See all people as children of Abraham, bearers of God’s image.

A sermon for Proper 26: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, Psalm 119:137-144, 2 Thessalonians 1:14, 11-12,

Backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, and backs, and backs, backs, backs, backs. All I can see are backs, and backs, and backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, and backs. Why won’t they let me through? Backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, backs, ah there it is a tree. It is not very dignified to climb a tree; it is certainly not one of the seven habits of highly effective people, but that doesn’t matter (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner; Hoezee). Stretch, reach, pull a foothold push, There, now I can see. There he is! I can see him (Lose, In the Meantime; Hoezee; Lose, Working Preacher).

Samaritan leper saw that he was cured. The blind man received his sight (Lose, Working Preacher). Now I can see him; and he is looking at me! He is speaking to me!! What? He is going to stay at my house!!! I’m am honored. Son of Abraham he called me Son of Abraham, I am home, once again I belong; like the younger brother who squandered his inheritance (Luke 15:11). I am home. I belong. I am Zacchaeus, and I am home.

We have to go all the way back to Lazarus to hear a name. We did not read all these stories in our Sunday services this year but, neither blind beggar nor the young ruler, nor the little children, nor the Pharisee or the tax collector from last week, nor the widow or the judge from the week before that nor any of the ten lepers before that, have a name. So, when we hear a name, we know it is time to pay attention.

Zacchaeus comes from the Hebrew zakay whose roots mean pure or an Israelite. The older roots infer to be or make clean or pure (Thomas Nelson Inc; Olive Tree). Zacchaeus’ name supports the wordplay that his short stature implies his moral shortcomings (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Tax collectors are political and religious traitors, and he is a chief tax collector. Perhaps his name is a clue to the surprise of the story that he is made clean, by Jesus welcoming him into his own home as a son of Abraham.

There are a few important details that are perhaps hard to hear or to see because they are not there. Zacchaeus does not confess or repent (Lose, In the Meantime). The talk of giving away half his wealth, and repaying anyone he has defrauded, is very unclear (Butterworth). Is it something he is doing? Is it a promise? Is it something he would like to do? For Jesus’ part, he does not condemn Zacchaeus’ actions as a tax collector; which should not be a surprise since he does not condemn the nine lepers who go to the priest, as he told them to, or unjust judge or the Pharisee praying in the Temple. But, neither does he commend Zacchaeus’ apparent penitence, or his faith or his change of heart (Lose, Working Preacher).

So, a whole lot of what we think might be going on isn’t. Nonetheless, Zacchaeus is transformed. It happens just because Jesus accepts him for who he is, a child of Abraham. It is interesting to wonder how, or if Zacchaeus will be restored to a place in the community, as the two women, Jesus healed were. Jesus called one daughter, and the other a daughter of Abraham (Luke 8:4, 13:16). I expect we might find all of this stuff a bit helpful when we are anxious about going into a situation we are not comfortable with. Zacchaeus’ story shows us that the presence of Jesus opens the possibilities for unimaginable things to happen (Lose, Working Preacher). And since we are made in God’s image we also reflect Jesus’ image and we mirror Jesus’ presence.

Way back in chapter 10 Jesus sends seventy disciples on a mission trip. Parts of his instructions are to stay in homes, and to tell those who welcome them that “the Kingdom of God has come near you.” It seems that Jesus is following his own instructions (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Yes, Jesus tells Zacchaeus what is going to happen and that he is staying in Zacchaeus’ home. And though he uses different words, Jesus calling Zacchaeus, “son of Abraham,” reveals that the Kingdom of God has come near.

I find Zacchaeus’ story a banner of hope. Despite his short stature, and his diminished moral stature, Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus, and he does. Our hope is the promise that anyone who wants to see Jesus, will see him; and Jesus will also see them. In that moment, when you are seen by Jesus, in that moment, anything, anything can happen.

I also hear a call in Zacchaeus’ story. Our stewardship of Jesus’ ministry includes continuing to expand the boundary of those who are a child of God by seeing all who are God’s people, which Paul reminds us in Romans is pretty much everyone (Romans 19:0) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner; Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set). One way to share that the kingdom of God is right here right now is, without any preconditions or preconceptions, accepting people as children of Abraham, bearing the God’s image, just as they are.

A face, a friend, a smile. Hi, how are you? Thank you. Excuse me. You’re welcome. Yes, it is good to be home.


References

Butterworth, Susan. “The Righteous Live By Their Faith – Proper 26(C).” 30 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 19:1-10. 30 10 2016.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 30 10 2016.

Lose, David. Commentary on Luke 19:1-10. 30 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. Pen 24 C / Reformation – The Unexpected. 30 10 2016.

Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thomas Nelson Inc. NKJV Strong’s Bible. Nashville: Olive Tree, 1982.

 

 

 

 

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A sermon for Advent 4

Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

We all know the Music of Handel’s Messiah, well at least the Alleluia Chorus. I would have said that he was no slouch when it came to lyrics, but then I learned, they were written by his good friend, Charles Jennens, a large land owner, patron of the arts,and devoted Christian scholar with particular interest in primitive Christianity; living as 1st century Christian did, and John Chrysostom, [i] the saint with the unpronounceable last name. So, I would now observe that Jennens, was no slouch when it came to storytelling. The lyrics are entirely from scripture, and he chose well, particularly from the new testament. Luke’s version, with his long journey, a city full of “no vacancy,” a sparse, spare manger, night shift shepherds, and angel choirs, is a really grand story. Jennens masterfully weaves it together, and Handel’s musical genius well its lasted centuries. 

