Sermon given Sunday, January 21, 2007. The Sunday of Zacchaeus.
Much of what I do in my ministry remains private. People tell me stories of pain and hurt that I will take to my grave. Many share personal shortcomings, seek relief from guilt, and ask for direction, trusting that I will never repeat what they tell me. Sometimes the stories humble me. Other times they inspire me to pray more. There are days I go home in tears because some of the stories break my heart.
If you walked in my shoes for a month, you'd know at least four things. First, you would know that there is a God. Second, you would know that there is a lot of hurt in our world and in our parish. Third, you would know that there is no way that one priest can get to all the people. Fourth, you would know that you could help in concrete ways if you invest time in people.
For instance, what if you knew that a devout member of our community was dying and did not have life insurance? Would you help them? Would you reach in your wallet and take out $100 and say, I'll go without something so you can have a proper funeral? Or would you shake your head and walk away, and tell yourself, "Not my problem."
What would you do if for someone in our parish who was lonely and needed someone to talk to? Would you give up some time and listen or brush it off and think, "Someone else will take care of that"? What would you do if someone came into the coffee hour and sat alone? Would you invite them to sit at your table? Would you even notice?
What would you do if I told you, "There is someone in this parish about your age, has the same kind of job you have, comes from a similar background that needs a friend. I thought of you." Would you be angry at my imposition? Would you make an effort to reach out to him?
What would you do if you asked someone, "How are you?" and they responded, "My whole life is falling apart, I need to talk to someone right now." Would you cancel your plans for the rest of the day? Or would you quickly go your own way?
The Gospel lesson this morning tells us that Jesus was passing through Jericho and a tax collector named Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see Jesus on account of the large crowd. And he could not get to the front of the crowd because he was so unpopular. Ironically, the name Zacchaeus means "the pure and innocent one."
As the crowds watched Zacchaeus trying to get a glimpse of Jesus, they saw anything but a pure and innocent person. He was of the low-life, a dishonest taxman, and they certainly were not going to give him a front row seat to see Jesus. Undeterred, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree. When Jesus passed by He looked up and saw Zacchaeus and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today."
The greeting and invitation of Jesus was personal. Jesus didn't tell Zacchaeus to come to the synagogue some Saturday to hear Him explain the scriptures. He didn't tell Zacchaeus to make an appointment with one of the disciples. He didn't refer Zacchaeus to a committee or think for even a split second "Someone else can take care of this." Instead, Jesus stopped and changed course.
This Gospel passage compels us to action. The mission of Christ is to seek and to save the lost. This is also the mission of Christ's church.
Have you ever thought of the church as it relates to this story? Imagine that our church is like Jesus, and Tampa is like Jericho. Who, then, is Zacchaeus?
The mission of this parish, indeed the mission of the Orthodox Church, is to seek and to save the lost. That mission is not fulfilled when we balance the books or fill the calendar with programs. Rather, it is fulfilled when we find Zacchaeus and minister to him, when we make his concern our concern, when we show that we are willing to alter the course of our life to help him, when we take on the role of Christ in telling Zacchaeus, "make haste and come down, I must stay at your house today."