04 November 2007

Sermon: Zacchaeus running to Jesus; When was the last time you ran?

Running From, running to....Ben in the Graduate, running for JOY.

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
November 4, 2007
Luke 19:1-12
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Richmond

When is the last time that you ran somewhere? Maybe you are a dedicated runner, running every morning or evening, charting your miles, keeping your time – building up your mileage for the next 5k or marathon. But, perhaps you are not a runner, and only run when you absolutely have to. When is the last time that you ran somewhere? When is the last time you ran to something, ran to a destination, ran from danger, ran to a loved one? Were you late to a movie, were you stuck in traffic and jumped out of the taxi and ran the rest of the way? When is the last time that you ran somewhere?

One of the most famous running scenes that I remember was in the Graduate and many of you may remember well the young and skinny Dustin Hoffman running at the end of that movie. In the background was an ever – increasing in tempo version of Mrs. Robinson, and he was running, he was running to interrupt the wedding of his love. After a long and stormy affair with the middle – aged Mrs. Robinson – he fell in love with her daughter, and he was running to stop the wedding of her daughter to the frat boy from college. And he ran, he ran to joy, he ran to danger in some respects, he ran from security but to love and ran to embrace the future. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen the movie, but even in the last few minutes of that film a lot of drama breaks out.

When is the last time that you ran somewhere? We “run around” a lot. We run errands, we run around like chickens with our heads chopped off, we run our mouths and we run our engines all too often. But, when is the last time that you ran somewhere? When did you, like the Dustin Hoffman character run from security to the unknown future that beheld him when and if he was able to stop that wedding? When did you run from safety to the joy of insecurity? When did you run to embrace the future, putting decorum and decency of the past at risk?

In today’s gospel we hear that wonderful story of Zacchaeus, the short, rich, tax collector (actually the tax supervisor) who leaves behind all that he once knew as security, who risks his past and his standing, in order to embrace the only true security there is; the security that God offers.

1-4Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn't see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.

This rich man who had much to lose, and in a time (not unlike our own) when appearances meant much, this rich man ran on ahead because he couldn’t see over the crowd. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, a tree that gives a kind of a poor person’s fruit – figs that don’t yield much taste or nutrition. He ran ahead to and he lowered himself to climb up a tree all to see Jesus.

5-7When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home." Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him.

And Jesus recognized this short, rich, tax man and called him by name. Jesus saw this man up in the tree, and Jesus saw him all the way down to his soul. Jesus raised up this short man by going to stay in his home. Unlike today, when inviting oneself over for dinner would be rude, to have a rabbi like Jesus stay with you would be an honor indeed. Zacchaeus hurried down, still running to his conversion from selfishness to selflessness. And then we get to some of the interesting parts:

Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, "What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?"

You see, even after we have read and heard the story that Luke tells of Jesus, breaking down assumptions of whether the Pharisee or the tax collector is properly praying, even after Jesus breaks down expectations of whether having money is a sign of God’s blessing. Even after Jesus shows his followers that blindness is no curse, but those who are blind may actually see better than those of us with sight. You see, even after Jesus explodes our tendency to judge people by appearance and even after Jesus turns everything on its head – first shall be last, the last first. Jesus’ actions still bring out mumbling and grumbling – Jesus’ challenges still brings out Oscar the Grouch in all of us.

For we hear here that Jesus is looking out for those that we might find distasteful. Jesus is getting cozy with those that give us the shivers. Jesus is eating with those who give us indigestion. Jesus is blessing those who we curse. And, Jesus is loving those even we may find unlovable. Well, that is fine for Jesus, we might say, but not for me. But, the challenge of Jesus’ message in words and in action is that we are called to do the same. We are called help people change, but also to allow them to change.

We are called to pray for and love our enemies. We’ve heard this before and we have a general concept that this is tough. So, we look globally to find our enemies. Al Quaeda, terrorists, drug lords, corrupt dictators. We pray for them and we should work to love them. However, Jesus was all about proximity. Jesus said love our enemies, but then he went and got cozy with those people nearby that really make us crazy.

Loving our enemies is one thing, but loving those who really annoy us, now THAT is tough. Jesus is saying Think of that person that really gets you under your skin, “they probably need to be there.” Who is it? Someone at work, a neighbor, a friend? Who is it? Think of that person who really gets under your skin, maybe they need to be there. What would loving them look like, what would it do for you? What would it do for them?

Jesus reached out to the despicable and the despised, and he let them get under his skin, and they were converted. He blessed the unworthy, such as Zacchaeus and brought about not only his conversion, but also set up a challenge for his followers, then and today.

8Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, "Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I'm caught cheating, I pay four times the damages."

9-10Jesus said, "Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost."

Zacchaeus is the answer to the question posed earlier in Luke, how can a rich man enter the Kingdom of God, “it is easier for a rich man to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” Well Zachaeus is the camel that goes through the eye of a needle. He runs to a tree, climbs it, sees Jesus, hurries down and then gives away half of everything he has, and repays all those he’s cheated four times what he owes. He ran to Jesus, and Jesus let him get under his skin. Jesus welcomes the unwelcomed, Jesus blesses the unworthy, and empowers us to do the same.

When was the last time you ran somewhere with joy?

Run to God, climb the tree, and know that Jesus sees you, right down to your soul.

And he welcomes you even because, and especially because you are lost.

And then, climbing down from the tree, look around, for we’re all in trees, peering over the crowd, with our own failings, our own blindness, our own short stature.

And allow one another under your skin, for that may be where we belong, even those annoying people, even those unworthy ones, even those who we may see as the “other,” as the grumpy ones.

For they are us!

Jesus has come to get cozy with usto find us, and to restore us.

We were born to run like Zacchaeus and find the joy that is there for us.

Some running songs to motivate our runnin'!

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run:

Jackson Browne - Running on Empty

Chariots of Fire - Vangelis

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