December newsletter

 

December 2013 pdf A

 

From Prophecy to the Birth of Jesus – daily readings for you and your family during this Advent season.

Be sure to join us for “Cocoa & Carols” on Saturday, December 14, 3pm, as well as our Christmas Eve service at 7pm.

We Believe: God Loves Us

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” John 3: 16-17.

We are going to begin today with a trust exercise.  This has been a practice at Meet in the Middle each Wednesday night with our youth as we continue to be formed in what God is doing in our community.  It is in building trust, teamwork, discipline, creativity, and faith that we grow.  So for today’s exercise, I am going to ask each of you to raise your purse or your wallet.  Hold them up high.  Now, if each of you could exchange it with a neighbor.  Do you trust them?  Now, if the ushers would please come forward and may we give like we have never given before.

Here we are in our fourth week of our ‘we believe’ series.  Exploring, we come trying to see, asking God to help our unbelief, together seeking to be generous, and today—we believe because God so loves us.  The same evangelist who wrote “For God so loved” shares in 1 John 4:19, ‘We love God because God first loved us.’  So I ask, how much does God love us?  And we enter into today’s text.  We enter into God, the originator of the never ending game we play with our kids asking, ‘How much do I love you?’ So let us ask God, how much? 

How much?  John 3:16 is easily the most familiar passage in all of our Scripture.  If there is one that we have memorized from Sunday School, I would bet it is this.  I can remember vividly memorizing this Scripture.  I was in Jr. high.  Jr. high and memorizing Bible verses—yeah—I could comfortably venture to say this was not at the top of our list of where our mind was in Jr. high.  Funny how God works.  

I loved seminary.  I absorbed everything I could.  Loved reading, listening, theological discussions, languages, community.  And I did well.  While this was not without its challenges, sacrifices of family, many miles every week—school, working in churches, chaplaincy—the change from running from, to finding that I turned towards God was life giving.  Hard work was fun.  And I will boast—I was good at it.  My grades were good, internships went well, and my confidence soared.  I was approaching the home stretch, ready and confident to take the ordination exams.  The most difficult exam is exegesis—an exam where you are assigned a Scripture passage to study, translate, analyze, and support with solid Reformed understanding as our final assessment to gauge our readiness for ministry.  As luck had it, when I opened the exam with great anticipation as to what text we were assigned, I beamed as my eyes focused on the page to John 3: 16.  Of all the texts—what could be easier than the one we can all recite? 

For five days, I dug in—with focus on the meaning of the Greek word for belief, pisteu/w.  After turning it in, the waiting is the hardest part.  My whole class was abuzz as word we were anticipating the week we would get our results.  And the notice came, I clicked on the link, and I focused in.  Of all things—I couldn’t believe it—and my heart sunk.  Of all the texts, I failed John 3: 16.  That is just wrong.  Dejected, embarrassed, and let down—I couldn’t escape it.  Lisa tried to encourage me, my pastor tried to find some bright spots—but I couldn’t see it.  I failed John 3:16.  I failed John 3:16???

Luke had a soccer game that night.  I needed to hide my disappointment and go watch the game.  This was actually a good distraction—until I saw that perfect little religious kid on the opposing team.  Every other kid in all of sports-dom has their last name on the back of their jersey, but no this kid.  Instead of his name, his jersey read John 3:16.  God was mocking me.  And then everywhere I looked—there it was.  I open a gift from my pastor-friend who shares my love of coffee—only to be a mug with John 3:16.  I am serious when I say it took a long time before I could even drink out of it.  And I saw it in the funniest places.  Driving with Lisa the next day, I couldn’t believe the number of places.  And I turn on the Broncos game—mind you—my favorite team, and there it is on Tim Tebow’s eye paint—John 3:16.

In my disappointment, my shame, I became hyperaware of the sign of John 3:16 all around me.  It was as if God were sending a message.  But in all reality, this sensitivity was about me.  My confidence—my ego, my ability to fit a theological argument in my own eyes, my excuses I had made about the readers—was about me.  My strength, my intelligence, and my path.  As I met with the pastor to students that following week with my well crafted argument of how I was wronged, she lovingly admonished my ego and turned this around.  She helped me see that the paradox of John 3:16-that God so loved the world—is around us all the time, and while it is about God’s love for us—it is more about God and less about me.  That this foundational Scripture that is comforting can make us instead comfortable in ourselves.  While seeing God in the mirror dimly, I was focused on myself.  Humbly, and ironically, failing John 3:16 is one of the most significant areas of growth preparing me for being here today.  This was significant for helping remind me that when it becomes about us, it is easy to fall into the trap of manipulating the symbols rather than participating in the realities.  The reality that God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  And this is why we believe.  This is the source, the strength, the purpose of our belief.  For God to become more, we must become less. 

