Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Make Way


December 7,  2014

Isaiah 40:1-11

Mark 1:1-8            

 

Make Way

 

Rev. Steve Goodier relayed a story from Hollins University graduate Annie Dillard in his reflections. “In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk (Harper Collins, 1988), Annie Dillard reveals a sad, but poignant story. She tells of a British Arctic expedition that set sail in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. Neither of the two ships and none of the 138 men aboard returned.

Dillard argues that Captain Sir John Franklin prepared as if they were embarking on a pleasure cruise rather than a grueling journey through one of earth’s most hostile environments. He packed a 1,200 volume library, a hand-organ, china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets and sterling silver flatware. Years later, some of these place settings would be found near a clump of frozen, cannibalized bodies.

The voyage was doomed when the ships sailed into frigid waters and became trapped in ice. First ice coated the decks, and the rigging. Then water froze around the rudders, and the ships became hopelessly locked in the now-frozen sea.

Sailors set out to search for help (possibly delirious from lead-poisoning from the cans which preserved their food), but soon succumbed to severe Arctic weather and died of exposure to its harsh winds and subfreezing temperatures. For the next twenty years, remains of the expedition were found all over the frozen landscape.

Dillard reports that the crew did not adequately prepare either for the cold or for the eventuality of the ships becoming ice-locked. On a voyage that was to last two to three years, they packed only their Navy-issue uniforms and the captain carried just a 12-day supply of coal for the auxiliary steam engines. The frozen body of an officer was eventually found, miles from the vessel, wearing his uniform of fine blue cloth, edged with silk braid, a blue greatcoat and a silk neckerchief – clothing which was noble and respectful, but wholly inadequate.”
[1]


We scoff at such an ill-prepared voyage, at the captain who was either absolutely inept in leadership or so arrogant he thought he was all set and ready to go.  But, it begs the question, how prepared are we for what lies ahead of us in life?  I mean for the things that truly matter.  As we wait for the coming of the Messiah, are we prepared to accept his presence in our lives?  Have we made way, made room for the Spirit of the Lord to truly dwell within us?

 

This is what John the Baptist was urging his followers to understand as he preached from the banks of the Jordan River. His job was to prepare everyone for the one who was coming, the one who would baptize not with water but the Spirit.  It is interesting that in the time of Jesus, baptism would have been used as a way to introduce Gentiles into the Hebrew faith, but here, John the Baptist calls all people to repent and be baptized.  John the Baptist feels that the Jewish people need to turn around, to be reborn as God’s people.  God is doing a new thing.[2]

 

I can’t help but think of this holiday season with its shiny wrappers, twinkling lights, and glittering bows.  It is a lot easier for us to focus on the glories of our cultural Christmas than turn our thoughts to the necessary work that lies beneath it for us as Christians.  You’ve probably seen signs or heard people saying, “He is the reason for the season.” A quip to remind us of what Christmas is all about.  Well, our readings from Isaiah and Mark encourage us to do the same.  If we focus on the trappings of the commercial holiday, we are no different from the ship captain who needed his fine china on the frozen seas.  We are ill prepared, we miss the Holy Day because of the holiday. 

 

Isaiah tells us that a way must be made, a path must be cleared, a highway paved. How we prepare for the coming of the Son of God varies for each individual.  For some of us it is seeing the cup as half full instead of half empty.  For some of us it is overcoming greed or envy.  For some of us it is learning to forgive, letting go of anger and hostilities that boil below the surface.  For some of us it is recognizing our arrogance or the belief that we are already, like the ship captain in our story, well prepared. 

“But, it is John the Baptist’s physical and spiritual location that most clearly tells us what this new reign is all about. Mark’s description of the Baptist is meant to invoke images of the prophet Elijah who is in 2 Kings 1:8 described as having a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist. But the emphasis on John’s location (“wilderness” and “countryside” are mentioned three times) makes clear that the new reign, and its Messiah, do not come from the religious and social center, but the margins—the unknown, the unsanctified, the uncomfortable.”[3]

Michela Bruzzese argues, that such preparation also extends beyond the self.  “Taking John’s example, we who await the Messiah can also “Prepare the way of the Lord” by seeking out our own “wilderness”—that which is beyond our comfort zone. Since everyone is welcome to this new reign, we can prepare Jesus’ way by reaching outside our comfort zones to connect with someone different (you choose the difference: economic, racial, religious, political party, age, etc.). What is important is that it is not a natural connection but one that will take time, energy, and understanding to cultivate.” We can learn from the Apostle Paul, who “knows from experience that such a task is no easy matter but promises that God will be present and “patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”[4]

How do we prepare for the coming of the Messiah?  We repent. We repair.  We make way: a clear, straight path into our lives. We make room in our hearts for the Spirit who so desperately wants to fill us this season.  Amen.

