Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016
Sermon: “Jesus Ruins Everything (in the Best Possible Way)”
Preacher: Rev. Ryan Slifka
Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
I remember when Walter, our first son was born over seven years ago. Just before he was born, my wife Cheyenne and I swore that we wouldn’t be like other parents. We weren’t going to be stuck at home. We weren’t going to be bending out lives to ever single whim of this new baby. We were going to go out to restaurants and pubs, hang out with friends. I remember taking Walt being five days old and taking him out alone for the first time. There I was hefting around a big box of produce from a local farmer, Walt strapped in cozily in a carrier on my chest. I remember thinking at the time, “hey this isn’t so bad. This isn’t so hard actually. Maybe we can adapt this baby to our own lives. Instead of adapting ours to him.
It was wishful thinking, of course. Soon enough we were hanging out with our friends less frequently, going to see bands and concerts less often. And we decided it was simply easier to be at home more often. Try as we might, we ended up having to adapt and rearrange our lives. Everything else in our lives became reordered around him. As hard as we wanted to order his life around us.
This wasn’t ultimately a bad thing, of course. Now with two children it’s completely worth it. We’ve experienced love, friendship, meaning, and purpose in our lives in a way that never seemed possible before. There are deep joys along with deep heartaches. You don’t have to be a parent to have experienced this, either. New relationships, our best and deepest relationships, really do reconfigure our lives in ways that force us to let go of our nearest and dearest commitments. But parenthood can be particularly costly. And it continues to be costly. Like, literally, costs lots of money in addition to our time and energy. We’ve had to let go, sacrifice so much of what we had and who we are to experience this joy. But in welcoming this new life in to our life, we’ve had to let go of so much. Life as we know it has been forced to change. As far as things go, children really do ruin everything. They ruin everything in the best way possible, of course. But they ruin everything.
When a new life enters our own, we have to shape our lives accordingly. It’s kind of like that in our scripture passage this morning. Here Jesus enters the life of a man named Zacchaeus. And, like a parent who is forced to adapt his life to a new child, Zacchaeus’ life drastically changes. There’s a major difference, though. Most parents would say that when a baby shows up the cost, the struggle, the energy and change a child brings is ultimately worth it. But when Jesus shows up, it seems to cost everything. Children ruin everything in the best possible way. But Jesus just seems to ruin everything. Period.
Because Zaccheus really had everything. He’s a tax collector. And we talked about how Tax Collectors are universally hated. Because they shake down the poor to funnel the money back to the empire in Rome. They are hardship makers and they are collaborators. Think of how much disdain we have for banks and bankers like Goldman Sachs. Even though it’s all legal, whether not it’s good and right and just is up for debate. But Zacchaeus isn’t just any tax collector. He’s a head tax collector, and our text says it made him rich. No one makes money like Zaccheus. He’s the best moneymaker. He makes the best money. The best. They love me. The centurions love me. He’s set for life.
But one day this poor peasant rabbi makes his way through the neighborhood, and it turns everything upside down. There’s something about Jesus he’s drawn to. Jesus is a captivating figure. Maybe he admires Jesus and his teachings. Maybe, like Winston Zeddemore from the Ghostbusters, he loves Jesus’ style. But he’s got to see this guy. But there’s a crowd gathered around. Zacchaeus, it says, is “short in stature” so he can’t see, even on his tiptoes. Though, according to Julius on Pulp Fiction, its ambiguous as to whether Zacchaeus is the short one or Jesus is (no more movie references, I promise). So Zacchaeus climbs a tree to catch a glimpse.
He wants to get a peak. And just as his head pops up from behind the crowd, Jesus points him out. “Jesus, hurry up and get down,” he says, “for I must stay at your house today.” Jesus is coming for dinner. It’s kind of rude, inviting yourself over to someone’s house, but that seems to be the way Jesus operates. He doesn’t wait for an invitation to get tangled up in our lives. Some people grumble because Jesus is eating with a sinner like this dude. He’s a crook and a traitor.