So what does this have to do with Stewardship?  Everything.  We Believe—because God loves us.  So how do we respond to this belief?  Fully entering humanity, God gives everything.  Dying on a cross—how much more can God give?  Fully human, fully God, God’s sacrifice for the sake of restoring our relationship has everything to do with how we are called to respond. 

As we have been sharing throughout this month, we are reframing our approach to giving.  Rather than presenting and asking how we can meet a budget, we are asking you to prayerfully consider giving to support the mission of what God has called us to be  We all have stories that we can share of how God is working in our lives through Spirit of Life.  We have heard some great testimonies over the last month.  God is working, transforming, and making something new. 

To summarize: We are called.  Central from incarnation to resurrection, the blessing we have in Christ is one who fully gave.  Our calling is one where our joy is in giving our lives.  

 

To quote a faith led and great coach, Vince Lombardi,  “There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do.”  Like the point of our opening exercise, it is easy to give when it is someone else’s treasure.  It is easy to wait for another to step up.  For God so loved us that he gave everything, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  And to paraphrase Lombardi once more, “There are three things that are important to every [person] in this locker room. Our God, our family, and our church home—Spirit of Life.”  In that order.”

Being the church

May we always be asking ourselves if we are making room for everyone to join in the song?  Is there room at the table for everyone?  Are we willing to risk that space at the table is not only about hospitality, or changing lives of the other, but that we too are changed–transformed.  I love this video.  It is a great metaphor of being the church.  Being the church tears down hierarchies and removes barriers as we become one with the God of second chances.  Kleenex please:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjjNu1nj0lc

We Believe: Generosity

2Cor. 8:1    We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia;  2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means,  4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—  5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,  6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.  7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

2Cor. 8:8    I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.  9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.  10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—  11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.  12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.  13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.  15 As it is written,

            “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15

We want you to know about the grace of God that has been granted.  It’s about grace—freely received.  God is the giver.  It is because God gives that we believe.  And it is because we believe that we respond.  How  are we to respond?  We began two weeks ago on our stewardship series, ‘We Believe’, with a wee little man—a curious chap that ran and climbed—because he was trying to see who Jesus was.  Seeing—receiving grace—how does he respond?  For we are all short in stature—even in sycamore trees—when Jesus comes by. 

Paul is appealing to the church in Corinth.  I like that he sends someone else—he is going to talk to them about money.  I get it…yeah, I am busy that day, so Rebecca—could you talk to the church about pledging?  I only say this half joking.  It is hard to talk about money.  I have sat around many a table where the conversation went something like, “I quit going to church because every time I do go—the pastor is always talking about money.”  To be fair—some of this criticism is well warranted.  One of these stories is from one of my best friends who challenged his elders when they were talking again about a capital campaign.  It was well understood that this was a formula—a way to keep membership engaged with something tangible.  This particular capital improvement was to increase the size of the steeple.  My friend challenged asking if there were better ways to be living out the mission of Christ—feeding the hungry—plus what was wrong with the steeple we have?”  The response that he received was because the church across town built one that was taller.” 

But much of the criticism speaks more about us as we must reflect, why is it that I don’t want to talk about money?  Why do we do what we do what we do?  The great commission—to share the good news from Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth is more than steeple envy.  As we strengthen our discipleship, we are called to be disciples building disciples building disciples.  And there is plenty of good news to share right here, in our own Judea. 

When Paul talks about excelling, he did not say excel in everything—building projects, million dollar organs, and the tallest steeples.  He says,  Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

Paul is like the great conductor helping the orchestra to excel.  Like a moving piece, he builds on his strengths.  He gives thanks for all that is going well.  And he artistically draws out the strengths as the cello’s crescendo to blend with the violins.  It is through the moving middle section that the whole orchestra plays as one as they song climaxes towards the finale.  As a great philharmonic, may we excel in the generous undertaking  of faith, speech, knowledge, our eagerness, and our love of Jesus Christ.             

God is the giver.  Our generosity is in response to the generosity in how we best know God—in Jesus Christ. 

I like how Paul moves from being implicit to being explicit beginning with “I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.” 