 

 

 




[1]Rev. Steve Goodier,  stevegoodier.blogspot.com 
 
[2] Bass Mitchell, www.homiliesbyemail.com
[3] --Michaela Bruzzese  http://www.sojo.net/magazine/2008/12/christmas-presence
[4] ibid

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Life Is A Highway


Advent 2011
Is. 40:1-11, 2Pet 3:8-15a

Life Is A Highway

 

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God!”  This sounds like a lot of work to me!  Every valley has to be lifted up and every hill has to be made low so that the uneven ground is level.  All of the rough places have to be made plain; there can’t be any boulders or desert shrubs in the way.  Every obstacle must be obliterated, there is no going around them, and the path must be straight!  This seems especially daunting to me because I can’t cut a straight line to save my life!

In response to this command from God, the voice of the prophet responds, “All people are like grass; their constancy is like the flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of our Lord will stand forever!” 

These familiar lines from Isaiah 40 connect with 2 Peter because both remind us of human frailty and our limitations, they both remind us that we are nothing compared to the scope of God.  In Isaiah we are given hope in the promise that God’s word will stand forever, though all else fades.  2 Peter reminds us that God’s watch keeps a different time, God’s tendency is patience, and God’s surprise entrance calls us to readiness!  What a gift it is to us that God is more patient than we are! I’ll be honest with you, on life’s highway there are days when I experience road rage, where my impatience at yield signs and slow moving vehicles gets the better of me! But, God’s delay in the coming of Jesus shows God’s patience with us and gives us many chances, more than we deserve; to repent and come to trust fully in God. 

When this familiar word came from Isaiah to the Hebrew people, they had been in exile for almost 50 years!  They feared that the Lord had abandoned them; patience had ebbed into acceptance and assimilation into the Babylonian population.  God’s chosen people had become comfortable in their situation as hope that God would save them died out.  We too live in a type of exile.  Consider the way we live amidst terrorism, violence and threats all around us.  We live with unease at poverty, racism and materialism.  We too seem to fake our faithful response to God’s mystery.  We go with the flow because we feel that we are helpless to change it and convince ourselves that we can’t do anything about it because we are just too busy already with the work of the church.  And we find ourselves impatient with the word, “wait”.  We’d rather have some definitive word from God.  Why doesn’t God just come down here and do something about it!  The prophet’s message strikes a chord with us as we realize how easily we are enticed by the latest trends, the freshest stories.  We are inundated with more news that we can absorb. Choices overwhelm us!  We too need to hear the new song in the foreign land of too much stuff, too many choices!

In 1992, singer/songwriter Tom Cochrane had his biggest hit with “Life is a Highway.”  The song was made popular again in 2006 when it was used in the Disney Pixar film, Cars and performed on the soundtrack for that movie by Rascal Flatts.  The song opens with these words:

Well, life's like a road that you travel on There's one day here and the next day gone Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand, Sometimes you turn your back to the wind There's a world outside every darkened door Where Blues won't haunt you anymore For the brave are free and lovers soar Come ride with me to the distant shore…

These words remind us of the ups and downs of life and the way we respond to it.  Sometimes we bend under pressure, sometimes we stand and face difficulties and sometimes we turn away from them.  But, then you have a promise:  There is a world outside every darkened door where the blues won’t haunt you anymore.  Friends, that world is the one in which strive to we live, to know the promises of God, where we know the truth and proclaim it to others that in God the blues won’t haunt you anymore!  Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

The question is begged of us in 2 Peter today, “What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of God?”  Who do you want God to see when he comes to greet you? The picture you see below is one from my days of work in retail.  When I was working at Saxon Shoes in Richmond, on slow days I used to love to run stock.  I’d build myself a fort of shoe boxes stacked waist high as I piled them all according to size.  Then I would make space for them in the stock rooms and fill in the gaps.  I remember many a time when I would be up on the ladder and as my friends would come into work they’d come back and visit with me, we’d catch up on our lives and share the latest Saxon gossip.   Sometimes there would be four or five of us congregated back there, just laughing it up and having a good time.  Then, the boss would appear in the doorway and suddenly I had four or five helpers there handing me boxes!  Suddenly, what was a one or two person task had five employees working on it!  We didn’t want to boss to catch us being lazy! And I won’t lie to you, as you can see from this photo, sometimes I was the person who was caught doing nothing!

