Sermon for April 2, 2017

Gospel Reading Luke 18:31-19:10

Pastor Anna V. Copeland


       Set Your Intention  

         I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad lately. A year ago, the week before Holy Week, I flew up to Omaha to visit him in the hospital. His bronchitis was pretty bad, so I spent those few days getting him situated in rehab and hanging out with him. We had some great talks and held hands a lot and prayed. I fully expected to see him for our usual visit in June when he got better. A month later after complications from pneumonia, he was gone to glory.

When we were little kids, Dad was always asking us to get in the car. We were going for a drive. He never said a word about our destination or how long it would take to get there. He seemed set on a direction, so we always assumed he knew where he was going. His silence was a great trick because it meant that he didn’t have to fess up right away if he got lost, which was often enough. Either way, my mom, my brother Steven and I just followed along, assuming it was part of the plan.

         Sometimes we’d be driving out in the country to look at a tractor, or a new water treatment plant, or some historic site like the Mormon Cemetery on the Oregon Trail. We might be driving up north to look at the snow geese flying clean and low to the ponds lining the Missouri River. If we were patient and uncomplaining, the day might end with ice cream, but you could never be sure.

         Traveling with Jesus must have seemed like that to those Disciples of Jesus so very long ago. It’s not so hard to imagine really, that the Disciples didn’t get it that this journey to Jerusalem with Jesus would be for the last time. Why would they? This was the third such trip to the big city, and like the others, they followed along whenever and wherever Jesus said, “Let’s go.” They trusted him. Even though there was growing resistance from the religious leaders for his controversial work, in many ways the trip must have seemed like business as usual.

         Jesus may have set his intention for Jerusalem, but clearly he lived for today. For example, as Jesus and the Disciples neared Jericho on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped to interact with a blind man lying by the side of the road. He asked the man, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Then he healed him, restoring his sight. He could have skirted Jericho and kept going, but Jesus wasn’t like that. He had his sights set on Jerusalem and the trouble he knew waited for him there, but Jesus clearly lived God’s purpose for his life in every present moment.

It was to late for Jesus to change the past. He couldn’t change any conversation he’d had in the past with the scribes, or the religious lawyers. When he healed a man before it was time for him to reveal the nature of his work, he told the man not to tell anyone about it. It was too late now to second-guess that decision and what the social media of ancient Israel might say about his transformational work.

It was too soon for Jesus to engage the future. He wasn’t in control of how the events would unfold once they reached their destination. He had the only moment any of us ever have to live according to God’s plans. Now.

         When Jesus and his entourage reached Jericho, the crowds were growing. Word of Jesus’ teaching and healing preceded him, and people came out to see him for themselves. Some may have quietly suffered and hoped a look or touch from Jesus would heal them too. Others may have simply been curious about what all the talk was about. We’ve loved the story of Zacchaeus who was among the crowd that day, but not a tall man and unable to see above the crowds, he climbed up in a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of this Jesus as he passed on the road beneath.

         Little kids have always loved this story, and when I grew up, we all knew the Zacchaeus song just as well as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way he looked up in that tree. And he said, “Zacchaeus, come down from there, for I’m going to your house today. I’m going to your house today.”

“Zacchaeus longed for something more. He didn’t talk about it with anybody but he knew that making a living wasn’t the same as making a life. Then one ordinary day he heard shouting in the street: “Jesus of Nazareth is here in Jericho!” A few days before, Zacchaeus had overheard somebody say, “Jesus of Nazareth? Yeah, I’ve heard of him, but I’d stay clear. He’s a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” What if it was true?

“Though he usually tried to avoid crowds, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. But people were already standing three-deep along the road. Then he saw the sycamore tree he had climbed as a child. He didn’t care who stared or laughed. He hooked his legs around the bottom branch and hoisted himself up. He felt like he could see all the way to Jerusalem. He’d tell his family, “I saw Jesus, today -- you know, the prophet everyone’s been talking about. He was so close I could have touched him.”           “

“Just then, Jesus stopped and looked up. It was probably a second; it could have been a lifetime. “‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’” Some things you can never explain. Zacchaeus couldn’t explain why he climbed up in the tree or why he came down -- or how Jesus knew his name.”  Barbara Lundblad

But Jesus did go to Zacchaeus house, and like the blind man made well, or the woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years who was cured, or the child of a Roman soldier who was raised from his death bed, Zacchaeus was healed of his greed. He had become uncomfortable cheating people through unfair taxation. Through Jesus, Zacchaeus discovered that finding a life is not the same thing as making a living, and that changed everything.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. That’s not a promise postponed until we die. It’s a promise now to all who want to live.

“Come down,” says Jesus. “I have a surprise for you.” Seeing Jesus face to face, his heart was changed and his life was radically healed. Out of gratitude to God through Jesus for all that God had done for him, Zacchaeus, the previously self-centered and greedy tax collector pledged that he would give half his money to the poor. Further, he made amends for his wrongdoing and agreed to repay anyone he had defrauded four times the amount. “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said.

         If Jesus had been living in the past, replaying scenes of all that had happened in his mind, or worrying about the future, practicing what he would say if this or that happened once he reached the Temple, he would never have been available for God’s power to work through him in the present moment. He would never have even seen the blind man if he had been so preoccupied with the past. He could have focused so much on his destination that he might have pressed the crowds away like a politician passing through Nebraska on the way to somewhere more important.

         We would have understood if Jesus fixed his eyes on Jerusalem and kept walking. Jesus at least suspected that he was going to die, but for every moment he was on this earth, he fulfilled God’s intention for his life, trusting God in all things.

         How would life be different for us if we adapted this page from Jesus’ playbook? Life is not about what we accomplished, failed or neglected yesterday. We can’t do anything to change the past. Life is not about where we imagine or hope to be in the future. We can’t participate in a future that doesn’t yet exist. Like Jesus, we have only today.

         Jesus keenly understood how God’s power worked. It required laser focus. A distracted life is a frustrated life, a life that feels more like spinning wheels and missed opportunity than abundant living. God never gives up though. Since the time of Moses, God has declared “I am the I am”, present tense powerful.

         At closing worship yesterday for the Women’s Retreat in Kennebunk, one of the women reminded us of this through a poem  

By Helen Mallicoat.

“I was regretting the past

And fearing the future.

Suddenly my Lord was speaking:

“My name is I Am.” He paused.

I waited. He continued,

When you live in the past

With its mistakes and regrets,

It is hard. I am not there,

My name is not I WAS”.

When you live in the future

With its problems and fears,

It is hard. I am not there.

My name is not I WILL BE.

When you live in this moment,

It is not hard. I am here.

My name is I AM.”

            The great “I am” has always loved and cherished the vulnerable “you are”. As God has said: “I am the I am”, so too God calls out: “you are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter. 

            God sent Jesus to listen deeply, forgive and heal the world, and to invite you to do the same. As Jesus set his intention on Jerusalem, set your intention in this present moment to trust and follow Him.