interesting that year after year the anniversary of Dr. King's death invariably falls within Holy Week. And when I think of the two events together, I am always reminded of the fact that both Jesus and Dr. King traveled paths, the destination of which were known to each of them; … paths which were pre-ordained by God, … paths which ultimately would lead to their deaths, and paths which neither tried to avoid.
The morning lesson tells us that on the evening of his arrest, Jesus stated that he would be betrayed, and betrayed by one of his own disciples. The text tells us that Jesus even identified his betrayer.
And yet neither Jesus nor his disciples-who sound pretty clueless, according to the text, did anything to alter the course of events.
On the evening prior to his death in Memphis, Dr. King preached a sermon in which he stated that his on-going involvement in the civil rights struggle would probably shorten his life. He also spoke of the death threats which were going around in Memphis upon his arrival there.
Yet, Dr. King did not let this knowledge or these threats deter him from his intent to participate in the sanitation workers march scheduled for the following morning.
Why would these two individuals, one the Son of god, the other, one of his modern day prophets, both of whom already knowing or sensing the outcomes of their lives, continue along the paths chosen for them by God?
I believe that both Jesus and MLK not only understood and accepted the role that God had planned for them individually, but that they also gained strength and comfort from knowing that God’s plan was greater and more transformative than their individual lives. Moreover, by following the path chosen for them by God, they would create paths of opportunity for change, renewal and rebirth for others to follow.
This is not to say that Jesus or Dr. King did not at times have questions, or doubts with respect to the paths each had chosen to travel. The Gospels tell us that throughout his ministry, Jesus was in constant conflict with the civil and religious authorities of his day. He was constantly being hounded by crowds of people who regarded him more as a healer than as a preacher with a special message. He was rejected by the very people he was sent to save. And at the end he was betrayed, denied, and ultimately abandoned by his own disciples.
Faced with all of these on-going pressures, it is no wonder that we read accounts of Jesus slipping away from the crowds and from his disciples to be alone, to pray, to meditate, and to gather strength and resolve to continue on the journey chosen for him by his Father. It is only on the evening of his arrest while praying in the garden of Gethsemane that he finally lets go of any remaining doubts and declares “father, let this cup pass from me; not my will, but thy will be done”.
Dr. King also had to confront and overcome many obstacles in his efforts to guide a nation out of the darkness of segregation, bigotry, discrimination and inequality … into the light of, change, hope and social and economic justice. One can surmise that in spite of his unwavering commitment to his cause and also his abiding faith in God, Dr. King experienced moments when he questioned the path God had chosen for him. He was opposed by the leadership of his own government, harassed by federal authorities, arrested, beaten, threatened, and at one point was stabbed and almost died. Furthermore, within the civil rights movement itself, there were those whose ideas, goals and methods were in opposition to his non-violent approach to achieving racial and economic equality.
Yet, Dr. King remained steadfast to the plan which God had chosen for him.
God offers us a plan to follow. Unfortunately, unlike Jesus and Dr. King, we spend most of our time and much of our energy trying to, either avoid, alter, or renegotiate that plan. Too often our focus is on what we want or what we need, not what God wants us to do. And yet, if we were to refocus our attention and our energy on what God wants for us we would realize that when you break everything down to its lowest common denominator, all God wants for us is for us to love God, and to love and serve one another. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
On the evening of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples, washed their feet, and told them that they should love one another as he had loved them, and to be servants to one another and to go into the world and live this message.
On the evening prior to his death, MLK preached a sermon in which he told the assembled congregation of clergy, laity, civil rights leaders, and others gathered to hear his words that God had enabled him to go up the mountain and look over and see the promise land. King stated “… I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up the mountain, and I’ve looked over and I have seen the Promised land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promise land”.
Dr. King did not let the threat of death prevent him from carrying out God’s plan for him. Having heard the rumors of threats upon his life, he nevertheless was determined to lead the march on the following morning. He didn’t hide, he didn’t feign illness, he didn’t appoint a deputy to go in his place. No, he followed God’s plan.
Jesus knew and accepted that his death was part of God’s plan. His death and resurrection would be the catalyst which enabled all of us to be born again into God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ death is our salvation. That is the powerful meaning of the resurrection. Jesus went to his death willingly so that we could be reborn in the spirit; that we could arise from the depths of our own sins and receive God’s saving grace.
That is the lesson of Holy Week.
By Steven Aucella
Based on John 8:12-20
The author of the Fourth Gospel repeatedly uses metaphor and symbol to help us understand who Jesus is. In this Gospel, Jesus says of himself, “I am: the Door; the Good Shepherd; the Bread of Life; the Way; the Resurrection and the Life; and the Light of the World.” There is some context surrounding each of these, and for today’s reading, it could be this: Jesus and the disciples have just finished celebrating the seven-day Festival of Booths, also called Tabernacles. The festival includes a variety of ceremonies, one of which involves the lighting of great lights in the Temple, enough to light up Jerusalem.
