Sunday, April 3, 2022

HOMILY: "Out of the Sycamore Tree"

A Meditation on Luke 19:1-10
Sunday, April 3, 2022 (Lent 5)

Sacred Ally Quilts

What would I have done in Minneapolis that day, May 25, 2020, as Derek Chauvin, Officer Derek Chauvin, crouched over George Floyd, his knee on the neck of George Floyd, for nine minutes? Nine minutes. What would I have done had I been buying a Diet Coke at the convenience store that day? Had I stepped out to find George Floyd pushed to the ground, immobilized by Derek Chauvin’s knee and centuries of hatred? Would I have said something? Would I have flipped my phone open and caught it on camera? Would I have intervened somehow, risked some kind of provocation to prevent that crime? Would I have scurried away and done nothing at all? Fired off a blog post?

I ask because our story this morning (Zacchaeus and Jesus) is not about ideas or theories or even outrage. It’s about ethics and action and performance. I can come up with all kinds of things to say about George Floyd, and Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin, and what happened to them on American streets. But discipleship is a story of communion and community, yes; and then, ethics and action and performance. “Take up your cross,” Jesus says on the way to Jerusalem for Holy Week. “Take up your cross.” It’s a complicated metaphor, to be sure. But it has something to do, I want to suggest, with active resistance, and creative repentance, and concrete reparations.

So what would I have done on that Minneapolis street in May 2020? Or more to the point, perhaps, what am I prepared to do now? These are the kinds of questions I’ll be asking, and we’ll all be asking together, in the next couple weeks—as we host ten remarkable and heartbreaking quilts, each one bearing witness to the last nine minutes of George Floyd’s life. Each one stitched with George Floyd’s words and cries and protests—as Derek Chauvin crushed his throat and took his life that day.

The Sacred Ally Quilts are not entertainment. And they’re not to be admired or posted as social media trophies. No, these ten quilts are a call to discipleship—an invitation to grief and solidarity and action. “Take up your cross,” Jesus says, to us, to the church approaching Holy Week and Easter. “Take up your cross.” In every generation, and most certainly in ours, discipleship is active resistance, creative repentance and concrete reparations.


Which brings us, quite aptly, to the table at Zacchaeus’ house.
Zacchaeus in the Sycamore

We talked last Sunday about the table at the center of Jesus’ practice, about the table at the heart of Jesus’ vision for the kingdom of God, the commonwealth of God. (Eat! And drink! And share!) And how Jesus gathered siblings from all walks of life, and how he welcomed sisters and brothers others sneered at and mocked, and how he fed them with bread and encouraged them with love and turned the tables on bigotry and gluttony. (Eat! And drink! And share!)  Making some "good trouble" at God's table!

Well, here we go again, this morning. As that beloved community makes its way to Jerusalem, there’s always another table, there’s always another meal, there’s always another pot of stew, another loaf of bread, another bottle of wine. And this time Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, get out of that tree. Zacchaeus, I’m staying at your house tonight. Zacchaeus, we’re feasting at your table tonight.”

Now, this is interesting, right. Just a few verses, but a glimpse of what it might have been like to break bread with Jesus, to sit close and listen carefully to Jesus, to pray over a meal with Jesus, to consider what’s really important with Jesus. Because Zacchaeus is obviously moved. Ethics, action, performance. And Zacchaeus is powerfully affected. Resistance, repentance, reparations. I might even go so far as to say that Zacchaeus is born again that night. Does that work? I think so.  I think this is what it looks like when a man is born again!  

He says, “Look, half of my possessions, half of everything I own, I will give to the poor.” And then he says, “I’ve cheated some people. I’ve cheated some people badly, I’ve taken what’s theirs, I’ve gamed the system, I’ve disfigured my own community.” And then he says, “If I’ve defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

What if this is what it means to be truly, spiritually, biblically born again? Wouldn’t the world be a different place? Wouldn’t religion have a whole different vibe? At the table that night, Zacchaeus sees his life anew. Over the meal that night, he turns to face his neighbors in a whole new way. With Jesus that night, he commits his life to lovingkindness and justice. It’s wonderful to note that Zacchaeus itself, the name itself, is the Greek form of the Jewish name, “Zakkai”—which means, very literally, “righteous one.” At the table that night, Zacchaeus comes home to himself, to his purpose, to his soul. He’s born again! At the table. Over bread and wine. He’s born again! “Zakkai!” The righteous one!


