Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
I have a friend who recently adopted a kitten. This was about a month ago. A normal person would have forgotten about a friend’s kitten before now. Not me.
I’m a sucker for baby animals, and a complete sucker for kittens. But, kittens turn into cats. Kittens claw the furniture and their litter box is never tidy. Pets of any sort can cause a real ruckus in life, because we’re inviting them into our homes to become part of our families.
The same is true for inviting humans into our homes. Adding an extra human being into our families when we have a child or get married is an occasion for great joy, and also great disruption to our normal lives.
I expect Zacchaeus and his entire household were thrown into a tizzy when Jesus invited himself – and probably his followers – to stay for the evening. Zacchaeus was the least popular person in town, and here was the most popular person in town inviting himself over for dinner. But the lesson here is not about the mere reversal of social expectations, although Jesus loves doing this as a teaching point and as a way of breaking the Kingdom of heaven into our lives.
By coming into the life and home of Zacchaeus, Jesus – the son of God – reconciles Zacchaeus’s entire household with God and with the Jewish community. That’s a really big deal. Zacchaeus understands this reconciliation – at least in part – and he understands what a big deal this is. He leaps into this reconciliation with both feet.
But scripture tells us that “…all who saw this began to grumble and said, ‘Jesus has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.'”
It’s easy to think that those who grumbled were jealous because they wanted the honor of hosting this popular teacher, Jesus. It’s easy to think that those who grumbled thought less of Jesus because he chose to associate with a social outcast. A so-called sinner, no matter what Zacchaeus said of himself.
Personally, I think they grumbled because Jesus was leading the Jewish community to a place they wouldn’t allow themselves to follow. They wouldn’t be caught dead at Zacchaeus’s house. And they wouldn’t be caught dead allowing Zacchaeus into society. Jesus may have reconciled Zacchaeus’s entire household with God and with the Jewish community, but the community was having none of it.
That would have required forgiveness, acceptance, social risk, and seeing Zacchaeus as equally loved by God, equally forgiven by God. It would have required seeing Zacchaeus as a brother. That kind of community didn’t exist at that moment, when Jesus was walking the earth. That kind of community wouldn’t exist until Jesus died, rose, and ascended to heaven.
That kind of community is what we call the Church. We’re exactly the kind of community to take someone the world rejects and forgive, accept, risk social ridicule. We’re exactly the kind of community to adopt someone as our very own sister or brother in Christ. In fact, we may be the only community on earth who does this.
So when we invite someone to church, this is what we’re inviting them to. As individuals, we might make friends with people who we’re similar to, agree with, and who think we’re awesome. But as Christians we invite people to the Church because we want to love them as ourselves, love them as God loves, love them as if they are Christ.
And if that sounds like an impossible task, that’s because it is. It’s impossible for ordinary human beings who are mostly focused on getting their own needs met. But Jesus tells us that all things are possible with God.
I have a brother-in-law who wears a teeshirt to church that says, simply, “It’s not about me.” It’s not about me. The more I think about that simple phrase, the more I like it. The Christian Church doesn’t do mantras, but if we did this would be a good one. It’s not about me.
When we’re with people in a way that isn’t “about us,” it allows the other person to be completely who they are without us trying to change them or disapprove of them or teach them. When we’re with people in a way that isn’t “about us,” then we are loving them. When we’re with people in a way that doesn’t focus on how another person “makes us feel,” then we are loving them. When we set our egos aside and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, our hearts to be open to another, and do absolutely nothing but simply “be” with another person, then we are loving them.
That’s how we love people. That’s how Jesus loved Zacchaeus. They entered each other’s lives for an evening, and that evening changed everything for Zacchaeus and his household. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that Jesus continued teaching that evening at dinner with Zacchaeus. But he most certainly ate and listened and allowed himself to truly “be” with Zacchaeus. Loving Zacchaeus as he would love him for all eternity.
It takes practice, learning to “be” with people, even when we rely on God to help us. It takes practice, inviting people into our lives. It doesn’t come naturally to us, especially in our modern urban culture.
I was waiting for the subway train the other day. There wasn’t a soul around. It was just me and the tunnel and the occasional subway rat that skittered among the rails. It was glorious. The whole place to myself and a train coming just for me.
But then people began to gather. There was a group of geeky guys talking about their D&D campaign. There was a young couple in love, a mother pushing her child in a stroller piled with groceries, a foot-weary waitress, a drunk guy holding up the tiled subway wall.
As they walked into my space it felt at first as if they were stomping all over my bliss. But then I realized… it wasn’t about me. It was about all of us, including the train, all joining together to move in the same direction. And I realized I was part of something much larger, and I joined with them as a fellow passenger.
We were together on at least part of our journey, and that was somehow even more beautiful than having the whole subway to myself. It is very much how I move and have my being here in this church, where I join my brothers and sisters in Christ, those of us who are here today, and those who will be invited here tomorrow and the next day and the next. All of us going in the same direction. Together.
Every morning I receive an email meditation by Richard Rohr. Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest, a Franciscan friar, and a prolific writer. A couple of weeks ago he wrote this:
There is no other form for the Christian life except a common one. Until and unless Christ is experienced as a living relationship between people, the Gospel remains largely an abstraction. Until Christ is passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness, through concrete bonds of union, I doubt whether he is passed on by words, sermons, institutions, or ideas.
Inviting people under this roof and into our lives isn’t just some program Grace Church cooked up for the summer. It’s an essential part of our Christian lives, a vital part of our eternal lives, a crucial part of the gospel message of Jesus Christ, and a radical part of God’s will for us.
I’d like to invite you to join me downstairs today to talk more about Inviting and what that might mean for each of us. I’d like to invite you to chat with me over the next few weeks about any ideas or experiences that you have of inviting.
This is exciting and important work we are embarking upon. I look forward to being among us, loving us, as we learn more about inviting those we seek to love.