RCL1 Proper 26C
Grace and peace to you this morning, and it is wonderful to be back with you here today after my time away last weekend—as I was off on my annual fall retreat at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Western Michigan. A rich time in many ways, as it always is, and I did last Sunday morning in the monastery church remember you all, and with thanks to my and our good friend Diane Shepard for her willingness to serve as Celebrant and Preacher while I was away.
This morning, along with it being the “morning of Halloween,” if that has some meaning on our family calendars, and in anticipation this afternoon at 4 p.m. in Brooks Hall of Phil Wainwright’s continuing presentation on “Exploring Our Anglican DNA,” as he just came back from the successful defence of his dissertation a week and a half ago at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, and in anticipation of the opening of our All Saints Festival here tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. with the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra and conductor Andres Cardenes, and all that great music that will follow on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening and then next Sunday morning at our All Saints Sunday service, which will include the formal dedication of our new accessible entry, and all of that, with our observance of St. Andrew’s Day just three Sundays from now, and Thanksgiving and Advent Sunday and then all the festivities and observances of the season—with all of that, it seems just right to me that we begin this morning with an informal luncheon following the service to acknowledge the beginning as well with our Wardens and Vestry of the Fall Campaign for 2011, and the theme “Celebrating Our Gifts.”
There is just truly a lot to celebrate. Not easy to hold on to it all. The blessings that God pours out upon us in such abundance. Such wonderful people, new friends and old friends, young and old, all sorts and conditions. Like wildflowers across a hillside in the spring. You just never know what’s going to pop up. Every new friend arriving not just with one gift but many, so many rich and diverse life experiences, insights, perspectives. And old friends continuing to share and discovering new gifts within ourselves. Moments of insight and inspiration and transformation.
A lot in this that is tangible, gifts of substance and creativity and energy and enthusiasm. New projects, new programs, generous gifts. And in and with and above all that here in this place to acknowledge and celebrate the confluence of spiritual gifts. Prayer and blessing, sometimes in ways that become obvious, sometimes deep down, unseen but real, with power to lift us into God’s presence, power to challenge, to forgive, to heal, to transform. Each one of us in some way absolutely essential to the whole of what God has in mind for us in this moment, while at the same time aware that the next person to walk in through the door will be bringing something new that God knows we just can’t live without.
A day to “celebrate gifts” not because they are things that we have or own, but because they become for us the beginnings of a new day of relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord. Because of all this, who we are, what we do, in service and worship and all the offerings of our lives, it becomes possible to see him, to know him.
Which brings us roundabout to Zacchaeus in this morning’s reading from St. Luke. Kids love this story, because they know all the time and in so many different contexts what it means to be too short, too small to be able to see what’s going on, when you really want to see. Kids love this story because this funny little grown-up man runs to climb a tree, which they’ve done sometimes too, or got up on dad’s shoulders. Just like a kid. To see the parade, to watch the marching band. “Lift me up! I can’t see!” They know just what it feels like, to want to see what’s going on, not to be left out of things, but to be frustrated because of all those big tall old grownups standing all around. So to get up on dad’s shoulders. To climb a tree.
That could even be something of a metaphor, I guess. Climbing the tree. It’s what makes it possible for Zacchaeus to see Jesus. And even more importantly, as the story unfolds, it’s what makes it possible for Jesus to see Zacchaeus. Which is the key moment here. Jesus looks up to see the little man standing in the tree, and their eyes meet, and Jesus knows everything he needs to know about him in that moment.
He sees from his dress and the symbols of his office that this is the famous Zacchaeus, not just any old tax collector but the head of the office. The chief regional collaborator with the Roman authorities. His name written in hate-filled graffiti on the back walls of alleys, his family despised, shunned. And he sees something more, in the man in the tree. The urgency that got him up there, and the real source of that urgency. His yearning, for something he probably can’t even put a name to. His broken life—all the greed and self-centeredness, the little compromises and the big compromises, the betrayals that he thought would bring him security and satisfaction, wealth and happiness. His failures. And his desire to change, that he maybe didn’t even know he had until that moment, his hope for something more. Some kind of hope stirred up in him when he heard the word on the street, “Jesus is coming.”
Jesus looks up to see the little man standing in the tree. And I wonder if in that moment in Zacchaeus as he sees Jesus and as he sees and knows that Jesus sees him, really sees him, there rose up the prayer of Psalm 51 from his childhood lessons in the Jericho synagogue. Words he would have learned long before they could have any real meaning for him. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
And today it is so. As we heard the story. Jesus calls him down from the tree. And a new life begins.
What gifts there are to celebrate this morning. In your life. In my life. Here at St. Andrew’s and in all the wide world and in every corner of our hearts. As we would climb up into that tree. That we might see Jesus. That he might see us. That we might hear him as he knows who we are and as he calls our name, and lifts us into the new life, the abundant life, of his grace and mercy and healing and forgiveness and love. What gifts there are to celebrate . . . .
It is in part about supporting this great place, old St. Andrew’s, with our time, our talent, our treasure. Stewardship Sunday—don’t forget that—and we’ll all be receiving letters and pledge cards and weekly envelopes and all the rest in the weeks to come. About keeping a roof on the building and crayons in the Church School and all the rest.
About coming together with all of that and more, as a community and a family to share with one another and to share with the wide world the blessings of God’s love in Christ Jesus. About climbing up into that tree ourselves, in all our brokenness, in all our excitement about what just might be possible for us, new in us, as we would see him, as he would see us. About change, about healing, about being witnesses at the foot of the cross and at the empty tomb, and about rolling up our sleeves and getting to the good work of the new kingdom that is coming and is already here.
Thank you, for your many gifts, so freely and generously given. And to honor always at this Table and in the midst of our lives the one who is giver of all good gifts, in whom we live and move and have our being, who shares himself and who pours himself out for us, that we might be built up into him.