Tagged with All Ages

Invited In

Luke 19:1-10

I love this story. I hope you were listening closely. What do we know about Zachhaeus, what kind of job does he have?

Zachhaeus is a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government.  We can understand, maybe, why he isn’t wildly popular.  Most of his fellow Jewish community is not fond of the Roman Empire that is ruling over them.  Many folks don’t like taxes, either, especially taxation without representation, oppressive taxation, which is what the Jewish people have under the Romans.

But Zachhaeus doesn’t just have a job that people love to hate. He’s not just collaborating with the enemy. What else does Zachhaeus do that might make him unpopular? Zachhaeus takes advantage of his position. He charges people more than they owe, and he keeps that money for himself.

Now, if you had never heard this story, and you found out about Zachhaeus, and his job, and what he’s been up to, what would you expect to happen to him? This seems like the perfect set-up for a downfall.  Surely someone is going to catch Zachhaeus red handed, and then throw him into jail or out of town, or, at the very least, shame him publicly.

But – that’s not what happens to Zachhaeus.

Zachhaeus, we discover, is not a one-dimensional character. His whole heart and mind are not entirely taken up with greed.  There is something else inside of him, something we might call… curiosity. Zachhaeus hears that a famous rabbi named Jesus is coming through town, and Zachhaeus wants to see him.

Zachhaeus wants to see Jesus — not just a little. He really wants to catch a glimpse. So when he discovers that, being a short person, he can’t see over the crowds (Zachhaeus, I feel your pain!); when he discovers that the crowds won’t let him in; what does he do?  He runs down the street, and up into a tree, to get a glimpse. A grown man, clambering up a Sycamore tree.

It turns out that whatever curiosity, longing, loneliness drives Zachhaeus into the tree, Jesus is ready to meet it.  Jesus sees this adult man in fancy clothes, this wealthy man who has climbed up into a tree to see him, and Jesus knows: this is the person I need to have dinner with tonight. So Jesus invites himself over to Zachhaeus’ house for a meal. Jesus talks to Zacchaeus like a friend.  And as they talk, Zachhaeus confesses what he has done, and promises to change his ways.

Maybe you know what it feels like to be Zachhaeus: stranded on the outside, wishing you were in.  Sometimes we’re excluded because of mistakes that we make, because of bad choices, like Zachhaeus was.  Sometimes we’re excluded because of who we are: what we look like, who we love, our history.  Sometimes we just find ourselves the odd one out, for no particular reason at all.  No matter how it happens, it doesn’t feel good, to be the one no one talks to, the one no one makes room for, the one no one invites over for dinner.

The good news is that God has a special care for those on the outside.  God’s always searching for folks who are curious, who are longing, who are lonely.  God specializes in offering unexpected invitations. Are you weighed down with guilt? God says, Come unburden yourself.  Have you been made to feel that you are not an infinitely precious child of God, just as you are?  God says, come receive my blessing.  Are you just lonely, tired, in need of a little grace?  God says, There is room at my table for you. Come, rest awhile, and have something to eat.

As followers of Jesus, as church, we have the opportunity to both receive God’s invitations, and to offer them to one another. It takes all of us, drawing the strands in and out, to make the weaving of our holy community come together.  I am so grateful that in God’s wisdom, they chose to weave each of you into the fabric of this particular cloth. I am so grateful, to be bound together with all of you, and for the binding together that you do among us, through God’s grace, week to week.

So let’s praise God, that we are not alone this morning, on the outside, wishing we were in.  God is our host here, and that means everyone is home, even if we’re still working on feeling that way.  And let’s praise God that we get to become bound together more closely in love with everyone here this morning, and with a few folks who have chosen to become members of our community today.

Preparation, Anticipation, and Wonder

On December 3rd, Jessica offered this sermon for all ages:

This year Advent has the fewest days possible: only 21.  In fact, the fourth Sunday of Advent this year lands right on Christmas Eve.  I feel like you blink and take a few deep breaths and Christmas is here.  Seems to happen every year, but this year Advent really is quite rare in its brevity (contrast this with last year which had the longest Advent possible).  So we only have 21 days now to wait for Christmas, right?  Waiting is often the word that is used when referring to the season of Advent, especially in children’s literature and when explaining this season to young ones.  But waiting can be boring.  Waiting can make you feel anxious or nervous or frustrated (think about waiting on hold with your cable company or waiting for an important test result).  Waiting is really not something anyone wants to do.  So this isn’t really the right word to describe the mood and tone of this holy season.  Instead, I would use the word preparation.  And anticipation.  And wonder.

