Faith United Methodist Church
November 13, 2016
26th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
Prayer of Illumination:
Gracious God, we come seeking to know you more. We yearn to see your face and to walk at your side. Open our eyes and our ears that we may see and hear you now. Amen.
Sermon: Insiders and Outsiders
Zacchaeus was a ‘wee little man’ or so the Scripture ~ and the song~ tell us. We all know what it feels like to be Zacchaeus. Overlooked. Ignored. Disregarded. Zacchaeus’ short stature probably meant that he had to draw attention to himself if he wanted to be noticed. “Down here! Excuse me!” The fact that he was a tax collector probably added to his feelings of being snubbed. People didn’t want to notice Zacchaeus because they thought all he wanted to do was take their money.
In Jesus day and culture there were insiders and outsiders. The insiders were male, religious and kept certain company. The insiders followed certain customs and traditions. They didn’t talk with women who were not their relatives. They washed in a certain way before meals. They prayed so that others could see them and dropped the largest coins into the offering. As a result, the insiders got respect in the streets, were afforded good jobs, and got to pass judgment on everyone else. If you were a woman, or a laborer, or (God forbid) a tax collector who worked with Rome you were an outsider and outsiders weren’t worth the time of day.
Jesus, though, didn’t follow the customs and the traditions of the insiders. In fact, he made quite a few of the insiders rather upset on a regular basis. And today is no different. As our Gospel lesson describes it Zacchaeus ~ who was a man of short stature and a tax collector for Rome ~ was so excited to see Jesus that he didn’t let anything get in his way. Tree climbing was not a dignified thing for a grown man ~ not something that would be approved of by the insiders ~ but Zacchaeus raced ahead of the crowd anyway and climbed a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus.
So imagine Zacchaeus’ surprise when Jesus spotted him up in the tree and called him to come down. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” (Now, I don’t know if there was a Mrs. Zacchaeus, but if there was she might not have been too happy about unexpected houseguests.) In any case, Zacchaeus scrambled down the tree and Jesus sat at Zacchaeus’ table where he declared, “Today salvation has come to this house…” Not only does Jesus bless Zacchaeus with respect through his presence that day, he promises Zacchaeus a place in the resurrection of the age to come. I’m sure Zaccahaeus wasn’t expecting that!
And Zacchaeus wasn’t the only one that was surprised. The insiders, those who expected to dine with Jesus, were shocked. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and tax collectors had a bad reputation with the insiders. The assumption was that Zacchaeus padded his pockets with the money of his own kin as he helped to fund the occupation of his own land. So when they heard Jesus invite himself over to Zacchaeus’ house they began to grumble among themselves. Understandably they questioned why Jesus would choose to eat at his house and not theirs.
And Zacchaeus knew he was an unlikely choice. He knew he had been granted a grace that he did not deserve. He knew that, after his lunch with Jesus, he couldn’t go back to his old ways. So, in response, he was moved to make some changes. He told Jesus and everyone else, “Look, half my possessions I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” He went above and beyond what even the Law would require in making restitution. In the brief span of his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus was changed ~ was transformed ~ from the inside out.
I like the story of Zacchaeus, and not just for the cute song. Zacchaeus reminds us that amazing things can happen today. We can be transformed today. As our Seasons of the Spirit puts it, “…Luke uses the word today to proclaim that God is doing a great thing right now. Giving hope to those who feel lost and lonely, God’s grace is at work today.”
So what would we do if Jesus invited himself to our house today? Would we try to put him off? Would we worry about the dust and the dog hair and the dirty laundry? Would we think, as Zacchaeus might have, that we are not worthy to have Jesus dine at our house? And, indeed, the Pharisees were right. Zacchaeus didn’t deserve to have Jesus over for lunch. None of us do.
It takes courage to let Jesus in the house. Once he’s in, he’s going to make some changes and it won’t be just rearranging the furniture. We think we have to figure things out before we can invite Jesus to come in. We think we need to break all our bad habits and get things picked up and make a nice lunch so we can give a good impression. But Jesus doesn’t care about any of that. As Audrey West wrote in the Christian Century, “We do not have to put things in order first because salvation is not about being neat and orderly.”
What Jesus cares about is relationship. Jesus cares about the great things that can happen today ~ in our lives, in our church, in our world ~ if we only invite him to come inside. And Jesus also cares about welcoming everyone. Jesus doesn’t play by the rules or follow social convention. Thanks be to God. If he did we would all be in trouble.
So, I would argue, we are to look up into the trees and down the alleys and across the aisles as well. Not when it’s convenient ~ not after we’ve washed the dishes or gone grocery shopping or paid all our bills ~ but today. Who might we see who is being overlooked, ignored, or disregarded? Just as in Jesus day and culture, we have insiders and outsiders, too. And after the results came in from Tuesdays election some Americans suddenly felt like outsiders in our country ~ in their country. The political rhetoric got heated this year and certain candidates tried to draw lines between who is a ‘real’ American and who is not. The results of the election seemed to affirm that some are, indeed, outsiders in the eyes of others.
In the kin-dom of God there are no insiders and outsiders. Insider and outsider are abstract concepts set up to make us feel better about ourselves, and have nothing to do with God. In God’s eyes we are all children of the resurrection. Zacchaeus, the Pharisees, women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, those with high paying jobs, those just scraping by, short, tall, fat, skinny, those who are conventionally beautiful and those who are not, law school graduates and high school drop outs. We are all children of the resurrection, members of God’s own family. Good thing for us Jesus doesn’t play by our rules.
The good news is that Jesus is coming to our house. Jesus is coming to your house. Jesus is coming to the house of the scared, the lonely, the hopeless. Today. Right now. Like Zacchaeus, sometimes we feel small and inconsequential. But, like Zacchaeus, Jesus has his eye on us. May we let Jesus in today, that our hearts may be transformed from the inside out. And, through that transformation may we see each other for who we truly are, God’s own family, every one, children of the resurrection. Amen.