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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.



11-10-2017 at 3:13 PM
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October 8, 2014, 11:09 AM

Abundance & Scarcity

2 Corinthians 5:16-20

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!”

Mark 6:30-44

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught.31 Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” 32 They departed in a boat by themselves for a deserted place. 33 Many people saw them leaving and recognized them, so they ran ahead from all the cities and arrived before them. 34 When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he began to teach them many things. 35 Late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place, and it’s already late in the day. 36 Send them away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something to eat for themselves.” 37 He replied, “You give them something to eat.” But they said to him, “Should we go off and buy bread worth almost eight months’ pay[b]and give it to them to eat?” 38 He said to them, “How much bread do you have? Take a look.” After checking, they said, “Five loaves of bread and two fish.” 39 He directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 Everyone ate until they were full. 43 They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish. 44 About five thousand had eaten.

Sermon from October 5, 2014

The new season of The Walking Dead premieres in just one week! For some that means nothing, but for others in our congregation, we are counting the days until Terminus. Though you may not watch the television series, you might be aware that The Walking Dead is a zombie show—a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has decimated the population and has reanimated the dead who are hungry for live flesh. If you don’t like zombies, there are a number of post-apocalyptic shows and movies to choose from: Falling Skies, Jericho, Defiance, Dominion, Jeremiah, Under the Dome—just to name a few. And that doesn’t include the movies.  The post-apocalyptic genre is a hit.

I think there are several reasons for their success, but two stand out. First, these shows remind us of what truly matters. Suddenly the world is turned upside down and all the stuff that consumes us—calendars, schedules, obligations…electronics, fashion, latest TV shows...stuff—means absolutely nothing. What does matter is companionship, food, water, shelter, medical supplies—things that offer life, health, and safety.  The second reason I think these shows find such a strong viewing is that they ask us who we would be in a crisis situation. Would we be the selfish ones, hoarding all the materials we can get our hands on, violent toward outsiders, the kill or be killed mentality? Or would we be the ones who create communities where resources are shared, where the vulnerable are protected, where more than safety and survival are sought? It comes down to how one sees the world—even one filled with crisis, danger, and struggle. Do we see scarcity—there will never be enough so I have to get all I can while I can no matter what? The vision of scarcity produces fear, anger, and even violence. Or do we see abundance—together we will make sure everyone has enough, even if we can’t literally see it right now? The vision of abundance produces generosity, compassion, and peace.

As we watch these life-and-death situations play out on the screen, we see a glimpse of life stripped away of the clutter, distractions and debris and the nature of humanity explored—scarcity and abundance.

But these stories are not new. The authors of scripture might not have imagined zombies and viruses and aliens, but they could point us to several instances of life being stripped of the luxuries and boiled down to the essentials, and show us studies in human reaction. The scriptures are filled with stories of people seeing scarcity and seeing abundance.

The pinnacle story of this wrestling with scarcity and abundance comes from the powerful and foundational story of the exodus from Egypt. Moses has successfully led the Israelites from Egypt, through the Red (Reed) Sea, and into the wilderness.  Their first moment of panic came over a lack of water and God provided—water from the rock. Now, the second panic, the second essential of life—food. The hungry people begin longing for slavery, operating in fear, seeing the lack of sustenance as they journey in dangerous lands. Scarcity raises its ugly head. But again, God hears. God provides. Manhue—“What is it?—Manna—Bread from heaven rains down upon them.

However, the people are still operating under their vision of scarcity, full of fear. They gather the manna and hoard it, squirreling it away, barely registering Moses’ promise that more will be coming tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  They see limited resources and react. …And the manna rots. The stench reveals the hoarders and Moses must reiterate the instructions,

“only gather enough for today, and only as much as you need. You must trust God, there will be more than enough. There will be an abundance.”

This exodus story is hovering behind and within and around and over the gospel reading today, Mark’s telling of the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus’ disciples return to him after he sent them out in twos to proclaim the Good News, to heal and to teach. They are tired, hungry, and eager to share all that they experienced. But, everything around Jesus is hectic and busy and overwhelming. People are coming and going. So Jesus again models for the disciples the need for coming apart, for stillness and time with God, just as we explored last month. But this time it doesn’t work. The crowds’ hunger is greater and they actually reach the wilderness region before Jesus and his disciples.

