July 19, 2020
Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
theme: Unraveled, by A Sanctified Art
“Jesus Looked Up (Zacchaeus the Wealthy Tax Collector)” by Hannah Garrity
| A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org
see Artist’s statement below
Prelude— “AfroBlue,” performed at CMCL in 2000, by Daryl Snider, Larry Penner, Dean Clemmer and Grant Huddle
Welcome— Malinda Clatterbuck
Good Morning and Welcome to Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster. We are glad you have joined us today for our zoom service- which continues to feel more and more like a comfortable new normal. If you are visiting- we welcome you. Here at CMCL we welcome people of all political and sexual persuasions. If you are married. Welcome. If you are single, Welcome. If you are partnered, we welcome you. Our desire in this community is to open our arms in love to people of all color, of all levels of monetary possessions- We are committed to the teachings of Jesus, who lived a message of love and non- violence in the world. We strive to be peacemakers in his likeness.
Call to Worship—
We come with joyful hearts, we come with broken hearts— but we come knowing
God dwells in and among us.
We come to be filled, we come to be reminded of God’s presence & work in the world because we believe
God dwells in and among us.
We enter this time and space with both humility and boldness knowing
God dwells in and among us.
We trust and believe- and embrace our lived reality that
God dwells in and among us. Amen.
Lighting of the Peace Lamp—
As we light the peace lamp today- I invite you to reflect on the words of Wendell Berry, and how they encourage us to be peacemakers in our world
“You cannot damage what you are dependent upon without damaging yourself.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture
Gathering Song— Come, let us all unite to sing, HWB #12, sung by Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship in Vancouver, BC
Children’s Time— Chicken Sunday, Malinda Clatterbuck
Offering— As we come to the time of our offering, we remind you that our work continues at the church, and your contributions make that possible.
we receive with grace, and we graciously give as we can.
Bless the work of our hands. Amen.
Offertory— “They Are Falling All Around Me,” by Bernice Johnson Reagon, SongTalk Publishing Co. (BMI)
Remembering C.T. Vivian and John Lewis.
Reagon is a song leader, composer, scholar, and social activist, who in the early 1960s was a founding member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) Freedom Singers in the Albany Movement in Georgia. In 1973, she founded the all-black female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock)
Scripture— Luke 19:1-10
[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When 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.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus 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.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Sermon— Susan Gascho-Cooke
Our theme this summer is “Unraveling,” and the story we’re given to unravel today is the story of Zacchaeus. It’s a short story, and a pretty familiar one, as Bible stories go.
Jesus comes to Jericho, and his reputation must have preceded him, because a crowd has gathered along the road in order to see what he’ll do. And Zacchaeus is quite interested in seeing Jesus, too. So much so, that he climbs a tree to get a better view. Interestingly, Jesus seems to know who Zacchaeus is, too. Because he calls him by name when he sees him up in the tree. Zacchaeus is the chief tax-collector in Jericho, so I guess that gives you some notoriety.
I must confess, I come to this story with all the contempt of tax-collectors that the Gospels set readers up to have. Tax-collectors were Jews who worked on behalf of the Roman empire, collected taxes from those in their own community to pass on the Roman occupiers/colonizers. Not real popular folks — they occupied troublesome in-between space. I would hazard to guess that they had little respect from their communities OR from their Roman employers. But tax-collectors had the option to gild the pill of their discomfort, by profiting as much as they wanted to on the transactions they oversaw, for apparently there was little Roman regulation. And many tax-collectors did gild the pill, becoming wealthy compared to (and off of) the folks they collected taxes from.
It is clear in this story that the crowd following Jesus around does not see Zacchaeus as one of themselves. As a tax-collector, he is seen as a sinner — and they’re grumbling about Jesus giving Zacchaeus his attention.
The gospel of Luke has a lot to say about wealth.
The importance of wealth and poverty in Luke is evident from early in the Gospel when, in her Magnificat, Mary speaks of the Lord sending the rich away empty and filling the poor with good things. The poor (not in spirit as in Matthew) are blessed in Luke’s beatitudes for theirs is the kingdom of God. The foolish rich man who builds bigger barns to contain his wealth dies with nothing to show for it, and his story is followed by the image of the ravens and the lilies and the instruction from Jesus (12:33-34): “Sell your possessions, and give alms. . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In 16:19-31, after having said, in the presence of the Pharisees (identified in 16:14 as “lovers of money”), “You cannot serve God and wealth,” Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, who ignores the desperately poor Lazarus at his gate, looks up from the torments of Hades after his death and sees Lazarus with Abraham. He begs for comfort, which does not come, and then asks that Lazarus be sent to his brothers to warn them. And Abraham finally replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
In Luke 18, the chapter right before today’s story, Jesus encounters the rich young ruler who walks away sad when Jesus suggests that he give everything he owns away to the poor.
24Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
So, the reader is kind of set up to sympathize with the grumbling crowd of onlookers. Why would Jesus go out of his way to pal around with a rich sinner?
And let’s be honest, we are set up for this by far more than just Luke. It’s the great dilemma, isn’t it? We all want the security, choice and power that wealth affords. But no one wants to be “wealthy.” Wealth is problematic. Largely because it’s generally a comparative descriptor. To be wealthy is to have more than someone. More than most, let’s be honest. And having more than most implies inequity, implies greed. The larger the gap between the wealthy and the poor in any given society, the more unstable that society becomes.
The Hebrew and Christian scriptures warn against such inequality. In fact, they even prescribed a regular leveling of the playing field, called Jubilee, where land would be returned and wealth redistributed. Funny how Jubilee isn’t ever practiced, even by the most self-proclaimed literalist interpreters of scripture, even though it was set up as a natural and needful part of a just and Godly society.
