The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s198g07 Sunday 31 4/11/2007
'all .. began to grumble' Luke 19.7
There are of course three players in this little drama. We usually focus on Jesus or Zaccheaus, but the crowd and their reaction is as central to the story as either of the other two. We are told that Zaccheaus 'was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature'. Zaccheaus was an outsider to this crowd and no amount of polite requests would have allowed him to get in front to get a decent view, while others could easily look over him.
The importance of this is that at present in the Anglican Communion there are some fine upstanding clergy who are doing their darnedest to make sure that gay and lesbian people are kept away from Jesus and the Church. Gays and Lesbian persons are outsiders to them and have no place even to see who Jesus is. But just as the crowd were mistaken at who Jesus was that he existed for them alone, so too those within the Anglican Communion are wrong about who Jesus is that he is for them alone. Ostensibly, I presume, it is to protect Jesus from contamination by this sinner; but really it is to reinforce their own positions of superiority.
What are we to do with gay and lesbian persons? The 'orthodox' answer is to hope and pray that they repent and become 'normal' and acceptable. But this leaves us with nothing to do except to hope and pray. Jesus did more than just hope and pray for others. He invited himself into this man's house. He accepted him for who he was, and accepted such hospitality as Zaccheaus had to offer.
So we too as the Church, rather than doing our best to keep undesirables away from Jesus, and grumbling if they are noticed at all; we too, who follow Jesus, invite ourselves into the houses of others and in the name of God accept them for who they are and the contribution they might choose to make.
Gay and Lesbian persons have to climb trees to see Jesus, where we can simply stand on our own two feet.
Time and again in the Bible, people are lifted to their feet when they have fallen on their faces before the Almighty. Here is another form of lifting someone 'short of stature' up above others who would get in his way.
Time and again in the Bible, God chooses the youngest son like David, the inept speaker like Moses, the vinedresser like Amos, the peasant son, like Jesus, the despised and crucified one to bring about God's purpose and will.
We too in the Church are called to lift people to their feet, to acknowledge them as fully human, standing on their own two feet and using their God given brains rather than cowering before the Almighty and complying with 'our' church laws. We too are called not to defer to the wishes of the elderly in the congregation, but see in the newcomer, the child, and the untutored, people who bring the Word of God to us rather than people who have to learn to be like us. Zaccheaus taught the crowd something about God that they had not learned; whether they chose to accept it or not.
We too in the church are called to notice the marginalized and the alienated desperately looking for acceptance, grace and peace, and do what we can to extend that acceptance, grace and peace to them. We too will be taught something about the overflowing grace and love of God for all people.
We in the Church are called not to get in other people's way of encountering Jesus to marginalize and alienate others who are different or who do not live up to our expectations.
And what wonderful blessings will follow if we choose to do this. The overflowing response of Zaccheaus tells us that if we accept others in the name of God others will show their appreciation, often rather more generously than we show. Just think of the poor who would have been helped by Zaccheaus giving half of his possessions to them! It would have been a real boon.
From his tree top perch and the encounter, Zaccheaus had experienced who the real Jesus was and is - someone who primarily sought out the poor, the marginalized and the alienated, the short of stature, the sinners, to lift them up. He realised that Jesus didn't need his money or possessions to do this, and he was prepared to do what he could do to help others less fortunate than himself. In doing so he followed Jesus.
Jesus went to be the guest of someone who was a sinner. Jesus didn't go to tell the sinner off or to explain the requirements that he would have to uphold. We too are called to follow Jesus, not to tell people off or to explain to them the requirements that they would have to uphold.
Jesus went to be the guest of someone who was a sinner. This tells us that there is nowhere we can go, that Jesus has not already gone before us, and that wherever we go, if we have eyes to see, we will see Jesus already there before us in the poor, the marginalised, the alienated, the short in stature, the gay and the lesbian person.
What a different complexion this puts on the Christian mission! It has all been done for us already.
'All .. began to grumble' because Jesus associated with someone else. This is who the real Jesus is like, no matter how hard we might try to deny it, or grumble that it is so. Perhaps parts of the Church want to keep Jesus so occupied that Jesus notices only them and not anyone else. The 'word', the 'sacraments' even the 'holy spirit' can be misused in this way. God can be portrayed as so concerned about 'church-person-ship', what people wear, what gender they are, with whom they share their intimate affections, how often they come to church, how compliant they are, how often they read their bibles or pray that God hasn't got time to worry about anyone and anything else.
For the last two weeks I have been reflecting on the fact that it is more likely that God is so deafened by the cries of the widows (Israeli as well as Palestinian; Sunni as well as Shiite widows, and American and a couple of Australian widows too) of this world, that he doesn't hear us bleating for justice in our own terms. Widows have nothing to give God, like this Zacchaeus, yet still God hears them.
The importance of seeing the crowd in this story is that some of those fine upstanding clergy in the Anglican Communion who are doing their darnedest to make sure that gay and lesbian people are kept away from Jesus and the Church I don't think that it would be unfair to them to comment that it seems that this issue is all they live for. Keeping others away was (and is), for them, the first article of faith. No wonder that they were scandalized by Jesus associating with others, and precisely the others they lived and believed should stay on the outer. Jesus turned this all around. It was the fine upstanding grumblers who needed to repent, it was they who were invited to rejoice, because others are found and included.
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