Welcome Home!

Luke 15:1-10

September 11, 2022: Welcome Home Sunday

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

 All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable:

4‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins,* if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ 

                                                                                                                                                                               Luke 15:1-10, NRSV

Welcome back on this lovely September Sunday!

My first Welcome Home Sunday in your midst.

And as I said in my Mailchimp Newsletter yesterday, I am delighted to be here!

We could not have chosen a better Gospel reading for this morning than the one that has landed in our lectionarial laps. For it is the first two thirds of  Jesus’ parables in Luke’s Gospel known as the Lost and Found parables. The two we hear this morning about the lost sheep and the lost coin, and then the most famous of the lost and found stories, the Prodigal Son, which we heard earlier this year during Lent. All three could well be called the Welcome Home parables.

These stories remind us, emphatically, that hope is born into our DNA as children of a Creator who will always seek us out with the fierce resolve of a divine amber alert whenever we disappear from the fold…God’s fold, that is. No matter how lost we feel, no matter far away we have strayed. Or how long we have been gone, we will always be welcomed back. By the One who loves us from their divine toe bottoms.

The story we just heard from Luke’s Gospel about the lost sheep, occurs also in Matthew – but in that Gospel that sheep just “wanders off.” And then the finding of the sheep in Matthew’s telling is passive and hypothetical. In Matthew this message is about a situation, about the way we humans inevitably stray. We inevitably get lost, but we will always be found. It is almost in the passive tense. We will be lost. We will be found.  And so relax. Keep the faith.

But in Luke, the sheep has more than wandered off. The sheep is gone. In Luke, the sheep is seriously lost, not just wandering away. And the moral is not as much that the sheep will be found (passive voice, the subject is the sheep). The sheep will be found. But that God will find that sheep (active voice, the subject is God). God will find the sheep. It is less about the wandering nature of the sheep and more about the deep desire of the shepherd.  

In Luke, the shepherd is actively and intently working to find that lost lamb. In Luke, the verbs are not passive, they are active. In Luke this story is not situational, it is relational. It’s about the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. About the deep, unrelenting love of the shepherd for the sheep. It is not so much about how it is to be human…wanderers that we are. It is more about how it is to belong to God….faithful and forgiving as God is. It is not so about how we roll, but about where we belong. Here, with God. It’s a Welcome Home parable if ever there were one!

Because the point is that there is nothing, nothing we can do to divest ourselves of God’s love.

No matter how dastardly our deeds, no matter how diabolically depraved, no matter what deception or debauchery, or decay we present, no matter how despairing or desolate or destructive or despondent or demented, disheartened, dismal, dishonorable, damnable, disobedient, displeasing, disparaging, disorderly, disrespectful, (thank God for the dictionary) disreputable, dreary, dreadful. Even if we are thoroughly driveling, drooling, dubious, drunken, dull, doltish, dwindling, dilapidated, dissident, dissolute, distressing, divisive, ditsy, dolorous (that’s a good one!), dumb, doubting, dough faced, deluded, depressed, defeated, defensive, deflowered, deformed, deficient, degraded, demoralized,  deteriorated, distracted, devilish (another goodie!), dishonest, disagreeable, disbelieving. No matter how discontented, discommodious (I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here) discouraged, discourteous, disgraced,  deviant, difficult, damaged, dehydrated or downright reprehensible we are. We are all always welcomed back by God.

Good Lord, I never realized how depressing the D’s are!  

But I suspect that litany of nouns and adjectives just about covers all of us; something in that list hits at least one nerve in each and every one of us. One place where we feel so lost that we may not be found….or even more torturous, one dimension of our essential selves that makes us not worthy of being found. Or maybe even not worth being looked for. One place that we think stands firm as the divine deal breaker.

And so, Jesus offers these parables to each and every one of us. Because they apply to each and every one of us. No matter what our status…..social, political, economic, religious, or otherwise. No matter where we are. From where ever we come with whatever we bring.  We are always welcome home.

These lost and found parables are told in response to a complaint on the part of the religious elite who declare that the folks on the margins of society, the tax collectors and sinners, the ones who are apparently unwanted and unwelcome in their houses of worship, are unworthy to eat and drink with Jesus. These religious elite declare that these folks on the margins are even unworthy to hear Jesus preach.

All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus preach.  2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. So Jesus told them these parables.

The charge against the lost ones is that they are coming to be found. They are coming to hear what Jesus is preaching. They are coming to church! And the charge against Jesus is that he welcomes them, that he is hospitable. He “welcomes” them, as though they were invited all along, desired to be there, sought out even.

This itinerate preacher who makes his home on the road, traveling from town to town, himself seemingly homeless and ungrounded in the social structure. One who might as first glance look like a lost sheep himself. And yet where ever he is, he is home with God.

This parable is about the despicable almost scandelous hospitality of the living God.  Because although we tend to think of hospitality as opening our doors and welcoming everyone in. These lost and found stories tell us that God’s hospitality is not just welcoming in, it is fundamentally seeking out.

If we want to live with Gospel hospitality, we must be seekers. Which means we must change our understanding of who belongs in the fold. And we must be willing, ourselves, to be changed by the strangers whom we welcome. We must work to build the Kin-dom of God rather than just the church filled with our friends. Because the church is far too small to contain the depth and breadth of God’s hospitality.

A few years ago a Roman Catholic church in Florida posted this welcome sign in its front yard[1]. It’s a fairly long sign, so make yourselves comfortable. It said, and I quote:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are

 single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, or no habla Ingles.

We extend a special welcome to those who are

 crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli

or if you are like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket.

You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail.

We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope,

 or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are

over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.

We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers,

 latte-sippers, vegetarians, and junk-food eaters.

We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.

We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps

or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here.

We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat,

Who work too hard, who don’t work at all,

or if you are here because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both.

We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now,

to those who had religion shoved down your throat as a kid,

or to those who just got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.

We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

As the sign says, every sheep in God’s flock, which is every sheep with a beating bleating heart, is welcomed by God. And that makes the hospitality of God is a fearful and awe-inspiring thing! It a thing that makes all of our constructed social and political divisions moot.

