Thursday, 27 October 2016

Tending Sycamore Trees

Where are the Sycamore trees?  Where are the opportunities for people to climb up and see Jesus?  Where in the world do you go to see Jesus now?  Will you see Jesus driving passed this church?  Will you see Jesus if you come into this church?  Will you see Jesus in the people that are here?

Maybe, but a church doesn’t seem like a Sycamore tree on the side of a road.  A Church doesn’t seem like the starting point for getting to know Jesus like Zacchaeus did.

Where are the Sycamore trees?  Where do people go to climb up and see Jesus?  Are there Sycamore trees in St Lucia?  Is there somewhere to climb up a tree at UQ? At Cromwell? At Kings? At Grace? At Raymont?  Is there a Sycamore tree in the shopping centre?  Or in AVEO?  Over the road at the school?  Or at Briki?  Where can a person climb up to see Jesus?  Where will a person climb up to see Jesus? 

God stirred in the heart of a short, less than popular, tax collector, to climb a tree so that he could see Jesus.  In the gospel of John Jesus says to his followers, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”  God is already at work in Zacchaeus.  God is drawing him in even though he does not yet understand it.

I think that it is highly doubtful that Zacchaeus really understood what was so special about Jesus.  We have no idea where he had heard the rumours.  All we know was that he did not want to miss out.  He wanted to see Jesus.  It is my thought that the stirrings in Zacchaeus’ heart are the stirrings of a man who is searching for meaning and purpose.  They are the stirrings of a man who has a sense there is more to life than he is experiencing and seeing.  I seriously don’t think that when he grabs hold of the branch of the Sycamore tree that he really knew what he would find.  But he knew he had to grab a hold of that branch and start his climb.  He was exploring.

All around us I believe God is stirring in people’s hearts.  I believe God is causing people to ruminate, to think, to contemplate, to cogitate, to ponder the meaning of life and to search for answers.  Like Zacchaeus I suspect that many people who have these questions within them do not even know what they are looking for, maybe they haven’t even worked out where a Sycamore tree is so that they can climb up to get a better view.  But God is stirring within them and they are searching.  Where are the Sycamore trees for them to climb?  Can we help them find the tree?  Can we give them a hand to reach the lower branches?

Zacchaeus experience, the experience of this short, less than popular, tax collector is where he is because the crowd won’t let him in.  It is because the crowd is ignoring him.  They are too busy trying to make themselves closer to Jesus and turning their backs on Zacchaeus.  Are we also blind to the people in whom God is stirring?  Are we so focussed on Jesus ourselves and our place nearby the roadway that we have turned our backs to their questions and searching?  Can we not see them and give them space or at least help them into the tree?

In defiance of his rejection and his lot in life Zacchaeus grasps those branches, he uses hands more suited to bookwork to clamber and climb up until he can see over the heads of the crowd.  He really does not want to miss out. He wants to see Jesus.

And here is the amazing thing.  Here is the astounding thing.  Here is the astonishing thing. 

Zacchaeus climbed the tree to see Jesus, but it is Jesus who sees Zacchaeus and calls his name. It is Jesus who sees Zacchaeus and calls his name. Jesus sees Zacchaeus and calls his name.

Here is grace.  Here is love.  Here is mercy.  Jesus sees and names the short, less than popular, tax collector Zacchaeus – this rich man, this despised man, this fringe dweller.

Jesus sees him and names.  More than anything this is what all of us want in life to know that we are not alone, that we, that you and I, are seen and that we are known, that we are not anonymous, but that we have a name.

In Luke’s gospel this is such a powerful story.  A balance to the story of the rich man and Lazarus that I preached on a couple of weeks ago.  In that story it was the rich man who remained anonymous but now Zacchaeus is named, no longer is the rich man left anonymous.  This story is a counterpoint to the encounter that Jesus has with the rich young ruler whom Jesus tells to sell all he has and give it to the poor.  Zacchaeus is the camel going through the needles eye, because as Jesus declared, “With God, all things are possible.” 

“With God, all things are possible.” And in Zacchaeus the possibility becomes reality not because of Zacchaeus response, not because Zacchaeus climbed the tree, but because God stirred in his heart and because Jesus saw him and named him.  Here is grace. Here is love.  Here is mercy.  God at work.

I have often heard the response of Zacchaeus emphasised in sermons.  The encounter with Jesus has changed him and his response has direct consequences for the choices he makes in life.  There are financial consequences in his decision to respond to his encounter with Jesus. 

We only get a glimpse here of Zacchaeus response and I have seen it questioned whether he actually follows through, or is he just boasting about what he will do.  Either way there can be no doubt that in Jesus interaction with Zacchaeus there is new hope for relationships to begin to unfold in his life and the lives of those with whom he shared community.  Responding to an encounter with Jesu changes us.

For me there is a reversal in this story of the way we often approach the notion of sharing our faith.  It would seem that in helping people to climb the Sycamore trees to see Jesus our prayer is that reverse is happening that Jesus will see and name them just as you and I believe we are seen and are known by name.

Which brings me back to the question “Where are the Sycamore trees?” Where do people go to climb up and see Jesus?  And what is our role in all of this.

Today we will commission Hayley to the work of Chaplaincy and to the work of Pastoral Assistant in the congregation. As I contemplated the work that she is involved with at Cromwell I had a strong sense that she will be tending the Sycamore trees.  She will be helping people to climb up with their questions about life and its meaning and growing up and purpose.  All the questions of hope and of failure and of passion and of anticipation and of dread that young adults feel.  And maybe occasionally Jesus will be looking from within Hayley and through Hayley see and name people in their questions and so affirm that they are loved by God and that they too can have hope.

But more than that I have a sense that her work is our work wherever we go day by day and if we are too tired and too busy to be doing the labour of tending the Sycamore trees that we might rest in God’s love and pray for the work she does and that others do to help people explore their questions of meaning that have been stirred up in them by God.

Where are the Sycamore trees? Where do people go to climb up and see Jesus? Do they even know that that’s who or what they are trying to see?  I wonder what it would mean to understand ourselves to be people who tend the Sycamore trees.  Who nurture the possibilities of people climbing into the branches?  Of even helping them up so that they might be seen by Jesus.  That they might be named by Jesus.  And having encountered the grace, love and mercy of God be transformed by that encounter just as you and I are continually transformed by that relationship.

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