It’s interesting to watch how quickly some entrenched symbols of racism and white supremacy are being taken down right now. I say, wonderful! But the jaded part of me says, “hmmm. The ask right now is a radical one — it’s asking for Jubilee. The leveling of the field, the tearing down of the unjust to put the power into the hands of all for the rebuilding. It’s a call for reparations. I fear that the deep asks will be buried in the chaos of all the statues and names tumbling down. If Washington DC comes up with a better name for their professional football team, awesome! But much more is required to make things right with Black players and Black Americans and the Native Americans whose caricatured image is finally being removed.
Jesus has a chance to really stick it to a wealthy guy in this story. And then it just doesn’t go down that way. You can tell the crowd wanted it to go down that way, too. You get the sense that they’re gathered around the home, peering through the windows. Because when Jesus does address Zacchaeus, it’s in the third person. Jesus says TO Zacchaeus: ”today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”
Because Zacchaeus goes off-script, too. He doesn’t grovel for his sins. Nor is he defensive. He doesn’t try to spiritualize what’s at stake. He gets straight to the point: “Look, Jesus: half of my possessions I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Perhaps he makes the promise because he feels certain that he has not defrauded anyone, and this is his way of emphasizing his claim of innocence. But at the same time, he offers to give half of his possessions to the poor, which implies this isn’t something he’s normally in the habit of doing.
There’s another story in Luke 18. Again, that’s the chapter right before today’s story, so it’s part of the context and set-up for the Zacchaeus story. It’s the story of Jesus blessing children:
15 People were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
Yes, it’s no surprise that Zacchaeus falls in the line of the wealthy and tax-collectors in Luke’s gospel. But it is a surprise that this tax-collector ends up being, I would argue, an example of receiving the kingdom of God as a little child. Being interested in Jesus, he has the child-like instinct to want to see for himself — not content to hear someone’s gossip and description afterward. He runs ahead, which I’m doubting a lot of “dignified” adults often did, and then climbed a tree to get a view of Jesus. It says that he was “short in stature,” so it’s possible that he was treated as a child in in appropriate ways by his community. One doesn’t know. But the Zacchaeus described to us, is not a person who seems to have a need to over-compensate for his small stature by being exaggeratedly “adult.” He greets Jesus enthusiastically, making no apology for being spotted in a tree. And he gets right to the point in a very practical way: “Look, I’m gonna give half of my possessions to the poor.” There is a guilelessness to Zacchaeus that is refreshing. A child-likeness that I think Jesus saw and appreciated.
What is being unraveled here? And what does this have to do with us?
It seems to me that Jesus didn’t just unravel, but rather walked right though the veil of propriety and societal expectation of Zacchaeus. He didn’t explain, or “break it down,” or unravel things to the grumbling crowd. But I’m guessing his widely-observed interaction with Zacchaeus caused some unraveling in those who were looking on.
I wonder if one of the results of this interaction was an unraveling of the barriers between Zacchaeus and his community. Jesus emphasizes that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, as are the folks in the on-looking crowd. And Zacchaeus makes steps to put himself on a more level playing field with his community by decreasing the wealth disparity between him and his community.
I confess I want a stronger message to Zacchaeus from Jesus. I want a message that doesn’t let him off the hook too easy. That doesn’t let us off the hook too easy, we who (many of us) benefit from and do the work of empire over and on top of folks who do not have the access that we do.
Then again, Zacchaeus was a pretty radical guy. He saw that what his problem was a material problem, which called for was a material response. He divested himself of wealth and power on the spot. It emphasizes, I think, that he must have known this was the right course of action all along. Just like all these corporations already knew their names were wrong, their logos and policies were wrong all along. For Zacchaeus, it took looking Jesus in the eye to move him from awareness to action.
Jesus’ words that he (Zacchaeus), “too is a son of Abraham,” seem important. As are his words that he (Jesus) has come to seek and save the lost.
Why was the richest guy in the community — the one with the most security — the “lost” one. Maybe Jesus was telling the crowd and Zacchaeus that their salvation is bound up together. That is a saving and a finding and a call to radical mutuality. And perhaps it is the necessary call to a church like ours, too.
What might do the same for us? Jesus told us where to find him when he was gone. Look in the eyes of the overlooked.
We know, too, I think. We know what we should divest of. We know what we should share. May we have the childlike heart of Zacchaeus — to so deeply desire to see God that we run down the street and climb trees to get a better view. May we trust that when we begin to take action on our awarenesses, action that divests of empire and invests in people and communities that have less, that that is living out the heart and teachings of Christ.
I’ll close with the words of Wendell Berry, from his Mad Farmer Liberation Front, which I think speak to the necessity of childlike qualities in the face of today’s urgent material realities:
. . . . So, friends, every day
do something BE SOMEONE WHO
that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Work for nothing.
Take all that you have
and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag…
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Sharing Time & Prayer— Please email your prayer requests and sharing news to Pastor Susan Gascho-Cooke at firstname.lastname@example.org. These will be shared during the live Zoom service, and included in the sharing concerns email sent out afterwards.
Closing Hymn— God, be with you til we meet again, sung by Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship in Vancouver, BC
Note from Worship Committee: We plan to end all of our future worship services with this song, until such time as we can ALL gather and sing it together in person. **If your household would like to record yourselves singing this song, please send it our way!
Infirm, by Gwendolyn Brooks
Everybody here is infirm.
Oh. Mend me. Mend me. Lord.
say to them
say to them
say to them, Lord:
look! I am beautiful, beautiful with
my wing that is wounded
my eye that is bonded
or my ear not funded
or my walk all a-wobble.
I’m enough to be beautiful.
You are beautiful too.
Worship Leader: Malinda Clatterbuck
Sermon: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck
Prelude & Offertory coordinator for July: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Tech Host: Drew Brubaker