This Week for Easter Sunday at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

Have you ever had an experience you would describe as unbelievable? Not something surprising. Not something remarkable. Something that when you saw it, you just could not bring yourself to believe it? To believe it meant that your understanding of how things work was wrong. Magic shows are like that. Several years ago, AJ and I went to see David Copperfield at the Benedum. Big tricks with lots of props and fanfare. Then he came down into the audience with a little table and started doing card tricks coin tricks and tricks with people’s rings. Everything made you want to turn to the next person and say, “How’d he do that?”  Then he pulled out this big screen on stage. He and his assistants moved slowly behind the screen so all you could see was their silhouettes. As soon as Copperfield got behind the screen, there was a big bang, a flash of light and a cloud of smoke on stage. Immediately, everything on the stage was gone. Just a moment later, I heard this gasp behind me. We all turned and looked. There was Copperfield and his assistants in the middle of the auditorium, in the middle of the crowd, all smiles and posing, like they had been instantly transported there. There was silence for a moment then the place erupted in cheers. I literally shouted out “Wow!” I turned to AJ and said, “That is the most amazing thing I have ever seen!”

That is what I am talking about. Something happens that is beyond belief. Something you know must be a trick because to believe it happened shakes your world. It means that everything you absolutely know to be true, is now suspect. I knew that people don’t just disappear here and pop up there. There must be some explanation. An explanation that confirms it was just a trick. That your understanding of the way the world works is true.

That is how many folks approach Jesus resurrection. They are torn. They want to believe it because it is such good news. But they have trouble believing it. Because if Jesus really was resurrected, our understanding of the way things work is now suspect. People don’t come back from the dead, right? So, if Jesus really was resurrected, that has to change the way they look at the world. If Jesus really was resurrected, maybe we really do have to change the way we live! But it’s still hard to believe.

Boy wouldn’t it be nice if we could come up with some scientific proof? We’d have an easier time then, right? But I am not so sure. Listen to this comment from this month’s National Geographic:

We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge … faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these controversies these days, you’d think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make people argumentative. And there’s so much talk about the trend these days—in books, articles, and academic conferences—that science doubt itself has become a pop-culture meme.

“Science doubt”. Wow. Sounds like “fake news” proclamations that are made whenever we don’t want something to be true. You could basically substitute “faith” for “science” and the article could be about “faith doubt”. What people of faith have been hearing for over 2000 years. So, what are we to believe? Well, come hear about it Easter morning at 8:30am and 11am at John McMillan Presbyterian Church where Pastor Jeff will preach “Not an April Fool” from 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11. We will also have a sunrise service at 7:00am at the Columbarium (inside in the event of inclement weather) where Pastor Jeff will offer a reading from Walter Wangerin’s “The Book of God”. Join us to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord!

The Man Who Would Not Be King: Thoughts on Jesus in Jerusalem.

Mark 11: 1-11

11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.   

Author Henry Miller describes celebrity pretty well:

“Fame is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow. The fickle, shallow mob raises its heroes to the pinnacle of approval today and hurls them into oblivion tomorrow at the slightest whim; cheers today, hisses tomorrow; utter forgetfulness in a few months.

Yep!

We humans are certainly a fickle bunch.

We know what we want, the way we want to get it, and we want it right now.

And if we don’t get it, things can get ugly pretty quick.

Every time I read Mark’s description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I think of Miller’s quote.

And it goes without saying that Miller’s words are timeless.

Which brings us to today’s text.

It’s what we call Palm Sunday.

Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

He has come a long way, timewise at least, to this day.

Born, baptized and anointed by God as God’s Messiah.

He has accumulated disciples and many followers.

He has performed many miracles and preached that the Kingdom of God has arrived.

For centuries the people were expecting God to send them a such a king.

All the prophecies pointed to Jesus.

He had the power to heal and the authority to speak.

So well-known that his arrival in Jerusalem is anticipated and bound to generate large crowds who just want a look at him.

And he has become famous.

A celebrity.

And now here he came, down from the Mount of Olives, on a donkey.

Just like the prophet Zechariah had said the new David-like king would.

Fame, celebrity, authority, power.

The people were prepared to follow.

But Jesus was the man who would not be king.

At least not that kind of king.

And every time I read this text, I think of Kipling’s story, “The Man Who Would Be King”.

Kipling’s story is about two former British soldiers on an adventure.

Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan have decided to become kings.

They have cache of modern rifles and plan to find a king or chief in some remote location, help him defeat his enemies, and then take over.

That is exactly what they do.

They find Kafiristan.

The tribal chief is having a dispute with a neighboring community.

Danny and Peachy offer their support.

They have some background on local rituals that make them seem a bit mystical.

They have unusually fair skin.

They are brave warriors.

And they have rifles.

Danny and Peachy are considered virtually god-like by the Kafiristanis.

With the rifles, the conflict ends quickly.

Danny and Peachy then use their mystique and authority to become the kings of Kafiristan.

But when they are found out – that they are neither gods nor devils but only men – their subjects revolt.

They are denounced as frauds, despite all they have done for the people.

Daniel is killed and Peachy is driven insane carrying Daniel’s head around in a burlap sack for the rest of his life.

People actually did this sort of thing in Kipling’s day.

Go to places and try to become a king.

It rarely lasts.

Kipling’s story is based, in part, on the life of James Brooke, a name well known in Malaysia.

I learned this story when I was in Malaysia in 2010.

In 1833, Brooke inherited £30,000, which he used to purchase a merchant ship.

Brooke sailed for Borneo in 1838.

He arrived on Borneo in August to find an Iban and Bidayuh uprising against the ruling Sultan of Brunei.

Perfect!

Brooke and his crew were well armed.

They joined the Sultan and crushed the revolt.

Brooke then did an about face and turned his guns on the Sultan.

In return for not deposing the him, the Sultan granted Brook the title of Rajah of Sarawak.

Basically king of the northern part of Borneo.

Brook’s family remained in power about only about 100 years.

Then they were gone.

Just history.

Fame is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow.

The pinnacle of approval today and into oblivion tomorrow.

Both stories, the fictionalized and real, depict the manor by which people often acquire – or are given – power in this world.

A place has a need for governmental change.

Someone makes promises, gains a following and demonstrates authority and power.

And so, they are selected to take charge.

At the time of Jesus arrival, Jerusalem was such a place.

The people wanted a change in government.

They were tired of the Romans and their puppet Herod.

Someone who would throw out the Romans and re-establish the Davidic line.

They wanted a return to the days of David and Solomon when Israel was a world power.

After arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple.

His first task was to go in and tear up the Temple courts.

Throwing out the money changers.

The people are delighted!

This was the guy alright!

The man who would be king!

But then … nothing.

Sure, Jesus tormented the Scribes and Pharisees for a few days.

Sure, he told a couple of parables that drove the Temple folks into a murderous rage.

But …

He did not lead a rebellion against Rome and Herod.

He did not use his power to make himself king.

He kept talking about the Kingdom of God.

You see, the people wanted him to be talking about the Kingdom of Israel.

He was not what they expected.

He was not what they wanted.

He was … disappointing.

And that meant trouble … for Jesus.

That is what happened to Daniel and Peachy.

That is what happened to Brooks’ family.

It would have happened to King Jesus.

“Fame is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow. The fickle, shallow mob raises its heroes to the pinnacle of approval today and hurls them into oblivion tomorrow at the slightest whim; cheers today, hisses tomorrow; utter forgetfulness in a few months.

And it is the same with us today.

On many levels.

Soon our children will be on summer break.

No school for two plus months.

They come running out of the building on the last day, expecting a two-month party.

Most of their plans will not turn out the way they want.

And they are disappointed … probably by the next morning.

They get bored.

Things get ugly.

Adults are the same.

As soon as you get a new phone, you see another that looks really cool and you are ready to throw out the new one for a newer one!

We are always searching for newer, bigger, better, bolder.

Our satisfaction interval is brief indeed.

Look at our relationships.

Elected officials, athletes, employers, family, friends.

When our needs are not met, we turn on those who disappoint us.

Time to get rid of our favorite player.

Time to get rid of the politician we voted for just last election.

Time to get a new job.

Time to get a divorce.

Time to join a new club.

We set expectations and when our expectations are not met, we cast aside those who disappoint us.

So, it was with Jesus.

He enters Jerusalem as a conquering hero.

He is here to become king and to oust the Romans.

At least that is what many expected.

So, he was hailed.

They cried Hosanna!

“Save us”.

Can you imagine the excited anticipation?

God was going to act like he did in the days of Moses and Joshua and David!