 


That is exactly what Peter is teaching against!  We don’t know when God is coming, in fact it shouldn’t matter because you should behave in holiness and Godliness at all times!  The scriptures are telling us to be prepared for anything!  Think about the ways you prepare for other things in your life.  For those of you who like camping I bet you have a packing list of important things to take, you probably have all of your gear organized in one location.  Before you cook thanksgiving dinner or host a holiday party I bet you make a list of what you need to buy at the store and get all of your recipes out on the counter.  How is it that we can be so ready for these things, and feel completely unequipped for the coming of Christ? Jesus comes at Christmas, Jesus comes soon, Jesus comes NOW!    Jesus comes in the homeless guy who stands on the street with a sign begging for food.  Jesus comes in the best friend who asks you to keep her cancer diagnosis a secret.  Jesus comes in all forms, usually in the most unsettling and least expected ways.  We can prepare all we want for the coming of Jesus but the truth is we will never be completely ready, things never go as planned.  But, what we can control is what kind of persons we will be as we wait. 

We are called to be patient and trustful.  Waiting for God isn’t idle hand wringing or twiddling of thumbs but expectant and servant filled.  We are called to strive to be found at peace without spot or blemish.  In other words, we are to live as God’s people, not just as an inner journey of waiting but an outer journey, living life in the way Jesus Christ lived in the world each day.   We are called to be at peace, to know God’s love and grace.  This peace is not the absence of turmoil but rather the peace of God which passes all understanding.  Being servant filled particularly during this season means we need to slow down during this season not speed up. This is easier said than done, is it not? It is about finding a balance in our lives between our culture’s holiday demands and what our faith says about being a Christian during Christmas.  I'm not saying you should boycott all Christmas parties or vow not to travel this year, but rather spend some intentional time reflecting on the hope that the birth of Christ brings into our world!  Maybe this means you start an advent wreath tradition in your own home or dedicate time each day to prayer.  Maybe this means that as you put up your Christmas tree you thank God for something with each ornament you hang.  As you wrap those gifts consider why the shepherds came to Jesus' side, and why the wisemen brought gifts to him.  The answer I think you will find is two-fold.  Love, love for the child there in the manger and love for the God who loved us so much that he sent his only son.  And second, Hope, in Jesus we catch a glimpse of hope that the world can and will be changed.

What are we as a congregation preparing for?  Is whatever we are preparing truly focusing on the coming of Christ and our job to make the path straight? Are we actively waiting for the Lord’s return or are we twiddling our thumbs? Maybe we are waiting for more people to come through our front doors!  Maybe we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, because mainline churches are diminishing and we wonder if we will be next!  Friends, we are required to be engagingly expectant.  Perhaps it is time to challenge the ways we think about ‘doing’ church.  Perhaps it’s time we beg the question, what are we missing at church, and rather than sit back and wait for someone else to do something, we jump in ourselves! Do we want the boss to catch us sitting in the pews, sitting behind the pulpit twiddling our thumbs, or do we want God to see us trying our best to build a highway to God through the wilderness that is our society, our country, our world?  I don’t want God to catch me laying down on the job!  We are called as followers of the Way to reveal God’s glory to the world!  God is present and preparing even now to restore God’s people.  God will abide with us and help us find a way through whatever wilderness we find ourselves in, in whatever exile we find ourselves trapped.  God is at work regardless of how things appear.  He is building a road in the wilderness, breathing new life over decaying grass and withering flowers!  We are called to daily open our hearts and minds to God’s transforming grace. 
Another verse from  “Life is a Highway” says this: They knock me down And back up again You're in my blood I'm not a lonely man There's no load I can't hold, The road's so rough this I know, I'll be there when the light comes in, Just tell 'em we're survivors.  The world threatens to knock us down, it threatens to overtake us, to overwhelm us, but God is with us, the Spirit of Christ is within us, we are not alone!  It is difficult to wait, it is difficult to live in peace, a life without blemish but God’s love never falters. God’s Word stands forever. The season of advent reminds us that as we wait for the birth of Christ within us, we are given plenty of time to lead lives of holiness and godliness dedicated to being disciples of Christ.  Because of God’s patience and grace, we are survivors.  Amen.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Why Wait?

