Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 & Luke 19:1-10
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
October 30, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about being seen.
A couple of weeks ago when I was at the soup kitchen in Waltham, something was said that broke my heart. As I sat at a table with four gentlemen chatting about their days, the fella who runs the kitchen came out as he always does and as usual asked everyone to sit down. This fella stood in the middle of the old dark church basement and addressed the people. He said “you guys remember no hanging out or smoking around the church building on the side walk. The neighbors don’t want us here, so you can’t be seen.”
You can’t be seen. I had just spent all day talking to those who are experiencing homelessness and who are not seen by society. Those who are walked by, talked about, told to move from where they are sitting, those who are disregarded every moment of the day. And here in the place where we can all gather to get as Jesus did we are told to “not be seen.”
I felt like the prophet Habakkuk calling out “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?...Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”
And then God replied. God replied to me, no not in that moment or in a voice loud and clear but rather through our New Testament reading today from the Gospel of Luke. Today’s reading is a reminder that even when we are not seen, Jesus sees us.
In our passage from Luke we encounter Zacchaeus, who is likely hated by the crowd because he is not just a tax collector but a head tax man. Zacchaeus was quit rich because of using and abusing others. It has been suggested that his short stature is not only a reference to his height but rather a metaphor for his morality. "The fact is," Fred Craddock writes, that "one is not privately righteous while participating in a corrupt system that robs and crushes other persons" (Preaching through the Christian Year C).
So here we are with short Zacchaeus, he too wants to see what all the commotion surrounding Jesus is about but the crowd was in his way. It is interesting that the crowd was in his way, after all he was a chief tax collector, a person of power. I would have thought that others would have been intimidated and moved out of his way even if he was short. So why could he not wiggle his way through the crowd?
Perhaps he wanted to see Jesus while also not being seen. So he ran down the road a little way and climbed a tree.
How odd a grown man, who is small in stature, climbing a sycamore tree in Jericho? Jericho is in a subtropical climate with vibrant colors, bananas, and date palms grow abundantly with sycamore trees. There is even a tree in Jericho today which is marked as Zacchaeus’ tree. It is a huge tree with a trunk that must be five or six feet in diameter with green leaves off the thick limbs which grow high into the sky. I wonder what was it like for Zacchaeus to climb the sycamore tree?
I remember as a child climbing trees in the neighborhood. As a little kid there was a Japanese maple I would climb, and as I got bigger I would join all the neighbor children at the “climbing tree”. The climbing tree was this huge magnolia tree that was at least two stories high. There were bigger branches at the bottom to sit on and if you were brave enough you could climb all the way to the top to what we called the “eagles nest”, which was really just as far up as you could go and where the branches divided so you could sit comfortably.
I remember climbing that tree as a short kid and having to jump up to grab a branch to swing myself up into the tree. Some kids would try jumping at branch to grab and miss every time. Did Zacchaeus try many times to reach a branch without luck before finding one low enough for him to jump up and grab with his arms, wrapping them tight around it and then able to throw his feet up so he could hand from the branch like a monkey only to then pull himself up? Was he nervous as he climbed from one branch to another to get up high enough to see what was going on? Or did he simply stay on a lower branch so he was just high enough to see Jesus and not be seen?
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but what he did not expect was for Jesus to see him. Jesus looks up and calls Zacchaeus by name saying “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” We are then told Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree and was happy to welcome Jesus.
Jesus sought out Zacchaeus, this person who was shunned and hated by the crowd. Jesus sought him. That is what Jesus does, Jesus seeks us out and wants to walk with us. It does not matter what we have done in the past. It does not matter if we are an alcoholic sitting at the soup kitchen waiting for dinner, or an abused woman living in a shelter. Jesus is seeking us out.
It does not matter if we want to crawl in a hole and never be seen again because our depression is too heavy to carry. Jesus seeks us out.
It does not matter if we are estranged from our family and feel like we have no friends, because…that is right, Jesus seeks us out.
It does not matter if we are near the end of our life and still questioning our faith, because Jesus seeks us out.
Even when we die, no matter the cause Jesus is there seeking us out and welcoming us home.
We are all lost children of God traveling this journey in need of help. And God has sent us help in Christ Jesus and he is here seeking out us. God loves each of us so much that God wants us to change. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to call each of us by name and to see us just as we are.
We are valuable because we are all sons of Abraham, we are all children of God. Jesus wants us to walk with and join him. Our paths in life are not already laid out like a nice brick sidewalk. Instead we are making our paths every day and if we allow it, Jesus is here walking with us helping us lay the bricks. Jesus is also calling us to help others lay their bricks. And how do we do this? By seeing other people.
I mentioned to our kids about hiding and not wanting to be seen. This past Tuesday I attended a worship service of Hope and Healing to end domestic violence. October is not just breast cancer awareness month but it is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. As I sat in the pews for this service, I listened to a survivor of domestic violence. She spoke of the pain she endured both physically and mentally. How she wore different masks every day. She would put on her happy mask when she went to church or work, as if everything was okay. Then when she got home she wore a mask of fear as she walked on egg shells careful not to anger her abuser. She lived in hiding as an abuse victim.
One day she finally was given the help she needed and was able to take her child and leave her abuser. She came out of hiding. Now she will never go back and she not only has come out of hiding but she is a voice for those who are still hidden.
Jesus calls us out of our hiding and calls us to see others who are hidden. We are called to speak or smile at a person who is struggling, whether it is a parent with a crying child at the store, or speaking to a person who is experiencing homelessness. Maybe you are called to interact with the child or adult who has intellectual limitations or be the voice for those who don’t have one. However you are called, Jesus is calling us to see one another.
As the people in the soup kitchen sit around their circular tables and talk with one another, they see each other even if the outside world wishes they were not seen. But most importantly Jesus sees and loves these individuals.
Let us stop hiding behind our assumptions, our fears and our insecurities. Jesus is the original GPS, or JPS. He sees us and others hiding in the tree and has called us to come down and join him. Just as Zacchaeus may have been hated by the crowd, he was loved, valued and seen by Jesus and so are you my friends.
May we trust Jesus sees us and may we see other’s through Christ’s eyes.
Remembering our Saints
Who experienced homelessness