The world was about to change.

Here was the man who would do it.

Here is the man who would be king.

But the adulation does not last!

His poll numbers dropped like a stone.

It took only 4 days.

The miracle worker and prophet?

He’s a fraud!

We need to be rid of him as quickly as we accepted him.

No one complains when he is arrested by the Sanhedrin.

No one complains when he is hauled before Pilate.

Those “hosanna” people?

Nowhere to be found.

Those disciples?

Scattered!

His closest friend?

Denies him!

Some of those palm wavers were now screaming: “Crucify him!”

How could such a thing happen?

Because Jesus was not what they expected.

He was not what they wanted.

But why wasn’t he?

Why didn’t God just give the people what they wanted?

A new King David?

Maybe because had Jesus done what the people wanted, the way they wanted it done, he would have been considered perhaps a great king, like David.

But only for a time.

Then he would be lost to history, like David.

Or Brooks.

But that was not God’s plan.

Jesus came not to exercise political power.

Jesus was here to exercise divine power.

He did come to save, just not the way the people wanted.

Just not the way people expected.

And the people did not like it.

Their response?

“This is not what we want.

Crucify him.”

Now this was no surprise to Jesus.

He knew of their expectations.

He knew they would turn on him.

But he also knew what they needed.

They needed an eternal Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God.

And to do that, he had come to Jerusalem, not to take over, but to die.

And so that is what he did.

Jesus saved his way, not our way.

We have changed not at all since those days in Jerusalem, really.

We are a still fickle bunch when it comes to what we believe.

We struggle to understand what God is doing in our lives and what God is doing in the world.

We have troubles at home, at work, at school, in the community, in the nation, in the world.

We know how we expect it to be resolved.

We know how we expect it to work.

We know what we expect God to do.

But God does things differently.

And we get angry when God does not fix our problems.

When God does not do what we expect of him.

Or when God does not do it the way we expect him to.

When God does not become king!

A king who tells everyone to do what we want them to do.

And so, we turn away.

We find something, or someone, else to worship.

We are a really fickle bunch.

But thankfully, God knows it.

God has always known it.

And yet he still loves us enough to fight for us, die for us and defeat death for us.

Even when we don’t appreciate it.

He invites us into his kingdom anyway.

He does not become king in our world, but rather invites us into a world where he is already king.

Where things are as God wants them.

And if we think about it, it’s better that way.

Hosanna in the highest heaven.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. AMEN

This Week (Palm Sunday) at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

Every four years, we in the United States go to the mats proclaiming that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that we need someone who can pull it out and make it … well … whatever we want it to be. We are not alone. This happens in every country where elections are held. But regardless of where the election takes place it seems like change never really happens. And even when it does, the change does not last. Here are two examples from my lifetime. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Both led a revolution of sorts. Both rode into the White House on a platform of change and hope for the future. Both were elected by people who want things to be put right! Reagan’s approval rating topped out at 68% in 1981 but by 1982 had fallen to 43% when his party lost 25 seats in the House of Representatives. Obama’s approval rating topped out at 69% in 2009 but by 2010 had fallen to 44% when his party lost 67 seats in the House of Representatives. Neither of these two “revolutionaries” could keep up the momentum … or the popularity. Neither could do what was promised and what people expected of them. Disappointment and rejection were the result. And the loss of significant power.

Which brings us to Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem. He has amassed a large following who are proclaiming him the Messiah! He comes to change the world. To begin a revolution. He enters the city to loud cheers and adulation. He is the one who will put things right! But his approval rating immediately plummets. How could such a thing happen? Come and hear about it on Sunday, March 25 when John McMillan Presbyterian Church celebrates Palm Sunday at 8:30 and 11. Pastor Jeff will preach “The Man Who would not be King” based on Mark 11: 1-11. Come and join the Holy Week Journey.

Peter: Thoughts on a struggling discipleship.

John 21: 15-19

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’17He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

If you have ever seen the movie or read the book “the Godfather” you might recall a scene when Michael Corleone sees Apolonia for the first time.

He is overwhelmed by his attraction for her – immediately.

The men he is with look at each other and say, “He has been hit by the thunderbolt.”

The Italian Thunderbolt!

Described this way:

“When love strikes someone like lightning, so powerful and intense it can’t be denied. It’s beautiful and messy, cracking a chest open and spilling their soul out for the world to see. It turns a person inside out, and there’s no going back from it. Once the thunderbolt hits, your life is irrevocably changed.”