Below is a sermon I preached at the beginning of Advent 2013.  A reminder to each of us the importance of slowing down in the Advent season and considering the gift of Christ and why he was sent for us in the first place. 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew 24: 36-44

 

Why Wait?

I'm beginning think that culturally the word "wait" is the ugliest 4-letter word there is in our language!  We hate waiting, don't we?  I know I do!  Why can't the fast food drive through be faster?  Why can't my latte be brewed more quickly?  Why aren't there more check-out lanes open at Kroger? Waiting rooms are horrible black holes that can suck you in for hours at a time!   Why not deck the halls and sing Christmas carols beginning November 1st?  Why shouldn't we have stores open on Thanksgiving day to get door buster sales?  I'll be the first to admit I got really itchy to put up the Christmas tree this year, I started it last weekend when I knew I would be home and have the time to do it.  But, I think we are missing something if we constantly give in to instant gratification.  We lose that warm feeling of anticipation bubbling just below the surface when we fail to wait.  Sometimes, things lose their luster when we can purchase or participate immediately.  I think about the anticipation of going to a Hanson show or driving down to Montreat for a conference.  Would it be awesome if I could go to Hanson shows all the time, walk right into the venue and get a front row spot, sometimes I think yes! But, the anticipation that builds while counting down the days and waiting in a long line with friends is half of the fun!  Do I sometimes wish that Montreat was an hour drive away and I could venture there anytime I wanted, of course!  But, if it was so commonplace to me, perhaps it would lose some of its shine.  It is all the more special because I have to wait for it.  Driving through the gates always feels like Christmas morning to me. 

God teaches us a lot about patience and the gift of waiting in the Scriptures.  I just don't believe that the mass exodus of the Israelites from Egypt would have been as meaningful if they had reached the promised land in a month.  I am sure that the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey meant a lot more to the people who had been munching on manna and sand for 40 years.  And we learn a lot about the struggles that come when one doesn't wait for God to fulfill God's promises from people like Sarah and Abraham.  The drama with Hagar and Ishmael could have been avoided if they had just waited.  Thus, the most beloved story in Scripture, the birth of the Messiah, is also a lesson in waiting.  The season of advent is structured for us to experience the growing anticipation of the birth of a child.  The narrative builds up to Jesus' birth, the promises of the Old Testament about a Savior are reiterated to remind us of the many generations that had to wait for the One to come.  And it reminds us as well of what exactly his mission was, that is to sacrifice himself so that we might live.  So that we might experience renewal and rebirth thanks to the resurrection.  It reminds us that he has walked among us once and he has promised to do so again...but we have to wait. 

Waiting can also mean engaging in preparation for that which is to come.  Can you imagine if children were given a license as soon as they could see over the stirring wheel and reach the pedals?  Well, I still might not be driving!  No, we can't fathom this because they have to wait, they need time to mature, to prepare.  Can you imagine planting seeds in your garden and having them not only sprout but be ready for harvest the next day?  No, because you have to prepare the soil for plants to flourish and you have to prepare your store houses and your kitchens for the harvest.  It is the same with Advent and Christmas.  In advent we are called to prepare ourselves for the joy that is to come.  Because we know that along with the celebration of the birth of the Messiah also comes a narrative of hardship, opposition, and pain before the resurrection.  Advent is the time to slow down, to step out of the chaos that swirls around us and prepare our hearts, to make a place for the one who was born to save us. 

Rev. Kathryn Huey points out that as we read the narrative from Isaiah today, it isn't hard to imagine how they must have felt throughout years of destruction, war, famine, and exile.  The world hasn't changed so much.  We still face the effects of natural disasters, disease, warfare and endless camps of refugees the planet over.  "More than 500 years before the time of Jesus, they listened to Isaiah's dream, this vision of the future, and then they looked at their once-beautiful city, Jerusalem, burned and battered by powers that must have appeared unstoppable. Still, they held on to their trust in the promises of One more powerful than any empire and any destructive force. This week's passage is Isaiah's recitation of God's promise of a future very different from what was visible just then."[1]  And so they had to wait. 

