Sunday, October 30, 2022

Transforming Lives 

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 

October 30, 2022 

Luke 19:1-10 


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 we are to our passage. Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector, but the chief tax collector in a major city where the king has a big palace. He is described as being short in stature so he cannot see over the crowd. He wants to see Jesus.  


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.  


He calls Zacchaeus by name! That’s important because only people with significance to the early church are named. The story leads us to believe that Zacchaeus had never met Jesus. He’s climbed the tree to “see” him and is called down by name. We do not even know how Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was. It certainly doesn’t sound like they had met previously, yet he is called by name.  


There are many ways to go with this passage, I believe that the most important thing in this passage at this point is how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus’ call. Remember that just a few verses  (Luke 18:18-30) ago the rich young man is told by Jesus to sell all he has and give it to the poor and this makes him sad. Zacchaeus, however, does something amazing. He stands in front of everyone, including those who are chastising Jesus about going to his home with his declaration of what he will do.  


Half of my possessions will I give to the poor. Now a tithe if you will remember is only 10%. Then he again exceeds what the law required in the case of making restitution. He returns four times the amount that he stole. This restitution is a significant act. It said in the beginning that he was rich, well after this his holdings are greatly reduced.  


Jesus calls to Zacchaeus. I think this is both a physical as well as spiritual call. Zacchaeus responds by totally transforming himself. He is changed and for the better. You see this is really what we are all about, changing, transforming lives in a wide variety of ways.  


As most of you know I was at the Fall Clergy Conference. We hear a variety of presentations and I attended three workshops put on by the Episcopal Health Foundation. The Foundation was founded and funded by the sale of the St. Luke’s hospital chain. The foundation provides the health care insurance for our clergy and lay people so that you the parish members do not need to pay those costs. That is only a small portion of what they do. During the conference I learned about other work they are doing and realized that much of our Outreach is oriented towards their goals of healthy communities.  


The first premise they spoke of was that most of what church’s is charity. It is the Band-Aid in the system, food pantries, homeless ministries, coat and backpack collections for school children. We know how to do these, and we do them well. These are called transactional. There is a need and we fill it. The problem is that the need doesn’t go away and ultimately many of these are not sustainable. There is always more need because the root causes of poverty is rooted n systemic problems. 


What we talked about is the next two stages in Outreach, ones that will bring change. Transitional ministries are about building relationships, gaining new skills, changing mindsets and community participation. The third stage is Transformational. These are ministries that do with, changing environments in the community are characterized by strong community partnerships and are sustainable.  


The foundation wants to and is challenging churches to do more towards changing the systems that trap people in poverty, which then often results in poor health and statistically shorter life spans. Statistics prove that the zip code you live in has more to do with your life expectancy than your genetics. I will get into some of this with the vestry and hopefully with the adult Sunday school over the coming months, but there are things that need to change and must change to help.  


What are ministries that we do that can transform people’s lives? Some of our newer ministries do work towards systemic change. Any ministry that helps with education, nutrition and health issues, racial justice and poverty will make changes that go beyond a handout. Our tutoring program is helping with education and is a partnership with the community with Katy Christian Ministries. Education is one of the key factors in lifting people out of poverty.  


Katy Cares, which works with single parents, does more than just give some financial support. They are setting up parenting classes and other programs to help both the parent and the child stay engaged in school and off the streets. We are about to host their first two programs in our building.  


Community Gardens are another area where the Foundation sees great hope for helping in providing fresh produce and also helping educate people about healthy eating. When health improves everything in the person’s life gets better. We are seeing the start of that as we have provided the space and helped Josh make connection in the community.  


Next week I will sit down with other groups who are community partners with Hutsell Elementary and find out more about how we can help transform the lives of the children at that school.  This is the connection part of transitional ministries. This does not mean that the important charity work we do will be diminished, but that we will seek more opportunities to help transform lives in Katy.  


In my conversations with the Foundation staff they were very interested in what we are starting to do. I will be meeting with one of them next week to review what we are doing and get his input on how we can be more effective in building a healthy community here. I also will be looking at how we might draw on the experience and resources of the foundation to support our ministries.  


I am also aware of how since we have reopened to the world after the shutdown how Jesus has put ministries at our door. Just how is Jesus calling to us like he called Zaccheaus. It has been both in people walking in our door like Josh. A member says, “You should talk to…..” That has put us in touch with Katy Cares and Amazing Place. Finally it has been us reaching out in response to a call that Jesus has put on our hearts. That is the source our new partnership with Hutsell is coming. Knocking and being persistent. For three years I heard, they aren’t interested, but last summer I talked with the vestry and we agreed let’s try again. With a new administration at the school the new opportunity has presented itself.  


I am proud and delighted that we are moving into ministries that transform people and their lives. I have always worked to be involved in this type of work and will work to build and provide opportunities for us as a parish to really make a difference in this world as the Franciscan Blessing says.  


Now I am going to be pursuing some grants through the foundation, but these ministries will only grow with your support, both as volunteers especially with the school and with your support of the parish during our Stewardship Campaign because all of these great programs need financial support as well as our day to day operations. At this point I would like to invite our treasurer Bruce McKee up to speak with you.