A few months ago I was talking with a friend about my coming to this parish to serve as your priest. She asked if this wasn’t the “red” part of CT. And she wondered if I would be a good fit here. And so she asked, “What color is your church?” I tilted my head like my golden retriever Fin when he has no idea what I am asking of him. And she said, “red or blue, what color is your church? Generally speaking.” she added as a qualifier.”

Oh, I said. Well, what color is kindness? What color is compassion? What color is justice? Mercy? Generosity? Friendship. What color is peace?

What color is the peace that obliterates all partisanship? The peace that comes when those who feel lost are welcomed home. The peace that speaks truth to power with love. The peace that surpasses all understanding.

That is the color of my church. We humbly and fiercely stand for every shade of peace.

And so on this Welcome Home Sunday, as we celebrate the endless, ceaseless love and care of our shepherd and the open arms of our flock, I invite us to gather our hearts and minds and courage. And to put ourselves to work this program year painting the world the color of Gospel hospitality.

Welcome Home Friends!

Onward!

Amen!

© September, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw


[1] https://www.episcopalcafe.com/the_church_that_welcomes_everyone/

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Knit…..Pearl

Psalm 139:1-18

September 4, 2022

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

Psalm 139 , NRSV

 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;   you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down,   and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue,   O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before,   and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?   Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there;   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me,   and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,   and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you;   the night is as bright as the day,   for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.   Wonderful are your works;that I know very well.    My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret,   intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written   all the days that were formed for me,   when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!   How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand;   I come to the end—I am still with you.

If there were one promotional phrase, one bumper sticker from scripture to promote God and the value of a religion that finds its hope in God, this first line from Psalm 139 would be it…..in my humble opinion.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.

And, in my humble opinion, Psalm 139 is a perfect passage of scripture for this moment in time.

It’s a moment in this nation and in the wider world we need some grounding for hope; some reason to believe that the violence and the racism and the bullying and the greed and the seeming wholesale destruction of our planet, our political system, our civility as one nation under God, our sense of security, and a hundred other losses will some how, some day stop.  

We need a reason to hope in this weary and broken world; in this world in which we seem to have forgotten how wondrously and marvelously, albeit differently, made is each and every one of us. We are each and every one of us created by the same God. Who is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican, nor even an Independent. Who is neither white nor black nor yellow nor any other shade of the rainbow. Who is neither American, nor Russian, nor Chinese, nor any other nationality. Our Creator is beyond every label. And etched on every heart.

Psalm 139 is a bit of an odd duck in our psalter. It is the only psalm in the book that focuses on the individual. In fact, it might even be the only place in the entire Hebrew Bible where the state or fate of the individual is not only addressed, but stressed.

The Hebrew Bible is almost always the story of the people of God; never a single person of God. But Psalm 139 speaks directly and specifically about the intimacy of our personal relationship with and to God. 

The first 18 verses of the psalm are divided into three parts.

Part one, verses 1-6 say unequivocally that God knows us through and through, top to bottom, stem to stern, inside and out. Yahweh, You (and it is the emphatic you) have searched me and You know me.

Part two, verses 7- 12 say that no matter where we flee, or how far we run, or how dark the hole in which we are buried, God will always find us. Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? And the unequivocal answer is, loosely translated, nowhere.

And then part three, verses 13-18 insist that God knows us fully and stays with us always because God has woven every thread of our being into the tapestry of our unique selves by hand…..intentionally….joyously…..without one single regret. No matter who we think we are.

No matter how many regrets we have for ourselves, God has none. Not a one.

This psalm is the story of who each and every one of us is as beloved individuals of God’s wondrous creativity to serve God’s unfathomable purpose. And so it is very personal. The God of Psalm 139 is not Our Father who art in heaven. The God of Psalm 139 is the author of our existence who dwells within us right here on earth. The God in whom we live and move and have our being, as it says in the Book of Acts. The God who knows us fully and from whom there is no escape – a God who is with us always because we are God’s most precious creation; and not just created, not just constituted as the work of a divine potter, as this morning’s reading from Jeremiah says.

But in Psalm 139 God has not just made us, God has knit us together –woven us out of whole divinely endowed cloth….the first knitting ministry, as it were! And we are the pearls of God’s labor.

It’s an image of God’s creativity as a process of careful integration and intricate design. We are the way we are, every mole and freckle, every nook and cranny, every warp and woof, knit and pearl of our being is by God’s grace-filled design. And this is, as I see it, a sort of good news / bad news situation.

Because it means that where ever we go, however hard we try, we cannot escape the knowing breath of God. We cannot preclude the unbearable vulnerability that comes with God’s unyielding attention and interest. However desperate we feel to free our fragile egos from the terrifying assurance that we are simply and inherently good enough, that our brokenness may not be a mistake or a failure, but may in fact be by design – whatever it is that haunts us in our self-proclaimed unworthiness, it is not a fatal flaw or an original sin, but rather a beloved  built-in opportunity for growth and reconciliation and eventual magnificence – an opportunity that would hardly exist if we were perfect from the get-go…..which of course we are, as this psalm tells us in no uncertain words.

But here, then, “perfect” requires some serious revision and redefinition, does it not?

For if we are awesomely and wondrously made – perfection, each and every one of us, in our own unique ways – then our old connotation of perfection, our old notion that perfection is some universally objective quality that precludes cracks or wrinkles or character – the idea of perfection as that without room for improvement, well, that is clearly not what God intended in God’s perfect creation of humanity. For we are indeed a collection of uniquely perfect opportunities for magnificent creativity and growth, each with our own unique cracks and unsightly crevasses.

 And so this psalm speaks not only of our magnificence, but also of our vulnerability, our built-in propensity for falling down as a part of our wondrous and awesome creation. Let us stop lamenting our failures. They are built in.

But this psalm speaks to that inner fear that each of us has experienced at one point or another in our perfectly insecure lives. That deep and abiding suspicion that if we were truly known…that if our true selves were ever revealed, we would be sooooo busted. Busted as the unworthy children that we know ourselves to be. Busted as worthless, shameful, unlovable failures.