Can such a thing happen?

This from an article in Psychology Today:

Love at first sight: Is it possible? Do people really meet and in moments simply know they’re meant to be? New evidence suggests that yes, they do. … The idea is wonderfully romantic: Two strangers see each other “across a crowded room,” there’s an instant attraction, an electric spark, and suddenly they’ve found their match and never look back. In a world where dating often requires a lot of work — work that comes with disappointment, rejection, and uncertainty — falling in love at first sight has strong appeal. … [E]vidence suggests that about 60 percent of people have experienced it. … but it’s not so much “love” or “passion,” instead, it’s a strong pull or attraction that makes someone particularly open to the possibilities of a relationship. 

Over the first three Sundays of Lent, we have heard about three people who have had personal encounters with Jesus and, as a result, have had immediate – virtually miraculous – life changing experiences.

Nicodemus immediately became a follower and defender of Jesus before the Sanhedrin.

The Samaritan Woman immediately became the first evangelist in Samaria.

Zacchaeus immediately placed his wealth and position at God’s disposal.

All three experienced a strong pull or attraction that made them particularly open to discipleship with Jesus.

Jesus has often had that effect on people.

Sudden conversions – like Paul on the Damascus road.

It’s also the kind of thing that made Billy Graham famous.

Alter calls at the end of a crusade generated countless converts.

Lightning struck people coming forward to become disciples of Jesus.

And many of us here can tell our own stories about how our encounter with Jesus struck us in that way.

But then there are those who … well … have not had that experience.

They have been baptized, attended Sunday school, been confirmed, come to church, prayed daily, read the Bible, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and yet do not feel struck by lightning.

No thunderbolt for them!

I know lots of people like that.

What do we say to those people?

Maybe we sing them the song, “Do you love me?” from Fiddler on the Roof.

A song that comes to mind every time I read today’s text.

Tevye and Golde have been married for 25 years.

And finally have this conversation:

(Tevye)
Do you love me?
(Golde)
Do I what?
(Tevye)
Do you love me?
(Golde)
Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You’re upset, you’re worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it’s indigestion

(Tevye)
But do you love me?
(Golde)
Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?
(Tevye)
Do you love me?
(Golde)
I’m your wife
(Tevye)
“I know…”
But do you love me?
(Golde)
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that’s not love, what is?
(Tevye)
Then you love me?
(Golde)
I suppose I do
(Tevye)
And I suppose I love you too
(Both)
It doesn’t change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It’s nice to know

25 years of community and companionship.

With all the ups and downs of life that comes with it.

And they never spoke of romantic love.

But in the end, when they finally do talk of love, they speak of only community and companionship.

Their faithfulness.

What they did.

Not how they felt.

For many, that is the life of discipleship.

No thunderbolt.

Companionship.

Not felt.

Done.

With all the ups and downs of life that comes with it.

Which brings us to Peter and Jesus.

Jesus is meeting with his disciples after the resurrection.

They have breakfast together and then Jesus calls Peter aside for a private conversation.

“So … Peter … Do you love me?”

I can hear Peter’s response.

“I have been with you for three years.

I left my job and family and walked all over Judea with you.

I tried to walk on water for you.

I climbed that mountain and saw you with Moses and Elijah and offered to build you three houses.

What do you think, Jesus?”

“That’s all good Peter,” Jesus says.

“It has been a great ride.

But Peter, remember this conversation?

Matthew 16: 15-19; 21-23

[W]ho do you say that I am?’16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ …

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

You said I was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

You said I was your Lord.

Then I told you what was going to happen.

How it was all going to work out.

And you scolded me.

You tried to stop me.

You said you were my Lord.

“Oh no Jesus! Never! That’s too hard! That is not the kind of savior I want. There must be some other way. I know a better way. I know an easier way. You do not need to do this. You are mine! I’m in control! You do what I want!”

Like Satan in the wilderness, you tempted me to abandon the divine plan.

I am here to do the will of my Father, not the will of Peter!

And then there was this, Peter.

John 18

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus … into the courtyard of the high priest… [A] woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ …

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27Again Peter denied it … .

This was after you had assured me that even if everyone else deserted me, you would not.

Then you denied me three times!

And now here we are Peter.

“Peter … do you love me” does not sound like such an unreasonable question.”

