Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year C, "An Idle Tale?" Luke 24:1-12

Sermon 4/21/19, Easter Sunday
Luke 24:1-12

Idle Tales

If you had to place yourself on the spectrum from someone who believes things too easily, who is maybe a bit gullible, taken in by a story that isn’t true, to someone who is hard to convince, never believing without cold, hard, facts, where would you fall? Are you quick to believe? Or quick to be suspicious? I’ll admit that I fall pretty solidly into the latter category, or at least pretty far to that end of the spectrum. I like to fact-check. If I see something on facebook that doesn’t sound quite right to me, I’m your friend who looks it up on snopes, or googles for other sources to verify what you’ve posted. That’s my immediate reaction. I want to know your source of information, and whether I think your source is credible. What did we do before the internet? I guess we had to wait until we could take a trip to the library, or just decide whether or not we trusted whoever was telling us something to be giving us good information. I remember when the internet was first becoming something people would turn to for information, teachers were having to help their students become more discerning in figuring out how reliable websites are for information. Sure, wikipedia is handy - but it’s an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It isn’t always right! Even when I’m doing research for my family tree online, I have to be careful to figure out the source of any information that I find. Sometimes, it seems like information related to genealogy is circular. When you trace back to find where someone got a piece of information, the trail disappears, or you end up back where you started. I’m generally skeptical when I hear something that is too good, or too amazing, or too unusual to be true. I figure: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s some people whose word I would trust, but other people? Well, I find myself wanting to check what they’ve said for myself. What about you? Do you believe the things you hear that feel too good to be true? Who in your life is so believable that you’d know you didn’t need to check their sources? What news would you find unbelievable?
This year, we’re looking at the Resurrection Story from the Gospel of Luke. The chapter before our Easter gospel today, Luke 23, ends with a group of women, ones who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem from Galilee, seeing the tomb where the body of a crucified Jesus is laid. Luke says, “They saw the tomb and they saw how his body was laid.” Then they returned from the grave site, and prepared spices and ointments, ready to tend to Jesus’s body. On their sabbath, they rested, according to the laws of their faith. And that leads us right into our text for today, with this same group of women.
Luke begins, “but on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.” The women, a group that includes Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and unnamed and uncounted other women, find the stone rolled away from the tomb. When they go inside, there is no body there, and they are perplexed. And then suddenly, there are two men in dazzling clothes standing in the tomb with them. The women are terrified, and seeming to recognize these men as messengers from God, they bow their faces to the ground. But the messengers say to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” They continue, prompting the women to remember. Don’t you remember? He told you way back when you were still in Galilee that this would happen - he would be handed over to sinners, crucified, but then rise on the third day. And Luke says, “Then they remembered [Jesus’] words.” And once they remember, they quickly leave the tomb and tell the eleven disciples and the other followers of Jesus what they just experienced. But, we read, the testimony of the women “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Still, though, Peter decides to check it out himself. He, too, goes to the tomb and looks in, and sees an empty grave and empty grave clothes. And he goes home - amazed at what had happened. Not overjoyed, maybe not exactly disbelieving. Just - amazed.
We have to wait for another day for the rest of the story, but this is all Luke gives us at the empty tomb. There’s no appearance of Jesus here at the grave site, like in Matthew or John. And the whole status of this Easter story is left a little in limbo, at least until later in Luke’s telling. When the resurrected Jesus finally does appear, it is not to these women or to any of the eleven disciples at first, but to followers we’ve never heard of before.
I keep coming back to how the disciples and followers react when the women tell them what they’ve experienced at the tomb of Jesus. “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” I wonder how the women felt when this incredible thing they’d experienced was doubted, rejected, dismissed. These women were the ones who stayed through the whole crucifixion, and who stayed to see where Jesus’ body was laid, and so it is in some ways unsurprising that they were also the first ones to hear and to share the good news of the resurrection. They’ve been with Jesus all along. But they are not believed. The news seems too good to be true. And maybe the disciples are skeptical of the sources of information.