So when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” that’s a prompt for us to open our Bibles. There are countless allusions to ‘light’ and its association with God in the Old Testament. Right off the bat in Genesis, God creates light before creating the heavenly lights of the sun, the moon, and the stars, and God calls the light good. This is the light of the created world, by the word of God. Bear that in mind when we think of Jesus as the light of the world.
This God-given light also gives understanding. It gives life and salvation. It gives joy. It is good. God dwells in light, covered with it as if it were a garment, as in Psalm 104. God is light, in Psalm 27. And in Psalm 43, when we come to the light, we come to God.
Throughout the Old Testament, God gives light to the faithful. Isaiah says, in chapter 60, “The Lord will be your everlasting light.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Word first spoken by God: “Let there be light.” Jesus, then, is the source of light and life, and, he says, “Whoever follows me will have the light of life,” that those who walk with Jesus in faith and trust become sons and daughters of light.
But there is darkness too, and it is foreshadowed here when Jesus mentions how the Pharisees judge by human standards, by their own laws, not God’s. Because if they knew God themselves, if they walked in light, they wouldn’t be having this conversation with Jesus.
In the very next passage, Jesus foretells his own death. And then Judas went out from the last supper at night. In Luke, when Jesus is arrested in the Garden – at night – he tells the mob, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’” (Luke 22:53)
There is a modern saying that nothing good happens after midnight.
If you’re playing a bracket in the NCAA tournament, you understand that the wisdom of the crowd is often wrong. Films like Twelve Angry Men show how a lone juror can hold out for the truth and simultaneously earn the wrath and contempt of his fellow jurors. Yet in this film, the dissenting juror was right, and an innocent man went free. We struggle to live up to a high standard of justice, both in crafting our laws and in how we administer them.
Outside the world of cinema, it is still true in some cultures that a woman needs four male witnesses to report a sexual assault. We see how this is inherently problematic but, in those cultures, that’s how it is, and our saying it is wrong won’t change a thing.
Elizabeth Achtemeier wrote that the church cannot do evil and claim to be good; it cannot walk in darkness and claim to have light. She says the church is called to be “the body through which God’s light shines forth to all the world.”
In Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 5, Jesus tells us to turn on the light in dark places, and it will be noticed. James Thompson wrote of this challenge that Jesus means, among other things, that in a world where people do not tell the truth, we must keep our word; where others live for revenge, turn the other cheek; in a world of violence, learn self-control; and where hatred rules, love those who do not love us.
Jesus brings light to the entire created world. Large parts of it may be broken but God’s light removes all darkness. We are invited to stand within the light and live the life Jesus offers.
By Judith R Sizer
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
In this city, near the tech sector and the universities, we hear a lot about “disruptive innovation.” Disruptive innovations are new business ideas that create new markets, and gradually infiltrate and take over the old ones. Land lines to cell phones, snail mail to e-mail, Facebook to Instagram, and so forth.
During the gubernatorial election last year, the two main candidates spoke before an audience full of tech types. When Martha Coakley was asked about disruptive technologies, she responded, “[d]oes the use of ‘disrupt’ telegraph how you feel about these?” When the audience member described the underlying business concept, Ms. Coakley reportedly laughed and observed that she is “old enough that ‘disrupt’ was usually a bad thing.” “But,” she said, “I know that it’s a good thing. I’ve learned that.”
I feel for Ms. Coakley, who is, like me, a woman of a certain age. When I was growing up, disruptive behavior was generally not a welcome phenomenon. As for innovation, for those of us who were raised in the days of electric typewriters, the rate of change can seem bewildering. Our young people seem to take all of this technology in stride, but I’ll admit that I bought an iPad and then gave it away. It was shiny and smooth and spoke a language that was different from mine. I’ll admit – I was a little afraid of it.
And so we come to Jesus in our passage from Mark. He’s in the early days of his ministry, drawing great crowds. He and his companions land on the beach of a region populated by Gentiles. When he gets out of his boat, a man who is possessed by a “legion” of unclean spirits comes running up to him. The spirits clearly know that Jesus can cast them out, and they ask to be allowed to enter a herd of two thousand pigs nearby. Jesus gives his permission, and the spirits leave the man and enter the pigs. The pigs rush down the bank, leap into the sea, and are drowned.
The swineherds run off and tell everybody, and everybody comes to see what happened, and there are Jesus and the former demoniac, sitting there in peace. And how does everybody feel? Impressed? Thrilled? Grateful? No – they’re afraid. They beg Jesus to leave their land, so he heads for the boat. When the former demoniac wants to go with him, he says no – stay here and tell your friends what the Lord has done for you.
