WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Sherry Santana, liturgist
No revolution will come in time to alter this person’s life except the one surprise of being loved.
Sidney Carter, 1905-2004
CALL TO WORSHIP Iona Abbey
Come now all who thirst
And drink the water of life.
Come now all who hunger
And be filled with good things.
Come now all who seek
And be warmed by the fire of love.
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
MODERN READING Evelyn Underhill, 1875-1941, Mysticism
SERMON Rev. Kim P. Wells
A writer arrived at the monastery to write a book about the Enlightened One. “People say you are a genius. Are you?” the writer asked.
“You might say so,” said the Enlightened One.
The writer continued, “And what makes one a genius?”
“The ability to recognize,” answered the Enlightened One.
“Recognize what?” the writer asked.
“A genius,” the Enlightened One responded, “is one who can recognize the butterfly in a caterpillar; the eagle in an egg; the saint in a selfish human being.” [In 25 Windows into the Soul: Praying with the Psalms, Joan Chittister, adapted, p. 83]
We are here today because of an Enlightened One, a genius, who went up a tree. To see. And be seen. Offering the power of transformational love to all. We are here because we have been drawn to the one who went up a tree, the cross, so that we could see him, know him, and experience the saving love of God that he came to bring to the world. A genius who recognizes the saint in the selfish, hurting human being.
In the story we heard today, Jesus is on the way to that tree, to the cross. He is passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. This is his final journey to the city and he knows it. Accused of fraternizing with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus has stirred the rancor of the religious officials and some of their followers. But Jesus is clear. Tax collectors and sinners, yes, that is exactly why he is here. To engage with those who are outcasts and hated. Those who are forgotten and on the fringes. He has come, he tells us in the story, to seek and to save the lost. At any cost. Even his own life.
And while passing through Jericho, we are told of Jesus encountering just such a one that he is accused of befriending. A tax collector. A sinner. Up a tree. Zacchaeus has climbed the tree to get a glimpse of Jesus not knowing that Jesus is looking for him. And in this story we see two drastically different responses to the Divine Love manifest in Jesus, the one who is about seeking and saving the lost. There is the response of Zacchaeus. And the response of the crowd.
What do we see from Zacchaeus? In the story, when Jesus stops and addresses Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus immediately clambers down out of the tree. Jesus is coming to stay with Zacchaeus. To dwell with him. Eternal, unconditional love is entering his life, perhaps for the first time that he is aware of. And this is transformational. Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus. He promises not only reparations for any injury he has caused, but he also commits to giving half of his wealth to help those who are made poor. His pledge exceeds what is required by the law for those who have been dishonest in their dealings.
The telling of the encounter is filled with excitement and joy and delight. There is urgency and happiness in this meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus. We hear it in the words, hurry, ran, quickly, here and now, hurry up, today. The saving love that Jesus offers is made real right away. In the moment.
And it is evidenced in the immediate, extraordinary generosity of Zacchaeus. Jesus doesn’t just come into Zacchaeus’ heart through some kind of individualistic piety. Jesus welcomes Zacchaeus into the fold, into the community, as a child of Abraham and Sarah. Who were also very rich and very generous. Zacchaeus is so thrilled to have a place, to belong, to lose his persona non grata status, that he can’t stop himself from responding with joy and exceeding generosity. This encounter with the one who seeks and saves the lost has social and economic implications.
Accepting Jesus’ invitational love means attaching to Jesus, to Divine Love, and detaching from money, wealth, possessions, and behaviors that separate us from that love. Something the rich young man in the previous chapter of Luke was not able to do – yet. But Zacchaeus is ready. Perhaps so tormented by being vilified and ostracized, he is overcome by just the smallest gesture of good will. Zacchaeus gladly welcomes this Jesus who has come to seek and save the lost.
But there is also another response to this encounter in the story. The response of the crowd. Does the crowd share in the joy of Zacchaeus’ redemption? Are they filled with delight and thanksgiving? Do they celebrate Zacchaeus’ pledge to reparations and donations? Do they welcome him with open arms?
We are told: “When everyone saw this, they began to grumble, ‘Jesus has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.’” Grumble. Here is this joyous manifestation of the transforming power of Divine Love, and the crowd grumbles. No excitement, joy, or delight. They grumble. They, too, have come to see Jesus. They see themselves as devout and faithful. And have come to see this holy person. And when they see the manifestation of the power of love – they grumble.
Evidently, this is not what they came to see. Maybe they expected a pat on the back. Maybe they wanted Jesus to tell them how deserving they are because of their piety. Maybe they wanted Jesus to condemn sin and vilify sinners with Zacchaeus being at the top of the list because he was cheating his own people to fund the Roman occupation that was strangling them. Maybe they had a transactional mentality – and wanted to be rewarded for their good behavior and see sinners punished not privileged. Maybe they wanted Jesus to endorse their status quo. Not upset it. I can see myself in that crowd. Maybe you resonate with the crowd, too. They grumble. And it is this grumbling that will gain steam, that will grow, and that will ultimately drive Jesus to the tree.
