All Saints Sunday
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
In addition to Aurelia’s baptism, today is a special day in the life of the Church as we celebrate “All Saints Sunday”. It is always the Sunday after Halloween where we shift our focus from ghosts and goblins and all things scary or wild to a living hope and the promise of a future without end.
It is a day of remembrance and holding on to the people past and present who have shepherded us in life and faith. We remind ourselves that we have not arrived here on our own. There are others who stood with us and for us, whose blood courses our veins – parents and grandparents, great grandparents, aunties and uncles who cared enough to love us beyond. There were lessons that we still draw on and examples of heroes: teachers and neighbors, mentors and friends, and even enemies have taught us some things. Spouses and partners, work experiences, struggles and joys have all shaped us into the persons we are. And we ought not to forget this, because remembering helps us to also recognize our own duty and responsibility in this way. I feel it deeply; there is a necessity laid upon those of us who have been graced with great care, generosity, and love to help others along the way.
We are also asking our members and those who consider this their church home—whether you have “officially” joined or not—to make a financial commitment for the coming year. Pledging is about faith; it is about what we believe about this place and what God is doing whether we agree with everything or not.
I’m going to ask you to trust God for your pledge. Trust God—not Park Avenue or the committee or myself, because you will surely be disappointed. I promise you that. But if your heart’s desire and your will meet God’s purposes, you’ll be amazed at what you will have and what you will be able to accomplish.
The Church is not just about us here and now, what we can get out of it, and how it makes us feel. The Church is much broader than any of us. Long after we are all gone—and it won’t take long for that to happen—others will come this way. And they will need to rest and be renewed, and they will be able to because of our faithfulness. And I want to be counted among the faithful; how about you?
I was thinking about little Aurelia this week and the kind of world facing her and all of our children. They are going to need our help; help from all of us, not just mommy and daddy and grandparents. They are going to need something in another 20 or 30 years from now just like we do, whether it’s this church or another, and we owe it them to ensure a firm foundation that will not crumble.
Our gospel lesson this morning takes us to the city of Jericho, and Jesus was passing through. There was a man named Zacchaeus, described as a “chief tax collector and rich.” He was trying to see who Jesus was, but the crowd was so large that he could not, because he was short in stature. Short in stature.
Zacchaeus climbed up the sycamore tree in order to get a better look. We know about tax collectors, and he was a “ruler among tax collectors,” which meant that he was the—or at least one of the—chief guys, excellent at his game.
It’s one to be short in stature but another thing to be short in the things that matter most – short in character, honor, civility, integrity, truth telling. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus had played small, exploiting people and taking advantage for his own personal gain. He was a shyster and grand manipulator.
I cannot imagine that he thought Jesus might have actually given him the time of day, or even that Jesus might have had a lot to offer him. Perhaps he was just curious, wanting to know what all the fuss was about. After all, the crowds were growing and everybody was flocking to Jesus like crazy.
Maybe he just wanted to see for himself if this man Jesus really was the man of God, so special after all. Maybe all of his wealth and “success” were not quite enough; he wanted everything, even that which seemed off limits. Perhaps he was hungry for something beyond himself. So just in case, he decided to run ahead of the crowd, climb up a sycamore tree, posturing himself on a low hanging branch to literally get a bird’s eye view.
We must ask ourselves whether we are anything like Zacchaeus. Are we driven by commercialism, greed, and indifference in order to get what we want by any means necessary? Do we turn our heads when confronted with what it would take for others to achieve justice, truth ,and a fair share? Do we play small rather than becoming a giant for a world crying out?
And get this: when Jesus came to that spot where Zacchaeus was hanging, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today.” And I love this. I love it. Jesus says, “You are too high; come on down, down to the ground. There is work to do.”
Jesus doesn’t wait for the invitation from Zacchaeus; he invites himself. And sometimes that’s how it is. God doesn’t wait for us to invite God into our house. Sometimes through trials and circumstances or even great joy, God gives us a nudge and invites God’s own self in; into our house, and into our heart. Jesus invites himself. And I love that, because he also invites himself into our heart and into our lives.
So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him! And all in the crowd were grumbling and saying, “Look he has gone to be at the house of one who is a sinner.” And isn’t that just the very best news? Doesn’t that just set your soul on fire? He, meaning Jesus, has come to be a guest in our house!
Elsewhere, Jesus is explicitly on the side of the very people that Zacchaeus has exploited, the side of poor, the disenfranchised, the victimized, welcoming them like nobody else would or could. But here, even Zacchaeus, the vilest of them all, is welcome. We might want to say, “No, Jesus, not him; not people like that,” or “No! You can’t take communion in our church because your behavior and your thoughts are so different from ours. No.”
But Jesus is the one who says “yes.”
My brothers and sisters, make no mistake: long before we ever began our search for God, God was looking for us, searching for us. And regardless of what other people say, regardless of denominational votes, family’s opinions, or what anyone else says, God wants us—warts and all.
Sometimes all we have to do is be willing to come down off of our high places in order to recognize this truth.
And it will take courage to do so; courage and determination. Zacchaeus left a changed man. How do we know? For he said, “Lord I’ll give up half of my possessions, and I’ll give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much. I’ll do what is good and right, for a change has come over me. I am no longer the same.”
“Today, Zacchaeus, salvation has come, for you are a son of Abraham, a child of God, and I have come looking for you—to save the lost.”
My brothers and sisters, are we like Zacchaeus, clinging to the tree of life as if our very lives depended on it? Are we holding on with all our might to an old rugged tree that once stood in Calvary; an emblem of suffering and shame, that cross, that tree upon which Jesus died but rose again?
What kind of world would it be my friends if we could only take it in; take it in once and for all?