Transformed by Encounter
This is Stewardship Sunday, a day when focus on offering ourselves and our gifts to building Godâ€™s dream. The ancient words of the prophet Joel speak into a time of disaster for the people. There has been ecological disaster. The land is in ruin. The prophet Joel faces the disaster, and names and laments it; but also offers a vision of Godâ€™s promise; a time of hopeâ€¦.a better time than the time through which the people are living. The prophet sees a different way is possible; There will be a time when God will pour out the Spirit on all peopleâ€¦.Godâ€™s presence and energy and power will be with all people. Godâ€™s spirit will be in old men who will dream dreams, in sons and daughters who will prophesyâ€¦.which means to speak Godâ€™s word into life. Young men will see visions and the Spirit will be poured across all social barriersâ€¦even on servants and slave girlsâ€¦..Surely in an ancient patriarchal culture, this vision of the universal pouring out of Spiritual gift is very radicalâ€¦.Out of the deadness will come an aliveness because of the gifts of the Spirit poured out on the community.
So what if we took this seriously? What might our situation look like if lived as if Godâ€™s spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, really ARE poured out on us all, old and young, rich and poor, insiders and outsiders? â€¦What might our congregation be like if when we encountered one another we looked for and paid attention to the gifts of the Spirit that we saw in one another? What if we helped nurture and call out and encourage those gifts? What if we listened for the dreams of old men and women and learned the wisdom of those who had lived fully through the times and seasons of life? What if we looked to our children and listened to them for what God might be wanting to say to us? What if we found a way to listen especially to those on the margins, expecting to see the Spirit alive and working in them? We would encounter one another in deeper spirit filled ways and no doubt we and our community would be transformed. Stewardship is about responding to the gifts of the Spirit; about nurturing them; growing them; and using them in a way that builds Godâ€™s dream.
The gospel reading from Luke is another story about inviting someone into the wholeness of God. Itâ€™s a story of encounter and transformation. The story of Zaccheus is the story of the salvation, the healing, of a man whose plight was that he was rich, and a tax collector, two major counts against him in Jewish society in Jesus day. Zaccheus was even the chief tax collector, which implicated him deeply in the corrupt tax system of the oppressing Roman government. Zacchaeus was not some cute little Danny deVito type. He was someone despised as a collaborator.
But something was already operating in Zacchaeus, some root disatisfaction with his life, some sense that there had to be more. Something made him seek out this itinerant preacher who was passing through Something that made him even willing to make a fool of himself climbing up a tree to get a glimpse. Can you imagine the minister of national revenue climbing a tree to see Christ walking by? Or the head of the Bank of Canada?
I wonder what Jesus saw that made him single Zacchaeus out of the crowd and invite himself to his home to stay. I wonder what kind of conversation went on over dinner that night. I imagine Zacchaeus talking about his deep alienation, about his unhappiness with the direction of his life. And I imagine Jesus holding up a mirror that confronted Zacchaeus with some pretty harsh reality. Helped him face the fact that he was living in a way that betrayed his values, and his intentions for his life. Zacchaeus obviously longed to live in right relationship.
For him, it meant making big economic changes. It meant sharing the wealth he had gained through his business which was perfectly legal, but questionably moral. He came to realize that to be in right relationship, he had to change his perceptions of reality, and of his priorities . He had to decide not to take his wealth into off-shore tax shelters, not to sell people houses they did not need, not to encourage people to borrow more than they could afford, not to charge the highest rent he could extort for his property. He had to decide to see himself as part of community, responsible and accountable, to give something back- – to bring some balance into the system, to give to the poor, to pay back those whom he had cheated.
It is interesting to note, that although nothing overtly religious happens in this story, Jesus announces that salvation has come to Zacchaeusâ€™ house that day, because of his economic behaviour change. We have not liked to talk about money very much in the United Church. It has been thought to be almost dirty, or at least a very private matter, and yet part of us knows it is desirable and necessary as well. It is like power. We have a kind of love-hate relationship with it, the kind of relationship humans have with something they are both fascinated with, but also find dirty. Funny, we can talk about sex now, we can talk about addiction and abuse. All kinds of issues have come out of the closet that were impossible to talk about some years ago. But we come unglued when it come to talking about money, and the power it brings. We get hamstrung with ambivalence, with embarassment, with our love-hate relationship.
Yet Jesus seems to have no such trouble. He has obviously had a real heart to heart with Zacchaeus which has led to some radical change in economic behaviour. Zacchaeus leaves the encounter convinced that his relationship with God, his relationship with himself, is tied very closely with living justly in community and with right priorities in terms of his money.
Money is not evil in and of itself. It can certainly be used that way. It can become a God, an end in and of itself. But it is also a power which can be used for good. It can empower a person, a congregation, a whole denomination to become what we are called to be. It is a power that can make a vision become reality. It is an essential component for empowering the ministry and vision of this congregation.
This is a month when we focus on Stewardship at Cedar Park United Church. Stewardship is everything we do after we say YES to God. It is our response to what God has given us. Stewardship is about setting priorities in our life for our energy, for our money, for the gifts and talents that we have. It is the answer to the question. What do I want to pour out my life for? Whose kingdom do I want to serve? Where do I want to have my time spent? Where do I want to put the power of my money and of my energy? Zacchaeus is an example, a radical one albeit, of someone who changed his perceptions of how things were, and turned around what he was doing with his life. Jesus wasnâ€™t afraid to talk to him about his priorities, and his wealth. In this month we need to be as honest and open with ourselves and each other.
Not all of us are in a Zacchaeusâ€™ position. Some of us might fit more the end of the poor to whom Zacchaeus was going to give some of his wealth. Your reality is also part of this community, and our congregation could not run without the other gifts you give. You have a lot to teach us about the power of money, and what happens when you do not have it. You have a lot to teach us about the hope that sustained Joel . Some of us may feel like the ones cheated, who deserve some restitution. Some of us may feel as beleagered and depressed as people in Joelâ€™s day did, overwhelmed by the violence in the society, much of it economic in these days. Some of you may have never really thought about money and God and your support of the congregation. This month, I encourage you to talk about it, to think about it, to pray about it, to do some theology about it- and all that means, is to figure out where God is in it all. Read the materials coming out this week from our stewardship programme and connect with the invitation to take your place in our congregationâ€™s life and work and support in the way that is right for you given your own circumstances. Maybe then our vision of being a healing welcoming, justice-seeking community will come a little closer to reality.