Jesus was, in short, a disruptive innovation. Mark, who is generally succinct, tells us in great detail how hard the demoniac’s life was – how he broke all of his shackles, and was “always howling and bruising himself with stones.” But the Gerasenes didn’t seem to be glad that he had been cured. Maybe they were comfortable with the idea that he was that crazy guy living up among the tombs, one of the marginal ones in their community. They could gossip about him, and feel superior to him, and isolate him. And those who owned and tended the two thousand swine probably weren’t too happy to lose their property and their livelihood. So the Gerasenes didn’t want Jesus around – they were afraid of him. What would he do next…?
This story has several lessons for us. First, we are reminded, yet again, that our savior was a disruptive radical who did things that frightened people and made them uncomfortable. He didn’t act by consensus, or consult everyone about their feelings, or take an opinion poll. He just did what he thought was right. This isn’t a nice, safe, predictable faith that we’re in – we can’t expect to stay cozily in our comfort zones. Jesus didn’t, and he doesn’t want us to, either.
Second, if we’re going to be disruptive innovators, we should prepare to be thrown out of town from time to time. When Jesus was asked to leave, he didn’t argue with the Gerasenes; he went right to the boat. At the end of his ministry, Jesus didn’t move along, and then he was murdered. But before then, he seemed to know when it was time to make himself scarce, beginning with his very first sermon in his own hometown.
And finally, with whom are we meant to identify in this account? Hopefully not the poor pigs. We may sympathize with the Gerasenes, so fearful and stuck in their ways. But it’s really the former demoniac whom we most resemble. He couldn’t control his demons, and was living a miserable life in their abusive thrall, when Jesus came along and cast them out. We can imagine him, sitting there with Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind,” so relieved to be himself again. But when the people in his community come, they kick Jesus out, and when the former demoniac wants to get into the boat and leave with him, Jesus says no, stay here and do the Lord’s work.
No wonder the former demoniac wanted to go with Jesus, but his job was to stay behind and bear witness, by the transformation of his life, to the power of God. We can’t get into the boat and go with Jesus either, because we have the same job as the former demoniac. We are meant to stay here where we are and ask for his help in struggling with our own demons. And we are meant to show, with our lives, how much the Lord has done for us. And then, as the text promises, everyone will marvel.
Thanks be to God.
Dear Lord, help me to find you in my travels this day.
Dear Lord, help me to do your work in the world this day.
Dear Lord, help me to find Christ’s peace.
By Dean Denniston
“If you choose, you can make me clean”
These words, spoken by a leper to Jesus, as recorded by the gospel writer, Mark, are quite intriguing to me.
“If you choose, you can make me clean”.
Notice, the leper does not directly ask Jesus to heal him; he does not beg or demand it as his due, nor does he demand that Jesus prove himself to be that messiah, prophet/healer that everyone is talking about by curing his affliction. Rather, he comes with his request indirectly by offering Jesus a choice.
“If you choose, you can make me clean”
Supposing Jesus had refused this request. Supposing he had chosen not to cure the leper, but instead turned his back and walked away. After all, in the preceding passage we are told that Jesus, exhausted from curing the countless numbers of people who showed up at the home of Simon and Andrew, after they had learned of his miraculous healing of Simon’s mother-in-law ,had to escaped to a quiet place where he might pray, recharge himself, and refocus the direction and purpose of his ministry.
It is only after he has had this time alone and has been sought out by his disciples that he goes forth to continue his preaching ministry-and has his confrontation with the leper.
The text tells us that Jesus, filled with compassion does choose to cure the leper. And reaching out with a healing hand he restores health to this man.
The morning lesson, in all its brevity, offers us a number of things to consider. The story of the cleansing of the leper is about choice, compassion, free will, and human contact as a form of healing.
Let’s first consider the idea of choice. Life is full of choices. We make them all the time-consciously and unconsciously. Most of the time our choices are easy and often repetitive-what to eat, what to wear, what to watch on TV, whether or not to do a specific task, … It is only when we face a difficult or challenging choice do we sometimes struggle with our decisions.
Again, what if Jesus had not chosen to respond to the leper’s entreaty. He could have been having a bad day. He could have been tired or focused on other things. He could have been upset or discouraged that his preaching often fell on deaf ears, or that so many people thought of him as more of a healer than as God’s messenger here on earth. There are numerous accounts within the New Testament which describe Jesus’ frustration, and impatience-with his own disciples, with unbelievers, with those shaky in their faith. Wouldn’t you think that Jesus might get tired or worn out from all the requests for healing or help which came his way? Do you ever wonder if he might have wanted to respond to these requests by saying “not right now”, “I’m more than just a healer”, or some such response?
I wonder if he felt hounded by people-always wanting something from him but not offering very much in return. How often do we reach out to Jesus in the midst of our own hurt, confusion, need, sadness and despair-and offer little or nothing in return? And when we have received God’s grace, his love and his compassion; when we have restored some equilibrium and balance to our lives, how often do we remember or choose to say thank you-either through prayer or through our action?