This is our secret fear….well, I’ll just speak for myself here, but if the shoe fits….then this psalm may fit you, too. But, it assures us that although we ARE known, fully, completely, without any privacy whatsoever when it comes to God, although God sees it all, still we are loved beyond our wildest dreams; and not just loved, adored.

We are each the center of God’s full attention. And so God is inescapable.

But the Good News in this psalm is not that God is inescapable, it is that only God is inescapable.

Which is why this psalm comes not a moment too soon in this season of vicious and seemingly hopeless political warfare. A moment in our American history when our ugly arrogant heads have been given full throated voices and our self-centered self-righteousness plays out in unbridled incivility and violence in our streets and even in our schools, almost on a daily basis.

But hear this, Psalm 139 assures us that no matter how dire the civil climate, how impossible the odds, no matter how high the mountain, no matter how unjust, unkind, unfair, uncompassionate, or unlikely that our current state of affairs will be, or can be changed…the only constant is that God is still here. Inescapable. And our steadfast hope lies in the sure and steady knowledge that only God will prevail. Everything else will change, eventually. Only God is inescapable.

For as the Psalm says, even the darkness will not be dark to You, O God.

This is the psalm for these trying times.

I would like to close with a poem that I wrote twenty five years ago, long before I had ever really heard of psalm 139.  I wrote it for my then 6-year-old niece and godchild, Lauren.

It was included as the first of a collection of poems about nature, well, insects to be exact, called Big Bug Creek that was published in 1998. And today I would like to dedicate it to an undying faith that with the Gracious and Ever-Loving God of our creation, anything and everything is not only possible, but possible within our current means….That is to say, inescplicable, miraculous possibility is already here and now.

Bee-lieving.

Pursuant to the theories of most scientists renowned,

The bumble bee, all quite agree, should not get off the ground.

The principles and test results will verify with might,

That bumble bees, like black eyed peas, were not designed for flight.

It’s simply that their shape and weight are not in right relation

To the wingspan that is needed for this mode of transportation.

Sure, we of sound and solid mind indubitably know

That what the laws of physics say is surely what is so.

But somehow, somewhere, someone failed to thus inform the bees;

And so although we’re in the know, they buzz off as they please.

It’s utterly impossible, preposterous, no-can-do;

Unreasonable, high treasonable, and yet, by gosh, they do.

It could be simply strength of will, or winging on a prayer,

Or possibly the bumble bee is just a fluke midair.

It doesn’t really matter which, the point is when they say,

“It can’t be done, you’re not the one,” just smile and fly away.

And the peopel said: Amen.

© September, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Are You THE One?

Gospel According to Matthew 11:2-11

December 11, 2022: Advent III
The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” – NRSV

Welcome to the third week of Advent!
It is the second week in a row when the main character in our Gospel reading is John the Baptist.
And he poses a question in this morning’s Gospel reading that is front and center in the Jesus story for Christians and non-Christians alike. And front and center in this season of Advent.
It is the question at the heart of our faith.
John asks Jesus: “Are you the one, or should we wait for another?”

It’s a question that begs the consideration of a big word in our theological toolbox. Epsitemology. Etymologically, epistemology is the study of knowledge, from the Greek episteme.
It is about the quality and nature of knowledge;
about the ways in which we distinguish between what is the truth and what is….not.

A timely subject for this One Nation Under God that has adopted an affinity for “fake news.” But that’s another sermon for another day.

The theological textbooks talk about epistemology as the intersection
between truth and belief and justification.
What makes something true? How do we know what we know? And how do we justify our knowledge?

Such questions are at the heart of how we talk about ourselves as Christians in the world.

And such questions are implicit in John the Baptist’s question of Jesus: Are you the one?

Which is a thoroughly reasonable question given the state of the world.
Because if the one we are waiting for is already here….why haven’t things changed?
But, John’s question is also relatively bizarre given last week’s Gospel where John was so very resolute about the identity of Jesus. Remember? You Brood of Vipers! Repent!
Prepare ye the way for the one who comes with fire and a winnowing fork.
John was the steadfast herald of the news that he seemed to know to be true without question or qualm. Last week John was a rock…utterly sure of himself and his message:
Repent! For the ax is lying at the root of every tree, and any that are not worthy to bear good fruit will be chopped to the quick, and burned to the core in an unquenchable fire…. Holy cow!
There was no inkling of any uncertainty in John last week.

But this week, John is cooling his heels in a Roman jail cell as he tries to get a grip on the perplexing posture of this so-called king about whom he has been preaching and for whom he has been waiting. And his tone takes a distinct detour. He goes from: Repent! Prepare the way of the Lord!
To: Uh, are you sure you’re the Lord? You’re the one we’re waiting for? Get outta town.

I mean, no disrespect Jesus, but where’s your sword and your scepter.
Where is the pomp, the parade, the power and the glory that we were…preparing for?
How exactly do you plan to overthrow the forces of evil in a…a…sackcloth and sandals?
Frankly, Lord, you’re not exactly…actually not at all what we had in mind…in fact, forgive me,
but you don’t look all that different from us.
And more importantly, you don’t seem to have much more clout with the authorities than…than…than a camel with out-of-state plates. If you’re the king, you know, the one, then why is my rear end still in this jail cell? Are you sure you’re the one?

It almost makes us want to turn the question back on John;
Are you sure that you are the one, the prophet sent by God to herald God’s coming?,
Or are we to wait for another, perhaps one who will have a better handle on the Lord he is lauding. Because if you don’t know whether or not this Jesus is the one for whom we are waiting,
then who should we ask?!

Still, it is not too difficult to see John’s point, is it?
I can feel John’s predicament. Especially now, in these troubled times.
It seems perfectly reasonable to ask. Because…..
Number one, Jesus does not fit the expectation of the messiah.
And number two, the world is still a mess, still brimming with greed and selfishness and evil.

So I think we all want to know,

Jesus, are you the one, the Good News of God, or should we keep waiting?

In fact, it seems only logical to question the devastation, the oppression the injustice -which has, incidentally been reoccurring throughout the whole of human history, and did not appear to be even slightly curtailed by the birth, life, death, or resurrection of God’s own flesh and blood.
Henri Nouwen says that we are the first generation for whom the future is actually optional.

