Monday, August 17, 2009

Sermon for Trinity X – ’28 Propers
All Saints’ Church
August 16, 2009

This morning’s Gospel lesson from the last few verses of Luke 19 is one that really needs the entire chapter to set the stage for what is going on. Actually, it needs the entire Biblical witness, but we’ll settle for the first of chapter 19.

Whenever I think of Luke 19, I am always reminded of the song I’m sure many of us sang in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School about Jesus and Zacchaeus. As we know from the story, of all the people that Jesus would have picked to eat dinner with upon his entering Jericho, Zacchaeus should not have been anywhere near the top of the list. However, as Jesus has done throughout his earthly ministry, he has completely upset the status quo and thrown all semblance of what is perceived as right and wrong on its head. Zacchaeus, being a chief tax collector, was the worst of the worst in the eyes of the Jewish people. Luke is specific in pointing out this particular detail just to show how scandalous Jesus’ actions really were. Tax collectors were hated because they were responsible for seeing that money was collected and funneled to Rome, but more than that, they made their living by skimming off the top of what they collected and made their living through shady means. They were stealing from people in order to line their own pockets and there was really nothing anyone could do about it. The chief tax collector would “earn his keep” by overseeing the work of the regular collectors and thus make a living through the same crooked means, and as Luke points out, he got very rich doing this for a living.

Luke records no other dialogue between Jesus and Zacchaeus other than the summons to come down from the sycamore tree in order to make preparations for Jesus’ arrival for dinner. However, there is something in the summons that truly changed Zacchaeus’ heart. For the next words recorded are of a humble man who freely gives away out of his goods to the poor and wishes to make restitution to everyone he has cheated and defrauded. He even goes far beyond what the law required, and those who he had cheated in his lifetime he would repay four-fold. Jesus then acknowledges who this man truly is and the promises that are truly his to enjoy. He says that he is a true son of Abraham – a member of the Covenant people and an inheritor of salvation. Jesus then makes a promise for us all to hear – that he has come to seek and to save the lost. This of course was the point that he tried to get across in last week’s Gospel in the Parable of the Two Lost Sons.

Luke follows the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus with the Parable of the ten minas. There is so much happening in the parable and multiple layers of interpretation enough for several sermons. However, this morning I merely wish to provide the overall story as continued background for the Gospel lesson we heard a few minutes ago. In the parable the king puts ten people in charge of his goods and then goes off into a far country. He entrusts them to grow and multiply the money they have each been given in order to provide an account for what they’ve done when the king returns. When he returns and calls the servants and asks for an account of their progress, the first two he calls had multiplied their gifts, the first 10 fold and the second 5 and in turn they are rewarded for their good work. The last servant returns the mina to his master with these words, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.” With these words the master says that the servant has in fact condemned himself. This is one of those parables in which Jesus issues some of the most stern warnings and condemnations toward those who reject him and his teaching.

The next thing that we hear following this parable is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Even after all that Jesus has said and done throughout his ministry the Pharisees reject what is happening before their eyes and implore Jesus to silence his disciples. Even though many of those who are cheering as Jesus goes by do not understand what he is about to do in Jerusalem, they at least recognize or perhaps feel in their hearts that the promises of God just might be unfolding right before their eyes. Israel’s Messiah is returning to reign on Mt. Zion, however, this is about to culminate in a manner no one could have imagined. Jesus offers a glimpse into the magnitude of the event when he tells the Pharisees that if His disciples were silent that even the stones would cry out. The purpose of creation and all that God made is to worship this King who now comes in humility and is in fact the Lord of all.

Now I realize that this is allot of background information, but it is crucial to see what led up to our Gospel passage this morning. Jesus is now approaching Jerusalem and he knows that it will be for the last time. He realizes that all of history is about to cross a threshold in just a few short days, and yet so many have never really heard what he’s been saying or doing. He realizes that the religious authorities who were entrusted with the promises that God had made to Abraham were squandering them, and making them a barrier or hindrance rather than something beautiful and a source of hope. They grumbled mightily that Jesus would extend this Good News with someone like Zacchaeus, after all, they had been loyal and faithful for all these many years. Again, this sounds just like the older brother in last week’s parable.

The servants in the parable who grumbled and said that they did not want this master reigning over them were the very ones who returned their mina upon his return, and had nothing to show for it. Now, in their defense, I’m sure the handkerchief was folded meticulously and I’m sure it was made of the finest linen, but the wrapping was merely an empty shell. I’ll bet they thought that this form was much more important than its true function.

These were the same people who were admonishing the crowds as they cheered Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem and told them to stop praising this carpenter’s son from Nazareth whose father and mother we know. Little did they know that this unassuming man who was riding on a donkey into Jerusalem was about to make the ultimate sacrifice and atone for the sins of the entire world.

All of this background information is crucial and necessary and helps us grasp in some faint way Jesus’ reaction when he crosses over the Mount of Olives and sees the temple in the distance. Tears and lament fill our Lord’s eyes and heart as his earthly mission is drawing to a close. He cries out with these words, “would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace.”

Those very ones who are about to put Jesus to death by the sword are about to have that same sword crush them as well. Just one generation after Jesus the temple would again be destroyed and the sword will again rip through the People of Israel. Jesus’ message of peace is being rejected and those that reject it will reap the damning consequences.

Jesus’ tears turn again to anger and frustration as he witnesses the vulgar display of religion for sale. The very people who have come to Jerusalem with humble hearts – some once a year or for some a once-in-a-lifetime experience – are being robbed, cheated, and exploited by the religious establishment who represent the Father’s promises and serve in His temple night and day. These were the very people who Jesus wept about as he crossed the mountain and came toward the temple.

What do we think about as we hear of the emotion of our Lord as he weeps and laments over those who are lost and choose to stay that way? Should we not also weep over those who will not hear the Good News of the Gospel? Should it not grieve our very souls to know that there are those who reject this message of peace and hope and life eternal? If it broke Jesus’ heart should it not break ours as well?

We have been entrusted with the story of salvation, and we are each called to share that story with the entire world. Then our Lord’s tears of sorrow might be turned into tears of joy as we proclaim with boldness those same words that greeted him as he rode into Jerusalem – Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord!

*******Citations available upon request********

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