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October 15, 2014, 11:42 AM

Splash! Sermon for October 12


First Reading              2 Corinthians 5:16-20                                                 CEB

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now.17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! 18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”

Gospel Reading                                  Luke 19:1-9                                                                             CEB

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus. Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.” Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10  The Human One[a] came to seek and save the lost.”

I saw this milk commercial recently (click here to see commercial) and was struck by it. I know it isn’t as catchy as the “got milk” commercials and their milk moustaches, but it is still a clever idea, the splash of milk behind their activity.  With computer graphics technology the commercial lets us in on the secret for the energy seen in certain people—they had their morning glass of milk. Different people doing vastly different activities are motivated by the same substance. Clever idea. Too bad people can’t really be living advertisements for the dairy industry. In the real world, it is not obvious who had their milk for breakfast. We cannot see the splash.

That is true for Zacchaeus in our familiar and yet misunderstood gospel story today. Zacchaeus’ splash is hidden, for the people of his hometown-Jericho-and for us 2000 years later. For the people of Jericho, Zacchaeus is hidden by stereotypes and assumptions. He is a Jewish man working for the Roman occupying government, a tax collector, and wealthy. People instantly label him with all the assumptions of those roles—betrayer of his people, corrupt embezzler of funds, no compassion for the poor. Yep, he must be a sinner.

For us, 2000 years later, Zacchaeus is hidden by the interpretations placed on the story which have become its meaning.  Zacchaeus was a bad, little man—all those things his neighbors thought of him, we assume those things too. He encounters Jesus and—Poof!—conversion, transformation, a new man, a generous man is born anew! New Creation! But, is that really the story? What does this story actually say?

The story in Luke does begin with Jesus passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross. This will be the last story before the passion narrative begins. Zacchaeus is a tax collector, in fact a head tax collector in the city. He has left his work and has come to the route Jesus is taking through Jericho to see Jesus. However, someone in the story is too short to be seen through the crowd, the Greek is unclear whether the short person is Jesus or Zacchaeus, but regardless, height is an issue.  So Zacchaeus does an incredibly unthinkable thing for a wealthy householder and business man. He runs to get ahead of Jesus and climbs a tree! Runs and climbs! A wealthy man wearing long flowing robes who is a leader of the community, runs and climbs!

Now in order to do that he has to break all kinds of cultural and societal rules. He must gather up all the fabric that proclaims his wealth, lift it up high enough to allow movement, tucking it in somewhere so his hands are free, and show the crowds a lot of foot and leg—shocking! If this is the bad. little man we have assumed for so long, why doesn’t he just push through the crowd? Why is he there to see Jesus to begin with? In other tax collector stories, Jesus usually goes to them to confront their behavior and call them to new life, not the other way around.

It must have been an incredible thing, to look up in that Sycamore tree and see this wealthy head tax collector with his rich robes tucked into his belt, sitting on a branch. Not a normal place to find corrupt, greedy embezzlers. But the incredibleness of this story doesn’t stop here. Jesus calls Zacchaeus out of the tree and proclaims that Zacchaeus’ home will be the one to host him in the city.  The people begin to grumble. Doesn’t Jesus know who this is? The standard assumptions should be clear—chief tax collector equals sinner equals unworthy, unclean. But listen to Zacchaeus’ response—be ready for the splash as suddenly we see the motivation and behaviors that have been hidden all this time—“Look, Lord, I GIVE half my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I REPAY them four times as much.”  These verbs, ‘give’ and ‘repay,’ are present verbs (in both the Greek and this English translation), not future. Zacchaeus isn’t saying that he is now going to change his ways, he is proclaiming who he already is! The conversion in this story isn’t the tax collector welcoming Jesus. The conversion happens for the crowd suddenly seeing Zacchaeus for who he really is—a son of Abraham, a child of the covenant, who has been living God’s way all along! Suddenly what was hidden behind assumptions and stereotypes is revealed—the splash of Zacchaeus’ motivation is unveiled for all to see.

“Do you see?” Jesus says, “Right here in your midst is a son of Abraham you have overlooked. Salvation is right here in this house!” We assume Jesus’ last statement in this reading is about Zacchaues—“The Human One—the Son of Man—came to seek and save the lost.” But is Jesus actually speaking about the villagers whose eyes are open, seeing before them one who is actually a model of the new creation right in their midst, and they missed it because they couldn’t see past their own rush to judgment. Will they live differently now?  Will the people of Jericho follow Zacchaeus’ example, which is the new creation Jesus models for us? Can they too give so generously and made amends so enthusiastically? Can compassion and reconciliation be the way they see all the world? Can they live more simply and give more generously?

Who are the Zacchaeus’ in our midst? Who are living every day drenched in the waters of their baptism? Who have we overlooked because we failed to see the splash?  Who can model for us Jesus’ way, the way of new creation, in our 21st century? Different people doing different activities but motivated by the same substance. The Zacchaeus’ are all around us, demonstrating generosity of time, talent, money and resources.  One of my favorite Zacchaeus’ that I stumbled upon a few years ago is Hal Taussig.  Hal started a vacation company that has become an amazing success—Untours. His company has made him a multi-millionaire. But Hal lives in a simple loft apartment and commutes to work on his old bicycle. With his millions he has created a micro-loan program. People seeking to start businesses, needing funds to start a new life, can borrow from him with no interest.  He has loaned start-up money to a Vietnamese restaurant that hires homeless from the area to help them get back on their feet. He loaned funds to a single mom so that she could get her master’s degree and now is in a successful career as a physical therapist. Hal is a devout man of faith whose son is a fairly well known United Methodist pastor and professor of theology. Splash! He lives his life dripping with the waters of baptism, if we have the eyes to see, if we can look with Jesus’ eyes and see the motivation that propels him forward.

How might we live as Zacchaeus lived, as Hal Taussig lives? How might we resist the call to have more and more stuff, and begin to live simply, and to give generously? What are we willing to give up, to let go of, in order to embrace Jesus’ way of the new creation? How might we, instead of spending it all on ourselves, invest in God’s work of reconciliation? How might we too live always wet with the waters of new life—our baptism? Splash!

Here they are, the waters that bring new life. Baptismal waters. Here we can remember our baptism and live as grateful people. Here we can recommit ourselves to living wet, to being an awakening splash to the world. Will you come? Will you spend a moment as the music fills this space with the waters that claimed you years ago? Will you touch the waters, commit to living wet, commit to living in a new way? Will you be a splash og Jesus’ way of new creation in this world? As the music plays, come to the waters.

 

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