Again, this all transpires in just a few verses. But I have to imagine that Jesus doesn’t smack Zacchaeus around. And I have to imagine that Jesus doesn’t berate him and dress him down in front his family and friends. And I have to imagine that Jesus doesn’t come on heavy with the guilt and the shame either.

Maybe they talk about the hunger he’s seen in the streets, on the back roads, the women without doctors and medicine, the soldiers beating up children, and the suffering of so many families in occupied Roman Palestine. (Hey, Mary, pass that basket of bread, will you?) And maybe Jesus tells some of his favorite stories: like the one about the lost sheep and the shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek it out, and when he finds it, he throws a wild party for the whole neighborhood. (Hey, Peter, give me another swig of that wine, will you?) And maybe, maybe Jesus looks ahead a little, to Jerusalem and the work ahead; and maybe he reminds Zacchaeus that he needs friends like Zacchaeus to step up, and do the hard work, and make amends, and take up the cross.

Because it’s all about prayer and mercy and abundance, right? It’s all about communion and community, right? Jesus introduces Zacchaeus to his friends. And they imagine a world in which the last are first, and the first are last, and all God’s children grow up with songs to sing and dreams to dream. What happens at that table, at Zacchaeus’ table, is what happens in every sacramental moment everywhere: a window opens, a path is revealed, grace shines on a broken heart. And Zacchaeus is born again. In communion and community.

And this time, in this home, at this table—being born again doesn’t mean getting high and holy and converting everyone else to your way of thinking. And this time, in this home, with this Jesus—being born again doesn’t mean going to church for four hours and waving your arms around and thanking God for saving your soul from destruction.
Reparations Now!

Right here, in Zacchaeus’ life, rebirth is doing right by his neighbors. And rebirth is repairing any and all wrong he’s done to them along the way. And rebirth is turning his heart toward the common good and the wellness of his community. It’s worth nothing, friends, that in Jewish tradition and practice, legal restitution for committing something like extortion or fraud is 20 percent. But Zacchaeus assumes a more severe penalty, the penalty imposed on those who’ve stolen livestock from a neighbor. That’s the fourfold reparation here. So Zacchaeus is not fooling around. Zacchaeus is not extracting some cheap promise of salvation for the bare minimum. Zacchaeus is in it for the long haul. Zacchaeus is doing it right. Rebirth is doing right by his neighbors.


And this prepares us, somehow, sets us up, for Palm Sunday next week, and for the Sacred Ally Quilts after that, and for Easter Sunday—and the promise of resurrection and new life. Resurrection and new life! Yes, it’s about springtime and the wonder of seeds poking through and promising life and nourishment. Yes, it’s about colored eggs and backyard egg hunts and rousing choruses of ALLELUIA, and CHRIST IS RISEN, and THINE IS THE GLORY! All those things.

But the gift of Easter—which is really the gift of our Christian faith in every season—is the friendship of God, and the companionship of Jesus, and the beloved community breaking bread and celebrating abundance and turning toward the common good. Wherever Jesus camps out, wherever Jesus spends the night, wherever he feasts is a place where all things are possible. And lives can change. And spirits can be born again. The gift of Easter is that promise.

So take heart, my friends, be of good courage and great faith. For Zacchaeus is paying it all back and then some. And he’s making right most everything he got wrong. Imagine that. Imagine that. And Zacchaeus and Jesus are on the road again. Looking for allies. Seeking out accomplices. Preaching good news. They’re on the road again. And there’s hope—so much hope—for you and me!

Amen and Ashe!