It’s almost comical that Peter is offended.

It’s almost like Tevye and Golde.

A conversation about their life together, 3 years of community and companionship.

With all the ups and downs of life and faith that came with it.

But in the end, when they finally do talk about it, that community and companionship with all the ups and downs is enough.

And then Jesus tells Peter that his days of wavering are over.

Jesus turns the reigns of his ministry over to Peter.

It should be a happy ending, right?

Not so much.

Peter needs to follow Jesus.

Even to death.

And he does.

I think that is a more common description of discipleship.

We try to follow Jesus.

But we don’t always do so well.

We proclaim Jesus is our Lord.

But then try to be his Lord.

We come to church but don’t like to talk much about our faith in public.

And yet … Jesus sticks with us.

From time to time he asks us if we love him.

And we spend some time reflecting on our discipleship journey and decide that we do.

And that Jesus loves us, too.

Which is good to know.

Because Jesus has a task for us from time to time.

It requires us to continue to follow him, even when the going gets hard.

But that’s what love often is right?

No thunderbolt.

But a long journey of companionship and community.

I can live with that.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

In the movie The Blues Brothers Elwood and “Joliet” Jake Blues are brothers who were raised in a Catholic orphanage run by Sister Mary Stigmata. The movie begins when Elwood picks up Jake from prison and heads over to the orphanage to see Sister Mary. Neither Elwood or Jake are particularly “religious” yet when they find out the orphanage will be foreclosed because of a tax lien, they promise Sister Mary they will try to get the money needed to pay off the tax lien. Then, while walking down a street in Chicago they wander into the Triple Rock Baptist Church and hear a sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James. Jake has an epiphany. He sees a light shine down from the window at the front of the church that illuminates him. He begins to shake and twitch and then starts doing handsprings up and down the center aisle of the church. He now believes he is on a “mission from God” to re-form their old band, the “Blues Brothers”, which disbanded while Jake was in prison, to raise the money and save the orphanage. I have always found the scene where Jake “sees the light” hilarious. Yet, I wonder how many people have had a religious experience comparable to that. When Billy Graham was traveling around the country “crusading” for Jesus, there would be an alter call at the end of every service. The number of people who would come forward over the years to become disciples of Jesus at Graham’s invitation is too high to count. Maybe there were no handsprings, but the immediacy of the conversion was little different.

And then there are those who don’t get that lightning strike. Who don’t feel the urge to head toward the alter at the end of the service. They might want to be disciples, but they struggle. Their journey is a long and winding and bumpy road from which they get lost from time to time. What of them? What does Jesus do with them? This Sunday, Pastor Jeff will preach “Peter” from John 21:15-19 and talk about what it is like to stumble into and through discipleship. Come and hear about it at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We look forward to seeing you.

Zacchaeus: Thoughts on a wee little filthy rich tax collector sitting in a tree.

Luke 19: 1-10

19He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

As is our usual practice at the staff meeting this week, we talked about today’s text.

And when we did, Carolyn started hummin the Zacchaeus song.

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.

And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree and he said,
Zacchaeus you come down,

For I’m going to your house today!
For I’m going to your house today!

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
But a happy man was he,
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he;
And a very happy man was he.”

If your understanding of our text is based on that song, you would believe that this little guy had to climb a tree to see Jesus, that Jesus saw him there, called him down and invited himself to dinner, and that as a result Zacchaeus was a happy guy.

That understanding would not be far from the truth.

But it reminds me of the old Paul Harvey radio program, “The Rest of the Story”.

Harvey would tell a well-known story and then would fill in some unknown or unexpected gap in the facts to the surprise of his listening audience.

He would conclude by saying, “And now you know the rest of the story”.

So today we start out with the well-known Zacchaeus story set forth in the song.

Someone who wanted to see Jesus, was rewarded for his efforts by having Jesus to dinner and was happy about it.

But now for the rest of the story.

First, we need to understand when this story appears in Jesus ministry.

This is Jesus last stop on his journey to Jerusalem.

His next move is to enter Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.

The week of his death on the cross.

What do we know about Zacchaeus?

Well … he is short.

Zacchaeus is also a tax collector.

The chief tax collector to boot.

Which means he is not a popular guy.