 Huey elaborates, "We hear this text not only in a time of conflict and war but in a new season at the beginning of a new church year: Advent, the time of waiting, and so much more. Walter Brueggemann writes: 'Advent is an abrupt disruption in our 'ordinary time'…an utterly new year, new time, new life." While the world around us wraps up another year hoping for increased consumer spending and waiting for final reports on this year's profits, the church has already stepped into a new time, to begin a season of hoping and waiting for something of much greater significance than profits or spending: "Advent invites us to awaken from our domesticated expectations,'   Brueggemann writes, 'to consider our life in light of new gifts that God is about to give' (Texts for Preaching Year A). At the beginning of a new church year, we dare to hope for something much better than the news may report. We begin a new time remembering who is really in charge of everything, and setting our hearts on being part of this One's plan. As beautiful as these verses are, they paint a very clear picture: God is the One who brings this dream to reality, but there's work for us to do, too, in re-shaping the instruments of war, violence, and destruction into instruments of peace and provision for all. So, there are words of comfort and promise about what God is going to do, but between the lines, there's a call as well for us to participate in bringing the dream to reality."[2]

We cannot ignore God's acts of salvation throughout history.  While it is valuable to look back and remember the scene of a savior born in a stable, we cannot overlook all of the other ways in which God has been at work, and continues to be at work in our lives.  Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the work that God is still doing, work that God needs our hands, feet, and voices to achieve.  And perhaps also, it is a time to come to grips with the fact that we cannot know everything that the Lord has in store.  Isn't that what this passage is saying in Matthew, keep watch, for you never know when the time will come or what it will look like when it does? 

“Advent is such a beautiful season: it remembers and re-tells the story of people who, like us, were waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled, and striving to live faithfully as they waited. We note that an important practice of faithfulness, of course, is repentance, turning away from the paths that have taken us away from God, turning off the things that have drowned out God's voice in our hearts and minds, turning toward new ways of living that offer hope not just to us but to those we encounter, in our personal lives, and in the whole world that God loves."[3]

This is why we wait.  We steep ourselves in anticipation of what is to come to us through God's grace.  We trust in his promises for us because we can see his faithfulness throughout history.  And as we wait, we work, preparing our hearts as best we can because we never know what holy moment may be waiting for us around the bend.  Amen. 





[1] Rev. Kathryn Huey, www.ucc.org internet accessed 11/26/13
[2] ibid
[3] ibid

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Loren Greets Her Dear Neighbor: Read Acrostic

Lord, creator of all things great and small, light of the world, GOd of all that is and will be,
On bended knee I pray to you, have mercy on my soul and the souls of my neighbors.
Remind us of your ever present grace in our lives, your guidance and mercy that directs our will in holy ways,
Enlighten our minds and fill our hearts with love for you and one another.  Although we are weak help us strive to strengthen our bonds to you;
Never allowing us to fall from the sight of your magnificent glory.

God, I beg for your hand to guide my pen, that my words will further glorify you;
Reminding myself and those around me that you are the one triune God.
Eternal Father and Mother of us all, the master whom we shall serve from
Everlasting to everlasting; until your son comes again to lift us up to your kingdom.
To you I commend my spirit and beg you would touch the souls of my brothers and sisters, that we may all be one body in Christ.
Sustain us oh Lord with the manna of good faith, that we may be nourished by your love and grace, remembering the sacrifice made for us.

Help me Lord, for I am but a feeble lamb
Easily I can stray from your flock
Reconcile me to the good shepherd; that I might bring others into the fold.

Do not give up on me, this I beg. I wish only to be brought more closely to you and in that to enrich the lives of my fellow human.  All of which are your people, your children.
Envelop me in the curve of your smile, that I might rest my weary soul in the warmth of your breath.
All I am, I offer to you gracious Redeemer, for I can give only of myself, to you and to others, to fully live the life for which I was made.
Render me utterly useless without your wisdom, without which I can do nothing for good or ill.

New and revived let me come to you heavenly Lord.
Enlightened by the spirit which you have breathed into me, allow me to reveal you to others.
Inviting believers to the table to share in the good news of the new covenant you have given to us.
Grace and peace are your precious gifts to us, let them be illuminated and shared with one another.
Honor to you, God, who has been at work in our lives since before we were born,
Blessed be my work, to that I might be a blessing to others, glorifying you.
Of your grace, Giver of all that is good, let us all be mindful, of you and of one another as we strive to come closer to you, living a Christ-like life.
Rescuer, let us not forget our shortcomings, but may we know to bow humbly before you in all that we do, in preparation for the life that is to come.