Women weren’t considered legally able to give testimony in Jesus’ day. They couldn’t be witnesses in court, only men could. They weren’t allowed to be sources to verify or disprove evidence. And it is to women that God entrusts the news of the resurrection. St. Augustine, a patriarch of the Church, writing in the 5th century, notes the interesting conundrum of believability. He writes, “The women reported this [news of the empty tomb] to men. And what’s written? What did you hear? These things seemed in their eyes like an idle tale. How very unhappy is the human condition! When Eve related what the serpent had said, she was listened to straightway. A lying woman was believed, and so we all died. But [the disciples] didn’t believe women telling the truth so that we might live. If women are not to be trusted, why did Adam trust Eve? If women are to be trusted, why did the disciples not trust the holy women?” (1)
Who is believable? When have you believed something that was too good to be true? When have you disbelieved news that turned out to be true? What makes you finally believe something that is unbelievable? New Testament professor Craig Koester says these questions, this strange unfolding of the resurrection account in Luke actually helps us get to the heart of understanding, believing, living the Easter story. “What is most striking,” he writes, “is that the women encounter the resurrection through this message. They are told that Jesus has risen, but they do not see the risen Jesus himself. What they have is a word, a message. This brings the Easter experience uncomfortably close, because this is precisely what we have - the word of resurrection. One would think God would work differently. It would seem so much easier to have the women come to the tomb and watch Jesus walk out into the light of a new day. And it would seem much easier for Jesus simply to appear in dazzling glory to us, who gather on an Easter morning generations later. And this is precisely where our situation is like that of the women on the first Easter: we are all given a message of resurrection, which flies in the face of what we know to be true.” (2)
No matter how many people eventually see the resurrected Jesus in the gospels, we don’t. Not like they did. We just can’t be there, on that first Easter morning. Our knowledge of the resurrected Jesus comes through their testimonies, recorded for us, and through the life of the church over the centuries, and through what faith we have to believe something that seems too good to be true.
If we’re being logical, of course we can’t believe this crazy story of Easter morning. It seems like everywhere we turn, we witness death winning. Everyone dies. The weak and the strong, the good and the bad, the young and the old, the poor and the rich. Even though we don’t like to dwell on our own mortality, we know it. The certainty of death. That we can google. We can cite sources for death. We can find expert accounts of death. We can prove that. These words of resurrection? Perhaps they seem to us too an idle tale.
Koester says that this is exactly where the Easter story begins to work - by “challenging our certainties.” He writes, “Experience teaches that death wins and that even the strongest succumb to it. Experience teaches that life is what you make it, so get what you can while you can because it will be over soon enough. And the Easter message says, "Really? How can you be so sure?" Death is real, but it is not final. In Jesus, life gets the last word.” (emphasis mine)
“The claim that the tomb could not hold Jesus, and the idea that the one who died by crucifixion has now risen is so outrageous that it might make you wonder whether it might - just might - be true.” Jesus resurrected? The power of death, canceled? It seems an idle tale … and yet, Peter just has to check it out for himself. He has to go straight to the source. He heads to the tomb, and finds it empty. Grave clothes - empty. And he wonders - “What if it's true?”
Friends, that’s what we’re here asking too. What if it’s true? What if this idle tale is actually true? What if death doesn’t have the last word? What if Jesus is alive? What if resurrection really happened - and happens? What if all that God promises is true? We need to find out the answer for ourselves. We should try to figure it out. But we have to make sure our sources are good. And so, if you want to find out the truth of resurrection, God’s messengers send us in the right direction. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they ask. You can almost hear that they are confused that the women would expect Jesus to be in the tomb. If we remember what God has said, what Jesus has taught, what’s been promised, we wouldn’t be expecting Jesus in a place for the dead.
I invite you to spend some time, maybe spend your life, answering the question: “What if it’s true?” If you look in the right places - not at an empty tomb, but in places bursting with love and life - I think that you will find resurrection all around, signs that death doesn’t win after all, evidence that Jesus lives with us and that we live in him. I think if you check your sources, if you spend your heart seeking and searching for signs of new life, you’ll find that resurrection is happening in you, that your very life of discipleship will become a witness that what seemed to be an idle tale, what seemed to be too good to be true, is actually the truth. Christ is alive - and we are alive in him.
"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” Thanks be to God! Amen.

