19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19: 1-10)
15 No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
One of the biggest gifts of Study Leave (thank you, Bethel, that you gave me this time of renewal!) is that I get a chance to hear fantastic preaching. These past two weeks was no exception, even though I had to cut it short because of a family emergency. Its all good now; for those of you who worry on my behalf. I went to two different conferences; the Annual Theology Conference in Kingston and the Lester Randall Preaching Fellowship in Toronto. Despite the rather large bill (when did staying in Toronto get so expensive?), I really revelled in every moment of learning that I got.
One of the preachers I heard was Rev. Dr. Ray Aldred. If any of you have a chance to hear him, please take advantage of it. He’s very inspiring, and very accessible. He preached some pretty meaty theology in a way that meant I didn’t have to sit with a dictionary open on my phone to understand what he was driving at. I always get a little intimidated by the Rev. Drs. of this world; I often think they don’t have the time for ‘little’ ones like me. On top of it all, he’s the Director of Indigenous Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology so he has a Very Impressive Position, too. Despite all this, he made me feel, in the middle of the massive Yorkminister Park Baptist Church in Toronto (I have pictures on my phone for anyone who wants to see them – in short the Bethel sanctuary could fit in the choir loft of that church), like I was smart, informed and important.
One of the things that he said, very simply was “Jesus likes you”; and he used John 15:15 to back it up. “You see”, Rev Aldred preached, “Jesus not only loves you, but Jesus likes you – he thinks of you as a friend”.
You see, I function in a lot of circles where I don’t feel like people like me very much. These same people have also made it understood that they don’t respect me very much. And the kicker is, that I can’t meet what they are demanding from me as a person, because, well, I just can’t. For a whole lot of reasons. Sometimes its because their demands are amorphous and expressed out of their own pain, and I can’t meet those demands because no one can. Sometimes its because they are demanding that they be the only ones with needs, and the last time I checked, I was made as a full human being. Sometimes its because they can’t ‘see me’ even though I’m standing right in front of them. They can’t see my own needs, they can’t see my own triumphs, they can’t see my own difficulties.
And, the harsh reality is that sometimes, someone just doesn’t like me.
In all of these settings, I end up feeling “really small”. Really small and really voiceless. Really small, really voiceless, and, like Zacchaeus, straining to catch a glimpse of God in that setting.
I love that in the Zacchaeus story, that Jesus doesn’t call him names like ‘sinner’. Jesus doesn’t even demand that Zacchaeus repent of his thieving ways. All Jesus does, is call Zacchaeus out of his perch in the tree, and says “lets hang out”. Maybe order a pizza or whatever. Lets be friends. You don’t need to feel small with me. You don’t need to ‘do’ anything or ‘be anything’ or ‘grow up’ to be with me. I can hear what you need to say.
Jesus just likes Zacchaeus and wants to be friends.
And what’s even more cool, is that this is what changed Zacchaeus. Not demands, not anger or the ‘you ought to’. Not even a tiny little hissed ‘repent’. It was the relationship with Jesus that changed Zacchaeus into a person of integrity and generosity.
And you know what, my dear Bethel friends, that’s how Jesus sees all of us. Jesus loves you. And Jesus likes you. You don’t need to be anything more. You don’t need to do anything more. Your voice is important and you have valuable things to say. And you can come down from the tree, because God is standing right in front of you ready to order in pizza for supper and hang out.
Blessings today and Remember that you are Loved, (and Liked)