Paul calls it ‘testing the genuiness’ which is a way of asking, why do we give?  Why do we give gifts?  Do we give expecting something in return-for a response—for reciprocity?  Is it a means to an end—or an end in itself?  And we come back to grace—freely given—but not without great cost.  “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

It is the generous act of Jesus Christ that we are generous.  It is in Jesus Christ that we are here today.  It is in Jesus Christ that our Wednesday club gathers around table.  It is in Jesus Christ that we give of ourselves to walk together in the Crop Walk.  It is in Jesus Christ that Spirit of Life was founded in 1996.  It is in Jesus Christ that we Meet in the Middle every Wednesday.  We meet in the middle, young and old, sharing our story, reaching out.  We meet in the middle with an amazing confirmation class.  We meet in the middle as a youth group—digging deeper.  God is at work and doing something special.

And we are asked to share, to give—reciprocity in what God has already done.  We must pass this on. 

I close sharing one of my favorite stories.  After Christianity had become legal under Constantine and membership came with benefits—under Emperor Julian it became illegal again.  The synagogues were returned back into pagan temples, and it was under the threat of violent persecution—even death—that the people were ordered from denouncing their faith in Christ.  Yet exponentially, the number of people converting to following Christ was astounding.  Baffled, Emperor Julian sent out his most trusted guard to find out how this could be?  The soldiers after observing reported back to emperor Julian that their strength lie in their generosity towards strangers.  Julian tried imitation, but to no avail.  While imitation is the greatest form a flattery, The Roman Empire lacked the source of generosity.  Julian was baffled writing that these impious Christians support not only their own poor, but ours as well.” 

Generosity—our response to what God has already done and continues to do transforming lives.  Transforming lives right here.  Becoming poor so that we may be rich.  And rich indeed—together as one community.  Blessed and rich as we celebrate today our new member class.  Rich as we meet in the middle—founding members and our newest members—sharing together in our generosity by reaching outside of ourselves.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen!

We Believe: Help Our Unbelief

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them.  When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him.  He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”  Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak;  and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.”  He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.”  And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.  It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”  Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!”  After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.”  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand.  When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”  He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.” Mark 9: 14-29

On one hand, Minnesota can boast about our success in education. Most recentACT scores reflect scores that place us number one in the nation.  Apple Valley is a wonderful place for families with an abundance of opportunities for our children.

On the other hand, when we go deeper, there is a large disparity in the achievement gap.  The achievement gap is the disparity in educational standards between the haves and the have-nots, the privileged with those less fortunate with an unsurprising correlation to socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity.  In fact, Minnesota ranks towards the bottom when it comes to measuring the disparity. 

Something I am proud of at Spirit of Life is our diversity in opinion.  From many folds, we gather to worship.  The more diverse we are the more opportunities we have to broaden our perspective and know God better.  From our diverse points of view, some would point to the problem of the achievement gap is the breakdown of the family unit—that we just need to simply return to the basics of family values.  Others would instead offer that our problem is in our social structures that have increasingly favored the privileged to the detriment of those with less opportunity. 

But no one looks at a seven-year-old unable to read and blames them.  We don’t say to them, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”—“re-locate into school district 196 where you will have a smaller class room size and more opportunities.” We could argue all day about the problem and solve nothing—and in our argument we are missing the point right in front of us. 

   

This is the problem in today’s text.  The disciples are debating with the Scribes.  What do you think they are debating?  What are they arguing about?  Who do you think is winning?  Who is right? 

Our text opens today, “When they came to the disciples…”   Who is they?  We must look before to have an understanding what is going on.  They is the inner circle-Peter, James, and John had just shared in a mountain-top experience.  This is one of those mission trips—come to Jesus moments where it all becomes clear—literally.  They had just witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord.  These mountaintops strengthen our belief, our faith, our trust.  The hard part about mountaintops is that we cannot stay there.  It is from our mountaintops that we come down and we enter back into our routine. 

And back into the routine, they enter back into the crowd… I picture this as one of those moments where we are so busy arguing with each other that we missed that mom and dad have come home.  Upon noticing the return, with that guilt-ridden look on their faces, as the disciples turn to Jesus and he asks, “What are you arguing about with them?”  Awkward!  Here is where I point to my brother—it was his fault!  I was ready for bed hours ago…  He made me stay up…

It is in the middle of the crowd—in the argument—in the distraction—Jesus enters and asks,  “What are you arguing about with them?”  I picture as the disciples begin pointing to the Scribes, a voice cries out, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak.” 