(1) As quoted in Arthur A. Just, Jr., ed., Luke (InterVarsity, 2003), 376.

(2) Craig R. Koester, Working Preacher,

Friday, April 19, 2019

Sermon for Maundy Thursday, "Do You Know What I Have Done for You?," John 13:1-17, 34-35

Sermon 4/18/19 - Maundy Thursday
John 13:1-17, 34-35

Do You Know What I Have Done for You?

I think the footwashing, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, is one of the most compelling stories in the gospels. It only appears in the gospel of John, and John seems to include it in the stead of Jesus celebrating the Last Supper with the disciples. Well, they eat a last meal together, but John doesn’t record Jesus imbuing the symbols of bread and cup with the meaning that they hold for us today when we celebrate communion. We don’t know why this is, when certainly, by the time John wrote his gospel, the last of the four gospels to be written, celebrating communion had already become a central focus of worship in the early church. We can’t know the answer. But what we have instead from John is a precious gift, not included elsewhere. When Jesus and the disciples get ready to share their last meal together, Jesus gets up from the table, and readys himself with a towel and basin, and starts washing the feet of the disciples. Footwashing was common In Jesus’ day, but it was almost exclusively something a person of lower status did for a person of higher status, or something you did for yourself. Usually the slaves of a household would perform the task for their master’s guests. A rabbi’s pupils - disciples - might wash a rabbi’s feet.
For a rabbi to wash the feet of the pupils instead - for Jesus to wash the feet of his disciples instead - the reversal is shocking. And indeed, Peter, at least, is shocked. We don’t hear how the other disciples feel about what happens, but Peter insists to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet!” Peter can’t stand to see Jesus lower himself in this way.
Jesus uses Peter’s outburst as an opportunity to teach about why he is doing what he’s doing. Jesus tells Peter that washing his feet in this way is a sign that Peter has a part in the life and work of Jesus. After Jesus finishes the footwashing, he asks the disciples, “Do you know what I have done for you?” He continues, “You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” Jesus tells them he is giving a new commandment, although it is not really new at all - just demonstrated to them in a new way that they won’t forget, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I keep stopping on Jesus’ question to the disciples: “Do you know what I have done for you?” I think, even with his explanations to his disciples, it is sometimes hard for us to get the weight of what Jesus does in the footwashing, and the weight, the import of what he asks us to do in response. In the Lenten devotional book I’ve been using this season, All Shall Be Well, Jesuit priest Greg Boyle writes,
“St. Francis of Assisi admonishes us with this: ‘Don’t imitate Jesus. Follow in his footsteps.’ Jesus doesn’t want a fan club (‘I have all your records. I go to every concert.’) You won’t find a single ‘worship me’ in the Gospel. But you’ll find a ton of ‘Follow me.’ ...‘Do you understand what I’ve just done for you?’ We either simply imitate the action - (12 male feet), or we domesticate the message: ‘Serve others.’ Don’t get me wrong. I like BOTH service AND clean feet. But what Jesus does is more than service and deeper than mimicry. In washing all the dirt-covered [feet] of his friends, Jesus achieves this remarkable and intimate connection with his followers. With a humility that erases the daylight separating them, Jesus draw them into a tenderness - ‘loving them to the end’ - so that they can follow in his footsteps.” (“Following in His Footsteps,” 233-234, emphasis mine)
Don’t imitate Jesus, but follow Jesus. Boyle uses as an example how Pope Francis moved from commemorating Jesus’ footwashing by washing the feet of twelve men each year to washing the feet of men and women, washing the feet of Muslims, washing the feet of prisoners, washing the feet of the poor. The Pope did more than copy Jesus’ behavior. He truly followed the heart of Jesus, serving like Jesus, loving like Jesus, getting right to the heart of the footwashing, even as he changed the pattern of it.
“Do you understand what I have done for you? If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” I wonder, in our culture that no longer practices footwashing in the same way, if we can find ways to move beyond merely copying what Jesus does to embodying the heart of Jesus’ message as we follow him with our lives. What does footwashing look like lived out today?
My nephew Sam, my oldest brother’s oldest child,  is almost 12 years old. I so love being Aunt Beth that sometimes it seems strange to think of the time in my life before I could claim my favorite title. But sometimes I think about how very much parenthood has changed my brother Jim. Jim was one of those people who was quite fastidious. He certainly hated it if someone would try to take a bite of his food. You couldn’t, even among family, take a sip of his drink - he’d have to get a whole new beverage if you tried to pull something like that. And if you even touched his dinner plate, he was pretty uncomfortable. This kind of dislike of potential germs is really hard to maintain when you have several siblings, but Jim somehow managed to make his feelings known and respected most of the time. And Jim’s house was always perfectly neat. When he and my sister-in-law first moved in together, one of their most common sources of conflict was related to keeping the house clean.