And yet, Jesus responds with compassion to the lepers request. The text tells us that he reached out and touched the leper and the leper was healed.
This is significant in two ways. First, because Jesus chose to act; to heal the leper of his affliction. Secondly, and perhaps of greater importance, Jesus did this by directly touching the leper; by making a physical (human) connection.
In the time of Jesus, lepers were the outcasts of society. There was no medical treatment for this disease-which literally rotted away the body until the person died-usually in about seven years following the onset of the disease. To touch a leper was to expose yourself to the disease and risk being infected. Lepers were not allowed to mix in with healthy or clean individuals. Moreover, they had to identify themselves when approaching others either by carrying a sign or shouting “Unclean”.
Jesus did not need to touch the leper in order to heal him. The Gospels are filled with many accounts of Jesus healing individuals, and even raising Lazarus from the dead without ever touching these individuals.
Jesus did not have to touch the leper in order to heal him-but he did. Jesus touched someone that no one else would touch. By making that physical connection he communicated God’s love for that individual.
How powerful a touch can be when someone is sad, hurting, or in crisis.
Touching can communicate love, support, compassion, understanding, care, forgiveness, invitation. Touching creates a connection between the one in need of healing and the one who can heal. Touching- physical human contact, is part of the healing process.
Jesus touched the leper and the leper was healed. Jesus had the healing touch. What about you? When was the last time you reached out and touched someone in need-whether that individual was a friend, colleague, family member or stranger? When was the last time that you, either by your words, actions, or your touch communicated a message of care, concern, support, acceptance or forgiveness to someone? Touching just one person with God’s love can change the lives of many-including your own.
Jesus calls us to be people who are determined to touch people who need to be touched. God through Jesus also gives us the free will of choice- to reach out with a helping healing hand or heart, or not to do so.
“If you choose, you can make me clean”. How do you choose?
By Amy Meyer
Je suis Charlie, I am Charlie; Je suis Juif, I am a Jew; Je suis Ahmed, I am the Muslim policemen in Paris who was killed by the terrorists. These are some of the signs carried by Parisians in solidarity with the victims of terrorist attacks recently at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and in a Kosher grocery store in Paris. And posted on Facebook by empathetic supporters of the victims.
At first I was comforted by the strong showing of solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims, and with the magazine staff’s rights of freedom of speech and of the press… the right to publish satire and cartoons which were not universally appreciated.
The French gave a wonderful demonstration of commitment to liberty, equality and fraternity at a rally attended by more than a million Parisians after the terrorist attacks. Their carrying signs supporting those who had been targeted for violence because of cartoons they had published, was bold and unequivocal. “Regular” French people were empathetic and supportive, and like many others, I was pleased by the size and vehemence of their demonstrations. Clearly the French condemn terrorism, and hold defiantly to the freedoms we love, even in the face of fear of reprisal.
But on further reflection… in fact I am not Charlie, I am not a Jew, I am not a Moslem policeman in Paris named Ahmed, who was killed in the line of duty by the terrorists. I don’t personally believe in satirizing other people’s religions, and probably would never have subscribed to Charlie Hebdo, even if I had heard of it, which I hadn’t.
But my point is: Tolerance is not about all being ALIKE; it’s about respecting differences. God made many varieties of people (not to mention animals and plants!) and loves us all in our various shapes and sizes and abilities and interests, and asks us to love each other, also in our differences.
When I was a child I remember my grandmother rhapsodizing about God’s having made giraffes with long necks for browsing tall trees in the savannah, with beautiful spotted skins for camouflage. I still marvel at the gecko with its sticky feet, that could walk upside down on the ceiling of my room in Africa, sneaking up on mosquitos.... Today’s reading told us that God made every kind of creature from birds of the air and beasts of the field, and whales and fish in the sea…. I believe that God loved them all and made them each with distinct gifts. But they were anything but all the same!
I believe that God’s love is greater than any other power, and embraces everyone regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation and and and… and everything else in God’s creation. Remembering that God loved the tiny sparrow has gotten me through some dark times.
I have always enjoyed and celebrated diversity, particularly cultural diversity, which to me makes the world infinitely interesting. I have been blessed to work on four continents and to have had many priceless experiences, close up with Japanese clients, African students, haughty European businessmen in double-breasted Navy blue suits, a friendly shopkeeper in Malta, a helpful conductor on a Swiss train… lovely warm Africans and Asians and Europeans and Americans… and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists, as well as Christians and agnostics and atheists. And I’m omitting many of the other wonderful variety of humans on the planet.