O man! Convicted.  As they were arguing and talking past one another, they missed the point right in front of them.  Whatever they were debating—what about the child!    

The child suffering right in front of them, Jesus lets them have it!  “You faithless generation! how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 

At those times when we become so convinced in being right, in making our point, in showing how the Scribe is wrong, we can miss what is most important right in front of us. 

As was the premise of a 2010 documentary, with the focus in the diagnosis, or even perpetuation of the problems, we find paralysis as we are waiting for Super-Man to come solve the problem.

And it is in the waiting that Jesus asks the father, “how long has this been happening to him?”  The father replies, since childhood.  The father pleads, “if you are able to do anything, have pity and please help us.”  Or better translated, have compassion. 

Jesus responds, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 

The father offers the most vulnerable and beautiful response:  “I believe, help my unbelief.”  And there it is—faith.  In this honest, vulnerable, desperate father who is seeking one thing—wholeness…  It isn’t the Scribe who answers, or the disciples—both who were too busy debating…but in the desperation of a parent who says, “I believe, help my unbelief.” 

We live surrounded by uncertainty.  Each day we share is a blessing.  Every breath is a gift.  And we all have faith.  We all have faith in something.  But this father…he gets it. 

It reminds me of a story of a man being chased by a bear.  And as he is running, he comes to the edge of a cliff.  As he looks over the cliff, he sees a branch.  If he does nothing, his certainty is that he is going to die.  At this point, it doesn’t matter how strong or timid he is.  It doesn’t matter if he jumps to the branch, or he slides to the branch full of doubt.  What matters is the strength of the branch. 

It is in our uncertainty, our doubts that we grow.  It is why I often find the best answer is in the questions.  As we are working with our confirmation class, I care so much that we create a safe place to express and live in our doubts.  It is in by entering into our questions and being honest about our doubts that we find faith.  It is in saying I believe, help my unbelief that we learn it is not about my strength or my well-crafted argument, but it is here that we find trust.  It is here that we can see Jesus enter the crowd and share that it matters how we care for one another. 

It is here that we can learn a lot from our children.  For if we play this out in trusting in ourselves, we can begin arguing like disciples and Pharisees.  And at our worst, we can become like the Miami Dolphins locker room.  It is when we count on our own strength, we identify with “Incognito.”  And it couldn’t be more poetic that the name is “Incognito” which means-“To have one’s true identity concealed” or “an assumed, false identity.” 

Instead, may we learn the Olivet Eagles from Olivet Middle School.  (Watch link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ejh_hb15Fc)

The script couldn’t be written better when we consider that we go from Incognito to the vulnerable and amazing witness of a kid named justice.  From Incognito—wearing a mask, we find justice—righteousness.  We can see this in the wise words of Justice Miller who didn’t get it at first…but he learns what it is all about sharing,  “I went from being someone who cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone.”   When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”  He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”

I believe Jesus is saying to them, it is in prayer that you trust in me.  It is in prayer, that you have faith.  For prayer as belief is not passive, but it is dynamic.  In our prayer, we are not waiting for Jesus to come down from the mountain-top, but instead we can find the presence of the holy, we can sense the power of the Spirit, and we participate through listening and responding. 

As the disciples were struggling.  The ones that were on the mountaintop were struggling and trying to understand what this means to be risen?  The ones in the crowd struggle with hearing about what is going to happen.  We can look back, hear the teaching, but it is hard to believe without the cross.  But in the cross, we find that our response is not in what we do for God, but what God does for us.  It is in the cross that we find what matters is the branch.  And it is in our trust—faith that we respond.  It is in faith that we give freely.  This is stewardship—a stewardship that is not based on how we feel…for if we base it on how we feel—it becomes focused on us…What about next week?  Feelings can be deceptive.  It is faith that we live, despite how we feel—acting in what we know. 

 

Opposite of Bully

How many of you have been as bothered as me this week to observe a professional athlete–a grown adult who is living a childhood dream, to abuse and marginalize another person the way Incognito treated his fellow teammate.  He could learn a lot from the Olivet Eagles, a Middle School football team in Olivet, Michigan.  Imagine a world where we treated one another like this.  As teammate Justice Miller states, “I went from being someone who cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone.”  Wise words to live by.  This is what it is all about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ejh_hb15Fc

We Believe: Trying To See

He entered Jericho and was passing through it.  A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.  He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.  All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”  Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  Luke 19: 1-10

Psalm 24 opens, “The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”  This is a good foundation as we begin our stewardship theme for this next year.  All belongs to God.  Everything.  We belong to God.  John Calvin phrased this as “I am not my own.”  It is because we belong that we believe.

