Come home to Calvary
This is one of my favorite passages from Isaiah. Isaiah is full of hope, and has a deep belief in the potential of humanity. He also is aware of our foibles and failings. I want to be like Isaiah—clearly able to see us as we are, but without losing my hope. It’s a fine balance some days.
He calls us out. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” But he says it with kindness, and with the reminder that we don’t have to seek the wrong things. We could choose to seek goodness.
“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
It’s a pretty remarkable vision, really. We’re out there working for things that don’t satisfy, spending our money on things that won’t feed us, or feed our souls, and God calls us to be fed for free and get water, milk, and wine without money.
God’s vision for us is better than we would even dream up. Maybe we’d hope God would give us a coupon for 50% off or something. Cyber Monday deals on the waters of God. Some sort of discount feels like the best we could ask for, somehow.
We seek our own deals and bargains, forgetting to trust that God will provide and forgetting that God wants us all to flourish and live lives with joy and hope.
And if we can trust that just maybe God is seeking our shalom, our wholeness, as Victor spoke of last week, do we want it for all of our neighbors? Sure, we think.
If they are good neighbors.
If they celebrate the right holidays in the right ways.
If they agree with our opinions.
If they get vaccinated.
If the mystery of God is a little baffling when it comes to understanding how we are recipients of grace, it is impossible to understand how “they” (however you define the other) could also be recipients.
Isaiah understood that too.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God’s word, we’re told, will be like the waters that fall from the sky, nourishing the ground, and not returning to God until it has done what it came to do.
God’s word is seeking us, so we can go out in joy and be led forth in peace.
Do you believe God is seeking you? That there is a force in the universe that wants you to know wholeness and love and community and joy?
For what are you seeking?
Is it peace? Is it hope? Is it safety and survival? Is it love and community?
For what are you seeking?
Do we think we know where to find it? Do we trust it is even out there to be found?
For me, this is what faith is all about. It is why I have committed my career and calling, my pledges, my time to the church. Because I believe in the goodness of God that is beyond what I can comprehend and has been seeking me my whole life.
There are other things we could be doing on a Sunday morning than gathering in community to sing, pray, worship. And God is not only to be found here. The God who created the stars and the moons can seek and find us from lots of places. But I do believe that when we gather together to worship, maybe we slow down long enough to re-orient ourselves about which direction we should be doing our seeking.
When I’m oriented toward seeking God, I tend to better trust the feast of abundance Isaiah talks about. When I’m oriented toward seeking God, I’m less likely to buy the things (metaphorically and perhaps literally speaking) that will not satisfy. When I’m oriented toward seeking God, I can better trust that God is seeking me too.
Our story from the New Testament this morning gives us another lens through which we consider seeking.
If you grew up in church, you may have a sentimental soft spot for Zacchaeus. He ‘was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he’ who just wanted to see Jesus.
And maybe we cheer when Jesus sees him up in the sycamore tree and calls for Zach to come down and be host to Jesus. For the son of man came to seek out and to save the lost. Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus, we’re told.
But did you notice the grumble?
As soon as Zacchaeus is happy and excited, the crowd grumbled. Not just a few people. All who saw it.
Jesus has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner, they whisper loud enough for people to hear a few towns away.
We may hear that as sour grapes, people upset that Jesus didn’t want to come to their home, and I’m sure that’s a part of it. Hospitality is king in their culture. To receive it and to offer it are important gifts, marks of privilege, even.
And we hear “one who is a sinner” and think that doesn’t narrow it down very much. We’re all sinners. But the people on the path that day, wanting to catch a glimpse of Jesus weren’t Presbyterians who had a highly developed sense of total depravity. They were good observant Jews. And if you observed the Law, you were righteous. If you did not, you were a sinner.
To be a tax collector was to work for the occupying Roman government, collecting money from your people to give to Rome. Rome hired local people to collect money, but they were not paid by Rome. They were paid by over collecting money from their fellow citizens.
To be a rich tax collector means Zacchaeus took more money from his own people than he needed to take.
The grumble of the crowd sounds more to me like a cry for justice and release from the oppressive ways of Roman occupation.
Why do we think Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus? All we’re told is that he was trying to see who Jesus was. Maybe he’d heard stories of his healing and preaching. I wonder if there was a part of him that was seeking something other than the life he was living.
In order to seek out Jesus, he has to climb a tree to get a view.
I wonder if I would have done that. What lengths would I go through to seek out Jesus as he walked through town? I think I might be more likely to want Jesus to come find me, or to think, “sure if he walks by me in the produce aisle, we’ll talk, but do I want to leave my apartment and deal with the crowds just to catch a glimpse?”
Zacchaeus is seeking Jesus. He may or may not know what he’s hoping to find, but he’s putting in some effort to make it happen.
And Jesus sees him. And calls out that Zacchaeus’s home is where Jesus is choosing to have dinner that night. And Zacchaeus hurries down and was happy to welcome him.
And then the grumble.
Jesus doesn’t silence the crowd when they grumble. He doesn’t tell them to shush, or say that injustice doesn’t matter. He’s willing to see how Zacchaeus responds.
Zacchaeus could have gotten angry at the crowd and told them their tax bill would be going up next month. But he doesn’t. He responds to the grumble of the crowd by acknowledging they are correct.
The lengths he will go to seek Jesus are much more than climbing a sycamore tree. He makes promises to right the economic injustices he has committed against his own people. You can’t truly welcome Jesus from a place of fear and corruption.
For Zacchaeus to seek out and welcome Jesus, he’s going to have to change his whole career path, and his lifestyle too. He will likely have to trade in the turbo fancy camel and give up his membership at the club once his tax collecting days are behind him.
Hear again the words of Isaiah:
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
I wonder if Zacchaeus had been a good church kid before he became a tax collector. Did he know these words of Isaiah’s somewhere deep in his heart already?
But the grumbling crowd needs to change too. Jesus tells them, “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.”
Jesus had announced he was going to Zacchaeus’s house before Zacchaeus had repented and announced his plan for reparations. I think Jesus would still have gone to his house, even if Zacchaeus hadn’t repented, no matter how loud the crowd grumbled. Because Jesus came to seek out and to save the lost.
And that’s our Advent challenge.
—To notice our grumbling and make sure it is for justice and not just because we want to exclude those whom God wants to include.
—To make room in our hearts, our lives, our congregation so that when Jesus seeks out and finds the lost, there will be room and welcome here for them. As there is room and welcome for us.
Are we willing to welcome the people we grumble about? And to what lengths will we go to seek and welcome Jesus?
This week, amidst the business of our lives and the race toward Christmas, I pray you can take some time to ponder what you’re seeking. What is it your soul is missing? And I pray you will know that God is seeking you too, as Isaiah says, so you can go out in joy, and be led back in peace.
May we have rooms in our hearts, our lives, our church for both the seeking and for the found. Amen.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
He 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 sycamore 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.”