In the face of such a world, the question to Jesus, “are you the one who is coming” is not at all uncalled for.

And yet, it is not incumbent upon the distinctly divine to explain anything to the wholly human. Speaking strictly for myself, I am so not capable of comprehending God’s big picture plan, or, even less, of doing anything about it even if I were to be granted the inside scoop.
Explaining God’s design to me would be akin to Pythagoras explaining his theorem to a turnip. There’s just no point.

But Martin Smith says that Advent is about the mystery of God’s choice to embrace the limitations of human life. Advent is the space where our demand for knowledge meets God’s insistence on mystery. Where we sit in the dark (and getting darker every day) with nothing but our faith to hold on to. Certainty and uncertainty all wrapped up……in the same present. Here and now.
Advent is where we begin the dance.

It’s strange that a new beginning is often characterized by a theme of waiting. But the word in this morning’s passage that is translated as “wait” – are you the one who is coming, or should we wait for another – is really more appropriately translated from the Greek as “expect.” Which carries a bit of a different connotation than wait. We can wait for something about which we know very little.
But expectation comes with…….baggage. It comes with some knowing. Expecting comes with some knowledge of that for which we are waiting.

This verb is used 29 times in the New Testament, 23 of which are in the Gospel of Matthew. That otherwise boring statistic, tells us that Matthew is the Gospel of expectation.
Of knowing what is coming. Of prophesy fulfilled.

The fabric of expectation is grounded in a recognition of that which is awaited.
To re-cognize….to re-know…to know again.
Expectation is about waiting for something we already recognize, something we already know.

The danger, of course, is that our expectations can and often do color our eyesight. We often see only what we expect to see.

Like the police officer who had been staking out a bar on a busy road. After last call the officer noticed a man leaving the bar apparently so intoxicated that he could barely walk. The man stumbled around the parking lot for a few minutes, with the officer quietly observing. After what seemed an eternity in which he tried his keys on five different vehicles, the man managed to find his car and fall into it. He sat there for a few minutes as a number of other patrons left the bar and drove off. Finally he started the car, switched the wipers on and off–it was a fine, dry summer night – flicked the blinkers on and off a couple of times, honked the horn and then switched on the lights. He moved the vehicle forward a few inches, reversed a little and then remained still for a few more minutes. And at last, when his was pretty much the only car left, he managed to safely navigate the parking lot and pull out onto the main road .

The police officer, having waited patiently all this time, started up his patrol car, put on the flashing lights, and promptly pulled the man over and immediately administered a breathalyzer test. But to his amazement, the breathalyzer indicated no evidence that the man had consumed any alcohol at all! Dumbfounded, the officer said, I’ll have to take you to the police station in my cruiser.
This breathalyzer equipment seems to be broken.’
‘I doubt it,’ said the man. ‘Tonight was my night to be the designated decoy.”

Are you the one, or should we wait for another?

It’s a joke that rests on an unethical premise, but you get my point.
Seeing may be believing. But the question is always, what are we seeing?
Sometimes what looks like a duck and smells like a duck and acts like a duck….is just a decoy.

And so John asks Jesus: Are you sure you are the one?

Maybe rather than the season of expectation, Advent is really the season of expectation management. John was expecting the Messiah, …with a capital M.
The kind of Messiah that was promised in the Book of Isaiah.
Isaiah prophesied that such a Messiah would be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.” Handle’s Messiah. Isaiah’s Messiah. This was the Messiah that John expected.

John expected a king…a warrior like David…a prominent priest…a prophet like Elijah…John was not expecting a poor, powerless (by any political and social standards), peasant with a relatively rotten temper and a radical disregard for all earthly…..expectations.
This Gospel reading does nothing else, it reinforces the inadequacies of our expectations over, and over, and over again.

And so it is not all surprising that Jesus did not answer John’s question as we might hope or expect.
” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

This is not an answer to the question “Are you the one?” There is no first person verb or pronoun in Jesus’ answer. Jesus does not respond to whether he is or is not the one.

And this is worth noting about Jesus. He never defends or even defines himself.
He is always pointing toward God. Never pointing toward himself. Never clarifying who he is. Only and always talking about the Source of his Authority with a capital A.
Because identity is almost always grounded in the Source of Authority.

If we want to know who someone is and how they are likely to behave,
the first thing we want to know is where they get their authority.
Where do they get their marching orders? And how do they know what they know? Whose truth are they telling?

And so, getting back to epistemology, it is all about authority.
Advent is all about the question: Who is our authority as Christians? Who is our God? And if the light arising from the darkness does not look like Jesus of Nazareth.
If the gift does not come wrapped in a homeless migrant
who preaches for his supper and heals for his vocation;
If our God does not look like Jesus born in Bethlehem,
a brown-skinned baby without a modicum of social stature or a single denari to his name. If our authority does not come from the unsightly, uncomfortable margins,
Then like John, we will be trapped in a prison of our own poor expectations management. We will be waiting for a…..while.

The Good News of Advent, is that we already know what we await, as Matthew suggests. It is already etched on our hearts. We are waiting for our own divinity to shine through the night, to be delivered.

Let us be the Advent blessing that God awaits and expects in us.

Amen.

© December 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Plow Peace

Book of Isaiah 2:1-5

November 27, 2022: Advent I

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

Here it is, the first Sunday in Advent. Again.
Just like last year, and the year before, and the year before that, here we are beginning our story, again. Our same age-old story, in a new year, presumably in a new way, and yet, it is not a new story, not even close. For some of us, Advent could easily feel like a rut, like a broken record,
like Spotify stuck on repeat until we have heard that same old song…enough already.

Every year we hear the promise of peace on earth.
But every year we wait with joyous expectancy for a gift that continues to elude us. Where is the peace on earth already?
Are we that foolish? Or is God that untrustworthy?
How can it be that God has come to earth, every Christmas for over 2 millenia, And still we wait. Still no peace on earth.

This morning’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah puts the promise in black and white. We read it every three years in this season of Advent.
And it proclaims, in no uncertain terms, the coming of said peace on earth.

All of the people will come to the mountain of God.
And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
And we will all walk in the light of the Lord!