Maybe, Zacchaeus had an inkling.  He was trying to see.  But there were obstacles impeding his sight.  What are some of these obstacles that we gain from our reading today? 

He was a tax collector.  Not only was he a tax collector, but a chief tax collector.  What do we know about tax collectors?  Chief tax collectors were known for colluding with Rome.  In addition, they made the rules up as they went to collect what they could for themselves.  I think a good analogy today would be a corrupt subprime mortgage lenders.  With the power of mighty Rome and the self-corruption of self interest, Zacchaeus faced a large obstacle. 

He was rich.  The gospel of Luke does not hold back from the obstacle of wealth.  We recently struggled with one cannot serve both God and wealth, camels and eyes of needles, and woe to you who are rich verses.  This is an obstacle.

He couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd.  Let’s think about that for a minute?  As we frequently are called to be sent, called to share the good news, welcoming our neighbor, inviting the kids and families to M & M, packing our worship space for a Valentine Cabaret, and having a pastor who frequently is referring to the ‘Great Commission’ and that the co-and mission means that we are to participate right here in sharing the mission of Christ.  Are we not trying to increase the crowds?  What are we doing this for?  Anyway, the crowds are an obstacle. 

These are big obstacles, so what does he do?  Back to our bear hunt, can’t get over it, can’t go around it, must do something different?  So he runs.  He climbs.  He has the sense that there was something more.  Something more he was trying to see.

It is no coincidence that we find ourself today with a tax collector after last weeks message of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  The ‘glad I am not like them’ Pharisee-the one who wants the approval of the crowd, and the tax collector who is the outsider. 

And we explored how we can relate to both.  How the church can relate.  And how the church can relate falling into the crowd.  How the church can fall into saying the right things, putting on the right clothes, and showing up on Sunday to fit in the rest of the week like everyone else, life unchanged.    

But not Zacchaeus.  With his inkling that there was something more, he doesn’t fall into the sedentary crowd…  He runs, and he climbs.  He doesn’t worry about how this looks to the crowd.    

Tree climbing.  I live through this vicariously these days through two adventurous boys.  As I see each one of you, we remember.  Why?  Because it’s there.  Because we can.  But there was a day this changed.  Me no longer Tarzan and you no longer Jane.  I no longer see a tree as an obstacle to be conquered, but rather find myself echoing wise words I am sure were passed on to my folks issuing caution and warnings—“don’t climb so high!”  “Be careful.” , or most likely “Get down from there right now!.” 

Tree climbing—definitely not safe.  You are going to break your arm.   

I like my feet on solid ground.  It is much safer this way.  And there is safety in numbers.  Join the crowd.  Safety with both feet planted on the ground and safety in numbers…

But not Zacchaeus—who runs ahead and climbs a sycamore tree to see.  He runs and climbs to find that he is more than his profession.  He runs and climbs to find he is more than his riches.  He runs and climbs to find there is more than worrying about fitting into the crowd.

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

Friends, we are more than short in stature when we are standing in the presence of the Holy.  For the Holy calls us out by name and says come down—I am coming over for dinner.  I am present at your table.  And what happens to Zacchaeus, however, is more than this personal relationship—more than a every man, woman, and child for themselves.  It is not an evacuation model that is so predominant in what the crowd keeps trying to proclaim—where evacuation models are focused on a future salvation that removes individual and communal responsibility from the world.  For salvation is now—in this life.  For Jesus says, ‘today salvation has come to this house.’  Salvation has come to the whole house.  There is transformation and healing to the whole person in the presence of Christ in the present.  It is in the presence of Christ that salvation finds Zacchaeus and the whole community benefits. 

And it is in salvation,  Zacchaeus finds that he is—and was—good enough.  A rich, short in stature, tax collecting outsider—is worthy. 

We belong to God and we need Jesus.  May we not fall into the crowd, but instead may we run, climb trees, and find ourselves in the presence of the holy at table.  And may we find we are more than our work.  May we find we are more than our possessions.  And may we be like Zacchaeus and respond with generosity.  For Zacchaues gives out of gratitude—he gives in response to what God has done.  May we respond in all we do in response to our salvation.  May we too share our gifts generously, with thanks.  May we respond because we believe.  For salvation has come upon this house.  We believe.  Amen