I love this quote from Laura Sugg I read this week:

[A]s the chief tax collector, he is particularly despised by his fellow Jews. The chief collectors were known for colluding with Rome and for taking advantage of others to make a good profit for themselves – think corrupt subprime mortgage agents on steroids.

Wee Zacchaeus indeed!

Bernie Madoff comes to mind.

And then there is this:

Zacchaeus is rich.

Really rich.

And rich people are dealt with rather severely by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.

When Jesus blesses the poor, but says to the rich, “Woe to you!”

The rich man who builds big barns for all his stuff is called a fool by God.

Poor Lazarus is in heaven while his rich friend suffers in hell.

The rich young man walks away from Jesus sad.

Being rich is not something Luke’s Gospel finds attractive.

Why is that?

Because rich folks have tended to think of themselves as sort of better than the rest.

That the rules do not apply to them.

It was like that then.

It’s like that now.

I listen to a podcast called “Hidden Brain”.

This week, the show was called:

What’s It Like to Be Rich?

One of the people interviewed was Brooke Harrington who is Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany and who wrote a book called “Capital Without Borders”.

The book is about her research I what it was like to be filthy rich.

Rich beyond what anyone here can imagine.

Harrington met with many wealth managers who worked for such people..

She summarized their comments this way:

“The lives of the richest people in the world are so different from those of the rest of us, it’s almost literally unimaginable. National borders are nothing to them. They might as well not exist. The laws are nothing to them. They might as well not exist.”

Zacchaeus, at least in Jericho, was one of those.

So, we might anticipate, if we are hearing this story for the first time, that it will not end well for Zacchaeus.

Woe to him.

He is a fool.

He is condemned.

He is miserable.

But we would be wrong.

Let’s take the story a scene at a time.

Scene 1.

Jesus is coming.

Certainly people have been hearing about Jesus but now he is coming to Jericho.

Crowds are following him, and crowds are gathering to get a glimpse of Jesus.

Zacchaeus might be rich and powerful, but he also wants to see this celebrity, and maybe even meet this Jesus.

So off he goes to town.

Probably dressed in a way that makes his wealth and power obvious.

But he is too late.

The crowd has gathered, lining the street, and he can’t see.

He gets a flustered.

Hi might miss his chance to see Jesus.

He needs to hurry.

He looks around.

There!

The sycamore tree!

He begins to run.

Two things about running in Jesus’ time.

First, men of position, if any at all, did not run.

It was undignified.

Second, even if they wanted to run, their clothing was a hindrance.

Running in long cloaks and coats is hard.

In order to free up the legs, the cloak and coat had to be hiked up and tucked into the underclothes.

Bare legs exposed.

Kind of humiliating.

Then, Zacchaeus did something … well … unheard of.

He climbed the tree.

All tucked up clothing and bare legs.

Everyone in town could see him.

More than humiliating.

Shameful.

The kind of thing that would make people look away – mortified!

So, it took a lot of work and some self-effacement, but Zacchaeus can now see Jesus.

When we think about it, what has Zacchaeus done?

He had humbled himself in front of everyone for one purpose.

To get himself in the presence of Jesus.

Scene 2.

Jesus is in Jericho.

He has just healed a blind beggar, who obviously could not see Jesus, either.

He cried out to Jesus asking for Jesus to help him.

The crowd around this blind man did not want him to bother Jesus, but Jesus heard him cry out for mercy, had the man brought to him and gave him sight.

The crowd is now praising God for Jesus.

A bit later, Jesus is walking through town and turns to sees a most fascinating sight.

A man in a tree, clothing all tucked up, looking back at Jesus.

He is obviously rich, and no doubt wore whatever tax collectors wore so people would know they were tax collectors.

I have this image of Jesus turning to someone in the crowd.

“Who is that?”

“That’s Zacchaeus, Lord!”

“Wow!

He must really want to see me!

Look at him.

Clothes all tucked up.

Bare legs.

Hanging in the tree.

Don’t see that every day!

It almost looks like a cry for help.

Yo!

Zacchaeus come down here!

I need some shelter today and I want to stay with you!”

Zacchaeus, is overjoyed that he has been noticed.

He will actually get to meet this Jesus.

He shinnies down the tree, straightens out his clothing, walks through the crowd (who are snickering, hands over mouths, eyes rolling) with what self-respect he has left and comes to Jesus.

Zacchaeus has cried out to Jesus and Jesus has responded.

Zacchaeus is called to share a meal with Jesus.