Here we see the Exodus experience play out before us once more—scarcity and abundance. Lost sheep panicking in the wilderness, hungry and afraid. The disciples are operating in the scarcity department—there is not enough time, not enough energy, not enough money, not enough food. ‘Okay Jesus, time to send everybody home. This is our time now.’ But Jesus sees with different eyes—from the perspective of abundance. Jesus does not look from a human point of view. Jesus is the author and embodiment of the new creation. The old way is gone for the disciples, they just don’t realize it yet. A new way is dawning in their midst.  There is plenty of time to see to these lost ones. There is infinite energy in the Word made flesh. Money is not necessary. Why, we have five loaves and two fish! Abundance! Can we hear Moses’ instructions echoing behind Jesus’ prayer of blessing over the bread?

“enough for today…as much as you need…trust God…more than enough…abundance.”

“Everyone ate until they were full. They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish. About five thousand had eaten.”

This is one of the moments of transformation for the disciples; from the uncertain followers behind Jesus toward the bold apostles sharing Good News with the world, even in the face of dangers. They are pulled into a whole new vision—from scarcity to abundance. They see that they can be a community that shares resources, protects the vulnerable, and provides more than just survival. They can be people of the new creation; bearers of abundance vision; ambassadors for Christ to the world.

The Manna story, the Feeding of the 5000 story, it is our story too. Our world lives on the vision of scarcity. It banks on it. The idea of scarcity hangs in the background of our consumer culture. “Resources are limited,” the world cries. “Get yours now, while there is still time, while supplies last.” Don’t have the money. No problem…pre-approved credit card right here. We are told we don’t have enough. There is not enough to go around. We must get ours now and keep it safe. We are sold the idea that if we don’t fill our schedule with certain things and enroll ourselves in certain activities that we will somehow fall short on the stuff we are told we need to succeed in life. Such a vision of life creates fear and anger. It burns us out and uses us up. It stifles generosity and compassion, and breaks down community. 

But…there is another way, a new way, a new creation into which we can live. We can reject the lenses of scarcity and see the world through the eyes of abundance—Jesus’ eyes. Together we strip away all the clutter and distractions and debris the world tells us we need to have, and see that we have what we need. We whisper to one another Moses’ words, Jesus’ blessing:

“enough for today…as much as you need…trust God…more than enough…abundance.”

And we together create a community that shares resources, protects the vulnerable, and does more than just survive…we thrive! We soar on wings like eagles, freed from the scarcity society and its fear and stress and demands.

That is part of what stewardship is about, keep stuff in perspective. Keep things in their proper place and treating everything as the gift from God that it is. As I said in the newsletter article, I look forward to stewardship time each year. It is not about fundraising and budgets, not really. It is about my relationship with God, my relationship with you, and my relationship with my stuff.  It is a call and an invitation to live more deeply into God’s new creation revealed in Jesus Christ. It asks if it is well with my soul…really…or if I am bogged down by the world and its scarcity complex.  It is a tough wake up call this year—I’ve not been the best steward with my resources—especially my time and energies. In prayer and discernment I commit myself, Doug and I commit ourselves, to the sharing community we are helping to create here at First UMC. We try to step it up a notch, giving up something that isn’t needful—and can be, in fact, harmful—and live more generously and more compassionately. We adjust our abundance glasses, and perhaps get a stronger prescription lens.

As we move through the close of 2014 and into 2015, we will be building this abundance community more purposefully. In the midst of a world in chaos, in the midst of a culture of scarcity, in the midst of crowds hungry for healing, we can create a community that shares resources, protects the vulnerable, and thrives! We can reach out and invite others into this place of sanctuary and love.  We might not have any real zombies staggering around the streets of Oneonta, except maybe on the 31st of this month. No alien space craft invading the planet. But there is a feeling of being consumed, of feeling over-burdened and under pressure. Together we can create a place of freedom. Together we can build a small piece of the kingdom right here, right now.

Let us be in prayer together and help one another live as new creations—live in the warm and life-giving vision of abundance.  Amen.

November 30, 1999, 12:00 AM

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