I’m pretty sure I have the best job in the world. I remember being at a Bonnie Raitt concert years ago and at one point she said to the crowd: “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” That’s how I feel every single Sunday. Another reason I have the best job in the world is that I get to collect and read all the notes from our fall gatherings. About thirty percent of you, more or less, participated in conversations about what we dream about for our church, and what—if we were to guess, in the context of our collective wisdom and dreams—God’s dream might be for St. Paul’s. If you walk anywhere in our building today you’ll see some of the language you all came up with.
In our introductions we also shared what we love about St. Paul’s. Sometimes that’s my favorite part of those conversations. There’s so much to love. We love our worship, our silences and our music, we love our sacred spaces, we love our children and our long-time members, we love our seasonal and weekly patterns of prayer, and we love each other. One of the most common stories I hear from people at St. Paul’s is “I walked in, and I knew.” But I also hear people say “By the time the service was over, I knew.” Or “I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but after several months of worshipping here, I figured it out.” And half a dozen other ways of describing the mysterious and varied paths that people find their way in, week after week, and fall in love.
One wonders where Zaccheus is on this continuum of finding his way to Jesus. What has he heard about Jesus before running to get a better look? Had he heard about this guy who goes from town to town healing the sick and saying the Kingdom of God has come near? Maybe he heard about the parable we all heard last week, about a tax collector being justified. Maybe he wants to meet Jesus because he’s heard that he welcomes the rich and the comfortable as well as the poor and broken. Zaccheus may have been thinking “How can there be a place for me, a chief tax collector, in the Kingdom? I need to see this guy. ”
And what a surprise that Jesus says “I am going to stay at your house today!” In doing this, Jesus is actually extending hospitality to Zaccheus, welcoming him in. A divine encounter. Jesus is an unlikely guest at the home of someone like Zaccheus, and, as the grumbling crowd points out, Zaccheus is an unlikely host. Jesus reminds his followers that salvation is an equal opportunity proposition, not the sole property of those who are economically poor or notorious sinners. For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.
Salvation looks different to each of us. It means to be made whole. Gandhi said: “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” If you have never been hungry in that way, salvation might look different. It might look like recovery from addiction or healing of a relationship, or rescue from danger. Salvation might look like that slow, imperceptible process of becoming whole bit by bit, moment by moment of acceptance or joy. Salvation might happen in that moment when we realize that we, too, are God’s beloved. Zaccheus is having one of these moments.
Before Jesus even gets near his house, Zaccheus makes a dramatic and generous gesture and pledges half of his possessions to the poor. He wants to join Jesus in his mission by becoming an extravagant and joyful giver.
Just as each of us finds our way into a faith community at different times for different reasons, and experiences salvation in different ways, so each of us is in a different place with our own giving.
In a conversation with some of this year’s stewardship leaders, our Bishop spoke of the five types of givers in most congregations. Every congregation needs all five, in the same way that healthy congregations are made of people from all ages and stages in their journey of faith.
- There are people in every congregation who attend regularly and consider that their church but don’t give anything at all. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, if not here then somewhere else.
- There are the people who give every time, but don’t think about it. Maybe you pull a bill out of your pocket as the plate goes by, or you hurriedly write a check.
- There are the “fair share” givers. A friend of mine calls them “NPR givers.” These are thoughtful souls who might think along the lines of “I really love the music at St. Paul’s and I care that our building is clean and well-heated and I want to do my fair share.”
- Then there are proportional givers, whose gift to the church is not in relation to the need of the church but to their own income, their own thanks-giving. I am in this category. I write a check to St. Paul’s for ten percent of my net pay before I write any other checks. First fruits. The vestry has not set my 2017 salary yet but I’m guessing my pledge will about $140 a week.
- The final type of giver is the joyful giver. These are the people who seek out opportunities to give as much as they can, wherever they are. Someone once said that you never actually want this type of giver on your vestry, because they just want to give everything away. I actually think the joyful giver and the person who gives nothing at all have more in common than one might suppose. It’s so easy to go from giving nothing to giving something—ten bucks a week, five bucks a month--anything—and it feels so good!
Zaccheus is a joyful giver. He experiences the amazing, saving grace of one who has been lost and is found, seen by Jesus and called by name as a treasured child of god. As we all are seen and called. How will we respond?