Risen Christ, let your model be our guide as we greet one another in fellowship, may your peace be within us all.
Everything we do in action and word, may we submit ourselves to you, knowing that in sin we were committed to death, but in you a new life has come for us, sweet forgiveness.
Almighty God, I beseech you, give us gracious fortitude and humble intelligence, that we may live only to fight the good fight that is to manifest itself in faith and love. 
Deserving of your mercy we are not, blessed are we who serve you and continue to bear your light into the world, spreading the gospel to neighbor and friend.

Theological Claim: We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  In doing so, we should be compelled to know God and to help our neighbor attain to God out of love for them, through prayers, words, and deeds.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Prayer of the People

Lord empower us
to be your humble disciples
filled with both wisdom and justice,
affection and reason.

Out of our affection
let our senses be our guide
so that we might recognize our fear,
grieve over that which we cannot fully grasp--
the multitude of your magnificent grace.

Let us realize the hope that radiates
from the knowledge of your mercy,
brought to us through a life in Christ,
a life of love in which we confess that
You alone own our lives!
God grant us peace and tranquility,
that which comes with abstinence
from the foils of this world,
giving us the patience to endure evil
until we are joined with you fully
in your heavenly kingdom.

Creator of all that is
let our wisdom be peppered
with the spices of imagination,
that we may be able to recognize
the inevitability of future evils in this world
believing in faith
that a future of good will also abound.

God of glory,
help us be dreamers with prudence
to contemplate all that surrounds us;
fully aware of ourselves, and our neighbor.
Grant us a recognition of our weaknesses
and give us the tools necessary to fight against our vices,
dwelling in the fortitude of your love,
knowing joy in the reward that is our salvation,
through your son, Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Man Up A Tree


You might be asking yourself right about now, what’s that man doing up in that tree?  I’m Zacchaeus. Zac --if you’re my friend.  I don’t have many friends.  Maybe you’ve heard of me.  If you have, it’s probably from someone talking about what a bad person I am; how as a tax collector for the Roman Government I’ve turned my back on my Jewish brothers and sisters in order to line my pockets with other people’s money.  But, maybe, if I’m lucky, you’ve heard of me and my encounter with Jesus.  The day that changed my life forever.  Most people around here are still skeptical of my confession and conversion.  Well, I’m still a little skeptical myself.  That’s why I’m sitting up here in this sycamore tree again.  Just trying to see if I can hold on to that holy moment where the Son of God stopped here and saw me, spoke to me.  Invited me into a relationship with him.   I’m willing to make changes in my life. It’s been a few months now and I’m trying.  

I can’t really say what motivated me to leave my work and try to see Jesus that day.  Except that, well, I hate to be left out of anything and everyone in town was lining the street and chattering excitedly about this guy named Jesus.  Apparently he’d been traveling from town to town, stopping and healing people along the way.  I heard that he’d even been having meals with outcasts.  So, I guess, I just wanted to see what he looked like.  I heard he had an entourage traveling along with him.  I figured they must all be big, burly guys, tough fellows who sort of protected him.  Or maybe he paid them to travel with him.  I just figured he was a magician with a few tricks up his sleeve maybe.  I had to admire a man like that.  I mean there were lots of people around claiming to be the Messiah.  I had to admire his spunk for keeping it up for so long…. I, too, have preyed upon the good will of the public to gain power and prestige.  I figured this Jesus wasn’t any different.  Maybe there would even be something in it for me, if I saw some really crazy behavior I could tell the Roman officials about it.  Maybe they’d pay me for information.  

There was no way the people lining the streets were going to let me stand in front of them so that I could get a good look at Jesus.  They all hated me, and not without good reason.  I represented Rome to them. I was the guy who took their money, gouged them for funds.  It wasn’t always that way.  But I needed money to take care of myself and being a tax collector for a time seemed to be a pretty good way to get it.  Over time, I saw other tax collectors skimming a little more money from the top, and then a little more.  I won’t lie to you, the power went to my head.  And the wealth I gained from my behavior….well I was just too blinded by the coins to see how low I had really fallen.  So, anyway, I shimmed up this tree so that I could get a good view of the whole scene.  I wasn’t really that much higher up than other people.  Just enough that Jesus could walk beneath this branch and look up at me.  I really hoped he wouldn’t even see me or acknowledge me.  If he was a trickster like I assumed he was, I didn’t want to make myself look any worse to my neighbors.  But, on the off chance that he really was the Savior, I couldn’t risk the shame I was sure to feel if he noticed me. 

