November 12, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Reading: Luke 19:1-10
We hear another wonderful and familiar story today in Luke’s Gospel about Zacchaeus and it’s one that many children have been drawn to over the years. You may even remember the simple children’s song about him climbing the tree. Children really like this story, because like them, Zacchaeus is short and can’t see over the crowds who have gathered to get a view of Jesus as he passes by. It’s the story of a man of faith who has the courage to welcome Jesus to his house even though he believes he is not worthy to receive such a man of faith. Let us pray, Gracious God, we remember this day many people of faith who have come before us. We give thanks for all who have inspired us in faith and we ask that we may continue to be open to your Word and inspiration as we seek to grow in faith and love. Amen.
In this reading today from Luke, we meet a tax collector in the person of Zacchaeus. Luke talks about Tax Collectors a few times in his Gospel and he also talks about wealthy people, and he doesn’t always present a favorable impression of those with money who choose not to share with those most in need. Zacchaeus turns out to be both a Tax Collector and a rather wealthy person. Of course, children who hear this story aren’t drawn to Zacchaeus because of these details; rather they like him because he is short like them. We have a natural tendency to like those who are like us, isn’t that true? And that’s why we have Jesus. We relate to Jesus because he shared in our humanity. He was like us. Like Zacchaeus, children know what it’s like to stand along a parade route and not be able to see what’s going on. Perhaps some of us remember a time in our childhoods when our fathers may have boosted us up on their shoulders so we could see better. My Dad was over 6’1 and he always seemed to have one of my younger brothers or sisters atop his shoulders throughout our childhood.
So we know that Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree so that he can see Jesus, and Jesus calls him down and tells him, in front of all those people, that he must stay at Zacchaeus’s house. The townspeople stand in judgement and grumble, wondering aloud why Jesus would pick the house of a sinner to visit. But it’s a conversion moment really, because Zacchaeus declares that he will change, that in fact, he will give half of his possessions to the poor and if he has defrauded anyone, that he will pay them back fourfold. And Jesus, in response to the complaints of the crowd, teaches them once again the purpose of his time on earth, the purpose of his ministry really, when he says, “The Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.”
We recently celebrated Halloween and it’s always fun to watch all of the children dressed up in costumes and putting on masks, trying on being something different for that day. And it brings us back to happy memories from childhood and times when we could become a different character, if only for the night. We still may enjoy putting on masks or dressing up to attend a party or give out candy.
Sometimes, putting on a mask or costume can change our perspective and allow us to think about different things in our lives or how we might look at things with fresh eyes. Certainly artists are often drawn to offer a new perspective on the subject in their paintings, drawing us to see it in a new and fresh way. Often the holidays are a time when we recall memories from our own childhoods or when we were raising our children and as we remember, we also remember important people in our lives. In Mexico, they celebrate the Day of the Dead when they visit the graves of those they have loved and lost; they even have picnics there as they remember loved ones.
November 1st has long been celebrated as All Saints Day in the Christian tradition and All Souls Day on the 2nd, when we are invited to remember so many in our own lives that we have loved and lost. From our faith perspective, we are called to remember women and men of faith who have touched our lives or who have been important figures in our own faith tradition, holy people, people who inspired us or who still inspire us to live good and righteous lives.
All Saints Day originated sometime in the 4th Century and was originally celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. During the 800s the date of the celebration of All Saints Day was moved to November 1 and at that time it was celebrated by the whole church. All Saints Day is a time when the church honors those who died as witnesses of the Christian Faith. These were faithful people who refused to deny Christ. There were many thousands of early Christian martyrs and over the years there are countless others who witnessed to Christ. Today, in many churches, the names of deceased members from the past year are read during the service on All Saints Day.
Those whom we celebrate on All Saints Day are people who loved their God. They are people whose strong faith is consistent with their behavior. We give thanks to God for their lives. In our own lives, I imagine there are many important people who inspired our own faith lives, parents or grandparents who shared their faith with us, a special teacher or friend who inspired us as a model of faith, of living a life that is spiritually strong. In many ways, those who have come before us, including the many members of this church over the years, are the great witnesses to sharing their faith through love of Christ and one another. We stand on their shoulders really. Like the tree for Zacchaeus, these people helped enable us to see Jesus and be touched by his message.
At this time, I would like to invite people to remember the names of people we have lost, members of families, of this church, both in the past year…and from years ago….