It’s a lovely dream. But it’s not true….at least not yet.
Just ask the good folks of Ukraine. Peace has not yet graced our earth.

And yet, I think I know that peace of which Isaiah speaks.
It’s not an entirely foreign concept. Peace on earth.


This very morning, as I was finishing this sermon, I watched the night sky give way to the most amazing morning light. The most gorgeous pink horizon began to lift above the bare tree tops across my back yard. And I thought, if this sight is not peace on earth, I don’t know what is.
And I started to wonder about truth, the accuracy of this sermon.

Maybe there is a different way of understanding peace on earth. Maybe it’s just not ….not…..manifested in the way we expect. Because I think we are waiting for some switch to be flipped.

For the violence and the hatred and the forces of domination and oppression and fragmentation That make this world so violent, to just stop. On a dime. All at once.
And then, out of the blue there will be peace….on the whole earth.
Everywhere. No exceptions.

I think we think that when peace finally does come to earth,
humanity will instantaneously become…..all-loving and kind and generous and respectful. Like the Manchurian Candidate.
God will utter a divine word, and peace will just spread like jam over the whole earth.

But I am thinking that that is not how this swords into ploughsahres thing works.
I am thinking it might work the way Advent works.
Which would be why this reading shows up in Advent rather than Eastertide where really belongs, in my humble opinion. Because Advent, in the true meaning of the word, is the only possible context. For this scenario put forth by our prophet Isaiah.

Advent is from the Latin adventus. And adventus in Latin is a very particular verb form. It is a perfect passive participle.
We don’t have this form in English.
But in Latin, the perfect passive participle has a somewhat contradictory meaning.

The perfect passive part denotes something which has already happened. But the participle part is something that is happening as we speak
and continues to happen into the future.
So, Advent, from the perfect passive participle adventus, is:

1)  something that is happening now and is ongoing.

2)  and also something that has already happened.

We can’t get our arms around Advent if we are thinking in a linear way.
If we are waiting for a switcxh to flip on or off.
We can’t get our arms around the coming of God if we move from start to finish,
from beginning to ending.
The very meaning of Advent tells us that we can’t put one foot in front of the other and get to God. Advnet tells us that we have to live and work spatially rather than chronologically.
Because God’s Chronos…God’s time, is not linear.

It is all around us and as we live and breathe, and still to come as we hope and dream.
If you ask me, the very concept of Advent is the perfect gift for Christmas.
And maybe Advent is not the time of waiting, but the space and place in which we wait. And that means that Advent is not really about waiting in time, but about filling our time.

I think if we hear this passage from Isaiah as a perfect passive participle we may be on to something.

Because Isaiah himself is writing this passage in the middle of a raging war.
He talks about beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks as though it has already happened. And yet Isaiah could have been writing in President Zelkensky’s foxhole
as Russian missiles explode around him.
But Isaiah is insistent that our instruments of violence will be transformed into instruments
of peace….and not just peace…..prosperity.
They will be transformed into Ploughshares (instruments of employment)
and pruning hooks (instruments of growth).
A transformation from war, not just to not-war, but to creative work.
Not just to peace, but productivity. Not just passivity, but actively planting.

And I got to thinking, maybe we have the process out of order.
Maybe war does not become peace and then peace becomes prosperity.
Maybe the antidote to war is not peace (which would take a miracle from God),
but work (which is well within our human purview).
Peace may still be the result.
But maybe, short of a miracle, work is the agent of transformation.
Swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
That sounds and feels right to me.
Because when I’m working, when I am constructive, I am much less likely to be destructive. Maybe the answer to our broken world is not peace but engaging employment.

You might have heard of Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest whose memoir is called Tattoos on the Heart. It chronicles his work in Los Angeles with some of the most violent gang members in….anywhere. This year is the 30th anniversary of his work of changing swords into ploughshares.
His organization could have been called Isaiah Inc. But he called it Homeboy Industries.

The mission is to respond to gang violence in the streets of Los Angeles by putting some of the most incorrigible gang members in that city to productive work.
Fr. Boyle writes: “Homeboy Industries seeks to improve and transform the lives of gang members by employing them at one of the Homeboy businesses, which include a Homeboy Bakery and Home Girl Café, a silkscreen and embroidery shop, among others. Homeboy Industries also provides support services including therapy, GED classes, and tattoo removal…”1 And more planting and growing endeavors.

In the beginning, Fr. Boyle says he actively worked to draft peace agreements and ceasefires among warring gangs. But none of those endeavors worked. At all.
Because, he says, peace-making agreements require that a conflict be solved.

But there is no actual conflict in the realm of in gang warfare.
There is plenty of violence, but it has no reasonable foundation to be reconciled.
Fr. Boyle explains “It’s about a lethal absence of hope. It’s about kids who can’t imagine a future for themselves. It’s about kids who aren’t seeking anything when they join a gang.” They are no seeking, they are fleeing. “They’re always fleeing something,” he says.
They are kids who have no productive focus for their lives.

And this description jives with what we know about recruitment for all gang-style warfare, especially terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Shabbab and others.
The perpetrators are first and foremost grossly under-employed.
And so, when Homeboy Industries first started, it was mostly an employment referral agency. The slogan on its T-shirts still reads, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

And Homeboy Industries has been proving that slogan to be true for three decades.
Today, Homeboy Industries employs roughly 250 ex-gang members a year, most of whom have been to prison. And the organization has a 75-percent retention rate,
which means 75 percent of the people with whom they work, do not return to prison.2
They have permanently turned their swords into ploughshares.

For that 75%, peace has come on earth. Swords into ploughshares into peace.

This is how peace comes to earth.
But the peace is not something that has happened once and for all.
Just like Advent, it has happened and it must keep happening.

We must keep plowing and planting and pruning. And by getting to work we will get to peace.

Fr. Boyle’s business strategy hangs on his belief that:
“The role of people on earth is to try to imitate the kind of God they believe in.”
If we believe in a God that is ever creative, ever creating, the greatest gardener of all time! Then plowing and planting and pruning are the way.

As Matthew says in this morning’s Gospel reading, the way to be ready when the Son of Humanity comes again is to keep our eyes on our work before us.
Forget the signs and the prophesies. Forget the wishful thinking.
Forget waiting patiently for the switch to flip.