I once had a co-worker on a diversity task force who liked to boast that she never noticed whether someone was “black, white, purple or green,” as evidence that she was unbiased. I thought this was a rather crude claim, first untrue, but also missing both the value of diversity, and the reality that it is differences and attendant fears of “the other” which cause companies to need diversity task forces.
In fact, classic research on bias by Prof. Mazarin Benaji at Harvard has demonstrated that everyone has gender, ethnic, age, and other biases, however unconscious. The best we can do is to make a point of learning more about our human differences and honoring them. Even as we are as varied as fingerprints, we are all human in the same fundamental way, worthy of each other’s respect.
I once taught a course in Senegal/West Africa called “Intercultural Business,” themes of which were how to combat xenophobia and ethnocentrism. Our discussions ranged from Noel Coward’s, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Lie in the Midday Sun,” tweaking the British for sunbathing in colonial Hong Kong, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” reminding us of our shared humanity. We discussed kissing, bowing, shaking hands… all over the world, and how attention to the details of cultural traditions facilitate positive interactions, in business as in everyday life.
A more nuanced interpretation of “Je suis Charlie,” would be, “I am NOT Charlie,” but I support the rights of all humans to express themselves freely… within the limits of the applicable law. This would be the civil law in effect in this case in France, including freedom of the press, similar to the First Amendment rights cherished by Americans, and the envy of much of the rest of the world.
Even liberal democracies limit freedom at the point where it might harm others. No one has the right to be a terrorist. But where to draw the line is not always clear. Germany, for example, has banned any representation of the swastika since World War II… maybe a good idea, given its appalling history; or maybe an infringement on free speech?
Recently the French enacted a law banning religious symbols in public, which has prompted considerable suspicion and acrimony. To be “fair” the law prohibits wearing a cross, a yarmulke, or a head covering in public places. But its target is widely understood to be, not Christians and Jews, but the 5-6 million recent Muslim immigrants to France. Is this law necessary, or helpful?
Muslim women and girls wearing head scarves allegedly present a security threat. Maybe so, or maybe they are just a threat to tradition… the new “other” in France, a famously sophisticated western society with a longstanding “real” French culture. The new law seems like a step in the wrong direction.
But that’s a debate for another time. Meanwhile, I wish everybody would embrace the richness of our human dIfferences, to enjoy the whole glorious variety of God’s creation.
In solidarity with Charlie, we might each make a point of some MORE deliberate contact with “the other,” as a positive value, both as people of faith and as privileged citizens of a democracy. Everybody has some fear of the unknown and of the other… xenophobia… but we can fight it, and it is my prayer that we do so, with love. Amen.
By Todd Lee
Good Day to you all. Welcome.
I’d like to start by reading the King James version of the lesson,
because that peculiar phrase “suffer the little children…”
has been in my own mind since my youth.
Perhaps so also for you.
King James Version (KJV)
15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
Now, please consider with me that “the little children” could mean
anyone who is defenseless,
anyone who does not have equal rights in the society.
Jesus “rebuked” them, his disciples, in turn,
because he wanted to bless the “little children”
by laying his hands on them, as was the custom.
Luke goes on to tell us
that Jesus then went on to tell the disciples
that these “little” ones
whom the society did not value,
indeed, they are the only ones
who shall receive the kingdom of God.
Christ rebuked them, his disciples…
as he does us still today.
His charge still stands.
Suffer the little children to come unto me.
So what about human nature?
Do all of us identify someone inferior to ourselves?
Do we always enslave (in one way or another) somebody else,
and then justify it by casting the “others”
as “less worthy” than ourselves?
Has it ever been thus?
Will it ever be thus?
Here, in our America, at our founding,
we proposed to begin again.
“All men are created equal”, we proclaimed.
We teach this in our schools,
and in many of our churches,
and many, hopefully most, of us
do hold it somewhere in our hearts.
Yet, for all of that, as a nation,
we are not demonstrably much better
than the societies from which we came as immigrants.
Our agents continue to repress blacks,
just as European agents repress Muslims,
and used to repress Jews.
Suffer “the little children” to come unto me.
Six years ago, when we elected a black man president,
for an instant,
as though the battle had been won.
But we had, every one of us,
projected onto that blank screen of opportunity -
our personal hopes,
our dreams of how it should be.
And then reality
began to seep back in to replace our euphoria.
- the financial disasters of our economy
- legislators with very different agendas
- terrorist threats and real attacks
- two unpopular overseas wars
- a Middle East in turmoil and irreconcilable conflict
- a world with too many short and long-term disasters
where other nations expected the USA,
and its president,
to do something about them.
So should we be surprised
that with all these other things going on,
there was little time or energy to mount a major campaign -
as Lydon Johnson had done in the 1960s -
to address the persistent,
seemingly intractable problems
of racial injustice in our society?
Indeed, could a president,
carry that particular banner?
