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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this All Saints’ Sunday, I would like to share with you two quotes. The first is from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and the second is from the pen of the 19th century Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard. First, “Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but of those who are trying to become saints. Therefore let us be extremely patient with each other’s faults and failures.” And from Kierkegaard. “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.”
There was perhaps no character in Scripture striving more to become a saint than Zaccheaus. Frankly, he had nowhere else to go. Of all the people in ancient Palestine, tax collectors were the most hated. In the common prayers in the Temple, robbers, murderers and tax-collectors were classed together. Palestine was subject to Roman rule, and the tax collectors served as mercenary, civil servants, and the Roman system for taxation lent itself to corruption.
Zacchaeus had risen to the top of his profession, but he was not a happy man. Like so many successful men and women, he was lonely. He had chosen a path that had made him an outcast. Often personal and professional decisions have a cost, though when we’re young we don’t often see it. We build for ourselves houses with great empty spaces. We nurture relationships that fail to give life. We tower over others in our professions, but we are often as small in the eyes of those who simply refuse to play the same games. Zacchaeus knew such loneliness and emptiness. No doubt, when he had heard that Jesus welcomed sinners and tax-collectors. For once in his life he began reaching out for God. He wondered if he could have a word with this Jesus from Nazareth.
Yes, Zacchaeus was determined to see Jesus, and he would not let anything stop him. For Zacchaeus to mingle with the crowd at all was a courageous first step, for he knew that many would take advantage of the opportunity to get a nudge, a kick or a push at the little tax-collector. It was a chance not to be missed. Zacchaeus would be black and blue by the end of the day. Unfortunately, his height prevented him from seeing Jesus- and the crowd took great delight in ensuring that he could not see him. So he ran ahead to the crossroads of Jericho and climbed a sycamore tree. He humbled himself, lifting his robe, and like a child, he climbed the branches so that he could catch a fleeting glimpse of this man from Galilee. When Jesus came to that place he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down- for this day, I must stay in your house.” To the tax-collector’s surprise, Jesus knew his name.
And yet there was anxiety as well. Perhaps Jesus already knew his story. Many people are afraid to look at their lives with the objective clarity of Zacchaeus. They are afraid to look at their weaknesses and needs and to climb the sycamore where others may see them. They are afraid to look at their failings and sins. Indeed, the word sin has all but disappeared from everyday language, except when we are describing someone else’s behavior. Today, psychologists talk of this kind of longing and release in a different words. It has been replaced with the words poor judgment and miscalculation. Yes, all of us want to be acceptable to ourselves, to others, and to God. But how?
The story of Zacchaeus reminds us the Christ alone makes you acceptable. It is not by your own goodness, your good works or your merits, or even your good intentions. But you are made acceptable to yourself, to others and to God, through Jesus Christ alone. Even though you may fail in your personal relationships, even though you may fail in the ways of the world, even though you may fail before God, yes, even though you have sinned, you may trust that God loves you, protects you and makes you his own. It is with this confidence that you may walk with your head held up high. It is with this confidence that you may stand before a loving God unafraid- as both sinner and saint..
But why is this such a wonderful story of our loving Savior? My friends, the meeting of Zachaeus and Jesus should remind you of how important and dear you are to God’s loving heart. Our Savior Jesus was on the road that would lead him to Jerusalem. He was traveling with countless others to celebrate the Holy Feast of Passover. Yet he knew what lay ahead. Throughout his journey, he was preparing for his death on the cross. Three times he warned his disciples of what would soon come to pass. And yet in spite of his own trials and fears, in spite of his mission and call, Jesus saw this wee, little man Zacchaeus spying him from high in the tree, he called out to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
Jesus spies you as well, as you are, and he is making time to be a guest in your home. No matter how much the crowd brushes you aside and tells you your cares are unimportant, God comes to you. No matter how much your family tells you that your pain and sorrow is unimportant, God hears your cry. No matter how small and insignificant you feel, God hears you. No matter how great the depth that you have fallen, how deep the loss, or how tragic the sin, God hears and see you… and he will not leave alone. “Today, salvation can come to your house.”
But beware- such a visit may change your life. It was during such a visit that Zacchaeus took steps to become a new and changed man. He had been made free to live the life Jesus had offered. He would abide in Jesus’ word. “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor.” The other half he chose to keep as restitution for those he had exploited. You see, faith is not simply about changed words, but it is about changed lives. You live life differently because of what Jesus Christ has done for you.
My friends, I do not know all your trials and tribulations. We struggle with different issues every day. Marriage, fidelity, divorce, care for our children, concern for our parents, the relationships with siblings that have never been resolved, anxiety for tomorrow, fears for the environment, concern for peace in the world, hunger, disease, and death. You will hear the crowds hushing you in your cries, but I am convinced as well, that when you climb the sycamore tree and open yourself to Jesus passing, that even in the maddening crowd, like Zacchaeus, you will hear God’s voice in Jesus Christ calling you by name. He longs to be a guest in your house, so that you may be changed and transformed into disciple he calls you to be. He longs for your to be a saint. He is searching for you; for the Son of comes to seek out and to save the lost.
That is the story we celebrate on this All Saints Sunday. It is the story God shared with all those whom we loved and are now a part of “the saint in light.” Robert Benson writes in Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, “All of the places of our lives are sanctuaries; some of them just happen to have steeples. And all of the people in our lives are saints; it is just that some of them have day jobs and most will never have feast days named for them.”
Blessed be the saints who have gone before us, and bless us all – on our journey. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.