Instead, let us drop to our knees in God’s garden and sow peace for the harvest!

As I was on my way to church this morning, a friend of mine, Rick Cinami, sent me a text. I don’t think I’ve ever received a text from Rick on Sunday morning, so when I saw his name come up on my phone, I was bit a worried.

I opened it immediately and this is what I saw.

“Peace on Earth”

Just in case the morning sky outside my own window was not enough to get it through my think head and heart, God, in God’s infinite wisdom, resorted to social media.
And put my peace on earth in a text from a friend who was thinking of me and my parish at 6am. Enough to stop his truck and take a picture. And send it with his best wishes for a lovely day.
This day which God has made and laced with sweet peace in places where we least expect to find it.

God is good. All the time.

All the time. God is good.

And peace is here all over God’s earth!

Amen

© November 2022, The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw


[1] On Being with Krista Tippett, April 2, 2015

[2] ON Being blog, by Mary Desmond, Jesuit Preist Takes LA Gang Members and Provides Jobs and Hope with Homeboy Industries. http://www.onbeing.org/blog/jesuit-priest-takes-la-gang-members-and-provides-jobs-and-hope-homeboy-industries/4766. This article appears courtesy of The Chautauquan Daily.

[3] Mary Desmond article.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Thanksliving

A Day for Thanksliving

November 20, 2022: Ingathering Sunday

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

I love Thanksgiving. It has always been among my favorite holidays.
It is the holiday that is strictly reserved for food and fellowship. No gifts to wrap. No presents to buy. No apologies or excuses or consternation about what to give whom.

We all know from the get-go what to give whom.
It’s Thanksgiving. The holiday of thanks giving.
The only holiday reserved especially and exclusively for our expression of gratitude to God for God’s grace.This is the only holiday devoted to the goodness of God that is not denominational.
The only religious holiday (for those of us who consider it a religious holiday)
that I can celebrate in earnest with my friends of all faiths.

I especially love sharing Thanksgiving with my friends from around the world.
Because although Thanksgiving is historically an American holiday, I think it is fundamentally a human holiday. For there is no one on the face of God’s gracious earth who does not have something for which they can be thankful. No one. No matter how trying our circumstances. No matter what pain or sorrow we are enduring.We have all tasted the sweet miracle of life but by the grace of God.
Every one of us is a pilgrim. And we travel each day at God’s pleasure.
Every life is a pilgrim’s process. And every pilgrim’s progress is a gift from God.
Long or short, our lives are God’s works of art. God’s miracles.

Even Cicero, the ancient pagan orator, called gratitude the mother of all virtues, the most capital of all duties. Cicero used the words grateful and good synonymously; inseparably united in character.[1]
And so, long before the dawn of our common era, the great thinkers of the day knew that living a “good life”, was somehow wrapped up in living a grateful life.

Even when gratitude is at a premium. Yesterday was the burial service for our beloved warden Becky’s nephew Andrew and unborn grandniece Elizabeth. Both lost their lives in a horrible car accident less than two weeks ago just down the road from here. And so I have been thinking a lot about grief and gratitude as we approach our feast of thanksgiving.

Is gratitude a relevant virtue in the midst of abject suffering and grief?
It’s a question we might all have asked over the last couple of pandemic laden years.
Does gratitude have a place in our grief? And I think the answer is a resounding yes! Gratitude is not only relevant in the midst of grief, it might be the most holy response to grief, and maybe to all forms of suffering.

Because gratitude is the realization and the acknowledgement that we are not in control.
Unlike anger, which rests on the notion that we should have some control,
Gratitude accepts that we are contingent. That we are dependent on forces beyond our ken or capability. And so the mere fact that we have had life in the first place must make us grateful from our core.

And so gratitude may well be the most helpful response to grief.
The best way to cope with loss is to remember with thankful hearts what we had to lose, and what we have left. To identify the empty tomb in the midst of our despair.
And to begin to appreciate and claim whatever new life and love arises out of the ashes of our sorrow.
I think gratitude is the holy response to grief.

Gratitude is thanksgiving.
The word thanksgiving is used over 200 times in the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. And it is integral to the texture and the essence of the right relationship between human beings and God, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
Psalm 50 says “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me.”
Thanksgiving is the premier offering, and the precursor for going along the “right way” to God.

Which is why from the time of Cicero and the Hebrew Scriptures,
gratitude has been characterized as the apriori condition to living a “good” life,
as oxygen is apriori to living a biological life.
That is to say, it is impossible to live a good life without living gratefully…without living with thanksgiving. We could call it thanksliving.

It is no surprise that in the New Testament, the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucrivstia. Eucharist. The Greek word for thanksgiving is the central act of Christian worship.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we literally celebrate Thanksgiving.
And, as we all know, the origin of the Eucharist was the last supper,

where Jesus, enjoying food and fellowship with his disciples, offered thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving is our most holy Christian expression of our communion with God.
And so for we Christians, the Last Supper was the first Thanksgiving.

And thanksgiving begins with appreciation.
Appreciation is the feeling of thankfulness.
Appreciate is from the Latin ad pretium, which literally means to add (ad) value (pretium).
To appreciate something is to add to its value. When we appreciate something, we increase its worth.
So when we are thankful for God’s gifts, when we appreciate them, we are actually enhancing their value.

Now that is an awesome concept.
To think that the value of God’s gifts can be increased by the way in which they are received. To think that I, a broken, bruised, flawed, fractured, frightened, fledgling featherless bi-ped

can add value to the incredible gifts that God alone has bestowed. That I, that you, that we have a hand in the quality of our blessings. How great is that?! And how daunting!

And yet, thanksgiving is not a cursory, perfunctory, obligatory act
that we are programmed to perform so that we may remain in God’s good graces. It is not good business. It is not good manners.
True thanksgiving is neither a reflex nor a requirement.
It is rather a freely offered critical and crucial completion of the creative process. We complete the process by appreciating the value of God’s creation.
We increase the value of the creation when we give our thanks.
Without our appreciation, the gifts of God cannot realize their full potential.

Wow! Gratitude is that powerful!