Instead of sitting twiddling our thumbs for three weeks, we prepare.  We bake cookies, we pick out a tree, we put up lights or add a festive touch to our dining rooms, we buy gifts, we go to parties.  Maybe some of us make a concerted effort to slow down this season and embrace the quiet, slumbering world outside while some of us will be organizing and planning and arranging every day until Christmas.  We may do it differently, but we all prepare in some way during Advent because we are anticipating that great gift of wonder and joy and love on Christmas day.

We just witnessed, through masterful dramatic retelling, the moment that Mary learns she is to be the mother of Jesus.  This young teenager is perhaps at home.  By herself – this is important – maybe cleaning or making bread or getting ready to collect water.  And the angel Gabriel suddenly appears to her.  After the angel calms her surprise and fear, he gives Mary this HUGE news that she will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to God’s own son.  I don’t have to remind you that in the first century in Israel, getting pregnant before marriage was a big no no.  Mary knew this, but instead of questioning or disbelieving or simply refusing Gabriel’s proclamation, she said, “Yes.  I am ready to serve.  Let it be just as you have said.”

Now, in Sunday school every week we are experts at Wonder Questions.  We wonder a lot and we ask lots of questions that often result in pretty dynamic discussions.  So this is automatically how I approach our bible stories.  I wonder.  I find it very significant that Gabriel appeared to Mary herself to deliver this good news.  In just the previous verses before this passage, Luke describes another encounter with the angel Gabriel and Zachariah, the husband of Elizabeth, who is Mary’s cousin and becomes miraculously pregnant in her advanced age.  Gabriel told Zachariah this wonderful news – he didn’t appear to Elizabeth at all.  So why come to Mary?  I wonder why Gabriel didn’t appear to Joseph instead.  Or at least Joseph and Mary together.  That certainly would have cleared up any questions of dishonesty or infidelity.  And although the book of Matthew does describe a dream in which Joseph is visited by an angel of the Lord and reassured of Mary’s immaculate conception, this happens well after Mary herself is told the news.

So Mary is told first.  And Mary is alone when she receives this news.  Why?  I think it comes back to preparation, anticipation, and wonder.  For a little while, Mary is the only person in the world who knows she is to become the mother of God’s son.  Just Mary.  God has given her an exceptional gift to prepare herself and revel in her anticipation and wonder in her own personal way.  God allowed Mary to process this huge news however she needed to in order to embrace it.  The unique and personal ability to prepare was God’s gift to Mary, and it is God’s gift to us as well during Advent.

I’d like to read a very short children’s book now, called Who Is Coming to our House? by Joseph Slate.  It has simple words and very simple pictures of animals in a barn preparing for someone.

Who is coming our house?”

Someone, someone,” says Mouse.

“Make room,” says Pig.  “I will butt aside the rig.”

“We must clean,” says Lamb.  “Dust the beams,” says Ram.

Who is coming our house?”

Someone, someone,” says Mouse.

“Sweep the earth,” says Chick.  “Stack the hay,” says Goose, “and quick!”

“Spin new webs,” says Spider.  “I will line the crib with eider.”

Who is coming our house?”

Someone, someone,” says Mouse.

“Someone’s coming from afar.”  “I will nose the door ajar.”

“But it is dark,” says Cat.  “They will never come,” says Rat.

“Yes, they’ll come,” says Mouse.  “Someone’s coming to this house.”

“I will lay an egg,” says Hen.  “I will spread my tail for them.”

Who is coming to our house?

“Mary and Joseph,” whispers Mouse.

“Welcome, welcome to our house!”

This season of preparation and anticipation is such a gift to us.  Just like these barn animals, we get ready in all different ways to celebrate Christmas.  All are unique and special and personal.  We thank God for this time to prepare and anticipate the wonder of the birth of Christ, just as Mary was able to do.  How will you prepare this Advent season?

God of Life.  We lift up the Advent story of preparation, anticipation, and wonder.  Of a young mother embracing her astonishing news and a king appearing when we’d least expect it. Open our eyes and our hearts that this might be an Advent of hope to the world.  Amen.