THEME: Stewardship 4
Gratitude, Ordinary Time (green)
Gratitude and how the spiritual practice of gratitude can ground our journey as disciples of Jesus. We can and should nurture this practice that is also the foundation of our ability to give generously.
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 9:1–5 and Luke 19:1–10 (Inclusive Bible)
2 Corinthians 9:1–5
There’s really no need for me to write to you about offering your services to the holy ones. For I know how anxious you are to help, and I’ve boasted about you to the Macedonians: “Achaia (uh-chai-uh) has been ready since last year.” In fact, your zeal has stirred up most of them! Even so, I’m sending the coworkers so that our boasting about you in this matter won’t prove to have been empty—and to show that you are indeed ready, as I said you would be. If any of the Macedonians should accompany me and find you unprepared, we—not to mention you!—would be humiliated after being so confident. It’s for this reason that I thought it necessary for the coworkers to precede us, and to arrange in advance for this generous gift you promised. In this way we will dispel all doubts that it comes as a bountiful and free gift, not an extorted one.
Entering Jericho, Jesus passed through the city. There was a wealthy person there named Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but he couldn’t do so because of the crowd, since he was short. In order to see Jesus, Zacchaeus ran on ahead, then climbed a sycamore tree that was along the route. When Jesus came to the spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come on down. I’m going to stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and welcomed Jesus with delight. When everyone saw this, they began to grumble, “Jesus has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.” Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to Jesus, “Here and now I give half my belongings to poor people. If I’ve defrauded anyone in the least, I’ll pay them back fourfold.” Jesus said to the tax collector, “Today salvation has come to this house, for this is what it means to be a descendant of Sarah and Abraham. The Promised One has come to search out and save what was lost.
One: This is the witness of The Church,
Many: thanks be to God!
THE MESSAGE: “Gratitude” by Rev. Tracy Robertson
As our Stewardship Campaign wraps up for another year, I’m left with a lingering feeling of gratitude. And the number one thing I’m grateful for is this church family’s willingness and commitment to be a role model in the world. I have great admiration and gratitude for this community of faith. And Paul thought similarly of his folks in Corinth, so much so, that he is unapologetically boasted: I know you’re on board and ready to go, Paul says. I’ve been bragging about you all through Macedonia province, telling them, “Achaia (uh-chai-uh) province has been ready to go on this since last year.” Your enthusiasm by now has spread to most of them. Paul is so proud of the Corinthians and his gratitude comes through when he shows off to the folks in Macedonia and that encourages the Macedonians to get their act in gear, lest they be seen as not pulling their weight. Paul’s creating a bit of a competition between the two provinces, isn’t he? But the way he’s doing it is using the Corinthians’ as a model. And role modelling pays off because, as Paul says, “Your enthusiasm by now has spread to most of them”. In our terms today, that’s how causes grow and movements thrive. There are all sorts of individuals in the world who inspire us to be better people. Princess Diana was very much an inspirational role model to many. She passionately fought for the ban of landmines. … She worked ardently for HIV/AIDS awareness. … She helped the young and homeless. … She advocated for awareness of leprosy. … and she was not afraid to speak her mind or break protocol. Nelson Mandela is a role model because his spirit could not be crushed. Desmond Tutu is a role model for how to deeply care about his partner citizens and championing peaceful opposition towards those who oppress others. The current and fourteenth Dalai Lama is an icon of virtue, advocating for democracy and freedom for his country, and toiling tirelessly to bring peace to the world. The Dalai Lama embodies morality; he is a role model for those who wish to have a positive difference on the world. Michelle Obama is a role model as she advocates for women’s rights, the Black community, and promoting healthy eating habits. Dwayne Johnson is strong, popular, and friendly. He is also a good role model with upstanding morals and clean values. Malala, is an activist for female education and role model to young people as she lives out her bravery and determination to fight for what is right, against the odds and against persecution. And our new mayor-elect, Jyoti Gondek, is a role model for women and people of colour as she steps into the leadership of a major Canadian city.
Part of modelling is being in the world in the way you would like to see others be in the world, and that leads us into the Zacchaeus story from Luke. After I get past needing to sing the Sunday School song about Zacchaeus, I’m always struck with the kindness that Jesus modelled to Zacchaeus when everyone else thought he was garbage. And that’s not an understatement. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have thought too highly of Zacchaeus either. After all, he was the chief tax collector, someone most people hated. In the time of Jesus, a chief tax collector was a person who collected taxes for the Roman oppressors. And we know Zacchaeus was good at his job because he was wealthy. One gets wealthy as a tax collector by extortion and embezzlement, by taking advantage of the people, including the working poor and the elderly. By the end of the story, however, Zacchaeus as a very dramatic transformation. Zacchaeus has a re-awakening of the spirit and sees that what he has done is wrong, and is returning the money he has extorted. Something major happened to Zacchaeus to make him change. When we meet him, he is trying to climb a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. Might he have heard Jesus speaking and been changed somehow by Jesus’ message of God’s love for all? Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree, names him, and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner. We can imagine Zacchaeus being thrilled to have Jesus in his home. And we know the result of that encounter with Jesus was that Zacchaeus promises to give half of his income to the poor and, if he is caught cheating in the future, he will pay four times the damages. All Zacchaeus’ plan, by the way. The only thing we know is that Jesus approves of his actions and names him as being a part of the family, a child of God.
The line that gets me every time in this story is “Jesus sees Zacchaeus … and names him” … Jesus sees Zacchaeus. Reminds me of another role model, Mr. Rogers, who felt like he had a responsibility to the viewers of his program to show them that they are seen, loved, and worthy of respect. Often in my check-ins, I end by saying “I see you and you are loved”. It’s my message to all of you to let you know you matter. None of you is invisible and all of you deserve love. To be seen, truly seen, is a wondrous feeling. In so many situations, we just blend in, don’t we? I find it amazing when someone takes a bit more time to notice me, talk to me, see me. Often when Todd and I are out shopping and we get to the till, he catches people off guard with his response to their asking, “how are you today?”. He’ll respond with something like, “great now that I’m talking to you!” Every single time, people’s reaction is one of wonder and then chuckling. Every time, it results in a smile and an ‘awe, shucks’ reaction. It’s delightful to see someone transform from ‘just doing their job’ to feeling as though they are seen and that they matter. I believe Zacchaeus was able to have a transformative experience because Jesus saw him – saw in him what was possible, saw the good that even he, himself, didn’t recognize. To be truly seen in that way can’t be anything less than transforming. Jesus looked at Zacchaeus when so many looked away. Jesus saw past the tax collector and treated Zacchaeus with respect; like a friend. Jesus role modeled for Zacchaeus a way he, too, could be in the world. Zacchaeus felt seen and loved. Today, we have many opportunities to be the same kind of role model in the world that Jesus was and that Zacchaeus became. We can be inspiring like those individuals I mentioned earlier; maybe not on such global scales, but still in public, intentional, and explicit ways that make huge differences to those around us. Take, for example, this 70 year-old woman in Vancouver early in February, 2016.