11/03/2019: “Keeping God at Arm’s-Length”
Romans 8:28-38; Luke 19:1-10
A sermon by Gretchen Jones Switzer
November 3rd, 2019 at the Federated Church of Sturbridge
I won’t lie to you, when my husband Dave and I decided to adopt our children from overseas nearly 23 years ago, I was terrified. Didn’t I need to go through pregnancy and birth in order to be a “real” mother? Would I be able to love a child who I had not given birth to myself? All the questions bubbled up inside me as we approached the day that our first child, Sabrina, came home to us at 7 ½ months old from South Korea.
Friends and family gathered with us at O’hare International Airport in Chicago, to watch an escort bring our first child off of an airplane and place her in our arms. And I am here to tell you that the moment Dave and I laid eyes on her, she was ours! Just as surely as if we had had her in the traditional way.
Two years later, our son Parker, eight months old, came home from South Korea too. This time, we knew we loved him the very first time we saw his picture, and even though he was “coming home with some serious health issues, we knew he was meant to be ours and God had a plan for his healing and health. One of these Sundays soon, you will meet our 20 year old, completely healthy son.
For us, adoption was like receiving a gift we never anticipated. I cannot imagine loving anybody more, even if I had given birth to them. Sabrina and Parker were meant to be our children, our family. So God made it happen-that two infants, born on the other side of this huge world arrived in our arms for us to treasure and love forever. So when I hear scripture talking about God “adopting us” as beloved sons and daughters, it has a deep and abiding meaning for me. You see, you and I have been adopted too. By Jesus Christ, who loved us beyond measure before we were ever even born. God created us and then claimed us as God’s own through Jesus. God loves us as God’s own and always will, no matter what! This is the promise of our faith!
So that’s all very nice, but what does any of this have to do with Zaccheus, the hated Tax Collector, climbing up into that tree to see Jesus? Whenever I think about Zaccheaus, I imagine that climbing up in that tree felt a lot safer to him than being close enough to touch Jesus. He could take it all in from a distance and probably counted on not being noticed by anyone else, especially Jesus. He could watch Jesus from a distance, but not really get involved.
You and I actually do that quite a lot ourselves, don’t we? Keep Jesus teachings and expectations of us at Arm’s length? It’s not that we don’t know what Jesus taught. It’s not that we don’t know how God would have us act in our lives. WE know all that, but somehow we just cannot always muster up the love and understanding and compassion he had. We commit ourselves to God and to Jesus just as far as we can go without feeling uncomfortable.
But we often stop short of really allowing a meaningful relationship to develop between us, even if we come to church every single Sunday morning! Faith sometimes becomes about “going through the motions” without allowing that faith to fully inform our lives and make us the compassionate and loving human beings God calls us to be. The last thing in the world that Zaccheus expected was that Jesus would ever look up and see him there on that branch, much less call him by name! Much less, invite himself to Zack’s home.
I like to think this isn’t true but If Jesus asked to come to my house unexpectedly, I would be a mess! Even as we speak, there are dirty dishes in the sink, soiled clothing waiting to be washed, the sheets need to be changed and getting out a dust-cloth and the vacuum wouldn’t do any harm either! But the truth is this: No matter how much we fall short of perfection, or God’s hopes for us, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made. God loves us anyway! (2x) We are God’s children and God calls us out of our hiding places to come closer and receive God’s blessing.
God draws us in from that precious “arms-length” out on that branch, and wraps his arms around us to tell us we are loved. NO MATTER WHAT! Jesus already knows our house is a mess. He knows we haven’t dusted or vacuumed in a very long time, that you can’t see the top of the desk or the table because of the papers and junk sitting on them. Jesus knows that the fridge needs a good cleaning out, but he doesn’t care because he loves us and invites us to be closer to him every moment.
I often think that Holy Communion is God’s way of telling us we are seen on our branches and of inviting us out of the tree or beyond the distance we are keeping. In the bread and the cup, Christ invites us to come closer, to open ourselves to Jesus’ touch and the reality of his nearness sand care.
Jesus knew Zaccheaus wasn’t the purest soul in the world. He knew his house was probably a mess, but he didn’t care. All Jesus cared about was joining Zaccheaus and his family in their home, where they could be alone together, perhaps for a meal, where he would draw them into God’s love and closer to deepening faith.
“Zaccheus, come down from there! I am coming to your house today!” As we come to this holy table, God is calling us closer, nearer, more intimately into the presence of Jesus, no matter how messy our lives may be, no matter how hard we try to keep God at arm’s length. No matter what, God is calling you and me, tenderly and lovingly and is waiting to embrace us and hold us close. The question now is: Will be climb out of our trees, will be drop the walls we have built intentionally or unintentionally between ourselves and God? Will you and I let God draw us close and show us how very much we are loved?