November 4, 2001
Just last week we had Halloween to lead us into All Saint's and All Soul's Days. Today we add in communion which binds us together as brothers and sisters of Jesus.
I will show you a picture of the tree traditionally known as the tree Zacchaeus climbed. You may know the song about Zacchaeus being a wee little man from Sunday School days. Then we'll reflect on how this story helps us live in today's world and come to live more like saints.
When I was growing up I spent a good bit of time in trees. We had a tree house I spent time in. I was known to be able to go higher than anyone else. After an appendix removal I swung in our apple trees before I was supposed to. I know a little something about tree climbing.
If you have seen this tree you will note that it not going to be easy for a wee little man to climb it. The trunk is too big to get your arms around it and the branches are too far off the ground to jump to.
Biblically, when we get to an obviously silly thing for someone to do it is important to pay attention to more than the surface details of the story. Jericho is not a big town now and was even smaller during Jesus' day.
If Zacchaeus wanted to simply see Jesus he could have done that in any number of easier ways than making a fool of himself by being too small to climb a tree and wearing his rich clothes to boot.
Besides, needing to pay someone to give him a boost (after all who would go out of their way to help a despised tax collector) he would have to shoo away all those tree-climbing boys like me and we are not likely to want to give up any seat we had achieved. Chasing us tree boys away would again make him look silly.
So, if this is not a simple story about someone wanting to see Jesus, what is it about?
It is about a tree-mendous new way of living honestly, whether that gets you ahead in the world or not.
The real meat of the story is that time when Zacchaeus thinks he has one more triumph over the rest of the people in Jericho. Not only has he been able to tax them within an inch of their lives, he now has their hero Jesus coming to him.
At this same time, the crowd so enthralled by Jesus and crowding thickly around him felt betrayed by Jesus. Their hero was going to their enemies house and they became indignant and grumped to one another about how unfair life was.
The tax man not only got their money, but their hope that Jesus would put them in charge was slipping through their fingers. It appeared that Jesus had been bought off and was not on their side.
Here is the important moment leading up to the change. It is this change which is important. One way to think about it is as Jesus' Third Way.
In the usual way of the world there are two ways. There is the way of the rich and powerful and there is the way of the poor and downtrodden. You are either a winner or a loser in life.
When Jesus comes around there is a Third Way.
Zacchaeus thought he was getting prestige as well as power when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' house. It turned out that was not the case.
When Zacchaeus and Jesus met at eye level Zacchaeus knew that he had been seen through. All his riches and power were of no use to him in Jesus' eyes.
Zacchaeus looked at Jesus and knew he had to change.
He did so in a most dramatic fashion. He gave 50% of his income to the poor and volunteered to pay four times more back to anyone he cheated than he had gotten with his cheating ways.
That is pretty dramatic. Most United Methodists and we are probably pretty typical in this, only give a bit more than a mere 2% of our income to charitable causes.
If you listen to this story and take it seriously, there will be some more giving you will need to be doing - and doing cheerfully.
On the other side the crowd around Jesus who were so easily disappointed in him found themselves to be the beneficiary of Jesus' work with Zacchaeus. They who had gotten into a mindset that was looking for the worst to happen, who had grown used to being disappointed in life and looking for the next disappointment instead of the next opportunity needed to give up something just as near and dear to their heart as money was to Zacchaeus' heart.
The crowd had to give up their whining ways.
Which is harder - to give up 50% of your income or 100% of your bad attitude.
I think it is harder to give up attitude than money. We can still survive with half the money we had but giving up our giving-up attitude means living a whole new life.
In just a few minutes we will be sharing communion. If we aren't yet saints enough to give away 50% of our income or to give up our whining about life, communion will put us in touch with Jesus who has been known to cause such changes in people at most unexpected times and places - even when we are up a tree or even today.
We will be receiving bread and cup, in which we understand Jesus' body will be broken for us whiners and his blood which will be shed for forgiveness of us treed misers.
As you receive the bread and the cup know that what GOD has in store for you is a new way of living. You will be called to be more generous than you have ever been before. You will be called to seeing the best in people, not their worst. You will be given the strength you need to follow where these calls lead.
So, look again at this tree in Jericho. It may have been the scene of a great miracle in the life of one person and the life of a crowd of people. Who would have expected that?
So, look again at this location. Even though you might not have expected it, this could be the start of a new life for you as your come in contact with Jesus through such everyday things as bread and juice. I invite you to come forward ready to volunteer to be more generous and to be ready to put down your excuses for not seeing the best in people.
Let us pray:
Merciful GOD, thanks for trees that can be the scene for new life. Thanks for Jesus who shows us a Third Way between power and powerlessness - the way of sharing in community. Thanks for coming into our bodies through the bread and the cup and helping us to see what needs to be changed in our way of living. Thanks. Amen.
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.