But this is not the only biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Matthew includes a birth narrative in his Gospel account; and it’s quite different; and it’s as dramatic, on its own terms. We heard it this morning. So we know Mary is engaged to Joseph. We know she turns up pregnant. We know Joseph intend to quietly divorce her. Finally we know Joseph: listens to God’s messenger angel, marries Mary, and names the child Jesus. To our ears, Joseph seems rather harsh, a self-centered prig. Until we forget all our social customs, and immerse ourselves in Joseph’s world; for Joseph’s story, challenges how we live today. 

Let’s start with marriage. In the first century, there is no falling in love, asking her father for her hand in marriage. Sons’ fathers made arrangements with daughters’ father. There were contracts. A dowry was paid to ensure the bride’s future, and to compensate her family for the loss of a productive family member. The payment of the dowry made a marriage legal before any feast. [ii] Then there is Deuteronomy 22:23 ff 

 23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her,  24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death,

 The first thing we hear about Joseph, is that he is a righteous man; and that means he is very intentional about living his life by the law. His decision to divorce Mary is not out of anger or feeling of betrayal, it’s out of his deep religious commitment. Love as we think of it in marriage is simply not part of the equation. It is not Joseph’s choice, it is his obligation. [iii] Yet, even in the first century there were legal interpretations, made by Rabbi’s through the years. And there was mitigation in cases of marriage contract violations, though they were harsh and humiliating. [iv] It reveals much about Joseph and about Matthew’s teaching, that Joseph seeks to follow God’s word, i.e. be righteous, and be merciful, perhaps stretching the boundaries of mercy, as Joseph seems to be more generous to Mary than rabbinic mitigation suggest.

We still have names to ponder. Joseph is common in scripture. The first time we read about a “Joseph” is the one with a coat of many colors. He is the eleventh son of Jacob, the first by Rachel. He starts out as a bit of a brat, gets sold into slavery by his brothers, makes a name for himself in Egypt, ends up running the show for Pharaoh, and when Jacob’s family shows up starving from the famine he generously provides for them, setting up the flowering of the Hebrew people. Joseph is a shepherd to the Hebrews. 

Normally a son would be named after his father. But Joseph is told to name his son Jesus, a common Hebrew name. Jesus is derived from ‘Yeshua’, which is derived from ‘Joshua’, who is Moses successor. By name Jesus is established as Moses’ successor.  [v] The importance of this might be akin to a person believed to be the successor to George Washington. By implication Joseph is the shepherd to Moses’ successor, as the true leader of the Jews.

There is one more element in this ever growing complex weave of literary fabric. Joseph, a righteous, merciful man, has a dream in which God’s angle, God’s messenger, tell him: 

            “… marry Mary, and name the baby ‘Jesus.’”

 And Joseph does. There is something in Joseph’s character, that allows him to receive God’s word, even though it beaks strong customs, the naming of first sons, and even breaks God’s law as set forth in Deuteronomy. And even though is sounds like a sound bite from the Reformation, which is a millennium and a half after all this, Joseph’s personal relationship with God is stronger than whatever is handed down to him by tradition or written law. Joseph knows God. And that relationship allows Joseph to be obedient to God, even though obedience makes him appear to be unrighteous, and subjects him to humiliation and ridicule.

What this morning’s Gospel reveals is a righteous merciful man obedient to God to the extent that he violates established norms and law to shepherd God’s anointed successor to Moses.

And oh yea, one more little tid-bit; Joseph, as is Mary, are two bit players, from two bit families from a two bit tribe. In no way, are they the ones anyone, including us, would look to, to bring God’s incarnate presence into the world, into our lives into your lives.[vi] There is no pedigree, there is no education, no training, no experience, no nothing, except: righteousness, mercy and obedience, from Joseph, and acceptance, 

“… let it be with me according to your word.” [vii]

 from Mary.

All of this rather muddles up, our preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. But that is only half of our Advent observation, the other being preparation for the return of the King. So, if one wants to actively prepare, to actively participate in what we pray for, every day, (at least I hope you do)

… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, one earth as it is in heaven.

we have a model to follow in Matthew’s birth narrative. From Joseph: be righteous in flowing the law, God’s as revealed in scripture and interpreted by faith leaders, and secular law, which, at least according to Paul, are also established by God for the benefit of God’s people; be merciful in the application of the law seeking not only your benefits, but just consideration of others, be obedient, be discerningly obedient, and when God calls you to act, against the current interpretation of God’s law, and / or secular law, do so  trusting in God. And finally from Mary, when called to accept the unacceptable, do so trusting in God.

It only took me a thousand or so words to get here but the Incarnation gives us four little words to prepare for the return of the King: righteousness, mercy, obedience, and acceptance. May they be your guiding light: to the truth of incarnation and to presence of our King.

Amen

 

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[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Jennens
[ii] Eaton’s Bible Dictionary
     Holman’s Bible Dictionary
[iii] Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation, Matthew
[iv] M. Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible
[v] ibid
[vi] Lose, Working Preacher, Matthew’s Version of the Incarnation, December 17, 2013
[vii] Luke 1:38

______________________
Arland J. Hultgren, Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25, Working Preacher, 12/22/2013
Scott Hoezee, Matthew 1:18-25, Center for Excellence in Preaching, December 22, 2013