Have you ever tried to make yourself so small you’d disappear?  Have you ever just closed your eyes and willed yourself to become invisible?  That’s what I was doing when Jesus abruptly stopped beneath this branch and calmly looked up at me.  Our eyes locked for a moment and not a word was spoken between us.  As the crowds began nudging each other and whispering harshly against me I thought surely this would be the end of me.  I could tell immediately that this man was no magician.  There was not a devious bone in his body.  His intense calm caught me off guard.  It was all true, I knew it in an instant-- this man was the Messiah.  And he was staring at me! “Zacchaeus,” he said a steady voice, he knew my name!  “Zacchaeus,” he said, “Come on down from there, I’m going to come to your house for supper this day.” 

Had I heard right?  Jesus was inviting himself to my home for dinner?  Folks, he may not have been swindler as I had first presumed but he had every bit of self-assurance I expected him to have.  You see, in our tradition, you do not invite yourself into someone else’s home, but you wait to be invited.  And if you break bread together, it means that you have accepted one another.  You are kindred.  You are friends.  The Messiah wanted to eat with me!  All the people within hearing began to protest. They called out to Jesus, bringing to bear all of my sins, hurling insults at me.  All of which, I now see, I deserved.  I clamored down the tree and once again, to my amazement, my confession simply poured out of me.  It was as if I was overcome with such emotion that I could not contain myself, my absolute soul needed to be laid bare before this man.  “Lord, look, please!”  I threw myself at his feet.  “Here and now I will give half of everything I own to the poor.  If any of these people I have cheated, out of anything, I will give them back four times the amount I stole.”  I meant this, oh yes I did, because I wanted so much…. I needed so much, for this man to help restore me to the person I once was.  I wanted to feel the love and respect of Jesus. 

Do you know what he did?  Jesus placed his hand on my shoulder, even as I was shaking like a leaf, tears streaming down my face.  Right there in front of everyone, all of the people I had wronged these last few years, Jesus showed me grace and mercy.  He reminded the people, and me, most importantly, that I am a son of Abraham too.  No matter how lost I had become.  Jesus lifted me to my feet and said, Salvation has come to this house, because I have come to seek and to save the lost.”

 I was forgiven. My life could begin anew.  Jesus came into my home and we broke bread together before he and his disciples went on their way.  He told me he was headed to Jerusalem.  I have to wonder why he would go there, when it seems such a dangerous place for him to be.  The day of Passover is only a few days away.  I will celebrate this Passover in a way that I have not for many years, trusting in God’s love for me. And I will bring food and goods to other people in this community who are suffering, so that they can celebrate too.  And each time I break bread, I will remember eating with Jesus.  And when I am tempted to go back to the life I once led, I will return to this old tree.  And I will pray that God would give me the strength to follow in his ways, to live by the lessons Jesus shared with me. I will confess my sinfulness and be washed anew in his grace. 

You know what? I bet you could too.  I bet you could also find yourself made new in the grace of Jesus Christ.  No one is perfect.  We are all broken.  We all have sins we’d rather not confess.  But, if we can find a way to purge ourselves of what is dark within us….if we can then strive to live a life filled with compassion and love in response to God’s mercy…well then we are doing the best that we can do. And one of the best gifts about being a follower of Jesus is that you do not have to do any of it alone.  It is not easy-- going back to what is comfortable, or profitable, or relying only on ourselves is often the simpler path we think we can take.  But, I am here to tell you, what is right is not always what is easy. Jesus came to seek out and to save the lost.  That is you.  That is me.  He is extending his hand.  All we must do is accept it.  Amen. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Faith's Window

Four panels, double glass
cracked corners, fractured light.


Frost kissed, golden tint
winter scheme; silver stream--
trickling laugh with the dawn.

Yellow spring dream
green tendrils; wild garden
tastes of rain on the tongue.

Summer's half moon smile
dirt road through high grass
cicadas song carried on the wind.

Autumn harvest, even fall
orange glow sleeps through dark wood and birch
smell of thunder. shiver. thirst.