And this situation, of course,
left the agents of repression and injustice
a freer hand to work their mischief.
Suffer the little children to come unto me.
So, where are we?
In this, our beloved country:
We kill – in defense of laws that maintain white hierarchies
We resist educating, even now,
those who might grow up to challenge our supremacy
erecting impossible difficulties –
in defense of our superiority
We keep them poor – so that we will have a servant class
We put them away in jail, in absurd disproportion,
in our archipelago of prisons.
It is true that we have new laws for equality,
more and better ones.
Yet in parts of our country
those laws are worse than being winked at,
they are being rolled back
against the gains that had been won.
Suffer the little children to come unto me.
When Martin preached, almost fifty years ago,
“I have a dream…”,
many of us whites, as well as blacks,
believed it was in our grasp.
That was fifty years ago!
While state-sponsored, official segregation is gone,
“Free at last,
free at last,
thank God almighty,
I’m free at last”,
…rings with cruel irony.
Many ARE free…
some are free…
too many are still NOT free.
It must be noted
that there HAS been a sea-change in race relations
in this country over the past 50 years.
Things ARE better.
Some of us have been fortunate enough to have witnessed it,
and perhaps even to have worked for it.
As Edmund Burke is credited with observing,
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph,
is that good men do nothing.”
Do we think of ourselves as “good people?”
Can we think of ourselves as “good people”,
when blacks in our society
still suffer unconscionable, unquestionable “evil”?
- Amadou Diallo – shot to death with 41 bullets on his own front steps
- Trayvon Martin – 17, shot to death walking home from a convenience store
- Ferguson – the killings and riots
emblematic of the ghettos of our inner suburbs,
and the new, tragic slogans of this time
- “I can’t breath”,
- “Hands up, don’t shoot”,
and finally the newest version of that old, old cry:
“Black lives matter”.
“Black… lives… matter.”
At least we, our country, recognizes the injustice.
That’s what these demonstrations have been all about.
Suffer the little children to come unto me.
We sang spirituals in this sanctuary last Sunday,
with love and fervor.
But did we really believe, c
CAN we really believe
“we shall overcome some day”?
We HAVE to believe it.
To hold our heads up, we have to work for it.
To live with ourselves,
we have NOT to sit by idly.
We, ourselves, must strive
to grow and maintain the good parts of our society.
The change continues to come –
we must not condemn it,
we cannot merely condone it.,
we must conscript ourselves into it.
We must aid,
we must work for,
we must hasten
the on-going revolution against racial injustice in our land,
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a “little child”
shall in no wise enter therein.
Suffer the little children to come unto me,
By Judith R. Sizer
By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking forward to the reward.
Many years ago, I found myself with a friend in a Judaica store on Harvard Street in Brookline, buying a mezuzah. For those of you who don’t know, a mezuzah is a small ornamental tube that contains a tiny scroll of verses from Deuteronomy. In those verses, Moses says to his people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart …. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house….” For centuries, Jewish people have placed these verses on their doorjambs in mezuzah, to fulfill Moses’ command.
I am not Jewish, so why was I buying a mezuzah for my new condo? The friend with me, who is Jewish, agreed to go shopping with me, but he found the whole enterprise hilariously funny. Finally I said to him that I wanted a mezuzah because “Moses is my guy too.” He couldn’t really argue with that.
And that, more or less, appears to be the message that the anonymous author of Hebrews is attempting to convey to his (or her) audience. Hebrews is essentially an extended argument that the personalities and precepts of the Jewish faith are all unswerving historical and spiritual precursors to Jesus and the Christian faith. Moses, among other heroes of the Old Testament, is especially lauded for his acts. The early Christian author may have been trying to assure Jewish converts that they wouldn’t need to abandon Moses in order to become Christians.
I’m not convinced that Moses believed that Jesus would be the messiah, or that Jewish people would recognize the Moses of Hebrews as “their guy.” However, you and I, as Christian laypeople, can leave these questions to the Biblical scholars. More relevant to us are the Christian virtues identified by the author of Hebrews. What qualities did he or she see in Moses and his story that would add to our conception of ourselves as Christian people in the twenty-first century?
As we know from Exodus, Moses was born into a Jewish family at a time when Pharaoh was becoming nervous about the Jews, and had ordered the murder of all sons born into Jewish families. Moses’ mother didn’t want this to happen to him, so she hid him for three months and then put him in a floating basket in the river, hoping that he would somehow be rescued. Pharaoh’s daughter found him and adopted him, thereby protecting him both from the river and from her father. However, after Moses had grown up in the wealth of the palace, he returned to his people and ultimately led them out of Egypt. According to Hebrews, he chose “to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking forward to the reward.”
