Father Nicholas Lang
The 21st Sunday after Pentecost
There was a man in Jericho called Zaccheus
Now the Hebrews, they were tall, but Zaccheus, he was small
Yet the Lord loved Zaccheus, better than them all
Sister Miriam Therese Winter, a medical Mission Sister, penned these words to a song she wrote in her 1966 record album, Joy is like the Rain. In last week’s Gospel, a sinful tax collector, rather than a pious Pharisee, was
justified before God. Today the actions of another tax collector point to the heart of the mission of Jesus: “to seek out and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho and a very wealthy man. In first century Palestine, private individuals contracted with the Roman government to collect taxes. As long as the government received its due, the tax collectors could charge whatever they liked and kept the difference.
Because they made huge profits off the common folk, they were greatly despised. The Jews considered their collaboration with a foreign government an act of treason. Tax collectors were not welcomed into the temple and devout Jews avoided all contact with them. Zacchaeus would have been considered the worst sort of sinner and its ironic that his name means “innocent.”
Yet Jesus not only noticed Zacchaeus up in that tree. He called him by name. The crowds must have been stunned, maybe even the disciples. And they grumbled about it.
Zacchaeus was a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job, but Jesus not only welcomes him aboard but invites himself to be a guest at his house.
We celebrate today as “Harvest Sunday.” This faith community has been sowing seeds since its inception in 1924. There has been a lot of harvesting in its 98 years. You have witnessed some of that. As many congregations do, St. Andrew’s has experienced its ups and downs and endured some challenging times—most recently, the pandemic. Yet you are still here, like Zacchaeus, waiting to see Jesus and to invite him into this home.
And I will wager that you and I have found ourselves “Up a tree” at various points in life just hoping to be noticed by Jesus and granted God’s mercy, grace, and healing. All of us are a bit like Zacchaeus whenever we show up here. The Spirit gets us here, and at some level, we are here to experience the living God, not a few times through the caring and support of our church siblings.
No matter what our age, when we come through these doors, we’ve all “gone out on a limb” and risked the possibility that we may never be the same because, just maybe, Jesus will see us and call our name.
This Gospel ends with these words: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” These words of Jesus are often understood as a reference to sinners. I see a different interpretation. I think they are an invitation to anyone who is plugging through life, struggling to find meaning in it, searching for some experience without a clue what it might be, hoping to find even a modicum of hope in a world that is abounding with conflict, violence, and pain.
So here we are—as this sacred place has been doing for nearly 100 years—offering the possibility that their search for that elusive thing we call the peace of God could end right in a pew in Milford, Connecticut. This is a place where God meets us just where we are.
Harvest time for me suggests the call for gratitude for all of God’s gifts. Among them are the gifts of your time, your ministry, your faithful presence at worship, and your support of all we are able to do as Christ’s Body in the world. Several years ago, a member of my former parish reminded me of something I said during the announcements on a Sunday during our Stewardship Campaign. Apparently, I said that “I know I’ll be in heaven when I no longer have to ask people to give money.”
Today I am not asking you to give money but rather to thank you for the way you have kept this community alive and the many ways in which you bring the Good News of God’s love into the world. Our weekly “E” News is replete with so many examples of that.
You are an intelligent and savvy congregation. You know what keeps this church healthy and viable. The way we express that is through a commitment to our regular giving. The pledge cards for 2023 are on the table in the back of the church. As the saying goes. “We all know the drill.” Thank you for your generous giving.
I have pledged since I came to St. Andrew’s nearly three years ago. When I served in the Orthodox Church one of the church council members remarked that I put an envelope in the offering plate every Sunday. He had never seen one of their clergy do that. I’ve always pledged because if the spiritual leader of a community doesn’t, how van we expect the membership to do it. Clergy need to model the importance of thankful giving. Thank you for your generous giving. Like the Apostle Paul, I give thanks to God for you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Congregations are sometimes asked the question, “Would you welcome Jesus if he walked in on Sunday?” I’d rather ask, “Would a congregation welcome someone like Zacchaeus?” I know we would and soon, the passersby on Bridgeport Avenue will see a new banner of invitation: “Come, just as you are. We greet all guests as angels.”
It’s what Jesus said to Zacchaeus. In his name we extend the same invitation—to seek out and to save the lost.