So, this story shows us two different responses to the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus.
This invites reflection: When faced with the transformational power of redeeming love, where do we stand? It is clear what Jesus is about. Yup, tax collectors and sinners. Seeking and saving the lost. Not punishment or condemnation. Not crowd appeal or approval. Instead, welcome. Acceptance. Conversion and transformation. Joy and delight in the heart of God.
Now, clearly, we are here in the sanctuary this morning because Jesus has sought us and found us. Jesus has come to our house of worship. With eagerness, joy, and delight, he is inviting us into the community and belonging and generosity of Divine Love. He is here to save what is lost: people. And our values, institutions, social and economic systems, religion, dignity, and our capacity for unconditional love. He is here to take hold of us and give us life, full and free. Quickly. Here and now. Today. Jesus is not here to endorse our status quo, and our excuses, and our defenses, and our facades of goodness and happiness. He is here to give us the real thing. Deep, honest, true unshakeable LOVE. Connection to our real selves, to each other, to the earth, and to God. Love that is healing and forgiving and life-giving.
We will see it in our hearts opened and generous. Our acceptance of others. Our eagerness to make reparations not only for the legacy of slavery, but for the legacy of the climate crisis, and capitalism which thrives on a perpetual, disposable under class. We will see it as we become who we are meant to be.
Here’s a beautiful example of unconditional generosity in our day:
During the pandemic, some restaurant owners in small towns in northeast Oklahoma creating ‘giving walls.’ Customers could prepay for meals and hang their receipt on the wall so that anyone hungry and lacking cash could come and take a receipt and eat, no questions asked.
One restaurant owner said her customers had contributed more that 300 meals. Sometimes, a person who received a free meal would come back and purchase one to hang on the wall when they were able. “I want people in my community to be fed whether they have money for a meal or not,” said restaurant owner Jennifer White. [Cited in The Christian Century, 6.2.21, p. 9]
What a beautiful expression of generosity and compassion! We will know how we are responding to Jesus by looking at our choices, our behavior, our attitudes, and maybe foremost, what we are doing with our money and resources.
Like the crowd in the Zacchaeus story, we can decide whether to share the joy of the transforming power of Divine Love or to grumble. Whether to let ourselves be enmeshed in the values and ways of the reality around us, where condemnation begets condemnation, and judgment begets judgment, and violence begets violence. Or accept the new reality of the commonwealth of God where goodness begets goodness, and generosity begets generosity, and love begets love.
This Sufi story helps to illumine our choice:
Once a Dervish holy man and his student were walking down a long, quiet road. Suddenly they saw dust rising in the distance. A fine carriage pulled by six horses approached at full gallop. The men soon realized that this carriage was not going to slow down or veer to avoid them. In fact it was coming upon them at such speed that they had to throw themselves from the road, landing quite unceremoniously in a ditch. The two men got up as quickly as they could and looked back at the carriage as it sped by.
The student thought to curse, but not before the teacher ran after them calling: “May all of your deepest desires be satisfied!”
“Why would you wish something so good for those men?” the student asked. “They just forced us into the ditch, we could have been hurt.”
“Do you really think,” replied the teacher, “that if their deepest desires were satisfied, they would go around treating others as they treated us?” [Doorways to the Soul, edited by Elisa Davy Pearmain, p. 16]
Jesus went up the tree, for us. Seeking us. Inviting us to new life filled with joy and eagerness and delight. Marked by acceptance, belonging, community, and generosity. Satisfying our deepest desires. That is why the church is here. So that Jesus can live here. In this house. In us. Seeking and saving the lost. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.
UNISON READING- Lifted High Iona Community
A little kid ran across the street,
runny-nosed, a bit scruffy,
tripping over almost.
She ran toward a man whose
arms were opened wide to
“Give us a swing, Jesus,” she said,
and she felt herself lifted high,
and she saw the street and the sky whirling
around her, ablaze with color,
like a mixed-up rainbow.
She was laughing then —
gasping for breath.
“Enough,” she said,
and she felt herself slowing down,
relaxing, safe, as Jesus
held her in his arms
and smiled. . .
Unless we become like little children,
Unless we risk that joy and abandonment,
Unless we run and ask and let ourselves
be lifted high,
We are never going to enter the kin-dom of God.
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Acts of Dedication Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 1945-
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Amen.
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar. Please observe physical distancing.
MORNING PRAYER-SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Holy One, our only Home, hallowed be Your name.
May your day dawn, your will be done,
Here, as in heaven. Feed us today, and forgive us
As we forgive each other. Do not forsake us at the test,
But deliver us from evil. For the glory, the power,
And the mercy are yours, now and forever. Amen.
*BENEDICTION Harriet Tubman, 1822-1913
Every great dream beings with a dreamer. Always remember,
you have within you the strength,
and the passion
to reach for the stars to change the world.