Moses gives us a narrative that differs from that of Jesus, which may be one reason why the author of Hebrews took this approach. Jesus was not raised in wealth. Although he learned a trade, he left it behind to become an itinerant preacher and healer. He frequently told stories about rich people and talked about money, but he never seemed to have very much of it. Moses, on the other hand, was raised in the lap of luxury, but rejected it in favor of his bond with his people and his God.
How do we, as Christians, make sense of this? Many of us can’t be high-minded about money. Most of us worry about it: do we make enough, do we spend too much, what if we lose what we have? The treasures of Egypt might look pretty good to us, even if we might feel guilty enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. The disparities of wealth in our society are clearly evident within two blocks of this church.
But the point that the author of Hebrews is making is not really about money, I think. It’s about faith. How was Moses able to leave behind the fleeting pleasures of sin? “By faith.” Why was he willing to suffer abuse? He was “looking forward to the reward” of his faith.
Each of us has our own version of the treasures of Egypt, of something powerful and seductive in our lives that can distract us from the purposes that God has for us. That version may not be about money. It may be the temptation of giving up under pressure, or allowing others to define us, or holding on to the unhealthy habits developed by our own personal insecurities. It may be the luxury of losing confidence in ourselves and our sense of accountability. It may be fear of change, even when we’re unhappy with the way things are. It may be a relationship that has become difficult, but we don’t have the courage to change it, take the heat and move on.
How did Moses resist the treasures of Egypt? He believed in himself, although he had his moments, just like us. He believed in his people, even when they got whiny. But most of all, he believed in his God. As is inscribed within every mezuzah, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
If Moses is our guy, too, there’s the message for us, here and now. If Moses could resist the treasures of Egypt by faith, then so can we. We can be honest with ourselves about what they are and work to overcome them. It’s January, after all – a terrific time to make resolutions. As my late pastor, Peter Gomes, liked to say, get up, get over it and get on with it!
Thanks be to God.
“Salvation has come to this house today! For this man too is a son of Abraham.”
The passage from Luke’s gospel read earlier by Levina Wong focuses on the chief tax collector at Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus, who served in the ancient Roman province of Palestine, also called Judea. At that time and place, tax collectors were drawn from the local Jewish community to put the squeeze on fellow Jews, often keeping for themselves any surplus money that could be extracted over the quota remitted to the imperial Roman administration. So Zacchaeus would have been a rich man, but considered a traitor among his kinsmen. A lonely and despised collaborator.
The narrative carries a deceptive simplicity. Simple in its account of redemption. Deceptively so by reason of multiple messages which layer themselves within one another, a bit like the Russian nesting doll, or matryoshka, where one carved figure opens into others. Unlike the Russian matryoshka, however, where the smaller dolls appear later, the meanings tucked into the story of Zacchaeus reveal themselves as even larger than the envelope narrative itself. A Russian matryoshka in reverse.
The story opens with Zacchaeus, described as small of statue, climbing a tree to glimpse the celebrated rabbi from Nazareth. Jesus looks into the branches, calls Zacchaeus by name, and invites himself for a visit. The crowd was taken aback. Outcasts like Zacchaeus did not normally receive such visits. Respectable people often reach out to the oppressed, but much less so to those collaborating with the oppressors.
In the next part in this strange tale, Zacchaeus spontaneously offers half his property to the poor. Out of the blue, he vows to return not only what he had stolen, but to do so fourfold: to reimburse 400% of the amount extorted, double the restitution for theft normally required by the Law of Moses.
In contemplating a text like this one, the questions may prove themselves as significant as the answers. What caused Zacchaeus to climb the tree? Why did Jesus pay him special attention? How did Zacchaeus get into his dubious occupation? When and how did he begin to suspect that he should take steps to dig himself out of the mess? And last but not least, “Why did God include this story in the Bible?”
The change of heart by Zacchaeus, accompanied by his offer to put things right, seems to have come without threats or coaxing. As if Zacchaeus was waiting for some small door to open, giving a chance for a normal life. The visit with Jesus seems to have triggered a reaction, a bit like the first warm spring day can cause buds to open after they linger hesitantly on bare branches at the tail end of winter.
Yet the story hints at something more, over and above a yearning for change. Because regret in a vacuum can sometimes lead not to repentance, but to despair and paralysis, especially when coupled with awareness of the same mistakes repeated over and over again. It may be impossible to face the truth of these mistakes -- or even to formulate prayers for deliverance -- until liberated by an even greater reality, which for Zacchaeus came in the call of someone who cared.
The story concludes with Jesus declaring “Today salvation has come to this house! For this man too is a son of Abraham.” For this man too is a son of Abraham: an affirmation which may be another way to say that Zacchaeus had come home, come home morally to the best in his spiritual heritage.
In the Bible, accounts of homecoming have often been hemmed in, fore and aft, by the experience of someone who made a mess of things and then received a chance to repair the damage. The prodigal son came home after squandering his inheritance. You remember that from afar, the father ran to meet him, not requesting any apology for the lost money and wasted days.
