This semester I am taking a new preaching course at YDS titled : REL 830 – Radical Lives of
Proclamation with new YDS professor Dr. Donyelle McCray. As part of our work we have to preach two sermons in class that have been inspired by someone we have studied the week we preach or the week before. Yesterday (Thursday, 27 October 2016) I offered my second sermon of the semester, and I took my inspiration from Howard Thurman. Below you can find a copy of the manuscript as well as a recording of the sermon. For my scriptural text, I used the Gospel for Proper 26C (Luke 19:1-10).
Assignment Description: Two 10-minute homilies. Allow the visionary assigned for the week or previous week to inspire your approach to hermeneutics, form, delivery, or shape your spiritual preparation process. Plan to discuss the visionary’s influence in class after you preach. Complete the sermon self-evaluation (available on ClassesV2) within one week of delivering your sermon.
Inspiration: In reading Thurman’s meditations and sermons, I found myself drawn to his care for the person’s soul. It seems to me that by constantly focusing on the actions we are called to take, we can ignore what is going on internally. Given the nature of this parable from Luke’s Gospel, and its place in the larger Lukan narrative, I felt this was an excellent passage to explore this theme of looking inward.
Final word: I missed the opening of my sermon (the introduction to the meditation), so while that is not included in the audio it is included in the manuscript below.
This afternoon, I take my cue from Howard Thurman, and begin our time of prayer and reflection with a meditation. This meditation was written by Thurman and coincides with his first sermon on the Temptation of Jesus. In this meditation Thurman highlights the important message that we encounter today in Luke’s Gospel.
Let us pray:
READ HOWARD THURMAN MEDIATION (The Meditation is found in Temptations of Jesus, you can listen to an audio recording of Thuman giving this meditation – along with other parts of the service from Marsh Chapel (Boston University), 1962 – here. The meditation comes immediately following the opening musical offering).
Given the state of our world, the state of our country, the state of our community, it is easy to understand why so many preachers have been focusing on what we are called to do as Christians. Given this historical moment combined with Luke’s narrative, the hallmark of which is the Great Reversal, it is important that preachers have been drawing our attention to what we are called to do – to how we are called to participate in systems of reconciliation and justice, how we are called to participate in bringing down systems of oppression and violence, how we are called to be part of God’s work in the world.
For the last year we have been journeying through Luke, where time and time again, parable after parable, we have been exhorted to participate in the work. We’ve heard about economic justice, we’ve heard about familial relationship, we have heard about healing the sick, we have heard about welcoming the outcast into the heart of the community. This is the doing we are called to participate in. But, it seems to me, if we stop there, if we only focus on the doing, we miss out on a deeper message in the text.
In today’s Gospel from Luke, we find ourselves in a particular point in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. What we have been hearing for the last couple of weeks marks the final stage of Jesus’ journey. Just a few verses ahead Jesus will enter Jerusalem for the last time, that great city which is the place of the greatest reversal of all time – the place where death becomes a means of life. As such, Jesus is taking the opportunity in these final parables, to direct the attention of his followers to something different. These parables shift in focus. We hear not about what we are called to do, instead we hear about what is to be the core of our life: that which is to be the center of our very being.
Today we hear the story of Zacchaeus, and if you’re anything like me you hear in the back of your mind that old Sunday School song – Zacchaeus was a wee little man. It is tempting with these familiar stories to see them the way we have always seen them. To think of this parable the way we learned it as children. If we are intentional and look deeper we will find that there is more to this story than a short man who cannot see through the crowds.
In order to more fully understand what Luke is drawing our attention to here, we must view this parable in relationship to the parable we heard last week – the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In that story we hear the importance of being honest with ourselves and with God: of not puffing ourselves up, not falling to the sin of pride, not saying to God “Look how awesome I am.” We are encourage to take the position of the tax collect, to focus on the one thing the Pharisee – that good and faithful servant of God – is missing: need for God in our lives. And so last week we were called to be open and vulnerable with God. To say, God I need you, God I am broken, God I am hurting, God I am a sinner in need of redemption. When we trust in the mercy and loving kindness of God, we are able to get up off our knees, to stop beating our breast, and stand up right in the presence of God. And it is from this posture that we meet Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector, he is a rich man, and reviled by his fellow Jews. He achieved his wealth by taking advantage of his neighbors, and colluding with the Roman Government. There is no question why the crowd grumbles at the fact that Jesus has invited himself to dinner with Zacchaeus. But this is not the behavior we see in Zacchaeus in this passage.
Out of some deep desire to see Jesus, Zacchaeus makes a fool of himself. Imagine a grown man, with some public and important job, running through a crowd and climbing a tree. Zacchaeus does not care how foolish he looks, he is going to climb that tree – nothing is going to stop him from seeing Jesus.
When the moment comes, when Zacchaeus finally sees Jesus, he is filled with joy. We read in scripture that Zacchaeus was happy to come down from that tree and stand face to face with God. In that encounter, Zacchaeus experiences his own reversal. He recognizes the ways he has fallen short, he does not try to justify his actions and behaviors in anyway. Instead he joyfully proclaims his plan for restoration – to give away half of his possessions, to repay anyone he has defrauded four times what he took.
Zacchaeus takes the position of the unnamed tax collector from last week’s parable and takes it a step further. He does not approach his honest vulnerability with God in some depressed way – Zacchaeus joyfully admits he is a sinner. It is because of this openness, because of this joy, that Zacchaeus goes home justified – that Zacchaeus experiences salvation.
Before us in this passage is the invitation to be like Zacchaeus. To be honest before God, to admit that we are broken, hurting, sinful people – and to do so with joy.
Thuman in his meditation highlights this openness. Thuman reminds us that we are not to hold anything back from God. That we are to look within ourselves and offer every fiber of our being – every aspect of our life – to God, to use how God will for God’s work in the world. We our to empty ourselves completely to the mercy and loving kindness of God. When we are in service to God, when we are obedient to the call of God, that is when we experience perfect freedom. That is when we are justified, that is when we stand upright, when we encounter the living God face to face and experience something of salvation.
Today we look inward, and pray about what it means to be instead of what it means to do. Today we ask ourselves, have we admitted that our spiritual vision is limited? Today we ask ourselves, when was the last time we delighted to seek God? Today we look inward and ask ourselves, where are we lost and where do we need to be found?
When Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “come down from that tree,” Jesus is saying to each and everyone of us, “come down, come here, come closer.” Jesus is waiting, waiting for us to come with joy, waiting for us to greet him, waiting for us to continue this journey to Jerusalem with him. It is a long and hard journey, but if we persevere and reach that final destination we will experience salvation. We will witness death being destroyed once and for all, we will gain life in more abundant ways than we can ever ask for or imagine, we will receive wholeness and restoration. And that is why we offer our unceasing thanks. Thank is why we are joyful