But as soon as Jesus steps over the threshold into his house, something strange and unexpected happens. Zacchaeus just stands there. And he makes a promise to Jesus. “I’m gonna give half of my possessions away to the poor,” he says. “And if I’ve defrauded anyone, legal or not, I’ll pay them back four-hundred percent of what I took.” What started off was an admiration of Jesus from afar. Appreciating and approving of Jesus by distance, has turned into a complete rearrangement of his life. Jesus is kind of like a new baby. We all love the idea of welcoming a new life into our own. But when it finally happens it turns everything upside down. When Jesus walks into Zacchaeus’ home, when he walks into his life. He gets so much more than he bargained for. Because Jesus ruins everything.
Jesus ruins everything. He thought life was good, and he had everything he wanted. Jesus didn’t say anything. He didn’t do anything. There were no instructions. There was no guilt trip. No stern prophetic voice. No Christian education curriculum that suggested generosity as a spiritual discipline. Jesus walks in and suddenly this guy is giving his possessions away. And making amends to all the people he’s hurt. Jesus ruins everything. And he has the gall to announce that “today salvation has come to this house! For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.” How could this be good news?
How could this be good news? I think we are tempted to imagine the spiritual life as something that is there to inject happiness into our lives. To lift us up when we’re feeling down. To fix all of our ills, to give us good morals, ones that put out feet back on the path of the straight and narrow. So we can get ahead or a leg up. And maybe it does that sometimes. But it seems like with Jesus, things don’t usually work out that way.
One of my favorite preachers, Will Willimon tells the story of a man from one of his first congregations who once came to confide in him a secret he’d kept bottled up for a long time, one that still weighed heavily on him. The man told him that while wandering home after a late night poker came, he had a stunning vision of the Risen Christ. That Christ appeared to him "vividly" and as real as anything he’d ever seen. But even though this event shook him deeply, he’d never told anyone else about it in ten years. Willimon asked why he’d kept it silent for so long. "Were you worried about embarrassing yourself?" He asked. "Or afraid others wouldn’t believe you and mock in disbelief?" "No!" the man explained, "the reason why I told no one was I was too afraid that it was true." "I was too afraid it was true." "And if it’s true that Jesus had really risen, that he had come personally to me, what then? I’d have to change my whole life. I’d have to become some kind of radical or something. And I love my wife and family and was scared I’d have to change, to be somebody else, and it would destroy my family, if the vision was real."
I don’t’ know if this guy really encountered the Risen Christ like he says. But I wouldn’t put it past Jesus. Because when Jesus arrives on the scene in chapter four, he stands up in the synagogue and proclaims that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” God’s mere presence in Jesus frees Zacchaeus who is captive to the power of money and greed. And sets him free to live for fullness of life. He sets him free to live a life of generosity, compassion, love and forgiveness. Jesus ruins everything. In the best possible way.
Because when we let the God we meet in Jesus into our homes, into our lives, like in the case of Zacchaeus, it seems to create more problems than solutions. Crazy things start to happen.
When Jesus shows up, people end up selling possessions, and giving their money away to the poor. Jesus ruins everything. In the best possible way.
When Jesus shows up, people end up find themselves in the midst of the worst of human life and suffering offering grace, mercy, and working for justice. Jesus ruins everything! In the best possible way!
When Jesus shows up, people end up opening their hearts to loving and forgiving unlovable, unforgivable people. Jesus ruins everything! In the best possible way!
When Jesus shows up, people end up loving their enemies, blessing their persecutors. People end up trading their favorite hatreds and closely held prejudices in for love of God and neighbor. Jesus ruins everything! In the best possible way!
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. Today we come seeking a glimpse of the holy, the sacred. But we have discovered that God is inviting herself into our homes. Today salvation has come to this house. Because when the unconditional love, the grace, and mercy of God shows up on our doorstep at our houses. When we open up the door and he makes a home in our lives, it can turn our whole world upside down. Because the life we thought we were living just wasn’t life at all. Like a newborn baby whose arrival demands life to be reconfigured around them, Jesus is standing at the door ready to turn our lives upside down. For good.
Because Jesus ruins everything. In the best possible way.