Sometimes the notion of home relates not only to a place we have been, but also to a destination in a far country, where we are headed. The patriarch Abraham left his birthplace to establish a new community in what became known as the Promised Land. Letters from the apostle Paul addressed the early church as “sojourners” who were “Looking for a better country.” Here in Massachusetts, almost 400 years ago, that sentiment was echoed by Governor William Bradford, a founder the Plymouth Colony, some of whose descendants later worshiped here in King’s Chapel. Bradford described the early settlers as people who “knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things [in this world] but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country.”
Those who enjoy baseball will not fail to appreciate this paradox of home as a place from which we came, and to which we head for safety. At Fenway Park the batter aims to run from first base to second; then to third; and on to fourth base. No, not to fourth base, but to home plate, back where he started.
Unlike baseball, however, getting home in a spiritual sense is not reserved only for the talented few. You don’t have to be Babe Ruth to reach home. As Robert Frost put it in his poem “Death of the Hired Man” home is “the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” Perhaps what Zacchaeus felt on hearing Jesus say, “This man too is a son of Abraham.”
Of course, homes can also be places of disagreement and quarrels, with rooms carrying mixed memories of both acceptance and discord. Reality can be a source of stress, at least for those still in touch with it. Which might be why appreciation of home often becomes sharper when we travel, and can put the discord in perspective. Perhaps not dissimilar to the way an active faith can arise in reaction to the challenge of doubts.
There is a breadth to feelings about home which can serve as a bridge to others with similar yearnings for roots and refuge, whether in places or in relationships. Yet home also implies a small-ness: the power of the particular found in the intimacy of a spot where people know you by name.
A story is told about three students who met during their freshman year at college. The tale was recounted to me as true, or at least more true than false. And even if not true, the tale would deserve to be invented.
The kids began comparing notes about their origins, with one boy bragging that his hometown was so friendly that a letter would reach his parents even without their house number. Just “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Highland Avenue” was enough. Then a girl said she could top that. A letter would reach her parents even without a street name: just “Mr. and Mrs. Jones” would do the trick. Finally, the third companion boasted that his village was so close-knit that a letter could reach his family even if addressed only to “Mom and Dad”, and on a dare he mailed an envelope addressed just that way.
When the envelope reached the student’s hometown, the mail carrier studied the postmark over the cancelled stamp on the upper right, which indicated the letter had been sent from Amherst. Remembering that the younger Johnson boy had gone to study at the University of Massachusetts, he delivered the missive without any fuss.
Let us return to the question asked earlier: “Why did God include the story of Zacchaeus in the Bible?” Doubtless there are many reasons that Luke’s narrative was copied over centuries and retained in Scripture. And almost certainly the story’s open-endedness invites each of us to supply a punch line by the way we live.
Some commentators suggest the story illustrates the old adage, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Zacchaeus wanted to meet Jesus, but was too short to see over the crowd. So he did a “work-around” by shinnying up a sycamore tree and with ingenuity found the joy of redemption.
Perhaps. However, let us explore two other messages the story might carry. The first addresses those who do not see themselves as having made any big mistakes. Those who benefit from “un-bereaved lives” without serious hiccups. For them, the tale might be there simply to prompt compassion for folks who like Zacchaeus struggle with burdens not apparent on the surface. Folks in need an outstretched hand to facilitate exit from the prison of past errors.
For those who do identify with Zacchaeus, looking for a second chance, or a third or a fourth chance, for those hoping to break a cycle of mis-steps, for them the story makes eminently good emotional sense, in its affirmation of a God who takes the initiative in calling us to new life.
Of course, not everyone receives an audible shout-out to come down from a tree for lunch with Jesus. And the process of receiving help takes many forms, some quite different from the experience of Zacchaeus. You may remember the gospel account of the disciple Peter fishing on the Sea of Galilee. After stepping out of his boat, Peter became fearful and confused. He had been doing just fine while he had his eyes fixed on Jesus; but when Peter got distracted, he looked away and began to sink.
Whether or not Peter hitherto believed in a God who could solve real problems, at that moment he found no alternative but to cry out with the Bible’s shortest prayer, just three words: “Lord save me.”4 Jesus then grabbed his hand, pulling Peter from otherwise overwhelming waves.
A powerful encounter. Not the way Zacchaeus was rescued, of course, where Jesus initiated the call and Zacchaeus responded. For Peter, it was the drowning man who initiated things by crying out, with Jesus providing the response. Some, like Zacchaeus, hear a call in a calm moment. Others of us do not hear a call; and like Peter, we hesitate to ask for help until almost overwhelmed, only then to find the strong arm of God pulling us home. Each a story for its own day.
King's Chapel often asks guest preachers to provide sermons for services. You can read the sermons of our guest preachers here.