But then he became a parent. And everything changed. It’s hard to maintain a fastidious nature when you have to change someone’s diapers, and when you have to wipe their runny noses, and when you have to feed them, and clean up their messy food, and when you find yourself doing that spit-cleaning thing that your parents did to you that you swore you would never do to someone else. But everything changes, and suddenly you’re doing all these things you never thought you’d do, because your whole world has been reordered, and instead of life as usual where we’re always at the center of our own little universes, someone has arrived to help us do very quickly what we’ve meant to do all along - get ourselves out of the center and put someone else there instead. Babies are totally and utterly dependent. And parents learn very tangibly how your life comes to focus on serving others first, putting the needs of someone else before your own, a radical reordering of priorities when another human’s ability to live depends on your willingness to meet their every need, your willingness to serve. Of course, it’s easy for most parents to feel moved to this kind of love, this kind of serving for their own child. But Jesus demonstrates this kind of love and this kind of serving for us. What if Jesus is calling us to this kind of love and service for each other? For other people who aren’t cute babies?
The year before I came to serve here in Gouverneur, I was working as a chaplain at a retirement community in Rochester, and part of my work also involved being chaplain at two small homes called the Greenhouses. The Greenhouses are skilled nursing facilities for ten people in each home who are able to live in a setting and rhythm that is supposed to be as much like it would be at their own homes as possible. I loved this model of skilled nursing. It transformed my vision for what nursing home care could be like. When someone died at the Greenhouses, we would have our own memorial services there, in addition to whatever the family might do in the larger community. We’d invite the family, and of course the other members of the household, and staff members from that home and the neighboring home would come and participate too. Our memorial services always involved a time of sharing, and the staff would usually get a chance to speak directly to the family of the person who had died. I remember one memorial in particular. A woman named Helen had died. Her daughter Sharon had been very faithful, visiting her mother frequently and she came to the memorial. And the head nurse at the house said to Sharon, “I always look at the feet of the folks I’m caring for, and it tells me something about the kind of care they’re receiving. It is easy to overlook taking care of the feet. You can make sure a person is clean and that they are fed and that they are participating in activities and conversation. But to pay attention to someone’s feet, to take care of their feet - that’s an act of real love. Your mother had the nicest feet I’ve seen. They were always cared for, and clean, and polished, and soft. And I know you did that for her - you took such care of her feet.” And of course Sharon’s eyes were filled with tears in thanksgiving for this perceptive nurse. Jesus demonstrates this kind of love and this kind of serving for us. What if Jesus is calling us to this kind of love and service for each other? For other people who aren’t even our dearest mothers?
Do we know what Jesus has done for us? I’ve been using a lot this season a book called Stages on the Way: Worship Resources for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, put out by the Wild Goose Worship Group of the Iona Community. I was looking for some direction for our Palm/Passion Sunday Service this year, and a friend recommended it, and the writings just speak to me - I’m so glad I got the book. There are some dramas for worship included in the resource, and one of them for Maundy Thursday includes a narrator speaking to Simon Peter, trying to help him understand the significance of the footwashing. The narrator says to him, “Peter, this is what [Jesus] must do. This, whom you call ‘servant,’ is your Lord. To be the Lord means to be the servant; to do the dirty work and to do it in love. And that is very costly, although you count it stupid. For a good world, a man may lay down his life with pride; but for a bad world and for people who reject, betray, deny, it is much harder. His power is in his weakness. And you may not know that today, and you will not think it tomorrow, when from a cross, against the sky, he hangs helpless. But this is the way the world is transformed … by loving the unlovely, by dying for the lifeless, by forgiving those, like you, whose hearts are too stubborn to see what they are or know who he is. Be still, and let your feet be washed and let your mouth be closed. Think not always to act, always to speak. But first let your Lord do for you what you must do for each other.”
Do we know what Jesus has done for us? May we learn the full measure of it day by day. And may we not just copy, but follow, so that all will know we belong to Jesus by our love. Amen.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, "At the Table with Jesus: Zacchaeus," Luke 19:1-10