When we are truly thankful, with our whole beings, with our full completment of resources and gifts, We become, in the words of Richard Hooker, one of the 17th century fathers of Anglicanism, “associates of Deity.”[2] By appreciating the gifts of God we become partners in the process.
We are needed by God to glorify God’s gifts. The fullness of God’s grace is, to some degree, in our hands.

It is no accident that our Ingathering Sunday is perched just before Thanksgiving.
It’s a day when we as a community give thanks for the blessing of our little corner of the Jesus movement that we call Trinity Church in Brooklyn.

The tradition of an ingathering sabbath dates back as far as we can remember in our faith tradition.
Our Jewish foreparents celebrated their good lives by bringing a portion of their harvest, God’s harvest, to the Temple at the end of every growing season.
It was a way of acknowledging with a substantial sacrifice of their harvest,
the deep spiritual value of their common life as a community of faithful souls.
Our scripture teaches us from the very start of Genesis, that sacrifice is the proper response to gratitude.

So today we offer our pledges of personal sacrifice, of time, talent and treasure to this beloved community of God. Today we can put some teeth into our thanksgiving. To turn our thanksgiving into thanksliving.
To offer whatever we have to offer to the glory of God and God’s purposes through the work and companionship that makes this parish such a special sanctuary in our weary and broken world.

I want to close with a poem I wrote in honor of Lancelot Addrewes.
One of the founders of Anglican spirituality.
Lancelot Adrewes is famous for his book and habits of devotions.
He is said to have prayed with abject thanksgiving at least five hours every day. Unless he was really busy. On those days thanked God in prayer for 7 hours.

A Thanksgiving Day Poem Dedicated to Lancelot Andrewes

We lift our hearts unto the Lord. We bow our heads in praise. Through hope and disappointment, with all ends and means and ways, Every day, and every moment, with each breath, and every blink, Everywhere, in every cranny, in the heart and on the br ink,
In all times and in all places, in the rare and the routine,
In antiquity, eternity and all that’s in between;
For our coming and our going, for our work and for our rest,
In our rising and our falling, feeling cursed or feeling blessed;
With glee, and joy, and gladness, with respect and awe and praise,
For compassion and forgiveness, through our trespass and malaise; Through our angst and our elation , when we’re brilliant or a fool,
For curiosity, commitment, creativity and cool;
For the whole of your vast heaven, and the fullness of your earth,
For community and family, and membership at birth;
For the warp and woof of nature, for the yin and yang of time,
For the order of the universe, its meter and its rhyme;
For lavender, and chartreuse, for bashful, bright, and bold,
For summer squash, and autumn leaves, and snow and marigolds;
For every mole and freckle, every sniff and every snore,
For every rotten wrinkle, every follicle and pore;
For every living thing, every fern and every fungus,
Every being, every beetle, Lord, for everything amongus;
Within, around, above, below, beside, beneath, between,
For everything for evermore we’ve ever never seen,
We’re humbled and we’re grateful; with our lives we sing your praise. And we’ll thank you from our toe bottoms for all our blessed days.

God bless our Thanksgiving!

Amen.


© November, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Saint Zacchaeus

October 30, 2022 – All Saints Sunday

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10, NRSV

Good morning! Today we celebrate all saints. So good morning saints!

My friend Rev’d. Dr. Mark Bozutti Jones who is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Trinity Wallstreet used to say that there is no difference between Christian saints and Jewish saints, except that Christian saints are absolutely perfect and Jewish saints are abundantly flawed.
And so the Apostle Paul, a Jew his whole life long, said that we were all born to be saints.

Every one of us. We all have a scoshe of the holy in us.

This morning’s Gospel invites us to think about the criteria for sainthood. It tells the story of the chief tax collector in Jericho named Zacchaeus.

It’s a great name. Zacchaeus.
It’s got girth and substance and it is not yet overused.
In fact, a Google search of Zacchaeus reveals that it is used only once in our public sphere. And it is here in this morning’s reading from Luke’s Gospel.

And, Zacchaeus shows up only in Luke.
And not only the name Z, but the very term, “chief tax collector” appears only here in Luke. Nowhere else in our New Testament is there a reference to a chief tax collector.

This story of Z falls at the end of a whole portion of Luke that appears only in Luke. Most of chapters 15 to 19. They are aptly called the “L” source section….as in, only found in Luke. But the “L” section is very aptly named. Not loser to God, but definitely on the margins of our own social scale.
Because most of the characters in this section “L” are outcasts and sinners….losers in the social sense. Parables about lost sheep, dishonest managers, rotten rich men, lepers, poor widows and unjust judges, and this last parable about the unpopular, untall, head tax collector Zacchaeus.
The “L” section.

Just the sort of folks that Jesus collects. The folks on the margins…..on every margin.
Like Zacchaeus who, despite his affluence as a tax collector, also qualifies as an outcast.
Because he is….well, said to be short for one. And hated by everyone from whom he collectes taxes. And the author of this text seems to want us to think of Z as a loser. Big time.

Elisabeth Kaeton (an Episcopal priest with a long and impressive resume of service to the church) – writes in her blog “Telling Secrets,” that this tale of Zacchaeus is perfectly placed around the time of Halloween. Because, she says, the whole story is about how we are tricked into treating Zacchaeus as someone who is disgraceful, someone who fails to measure up against the moral yardstick of the day.

No one else is reprehensible enough in all of the Gospels to be called the chief of tax collectors.
It’s not bad enough to be a regular tax collector, like the one denounced earlier in the L section. Here, Luke adds another layer of disgust.
Zacchaeus is the chief of all of the dirty rotten scoundrels who collect tribute for the Roman Empire.

And so from the get-go, we know that Zacchaeus is rich.
The supreme moral knock against his character in the ancient world where wealth was a zero-sum game. Those who were rich always got that way at the expense of those who were poor.
A rich tax collector was virtually swimming in sin.

And as the icing on the deficiency cake, the text says that Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree because he wanted to see who Jesus was and, “he could not see because he was short in stature.”
Many commentaries take this insinuation that Z was short as another derogatory slur.
He’s rotten, and he’s short.

