There was a time in my life where I was really shy, like I would fake a sore throat so I wouldn’t have to give my book report in English class. If I ever had to speak out loud in front of anyone, I’d prepare my notes carefully, even to the point where before I spoke up in a public setting, I’d scribble something down in my notebook, to make sure I wouldn’t get off track and freeze in sheer terror because everyone was looking at me. I guess the upside was that I developed a rich interior life. I have piles and piles of journals from throughout my life. Sometimes I look back on that Julia and think she’d have become a librarian if she ever knew that Julia of the future would become a preacher.
During graduate school, when I was asked to write, and speak, and read, and journal more than ever, I developed an injury in my wrist, from writing so much. My thumbs and my fingers refused to move without pain- to the point where I could hardly open doors, or cut vegetables, or do my laundry—had to wear mits on both of my hands, I had developed tendonitis from writing too much. And I was totally lost. It was around the time I met Jesus.
I had heard about Jesus through church holidays I occasionally attended growing up, through as Isaiah says, “burnt offerings, festivals, Sabbath day” — but I had just begun to study Jesus, to understand the historical Jesus, to read scripture in community, to understand how following Jesus changes people’s hearts to make the world a more just and loving place. To do as Isaiah warns that God actually wants; that we, “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Studying Jesus in history was amazing, but it was when I was totally lost when I really met Jesus. Jesus came to me through my friends. I had to totally depend on the people around me, the people I only sort of knew, to help me cook, to help me get into my apartment, to do my laundry for me- the Christians I went to seminary with, who took care of me, who let me cry and mourn the idea of myself as perfectly put together, controlled, self-reliant, independent… as they were there in my room, folding my underwear. Jesus met me when I was lost, and taught me to speak from my heart… because after all my wrists didn’t work. I had no other choice. It was also around this time that I developed a call to become a preacher.
Jesus doesn’t seek us when we are perfect. Jesus doesn’t seek us when we are proud of our image or proud to go it on our own. God did not cause my wrist injury to teach me a lesson, but God sure did use this moment of breakdown in my own life, to create a break-through. And it was through that breaking, through that opening, that, Jesus came in and I had to change my whole life around.
Have you had moments like this? Where through no good and righteous efforts of your own, you found God, or met Jesus? When you were lost, or sick, or lonely? When you couldn’t do everything on your own- perhaps after a surgery, or when you are sick? It is in these moments that we really need each other and when Jesus enters our lives.
Jesus invites himself into Zacchaeus’s home in a similar moment. This man is a charming figure– scrambling around, climbing up a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus walking into his town. Zacchaeus was short in stature, the text specifies, but some interpreters believe his short stature could allude to the social alienation of his profession as a tax collector more than his actual height.
Robert Leech, in Feasting on the Word writes, “The crowd may have shunned or barricaded him because of what he did for a living. In any case. Zacchaeus is hindered from seeing Jesus. This does not prevent Jesus from coming to Zachaeus’s tree, making eye contact with him, calling him down, and inviting himself into the tax collectors home and life. Here is a stark reminder that on our own apart from God, we are hindered from seeing and experiencing the grace of God.” Jesus comes to seek the lost- the ones who don’t know our way, who are confused and seeking.
Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” The text says, people “grumble”
Zacchaeus learns that is not enough to confess to follow Jesus, but one’s life must reflect this confession and commitment. Zacchaeus demonstrates this by saying to Jesus, ”Look, half my possessions, Lord I give to the poor!” Do our planners and our pocketbooks reflect our commitment to live lives aligned with God, with goodness, with healing, with following Jesus? This tax collector’s life is transformed, by letting Jesus into his home. Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
I often wonder about the ways we are transformed when we let each other into our homes, when we welcome strangers, or not-yet friends, over for a small group or for dinner. In doing this, we also let Jesus in, and our lives can be transformed.
As we vision in our small groups- this is the real intention for us as a church: to get to know each other. Our visioning time is not meant to give us perfect 2020 vision into the future; that is impossible. Hopefully we do get clarity about out future direction. But more than anything, our vision time is meant to root us to one another, connect us to community, so when we are up against trials, when we are lost in our own lives, Jesus can show up and show us the way, remind us that we are claimed by love. Part of our visioning, or really most of the intention of our visioning is to allow us to get to know each other, to love each other, to connect to one another, so that when the future comes, we can move into it together, and face whatever comes. Going into each others homes, praying for each other, getting to know each other is the real point of our visioning time, so that our lives transform through relationships. So when hard times come, when we feel lost, when we aren’t able to go it on our own, we will show up for each other to cut vegetables and fold laundry.
Jesus is with the lost, with the people who have strayed from their truth. Jesus is with those who are suffering, who are off track, who are disruptive, who aren’t anything resembling perfect. Jesus came to find the lost- and meets us most powerfully in our vulnerable moments, not only on our mountaintop moments, but our wilderness and valley moments. And this Jesus is still changing hearts and saving lives—and this is a reformation, a revival, a renewal, every time it happens to another human soul. Jesus revived and renewed me to be more in touch with my voice, with my heart, with using my life for the service of others, and I screw it up all the time- but today, that revival and renewal, comes from the comfort that Jesus came to seek the lost. Not the perfect.
In just a few moments we will witness the sacrament of baptism, and baptism is a reminder that we are claimed by God at all times. Baptism is a reminder that God’s spirit comes to us, no matter who we are, and no matter what we do, no matter how many times we fail to do the right thing, no matter what kind of Christian we are, no matter if we are good or bad, God loves us no matter what, and the sacrament of baptism represents this promise.
Martin Luther is famous for, well he is famous for a couple things, among them being one of the fathers of the Protestant Reformation which we celebrate and remember today. But my favorite favorite Martin Luther saying is baptismo sum, simply, “I am baptized.” This was his reminder that whatever came across his path, no matter how other people treated him or how the world treated him, or in his case, how the church treated him, whatever hardships or confusion or conflict befell his life, he always belonged to God. By saying baptismo sum, I am baptized, he reminded himself that no matter what we do, who we are, where we are going, if we remember our baptism, we remember that we are claimed by Christ- that we are beloved, redeemable, and loved not in spite of our imperfections, but because of them—so we might as well lean into each other a little bit. Let it be so, amen.