Artwork by Ayseluna Hockenbary
Sermon 4/7/19
Luke 19:1-10

At the Table with Jesus: Zacchaeus

I asked you to share about a time when you might have gone to some amount of expense or effort to see someone special - a celebrity or a special guest, or a performer. I’ll tell you about a couple of my experiences, both of which relate to Jesus Christ Superstar of course, my very favorite musical.
I first saw the show when I was in junior high as part of a youth group outing. I think I’ve told you before that I immediately developed a huge crush on the actor who played Judas, and I immediately fell in love with the musical. I worked really hard to be able to see the show more than once a season, even though going from my home in Rome to the big city of Syracuse at the time was a major outing, and buying tickets to the show was costly. But although I would gaze at the actor who played Judas from afar, I absolutely would not go up and speak to him. All the actors came out after the show to greet the audience. I sent my program with my big brother to have him sign, and of course my big brother pointed at me, embarrassing me to no end, but there was no way I was actually going to speak to him directly. I wanted to see him, but I didn’t necessarily want him to see me.
The second experience that came to my mind also relates to Superstar. Not so many years ago, Ted Neeley, who played Jesus in the movie version of Superstar, was coming to Syracuse for a special showing of the film. You could get regular old tickets, and see him and another actor from the show on stage introducing the film and sharing some tidbits about their experiences shooting the movie. But they also had some VIP tickets available. For an extra fee of some size, you could be a VIP guest or a deluxe VIP guest. If you were a VIP or deluxe VIP guest you’d get to attend a meet and greet before the showing, get a photo with Ted Neeley, get a special t-shirt and gift bag, and then get to sit near him during the film. The deluxe VIPs got to sit on his right and left side for the film. The other VIPs got to sit in the row right behind him. I wanted one of those VIP tickets. But I intentionally just got one of the regular VIP seats. I wanted to be near Ted Neeley, but sitting right next to him for the whole movie, and having that much of his attention for such a sustained time? I didn’t think I could quite handle that! Who have you longed to see, gone to some lengths to get to see? How close did you want to get?
Today, as we turn again to the gospel of Luke we find Jesus traveling through Jericho. As he’s traveling, a crowd gathers along the way, hoping they can see Jesus. And among the crowd is a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus, Luke tells us, is a wealthy chief-tax collector. Remember, we talked about tax collectors a few weeks ago. Tax collectors were considered traitors - they were Jewish folks working for the Roman government. The Romans were the occupying force in Israel, and they were generally hated. And Jewish tax collectors working for the Roman government had a reputation for overcharging - they could keep anything extra they collected in taxes and line their own pockets. And so tax chiefs were considered traitors to their people and their faith.
This Zacchaeus, we read, is trying to see Jesus. We don’t know why exactly. What has he heard about Jesus? Perhaps he’s heard that Jesus has a tax collector, Levi, among his followers. Perhaps he’s heard that Jesus has eaten meals with tax collectors. At any rate, he wants to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus is short in stature, and in the crowd, he can’t hope to even catch a glimpse of Jesus. So he runs ahead and climbs up into the branches of a Sycamore tree so that he will be able to see Jesus as he passes by. His behavior is a little - uncouth - for an adult man. To run, to climb a tree - his behavior is childish. But he just wants to see Jesus, and so he does what he needs to do.
What I can’t figure out is whether Zacchaeus hoped or expected that Jesus would see him in return. But of course, Jesus does. He looks up, sees Zacchaeus, and says to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus is delighted, and he hurries to get down from the tree so he can welcome Jesus. But not everyone else is quite so pleased. Everyone begins grumbling about Jesus, saying, “He’s going to be the guest of someone who is a sinner!”
Here’s where things get interesting: Zacchaeus speaks up for himself. In our version of the Bible, we read that Zacchaeus says, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Put this way, it looks like Zacchaeus is making a public act of repentance, vowing to change his ways going forward, either in response to Jesus favoring him by choosing to come to his home, or in response to the crowds, as if to placate their grumbling, to show he’s turning over a new leaf. And then Jesus says to Zaccheaus: “Today salvation has come to this house.” He declares that Zacchaeus, too, is a son of Abraham. And Jesus says that his purpose is to seek out and save the lost. It reads like a great story of repentance and redemption.
