This Sunday is a day of celebration! Heritage Sunday, the conferring of Pastor Emerita status upon Rev. Tracie Martin, and Reformation Sunday.
And we know it’s something special when the bagpipers show up!
In recognizing our shared spiritual heritage in the Reformation movement, we can see how our spiritual forebears helped us get to this place, right here, right now.
Our inheritance comes as much from the Psalmist as it does from the story of Zacchaeus, as it does from Tracie. We have been blessed to be heirs of the Christian tradition rooted in the Jewish tradition, and we have been blessed to have been served over the years by spiritual leaders trained and gifted to bring us God’s Holy Word.
The Reformation led to our shared heritage of 2 sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Our musical heritage is rich and diverse.Today, we hear from the Presbyterian musical heritage rooted in the bagpipes.
In both our gospel lesson and in Joe’s very clever retelling of the Zacchaeus story, we know that Zacchaeus was short. Vertically challenged if you will. And in order to see Jesus, he needed to climb a Sycamore tree.
Using that metaphor, if we, too, found ourselves unable to ‘see’ Jesus, if we too, found ourselves ‘spiritually short’, we would need a Sycamore tree too. Our heritage, both the Presbyterian heritage and the United Church of Christ heritage can be the sycamore tree we use in order to see Jesus.
Zacchaeus was short. Short on vision, short on understanding, but when he was forgiven, he became generous and faithful. Zacchaeus had a shortcoming that prevented him from seeing Jesus, that prevented him from being seen by Jesus. Something inside of him urged him to climb a sycamore tree in order to get above the crowd. That way, he could see what all the fuss was about. But once he got above the crowd, Jesus saw him, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner.
So if we were to try and put ourselves into this story by Luke, and we were to consider ourselves like Zacchaeus, what might our shortcomings be? What aspects of ourselves get in the way of our seeing Jesus, and what aspects of ourselves get in the way of Jesus seeing us?
It’s not physical characteristics that prevent us from seeing Jesus, it’s spiritual, it’s emotional characteristics.
I know that I am not a very organized person. Although I find ways to compensate for a lack of organizational skills, sometimes I find myself in a pickle because I wasn’t organized. I wonder if I sometimes miss Jesus because I’m lost in the piles on my desk, or because I schedule two meetings at the same time.
But I can climb a sycamore tree to see Jesus more clearly. I can pray, in quiet, in private, just him and me. And when I do that, he can see me, and invite himself into my life, so that I have an opportunity to make changes in my life that will lead to forgiveness.
I don’t need to be forgiven for my disorganized approach to life any more than I need to be forgiven for being bald: my sin, so to speak, is that I allow myself to be hidden from Jesus, that I avoid him in my busyness, and in my scatteredness, so that I don’t have an opportunity to be forgiven, or even make a change.
Zacchaeus was broken in the way he approached the world with his profession, but beautiful in the way he repented.
So once you have identified a shortcoming, something that prevents you from seeing Jesus, the next thing is to identify what your sycamore tree is: what aspect of your spiritual life allows you to get above the chaos, allows you to see Jesus more clearly, allows Jesus to see you, and invite himself into your life?
Self-awareness can be a valuable tool in spiritual growth. It helps us have a realistic view of our whole person, the shortcomings and the skills that we possess that make us who we are. But when in our daily lives are we ever asked to look at ourselves, inside and out, in order to assess what parts of us get in the way of our relationship with Jesus? Not often, until today.
The world we live in is obsessed with physical beauty, financial status, celebrity, and material wealth. If you listen to the radio, watch tv, go to the movies, read a magazine or newspaper, you are bombarded with images and messages that speak to your value as a human being based on your beauty, your wealth, your status.
Sometimes I think it was a gift that I went bald in my early twenties. I was forced to realize at a fairly young age that hair is overrated! Once I stopped worrying about whether I had hair or not, I could get on with growing as a person. Now, others in my position have chosen to get transplants, or wear toupees. But that just wasn’t for me. Once I figured out that hair is a superficial characteristic that is optional, I was free to be me, just as God made me. Our shortcomings aren’t our physical flaws, our shortcomings are the unhealthy ways we respond to traumas in our lives. Our shortcomings are the things we do to avoid contact with Jesus, and by extension, God.
We hide from Jesus in the crowd when we regularly turn to unhealthy ways of dealing with the challenges of our lives. Ice cream, alcohol, opiates, shopping…tobacco, fast food, caffeine…yelling at others, or giving them the silent treatment, holding a grudge, indulging in what comforts us often prevents us from being seen by Jesus, and prevents us from seeing Jesus.
We have to find a sycamore tree to climb. What is it for you? Church? Prayer? Singing and music? Reading scripture? Helping others in need? Self-awareness helps us see the things that keep us from seeing Jesus. Self-awareness helps us identify the sycamore trees in our lives that help us climb up enough to see and be seen.
Sometime this week, I would ask that you find a quiet moment to yourself. And in the quiet moment, look inside for a shortcoming that gets in the way of you seeing Jesus. Then, just sit with that shortcoming for a few days. And, if you think of it later in the week, find another quiet moment to think about where the sycamore trees are in your life. Pick one sycamore tree to climb, and make yourself visible to Jesus.
When we do that, Jesus will have some words for us. His very presence will inspire us to make changes in our lives that will lead to growth. His forgiveness will prompt us to want to grow into better Christians, better neighbors.
Right now, at this very moment, our shortcomings, our debts, our sins, are forgiven. But will any of us make a faithful gesture of repentance by dedicating a substantial amount of our wealth in response to our forgiveness, in response to the relief we feel at being forgiven? I certainly hope so!
Each of us has a little bit of Zacchaeus in us: No, none of us extorts money from our neighbors, none of us knowingly defrauds people of their hard earned dollars. But each of us is in need of forgiveness, each of us is a little short on vision, short on understanding just what that forgiveness means. Each of us broken too. Unable to see Jesus, and be seen by Jesus unless we climb a sycamore tree. And each of us is beautiful in the eyes of Jesus when he finally does see us. Broken and beautiful. This is the way the Lord has chosen to save us.
And when we can practice self-awareness so that we see what Jesus sees in us, we will grow.
It is clear to me that Jesus intended to share a challenging message of what he hoped would be our response to the good news of our forgiveness. It is clear to me that until we start changing and growing and giving out of our gratitude for our forgiveness, we will only give what we feel we can afford. And if we only give what we feel we can afford, the church cannot survive.
Yes, there are times when we need the church to carry us, when we need the faith community to help us. But if we only receive help and never give help, the church cannot survive.
Jesus has put the story of Zacchaeus before us so that we might consider how we, too, can show our gratitude for the forgiveness he bestows upon us. I hope and pray that we each will find it in our hearts to look inside, find our shortcomings, allow ourselves to be seen by Jesus, and then appreciate our salvation, and to give back in proportion to our appreciation: the future of our church, the future of the church, depends upon it.
Shortcomings and sycamore trees. Our heritage and our inheritance. Symbols of how we can either hide from our savior, or how we can make ourselves visible to him. Let’s be visible.