Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Zacchaeus: Luke 19:1-10

The Zacchaeus story has traditionally been seen as a story of conversion in which Jesus brings salvation to a greedy sinner. The narrator sets Zacchaeus up as a rich tax collector. Everyone hates taxes. If the collector is taking an extra cut to enrich himself that makes him a perfect target to public derision. He was also a collaborator with the Roman occupation so that makes him an even more detested figure. Oh, there is more. Remember the song "Short people have no reason." This is the only story in the new testament where someones physical attributes are described. Why is that? As a kid I liked this story because I felt I often missed out seeing things because I was small. Oh, yeah, I loved climbing trees.

Two questions jump out on me? Why did Zacchaeus come out to hear Jesus in the first place? Was he on a spiritual quest? Did he see a hole on his existance that money and possessions couldn't fill? Although we like to psychologize the bible, this is not in the text. But the question lingers. Luke likes to have people from the margins of society encounter Jesus and be transformed. Luke usually is pretty hard to rich people--why is so favorable to Zacchaeus? Just two chapter earlier we had the rich man in hell seeking the poor and destitute Lazarus to give him a drink of water and to go warn his greedy brothers. The rich mans request gets ignored.

The second question is what motivated his restitution? Jewish law required people who repented of their sins to correct the situation and to repay ill gotten gains. Zacchaeus did this but went beyond what was expected. Why? Is it the good kind of guilt. You feel bad and want to set things right so do it generously? How often do charity campaigns show pictures of starving and ill clothed children to "guilt" the rich western audience to cut loose with a $15 monthly check to make them feel less guilty for their good fortune. But that sort of giving doesn't change people the way Zacchaeus was changed.

If i had a church of mostly "seekers" I might attempt to approach the text was asking the existential question poses by the story itself. Methodist bishop Geroge Thompson posed it well in a famous sermon: "Have you ever felt you were there with Zacchaeus up a tree, out on a limb, isolated from faith family that gave you birth, disturbed by the moral contradictions within your won conscience?"

I don't know. The familiar stories are hard to cover without boring people. I used to say, "What else can you say about the Prodigal Son?
I could use some creative help.

I just wish I had read Gary's comments last week about wildnerness before finishing the sermon. You only thanks God after the journey through the wilderness.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mourning and meekness

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

The deeper I get into the Beatitudes the more radical they seem. Jesus is celebrating people who are downtrodden and overwhelmed by circumstances yet are happy and centered. He calls the "loser" winners and say they are the ones who are "truly blessed."

This week I am working on mourning and meekness. How are they connected? First of all mourning is something everyone has to do in life. Jesus knew well the transitoriness of life and so did his followers. Life is uncertain even in our lifes sheltered by material certainty. Death no longer routinely comes in early age or in childbirth. Yet we still die and it upsets us. Jesus is affirming that those that mourn will be comforted and then find a new life filled with joy.

But we mourn more then just death. We mourn the loss of moblity (think of christopher "Superman" Reeves) after his crippling horse jumping injury. His time with his children after the injury became richer, his marriage stronger, and his life took on an even higher purpose: promoting spinal cord research. His taks in mourning was to look at < "Not what I have lost, but what life can I now build."

We mourn changes in our health, changes in relationships with friends and family members, changes in our dreams. We have to mourn loss before we can rechart our course. How often are we out of sorts and unable to just go about our routine because we are mourning loses. We can't just get over it. We have to mourn and become comforted before we can jump into life again.
I believe people mourn in different ways and at different rates. Unfortunately some people never give up on mourning and thus never get back out there for God to bless them again.

Meekness is also an unappreciated character trait. I will say Sunday that meekness is not weakness. Meekness is the ability to stand up to oppression and injustice without resorting to violence. I would love more moives like "Ghandhi" and the Martin Luther King fils to show how non-violent approaches to change have more lasting effect than violence imposed and enforced change. To be meek--meaning wise and steady--requires considerable trust in God. Meekness requires the other party to see your point of view and be willing to change.

I think mourning and meekness are connected because they are both internal attitudes that have to deal with external hardships. Both require trust in God's providentail care.

We will see. I could still use some help here.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Matthew 5:3

I really like Tom Wrights translation of this opening of the "blessed" people in the Sermon on the Mount.
"Wonderful news for the poor in spirit! The Kingdom of heaven is yours."

Wright gets it right about what Jesus is doing in his ministry. He is trying to turn the world upside down, to turn Israel upside down, to pour lavish blessings on all people who turn to him and accept the new thing he is doing.

There are two issues here.
One is: when do the promises of blessing come true?
Is it only in HEAVEN? This has been a common interpretation. The reward for being poor and having suffered lifes indignities is a safe and plentiful life in heaven. This was the gospel the white church preached to the black patient, god is good, you will have shoes to wear in heaven. In other words, this is your state in this with it!
Those that disliked this message had a cute phrase for it: "Christians are so heavenly oriented they are no earthly good." This interpretation also gets believers off the hook in trying to reverse the injustices in the world. If the reward is in heaven---why correct the way things are now? But I believe the Bible is quite clear that Jesus is beinging God news to the cpatives, the poor, the oppressed...right now!God's blessing are intended for everyone--not just the well to do.
I prefer a different understanding of heaven (once again I borrowed from Wright) that heaven is "God's space" where full reality exists, close by our ordinary "earthly reality" and interlocking with it. When we act as God's people we bring blessing upon ourselves and share it with others so they are blessed during their earthly life.
The Beatitutdes then show us how God intends this world to be---yet acknowledges the full reality won't be attained in our time. We are working with God (interlocking action) towards a time when all people know the blessed life. We won't fully reach it--but we can make considerable progress.
Each week in the Lord's prayer we ask for this: THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS (already is) IN HEAVEN.

The second issues is the audience. We know the poor need the basics of life. What about those of us who already have been materially blessed? Where is the good news and the great need for the "haves?"
The challenge Christianty has always faced was to make the gospel offer something to the people who already have been richly blessed. The Prosperity Gospel says that God wants to make you evern richer! If you live in beautiful surroundings and have a great marriage and good friends and meaningful work, can you really be considered "spiritually poor?" I could use some help here. I know that often people come to trust God and to open their hearts to a deeply spiritual reality when they fall off their comfortable perch and face hardship. Do we only know Christ when we are humbled and open to his help?

Thos two questions seem the most relevant for me. Give me some help?