But I think it is not clear whether the author is referring to Zacchaeus as short in stature, or to Jesus as short in stature. “He could not see because he was short in stature.”

It seems a small point (pun only slightly intended), but its one of the reasons that I love this passage so much. There are so many unclarified nuances that invite the reader to ponder our assumptions.
To question the many ways in which we are prone to judge a book, or a chief tax collector, by their cover. It is jam packed with little mirrors that challenge our most basic assumptions.

Like who is and is not a saint? Who is and is not a sinner?
But, we are led to believe that Zacchaeus is firmly in the latter category.
And if not a sinner, at least a wildly unpopular fellow.
And so right off the bat we are led to think of Zacchaeus as a rogue who needs a change of heart.
We think of him as we think of the Pharisees, and rich Lazarus who tosses a single coin to the leper at his gate, and a host of other Richie Riches in the Gospels who loot the public coffers and take advantage of those who are less fortunate.

So by the end of verse 2 we have a fairly poor impression of Zacchaeus.
But he wants to see “who Jesus is” so he climbs a sycamore tree and waits for the procession. And when Jesus passes under that tree, looks up, as though he knows Zacchaeus is there,
and somehow he knows Z’s name.
Jesus calls up, “Zacchaeus, hurry down out of that tree, for I must stay at your house today.”

Can you imagine? There you are, perched in a sycamore tree like a kid hoping for a better view of a parade… or maybe like a rogue seeking camouflage, or both –
another little uncertainty to chew on in this text.
Why is Z in that tree? Because he literally cannot see Jesus otherwise? Or because he is so hated that he needs to hide as protection from the public mob?

And imagine how shocked he must have been when Jesus not only knew his name, but insisted on coming to his house.
“I must stay at your house today,” said Jesus.
And just like that, Z, guess who’s coming to dinner!

And so Zacchaeus scurries out of the tree and “joyfully” welcomes Jesus.
There is no grumbling on his part for the unsolicited self-invitation on Jesus’ part. Zacchaeus joyfully welcomes him. It’s the same word “joyfully” used by Martha when she welcomes Jesus to her home.
I don’t k now about you, but if someone I did not personally know announced that they must come to my house tonight for dinner, out of the blue, there might be a bit of grumbling.
Not Zacchaeus. He responds to Jesus’ unsolicited invitation with utter joy!

However, as the scripture says, everyone else grumbles.
Not just the scribes and Pharisees who are the typical grumblers in Luke. Here, everyone is grumbling, disciples and apostles and the whole crowd in general.
Everyone is passing a mighty judgment on this rich chief tax collector whom they all take to be unworthy of Jesus’ attention. He’s no saint. He is a sinner! Not good enough for Jesus.

And it’s easy to see their point. What is Jesus doing going to the home of this elite money-launderer? Why is Jesus spending his time at the home of this rich guy?
Isn’t Jesus supposed to be focused on the meek, the poor in spirit,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?

And here is where we really need a good translator to properly interpret this text.

Because the next line can make or break the way we hear the point of this story.
In my humble opinion, I think the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the one we heard this morning, offers a bit of a…..mistranslation.
But because Luke’s Greek is so precise, the translation needs to be precise.

The NRSV reads: Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Halleluiah, we think. Jesus has changed Zacchaeus’ wonton ways.
His heart has been converted.
He was a rich tax collector, but now he is found, was blind but now he sees. He was a sinner. And now he is a saint.

Almost every Bible translation that I have found, and the preponderance of commentaries
present this story as a conversion story. A story of repentance and reconciliation.
I was at the Massachusetts diocesan convention yesterday (because I am canonically resident there) And every committee presentation that referred to today’s Gospel passage, and there were several, Called it a conversion story.

One of my favorite theologians, Frederic Beuchner agrees.
His commentary says: Zacchaeus was taken so completely aback by the honor of the thing that before he had a chance to change his mind, he promised not only to turn over fifty percent of his holdings to the poor but to pay back, four to one, all the cash he’d extorted from everybody else. Jesus is delighted.1

And I love Frederic Beuchner, but not so fast…..
Because the fact is, that the Greek verbs in this sentence are not in the future tense.
The literal text does not read “I will give to the poor” and “I will pay back what I have defrauded.” No. Because both of these verbs in verse 8 are in a present active tense.
It literally says: “I already give to the poor,” and “I am already paying back four times what I have defrauded.” According to Luke’s Greek, Zacchaeus is already doing the right thing.
Not for nothing, but in Hebrew “Zacchaeus” literally means “righteous.”

He already shares his wealth and he makes amends if anyone is cheated. And he has been doing this all along. And so when we use this story to think about the criteria for sainthood, We need to be clear.

Zacchaeus is not converted to a righteous life, he is a witness to a righteous life.
Because I might suggest that saints are not spotless souls made exceptionally faithful by conversion. Saints are faithful souls who choose to live boldly as witnesses to that faith.
Saints are those among us who bear witness to the love of God.
Not those among us who are lucky enough to be converted into something we were not already.

And so when Jesus says to Z “salvation happens in this house,”
he is not talking about his own saving power.
Jesus is talking about the substance of salvation as the way Z has chosen to use his gifts and live his life. The way that Z has already chosen to share his wealth and his resources,
and to make amends for his trespasses.
This is the measure of a saint of God.

This is the only place in Luke’s Gospel (other than the infancy narrative at the very beginning) where the word salvation is used as a noun.
That is to say, salvation is not something that Jesus is doing, it is something that already exists. Jesus tells Zacchaeus that “salvation” is already here in his house.

I hear Jesus saying, Z, you are already a saint.

And that, dear friends is what I think you and I are called to on this All Saints Sunday.
Not to change who we are. Not to become better people, as it were.
But to become braver witnesses, to choose a life that boldly puts our faith front and center, even if we are short and unpopular.
Our faith in God and in God’s Son and in God’s Spirit will carry us through.
When we ooze God’s love, we are living into our birthright as saints of God.

From Abraham to Zacchaeus. We are all born to be faithful, flawed followers of a living God.

And the saints among us said: Amen.

1 http://frederickbuechner.com/content/weekly-sermon-illustration-zaccheus


© Octobert, 2022 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment