Meg Peery McLaughlin
Dedication Sunday/Children’s Sabbath
October 22, 2023
Luke 19: 1-10
Prayer for Illumination
As children cuddle up on laps to hear stories,
so may we relax now into your embrace, O God,
and listen to the great gospel story of your love.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
This week a woman I didn’t know named Teresa called the church.
She said “I just can’t stand it anymore.”
It was a Tuesday afternoon,
so at first I assumed she was calling for financial assistance.
Every week, neighbors in need call UPC for direct help for their utilities.
Jarrett takes time to hear each story, and we send checks to places like Duke Power, and Owasa, and Piedmont Electric.
We give an average 40 thousand dollars a year
which comes from the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund,
which is outside of our annual budget,
it’s above and beyond what you may be pledging today.
Teresa said “I can’t stand it. I’m so lonely. So so lonely. I can’t stand it.”
So, I was wrong, Teresa didn’t need help with her bills.
She felt so alone that she’d called 988—the suicide hotline-
and when they determined she was safe,
they suggested she call a church.
She called this one- on a week where we are telling the story of Zacchaeus,
who found belonging in the grace of God.
It’s hard not to hear the song when you hear his name:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.
I can’t not sing that song when I encounter this story.
But I love how Frederick Buechner describes him:
He’s a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job, but Jesus welcomes him aboard anyway.
Now, mind you in the chapter just before this one,
Jesus tells the parable of the rich young ruler and ends it saying
“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
But enters Zacchaeus does.
Jesus makes his message abundantly clear,
speaks it loudly, against the soundtrack of grumbling crowds.
Salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house.
He too is a son of Abraham. He is included. He belongs.
This, of course, is what Zacchaeus needs more than anything else.
And what we need too, it seems to me.
(Otherwise we can’t stand it.)
The late neuroscientist out of Chicago, Dr. John Cacioppo (kass-ee-OH-po),
said that the only real biological advantage we human beings have over other species is our ability to be in relationship. We all have a need to belong.
Our hunger for belonging is not a neurosis, or an ego-driven thing,
it is part of our DNA.
We are built for it—
physically and spiritually, both.
It is why St. Augustine said
our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
This is how God makes us.
I was reminded of that this week when Paul Burgess,
our Presbyterian Campus Ministry Pastoral Resident,
was trying to help our college students process
the horrors of the news in the Gaza Strip.
Paul reached back to our theological origin story in Genesis.
He shared a piece of Jewish midrash he’d heard in a conversation
between a rabbi and an imam.
The midrash goes that on the 6th day of creation,
which is the first day that Adam and Eve are alive,
when it grew dark,
Adam got really scared because he had never seen darkness before.
And he started to scream and weep.
And Eve came over and just sat right across him
and cried with him all night long until the dawn came.
I think that’s what the church is for.
We’re a community that sits together in the dark,
and points to the light, trusting it will come.
Next weekend, on All Saints,
the youth and adults will sing an anthem together.
I apologize to Joey if this is a spoiler,
but I want to tell you there is a gorgeous descant line
Katie Edmiston and Avery Hughes will sing
There’s no such beauty as where you belong.
If ever you’ve been falsely told that God doesn’t have room in God’s heart
for the likes of people like you, who look like you, or love like you,
but here at the Lord’s Table you’ve been fed freely and fully by grace
then you know that beauty–
If ever you’ve stood at the grave aching with grief
but somehow from somewhere deep down have been able to trust
that even in death, even there, we belong,
then you know that beauty–
If ever you’ve given away parts of yourself,
or twisted yourself into who you thought you were supposed to be,
for fear of not being accepted,
but then finally awakened to your own integrity, the image of God inside you,
then you know that beauty–
There is no such beauty as where you belong. And you do. Listen to me, you do.
So I won’t be the only weeping
When that anthem floats over us next week.
This week, of course, is Stewardship Dedication Sunday.
Where we commit to being the kind of place where such belonging happens.
You’ve heard Catherine Hauser talk the way you’ve included her as a young parent,
picking up Chole’s tiny toddler shoes when they inadvertently rolled under your pew,
heard Abigail Bozymski talk about coming out of her shell as a teenager
at the aid of her retreat prayer partner, Betsy Bryan, 7 decades her senior.
Today you’ll hear from Eric Munson too, and he’ll invite you to pledge
your time, talent and treasure to making this place a place of belonging for others.
A place where these children leading us in worship
will grow up knowing that no matter what, they fit here,
at this Table, at this Font, around with Word, with you.
But when I say I want a church like that,
I want to be careful that we don’t play that small—
Don’t just keep that as a wee little truth,
for it’s not a wee little thing at all.
Belonging to God not only changes us, but the whole world.
And the church has never existed for itself, alone.
We’re not meant to be a clique or a club.
What we do here is so much bigger than that
Look again at this story.
Belonging to God
doesn’t just make Zacchaeus “fit in” –
it actually makes him odd.
Zacchaeus climbs a tree, which he probably hadn’t done since he was, what, 11 years old? He wants to see the one to whom he belongs, so a grown up man,
shimmies up a Sycamore and straddles a limb.
When is the last time you’ve seen a professional,
scuffed up, clothes awry, out of breath and awkwardly perched?
And it’s not just Zacchaeus’ image that’s outlandish.
In Jewish law,
if you have wronged someone—
stolen from them ala a tax collector,
you owed restitution.
But Zacchaeus doesn’t just do what’s expected of him.
He goes above the law’s requirement.
Voluntary restitution called for a return of the original amount plus 20%,
Com-pulse- sory restitution called for a doubling of the original amount.
Zacchaeus gives back four times what’s he’s skimmed off the people.
And on top of that he gives ½ of what he owns away,
not just what he’s stolen, but what he owns.
I struggle getting my giving to the level of a tithe—10%. Zacchaeus gives 50%.
There is a direct line
from his belonging to God, to the children of Abraham, God’s beloved people,
a direct line from that to
his practice of, well, sticking out.
Just when we thought this was all about fitting in,
Zaccaheus is sticking out.
It’s a paradox,
One of the many great ones in our faith.
Because when we are secure in our true belonging,
we find the freedom to live out loud,
to stand on our own, apart from the crowd,
to let our no be no, and our yes be yes,
when playing the chameleon is so much easier
to do what’s right, even if it’s unpopular,
to choose generosity, when everyone else is accumulating more for self,
to welcome the other, though we’ve been conditioned to be skeptical.
We can do all that.
Or rather, God, can do all that through us,
when we remember that we belong.
When I finally realized that Teresa was not calling for help with utilities,
I listened to her for a long while,
And then I told her about you, and
how she was most welcome here.
I told her that together
we sit and sing and sometimes weep
and look for the light,
and tell stories of God finding the lonely and lost.
there is such beauty in our belonging,
may it also make us odd,
living lives that stand out,
lives that refuse to abide the status quo
and instead change the world around us,
lives that say thank you.
May it be so.