A Sermon for 3 November 2019 – All Saints Sunday
A reading from the gospel of Luke 19:1-10. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Have you ever been lost? I don’t mean lost, as in you refuse to stop for directions lost while somewhere in like the middle of the tangle of roads that make up Hillwood and West Meade. But truly lost! So that you start to feel the panic deep down in the pit of your insides.
I remember the time when I was about four years old and my parents and my six-year-old sister and I had stopped at a huge mall in the big city on our way back home to the little village in which we lived. It was around Christmas. My parents were trying to make it a special afternoon for us to be able to see Santa Claus at a store similar to a Macy’s. It was one of those huge department stores in a mall we rarely visited. One minute my six-year-old sister was with us. The next minute, she was gone. My parents might tell you it was only for a little while, but to me it was a torturous lifetime. Long enough for mall security to be involved – which was way longer than I ever had been lost in the little grocery store back home, where I wandered off each week. As soon as mom and dad noticed my sister no longer was at our side, we started looking in the racks around us. This is the sister that always has been a bit of a rule-breaker, so it wasn’t unlike her to step outside the bounds. But to do so in the bustling mall of the big city where we knew nobody was absolutely terrifying! Images of my sister being lost went running through my little mind. With potentially horrible things happening to her. And the prospect that she may never return to us. Fear burned in my soul. At one point my parents left me with a store clerk in order to go find her. At another point they returned to me – without her – still. I remember when at last a man in a uniform, who looked to me to be a giant, came walking towards us – his huge brown hand dwarfing the tiny pale hand of my sister. Even though we weren’t a family that hugged a lot back then, when at last the man returned my sister to us; I threw my arms around her in relief! If you ever have been lost, perhaps you too know how absolutely horrifying it can be!
The InLighten film entitled “Lost and Found,” tells the story of a desperate young woman (https://inlightenstream.com/upcoming-films/#Xbu7XyVOmEc). Her beautiful chocolate face flashes on the screen as she tells that from an early age, she felt like she didn’t quite belong. She had been adopted into a family of other children in which she had the darkest skin. Her new parents did their best to raise her. But one impressionable night at a club, she saw someone pull out over $2,000 worth of cash. In awe she asked the girl where she got that kind of money. The next thing you know, the beautiful young woman turned her first trick. In the film she explains: “After that first man walked out of the room; in my mind, I was worthless. So, I didn’t deserve to have a normal life anymore” (Ibid.). Tearing up the woman says, “I didn’t deserve to have real love. I deserved what I was going to get” (Ibid.). If you ever have been lost like this, you too know just how terrible it feels!
After Hours Ministries is street outreach to women and men involved in prostitution. Associate Director Jen Cecil explains that “when you’ve been commodified, it completely tears down your self-worth. A lot of these women aren’t in it by self-choice,” she says (Ibid.). They do it to survive. They do it to avoid getting hurt by someone who has taken over control of their life. Cecil quotes a heavily debated statistic to claim that the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between the age of 12 and 14. Other sources claim the age is somewhere between 17 and 19. In 2015, one source records that “trafficking cases had been reported in over 85% of Tennessee counties including many rural areas” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5203042/amp). Cecil reminds: “These are your daughters. These are your sisters. These are your best friends. These are women created in the image of God, who God loves and pursues after” (Ibid.). They are lost. Needing to be found.
In the film, the teary young woman who ended up on that path goes on to tell that the daddy for whom she worked typically wouldn’t let her out of his sight. But one night she asked if she could go outside to smoke a cigarette. He told her to stay close to the door so he could keep an eye on her. The woman explains, suddenly “I saw this mini-van pull up. I remember thinking like: ‘Why are these people here?’ It’s a disgusting hotel. It was a family that got out and they had bibles.” Unable to hold back the tears at this point in the film, the sobbing woman says, “They handed me a bible and said, ‘We just want you to know Jesus loves you.’” The woman explains, “I remember thinking like: ‘you don’t understand. Jesus can’t love me anymore’” (Ibid.). Have you ever felt that kind of isolating shame? That kind of being totally lost?
That night, volunteers of After Hours Ministries prayed with the woman. They told her she was safe. They told her she was going to be okay. On film, light begins to creep back into the woman’s eyes as she remembers, “I had this redemption of thought,” that night. She says: I realized “God sought me out. Not because God wants something from me. But because God loves me” (Ibid.). As the film comes to a close, the voice of Jen Cecil pipes back in declaring, “A lot of times the women don’t believe that they are loved or that they are seen. I believe God desires for us to know that God is with us. And that we are loved. We are seen.” Cecil declares, “I have seen and I know the depths God has gone to for me. And that God will go there for you as well” (Ibid.).
It’s reported in the gospel of Luke – the gospel that especially likes to tell stories such as these – that one time, Jesus was passing through the city of Jericho. Jericho was a place responsible for receiving goods imported from the East (Connections, Yr. C., Vol. 3; 2019. Kenyatta R. Gilbert, p. 4580) which made it a place a tax collector could do quite well. A man lived there. One who was accustomed to climbing; for he had climbed the ranks in the world of taxing those around him until at last he earned the title of chief tax collector. For the Roman Empire, this man worked. Ensuring his fellow Jews paid the price in support of the ones who forcibly occupied their land. In the eyes of everyone, this man was lost – very lost. Though not as far off as those who can’t even see they are lost. Like those in the story who criticized that Jesus would dare spend time with ones such as Zacchaeus.
It would be easy to stay focused on people like Zacchaeus. People like the young woman in the film who found herself so lost. The point we are not to miss, however, is that we all are lost. In some ways. Maybe we’ve not been ensnared in the grip of the sex industry. Maybe we’ve not been caught up in exploiting others for the benefit of the empire. Maybe we’ve just known the depths of loss after a loved never returns. Maybe we just carry the pains from parents who hurt more than helped. Maybe we’ve just felt the sting of shame because of our gender or orientation or abilities or whatever so that we know exactly how it feels to want nothing more than to be seen by some One who will love us completely nonetheless.
Earlier in the gospel of Luke, these words are recorded – words assigned by the lectionary for All Saints’ Day every third year: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven . . . But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:20-31). The Beatitudes according to the gospel of Luke offer a helpful reminder that it is for the lost that God seeks. Not because being rich or full or full of laughter is any terrible thing. But because if we don’t know it yet: woe! We must! We all are lost – needing to be found. Once we know, salvation is ours! We get found by a God who is with us always. A God who sees and loves and seeks out the lost. For such a marvelous gift, let us give great thanks!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)