Except for one thing that I didn’t realize until I was doing my research for today’s message, something I missed every other time I’ve preached on this text. When you look at the original language of the New Testament, the Greek, there’s something surprising (to us at least) about what Zacchaeus actually says. He doesn’t say “I will give half of my possessions to the poor and “I will payback four-fold anything people have been overcharged.” The verbs he uses are present-tense. As in, Zacchaeus is saying that he is doing these things already. He’s saying, “I am giving my half of my money to the poor,” and “I am repaying people who have been overcharged.” Huh. If the verbs are present-tense, it seems like Zacchaeus is trying to show how he is undeserving of the criticism of the crowds, or at least letting them know that he’s already been working to mend his ways, to make changes to his hurtful practices. Whether Zacchaeus has always been trying to be an exemplary tax-collector, or whether he has made some recent changes to his behavior, Zacchaeus can’t be so easily labeled by the crowd or by us as a “sinner” or  traitor or an evildoer. In fact, we can contrast him to the rich ruler, who, in just the previous chapter of Luke, was sad and seemingly unready to follow Jesus quite yet if it meant selling his stuff. Zacchaeus has made a significant beginning already. And his very name might be telling. Zacchaeus means innocent.
So, if the point of this text, then, isn’t that Zacchaeus makes a sudden declaration of a new path in life once Jesus invites him to dinner, what is it about? If Zacchaeus was already on the path to trying to do his best, trying to go against the grain of the stereotypical tax collector, why do we need to know his story?
To answer this, I think we have to look at what’s different about Zacchaeus’s story. What makes this story stand out? What’s unique about it, that would make it important enough for Luke to record? Obviously, as we’ve seen over these past weeks, Jesus often eats with folks known as tax collectors and sinners. Why do we care that he eats with Zacchaeus in particular? Well, of course, the other thing that sets Zacchaeus apart is his size. Zacchaeus is short in stature. He wants to see Jesus, but can’t. And apparently no one is making a place for him. No one is giving him a spot in the front row. He’s getting lost in the crowd, and he’s afraid he’ll miss the opportunity. So he makes his own place. Even if it means all the attention eventually gets drawn to him, and he has to embarrass himself enough to be a grown man running and climbing a tree, if it means he gets to see Jesus, he’ll do it.
Zacchaeus’s story is about seeing Jesus, and being seen by Jesus, about seeing God, and being seen by God. David Lose writes, “Perhaps Zacchaeus simply represents the chief attribute of all disciples: a desire to see Jesus and a corresponding joy in his presence.” Zacchaeus longs to see God in the flesh, and will make a fool of himself to make it happen. What will you do to make sure you can get close to God? Are you willing to make a bit of a fool of yourself? To stand outside of the crowd, to take extra measures, if that’s what it takes?
And unlike the crowd who doesn’t notice Zacchaeus when he could use some help getting to the right spot, but notices him when it comes time to dole out grumbling judgment, Jesus sees Zacchaeus right away, and wants to be in relationship with him. As in the other encounters we’ve had with so-called sinful people this Lent, Jesus says nothing to chastise Zacchaeus, or tell him he should change his behavior. He just sees him, speaks to him, and commits to spending time with him. God-in-the-flesh sees Zacchaeus. Do you feel like God sees you? What does God see in you? Do we see each other in the same way that God sees us?
This Lenten season, we’ve watched people see and be seen by Jesus - Levi and the tax collectors, a woman who has a known sinner, and Simon the Pharisee, people seeking out places of honor and people in low places, not making it onto many guest lists, and Zacchaeus, short in stature, but not too small for God’s notice. What we find is not so much a pattern of sinners being called out and held accountable and so moved to repentance, but people being seen for the first time in a long time, after being shoved to the sides, dismissed, and disregarded. And finally being seen, being seen and loved by Jesus, we’ve witnessed that love do amazing things in their lives. Being seen and loved changes everything.
Friends, whatever you have gone through or are going through, whatever you’ve struggled with, whatever labels have been laid on you by people who assume they know all they need to know about you already - God sees you. And God is delighted when you go out of your way to see God. And God is delighted to spend time with you. Because God loves you. And I think trusting in that unwavering love can change your whole life, and free you to be exactly who God is calling you to be.

And friends, one piece of who God calls us to be is to be someone who sees like God does! To begin to see like God does, at least. It’s life-long work. Who is on the outside? Who’s on the margin? Who has been ruled out of bounds? Whose unseen generosity and faith would surprise us? Who is trying to find a spot where they can see Jesus, that we could let to the front of the line? Who has climbed up a tree, hoping to be noticed? Jesus sees so clearly. And the closer we draw to Jesus, the more clearly we will see too. Amen.