Sunday, November 3, 2019

Zacchaeus was more than a wee little man

The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Katy Texas 77493

November 3, 2019


Zacchaeus was more than a wee little man

         “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.” 
[Lk. 19.8]

Zacchaeus as the song goes, was a wee little man. I remember a Vacation Bible School several years ago that had this song in an updated almost rap version that once stuck in your brain would not go away! VBS songs have a way of doing that to you.

I realized this week that other than this song; I have spent very little time reflecting on this strange little man that is one of those rare people who is named in a story like this. I suspect he was named because the early church may have known of him because he was a chief tax collector. People are rarely named in the Gospels unless that meant something, or they were important.

A great deal has happened between last week’s passage and this week. Jesus has children coming to him and the disciples try to stop them. He proclaims that we need to have the faith of a child. The rich man who is told that it’s nice you kept all the commandments, now go sell everything you have first and then follow me. There is the famous easier for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle statement. We hear the final foretelling of his entry into Jerusalem and arrest. Another blind man asks to be healed and then we get to today’s passage as he is passing through Jericho. He is healed and gains his sight. Then we get to today’s story.

Tax collectors have been a foil, a symbol of those who are rejected and hated by most of Jewish society and for the most part that criticism was absolutely warranted. But remember that this entire journey passage started with the 3 parables about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. All of these are about the lost being sought, found and saved and that all are welcome.

Now as we looked at this passage on Tuesday morning and read the various translations it was interesting to note that depending on your translation this passage could be read that Zacchaeus was not a cheat, but in fact was already doing the right thing. Even if this is a change of heart he promises to not only do what the Torah requires, but to exceed what the Torah requires.

That he is seeking Jesus is important. He does go to great effort, even embarrassment in his search. Think about this. He is so short he can’t see over the crowd, so he climbs a tree. Now how desperate is a really wealthy and powerful person that he will climb a tree, dressed in a long robe, think climbing a tree dressed in something like I am wearing except you don’t have the pants and everything else on underneath! Zacchaeus, does not care! Then Jesus notices him and calls him down and says, I’m coming to your house, scandalizing all around him. It is doubtful that Zacchaeus is ritually clean since he goes into Gentile homes in the course of his business, but Jesus doesn’t care. Jesus knocks down all the barriers.

This got me to thinking about all the barriers that keep people from coming to meet Jesus in this world. Barriers that for the most part are not of our doing, but as a result of society, schedules and previous experience with the institution we call church. Brian McClaren once said, “People come to us looking for Jesus and an encounter with the holy and all too often we give them the church, the institution, the rules, regulations and obstacles. We are called as evangelists, those who spread the Good News to remove those stumbling blocks and welcome people, welcome the Zacchaeuses of the world.

As I come to the end of my first 90 days I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what I have seen and learned about St. Paul’s since I started and for that matter when I first looked at your parish profile and thought, “This parish is really interesting, this might be the one.” In talking with many of you during this time, those who have been here a long time and those who have just found us this summer I’ve heard several themes. The most important is that people feel welcome. One person said something to the effect of, “Many churches are mean places, but not here. People really get along very well here even though there is a huge diversity of theologies and world views.” On this All Saints Sunday when we remember those who have gone before us and in particular those saints who have built this church, this is a critical message.

Richard Rohr on Friday wrote about what is important about healthy churches. Here are 8 of his points.

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (Eternity is God’s work anyway).

St. Paul’s is a church that lives into many of these ideals and one that I believe the Katy community needs. We have done good work, but now we have even more of a challenge. I intentionally set In-gathering Sunday for All Saints. What better day to make our commitment to the future of this dynamic parish than on a day when we remember those who helped make us who we are.

We are called to move forward into what is a bright future for us in a day when many churches are not so healthy. You make this happen, with your time, talent and treasure. We do face some challenges in this upcoming budget. We need to increase our pledges just to keep even with expenses and then need to stretch to move forward and clear the way for even more people to find a home here.

Pastor Steve wrote this reflection with which I would like to end today’s homily.

Jesus has seen you in your awkward need
         and given himself to you.
Jesus has invited himself into your life
         and feasted with you.
Jesus has made you his family,
         without judgment.
Jesus has overruled the chastisement of the crowd,
         the shame that dogs you.
Why wouldn’t gratitude fill your heart
         and change your ways?

So, as you consider the pledge card you are about to turn in, I ask you to give just a little more prayer into your pledge. Zacchaeus responded to Jesus’ invitation and I pray that you will as well.