And he, like all disciples called by Jesus, immediately agrees.

The crowd is not happy.

Again, Jesus has offended by welcoming even this corrupt tax collector into his presence.

Scene 3.

Now we have a private conversation apparently in Zacchaeus’ home.

Zacchaeus is overwhelmed.

Like the restoration of the blind man’s sight, there is a virtual miraculous change in Zacchaeus.

He is changed.

Renewed.

Reborn.

He decides to give ½ of what he owns to care for the poor.

That it is ½ — and not all — is not the issue.

It means that Zacchaeus has placed his wealth at God’s disposal.

He next tells Jesus that “if” he has defrauded anyone, which he knows he has done, perhaps to everyone, he will pay them back 4 times over.

He responds to Jesus’ presence with repentance.

He confesses and freely, declares he will make amends for his past conduct and vows to change the way he lives.

Zacchaeus does all this, not at the request of Jesus, but on his own to show his gratitude for Jesus’ presence in his life, even of just for that moment.

It is then that Jesus declares Zacchaeus a “son of Abraham” and tells him that salvation has come to his house.

Jesus says he came to seek out and save the lost.

Even the filthy rich tax collector Zacchaeus.

I see Jesus grinning, if not laughing, because he knows this might be the last lost sheep found before he goes to the cross.

Scene 4.

Jesus walks off to Jerusalem.

What do we learn from this text?

What makes Zacchaeus different from the rest of the rich in Luke’s Gospel?

First, Zacchaeus responded to Jesus by putting his position and wealth in God’s hands.

Second, Jesus takes all comers who welcome him and repent.

Third, faith calls us to respond with gratitude.

It’s not thank you Jesus and getting on with your life.

It’s thank you Jesus and changing the way you live your life.

Those who have these encounters with Jesus are renewed.

Changed.

Reborn.

So, today, I want us all to think of ourselves as Zacchaeus.

We are all hanging from the branches of our individual trees, exposed to everyone around us, trying to see Jesus.

Seeing Jesus is more important to us than any indignity we might suffer.

And then, we hear his voice.

He sees us.

And he calls us.

Come here and eat with me!

Come share this meal with me!

All of you who have been here often, and all who have not been here for a long time.

All of you who have much faith and all who would like to have more faith.

All of you who have tried to follow me, and all of you who have not,

Come.

Be renewed.

Changed.

Reborn.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

One of the most popular musicians in my high school years was Vincent Damon Furnier, AKA, Alice Cooper. He was one of the founding “faces” of the shock rock scene of the ’60s and ’70s with his bleeding mascara eyes, long black hair and dark clothing. He’s most known for the teen angst anthems “I’m 18” and “School’s Out”. His performances were extraordinarily counter cultural gory. They tried to ban his show in England. Furnier’s Allice Cooper stage persona was quite a bit different from his childhood. He was the son of a pastor who spent almost all of his social time at church. Then, in high school, he saw the Beatles and decided to become a musician. As he became successful, he decided that the rock music world needed a villain. So he became one – Alice Cooper. While he never rejected his Christian upbringing, he certainly did not expose it in his professional life. He called himself the prototypical prodigal. I suspect that many Christians of the 70s would have called him reprobate, or worse. Off stage, Cooper had two passions. Golf and beer. It was reported once that he played golf and drank at least a case of beer every day. He tried to quit in the late 70’s but relapsed. In the 1980s his alcoholism, and a new cocaine addiction, was so acute that he was near death. Cooper was taken to a hospital and told that he had to stop the alcohol and beer or be dead in two weeks. Cooper was determined to become sober.  This is what he said about it:

“When I came out of the hospital, I kept waiting for the craving to come, and it never came. It was a miracle,” he said. “I tell people I’m not a cured alcoholic, I’m a healed alcoholic. I never went to AA or anything like that, and I give all credit to God for that. Even the doctor said, ‘This is a miracle that you’re not falling back on alcohol every time there’s a stressful situation.’ So, it’s gone. It’s just gone.”

Cooper then did everything he could to live a life of faith.

This story about Cooper reminds me a bit of this week’s scripture personality, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a prodigal Jew who became a despised tax collector in Jericho and who was saved by Jesus from his unsavory lifestyle. It, too, appears miraculous. Come and hear about it Sunday at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Zacchaeus” based on Luke 19: 1-10.  Communion will be served!