November 3 2019 What Kind of Ancestors Will We Be?, by Reverend David
Luke 19:1-10 Entering Jericho, Jesus passed through the city. There was a wealthy person there named Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but he couldn’t do so because of the crowd, since he was short. In order to see Jesus, Zacchaeus ran on ahead, then climbed a sycamore tree that was along the route. 5 When Jesus came to the spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come on down. I’m going to stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and welcomed Jesus with delight. When everyone saw this, they began to grumble, “Jesus has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.” Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to Jesus, “Here and now I give half my belongings to poor people. If I’ve defrauded anyone in the least, I’ll pay them back fourfold.” Jesus said to the tax collector, “Today salvation has come to this house, for this is what it means to be a descendant of Sarah and Abraham. The Promised One has come to search out and save what was lost.
Let’s reflect on the gifts of the previous generation, the steadfast love, the commitment to what they knew to be right, and, sometimes, a willingness to change.
November 3rd, 2019 - audio
For my wife’s birthday this week, I took her to see “Hamilton,” the musical. I found the show to be as good as advertised, beautifully acted, sung, danced, and presented, in every aspect. I knew that (my partner) Cathy’s favorite song would be “Dear Theodosia,” because I love it on the recording. Seeing it made it even better: Aaron Burr comes to the front of the stage and sits in a spotlight singing to his baby daughter, Theodosia, a beautiful love song. Then another spotlight comes on and Alexander Hamilton walks into the light singing the same love song to his baby son, Phillip. You’re very aware of the irony of the deeply felt promise in the song sung in harmony by two dedicated fathers, one of whom will be killing the other. They promise that though their fathers were not around as they grew up, they would be there for their children. You know the promise is heartfelt & true and that it won’t come true.
This is a promise that I made to my son, that I would be there for him in ways that I didn’t feel my father was there for me – that I would spend more time at baseball games than as a distant provider. And I was at a lot of baseball games – enjoying every minute. I’ve done ok as a dad, but as I’ve grown older I often wish I could talk to my dad about how he did it, what he was thinking.
I imagine each generation promises the next that they will do whatever they can to make their child’s life better than theirs was, that they will somehow be there for their children and the next generation. Mothers may be more consistent at making the promise true, but you can’t fault us dads for the size of our aspirations. We really did mean to make the world a better place. It’s not easy to do.
Zacchaeus probably wasn’t thinking about his impact on future generations when he climbed the tree looking for Jesus. He just wanted to see over the heads of all the vertically advantaged people all around him. It’s not polite to laugh at short people, but the rich tax collector Zacchaeus cut a humorous picture as he ran ahead to a tree and climbed up to be able to see Jesus, and the poor folks around him were chuckling at the rich guy.
By everything that has come before in the gospel of Luke – for example the story we read in Bible study last week about the rich man and Lazarus – you would not predict good things for Zacchaeus the rich guy, tax collector. Jesus is always bringing rich guys down to size and Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector, he was the chief tax collector. He had cheated a lot of people and collected a hated tax from everybody. You wouldn’t think Jesus is going to invite himself for dinner over at Zacchaeus’ house! But that’s exactly what he did.
Zacchaeus was thrilled and popped down out of the tree. Nobody was laughing now. They were grumbling about Jesus going over the line this time – showing his acceptance of this rich dude who was clearly the worst of the worst. To their surprise, however, Zacchaeus takes that moment, realizing that he had finally found acceptance and welcome from the best of the best, he takes that moment to announce his sincere repentance, “Here and now I give half my belongings to poor people. If I’ve defrauded anyone in the least, I’ll pay them back fourfold.”
Half of his belongings to the poor, and a fourfold payback is a bigger repayment than scripture demands. Zachaeus is admitting that the money he took from the poor was not taxation, but theft. Jesus takes that as a sign that Zack had accepted the blessing Jesus had given him. He says, “Today salvation has come to this house, for this is what it means to be a descendant of Sarah and Abraham.” And there it is: Jesus defining what it is to be a true descendant and a good ancestor – redefining your life in solidarity with the poor, realigning your life toward all of God’s people. That’s what Jesus was seeing and appreciating.
We know that just saying it doesn’t make it so, and that even once you start to make things right, it takes a lot of course corrections to stay on the right path. Jesus sees through Zacchaeus though, and claims him, claims his heart. Zach knows it too. He feels that claim on his heart. We can feel that claim on our hearts too, if take a step toward God, peek out of our ruts that keep us from connecting with people from whom we protect ourselves and from whom we wall ourselves off. Heck, we don’t even have to go that far to feel God’s tug on our souls. It’s there all the time.
One of the places I feel that tug from God is when I think about the next generation and what kind of ancestor I want to be. I have been meaning to make the world a better place for my son. It’s like it’s on my to do list, and I can never quite check it off. There are conflicting impulses. Do I try to use the abundance in our lives to make their lives materially better or to protect them and give them a secure life? Or do we use our abundance to right the wrongs of the world, donating for a more equitable society, and count on our children to make their own way in the world? Do we keep them safe or do we expose them to the difficulties of the world, trusting that that way we will bequeath to them the strength and determination we feel to make the world a better place?
Either way we are part of the line, between ancestors and descendants. We are link in the chain, between the world we grew up and the world we bequeath. The decisions we make, the response we give to the tug of God’s love on our heart, makes a difference at this point in the chain. This link – the way we acknowledge the gifts of our ancestors and consider the needs of our descendants.
This morning we remember in particular a few people from our church who died in the past year who bequeathed us a beautiful world. We thank God for pets who loved us unconditionally. We thank God for workers like Ethan Jarvis who gave things away for a living. We thank God for partners like Judith Katz, who made life more rich and more beautiful.
We thank God for women who did everything they could to make the next generation’s life better – who challenged their sons to make them strong to face the world, and to keep them safe. Mothers are like that. We thank God for Muriel Posey, Nancy Sturdivant and Noni Nash. May their memory always be a blessing. They made the world a better place for us. We will work to make the world a better place for the next generation in honor of what they have done for us.
God has claimed us as descendants to Sarah and Abraham the same way God claimed Zechariah. God claims us and loves us as we are. We respond to that love by recognizing in deeper and deeper ways what that claim on our lives means. As you come to the table of life this morning, notice the tug on your life, God’s calling for you. That claim makes us the ancestors our children and our descendants really need. This is God’s good news.
Communion hymn 708 Rejoice in God’s Saints