I first stepped foot on the property when I couldn’t even walk. My father had taken me to meet the man who saved his soul, and the place that rescued him from a life of uncertainty. It was here that my father grew to know God and learned what he wanted to do with his life.
I started attending Silver Lake Conference Center in the summer before I entered 4th grade. I had been looking forward to being away for a week at camp for years. I remember when the camp brochure came out that spring, sitting down on the floor and pouring over my options for days before making up my mind on which camp I would go to.
I also remember asking my dad over and over again what I would expect as a camper. He just said “wait and see,” further piquing my curiosity and anticipation.
After 7 years as a camper, I became a counselor at Silver Lake and then later a dean – leading a conference of my own.
Over the years, people have often asked me what was so special about Silver Lake, why I kept going back year after year. I could have given them a thousand reasons. I could have told them about the spectacular setting in the hills of Northwestern Connecticut. I could have told them about the amazing sense of authentic community felt there. I could have told them about how it is a safe place for young people to be themselves and explore their relationship with God and their peers. I could have told them about worshipping at the shores of the lake, or in the small chapel next to a waterfall, or about communion in the round with 200 people passing the bread and cup serving each other.
But I didn’t.
Instead of telling them all these things, I usually offer up an invitation – Come and See. Come and see for yourself. Experience the magic that happens in what we in Connecticut call God’s Backyard. Read more…
This morning I preached this sermon as a candidating sermon. I hope to write more about the process that got me here, but for now I need to figure out things like finding a place to live and moving. And yes, I got the job.
Zacchaeus had lived in Jericho his whole life, but he didn’t feel at home among his people. Yes, he was a Jew, but he was treated like an outcast by his neighbors because of his day job. By trade, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. In fact, he was the Chief Tax Collector – hired by the Roman Empire to collect the taxes for Caesar. It was a hard job. People didn’t like paying taxes to an occupying force. He sometimes had to do nasty things to get people to pay. But he was paid very well and had a lot of money. Still he wasn’t happy.
Zacchaeus had heard about this Jesus fellow. Here was a guy who was going around the countryside teaching about the way of God, teaching about what it is like in the Kingdom of God. He didn’t really understand much of it, but he had heard stories about Jesus healing people – sinners even. Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner, and he knew that something was missing in his life, although he didn’t know what it was that he was longing for.
One day, the news went around town that Jesus would be passing through Jericho that afternoon. The town was all a buzz about this visit. The Pharisees were planning on inviting Jesus to stay with them in their house that night – hoping to get a blessing for their pious work in the town. People from all over Jericho began to gather along the street in hopes of getting a glimpse of this man. Some were even hoping for healing from their various ailments.
When Zacchaeus heard about Jesus’ travel through town, a thought came to him – a thought from the depth of his soul – he just HAD to see who this Jesus guy was. Is he who he says he is? Zacchaeus couldn’t figure out why he had to see Jesus, he just knew he must find a way to see him.
Zacchaeus made his way through town to the road where the crowds were gathered. Now, being a short man, he had difficulty seeing above the crowds in front of him. He tried pushing his way through, but the people in the crowd wouldn’t let him get past. Feeling more convinced that he just HAD to see this Jesus guy, he ran ahead of the procession a ways until he came to a large sycamore tree. If you have ever seen a sycamore tree, you know they are great for climbing. Seeing this tree, and its great limbs arch over the crowd and reach towards the street, Zacchaeus gets an idea. He decided to climb the tree and shimmy along one of the branches until he was directly over the road. There was no way he was going to miss Jesus now!
He saw Jesus come over the rise in the road, with a throng of people crowding around him and trying to get near him. There was a group of people, his disciples maybe, that were trying to keep the crowds at bay. And as Jesus neared the spot where Zacchaeus was perched, he looked up and saw the man in the tree.
“Zacchaeus,” Jesus called up to him, “hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
With excitement, Zacchaeus made his way down out of the tree and with a beaming smile welcomed Jesus, leading the way to his house.
The texts for this week can be found here.
The church I am preaching at is celebrating Reformation Sunday that day, but the story of Zacchaeus is so rich with material that I am sticking with the lectionary readings for Ordinary 31.
Zacchaeus (I’ll be learning how to spell that really quick) is the short, rich, chief tax collector. And he had a need to see Jesus. He really wanted to see who this Jesus guy was. He wanted to see Jesus so badly that when he realized that his height disadvantage in the crowd was going to prevent it, he ran ahead of the crowd to climb that sycomore tree. Jesus sees him and calls him down and announces that he just HAS to stay with him that night. Zacchaeus climbs down and welcomes Jesus into his house – much to the grumbling of those who saw this, “there goes Jesus again, hanging out with those sinners and outcasts.”
As I sit with the story of Zacchaeus, I wonder if Zacchaeus’ yearning to see who Jesus was is similar to our yearning for something to believe in
-our search for meaning in our lives
-our need to try church out
-our hope to make sense of the world
Do those of us in the church make room for this kind of searching, yearning, seeking? Will we welcome the outcasts and provide a safe space to do this searching?
Or will we just grumble because those sinners are trying to come to church again?
I love to hike and backpack. I love to walk through the woods and listen to the sounds of nature, see the evidence of animals, the results of weather, and just enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.
But, sometimes, especially when the trail is very technical or my pack is overloaded – my focus ends up being not on the beauty that surrounds me, but on the small piece of trail that is in front of me. I am putting all my concentration on where to plant my next step as I labor down the path. All I can see is the trail at my feet and maybe a few yards ahead of me.
Then when the trail clears up, or I reach the summit, or I stop to take a break – and I stand up straight and I am finally able to see what’s around me; I am finally able to see more than just what’s at my feet.
If you’ve ever been backpacking, you know what it feels like to take off your pack after miles of hiking. You feel an invisible force lifting you up, you feel lighter than air – and you cannot help but smile and move around as if you haven’t been able to move in years. It is a feeling of freedom, a feeling of a burden being lifted, a feeling of being released from captivity.
I wonder if the woman in this morning’s Gospel lesson felt like that after Jesus healed her. Read more…
Faith sits at what she uses for a desk every day for at least 10 hours. She calls it her desk, but most people would call it a piece of plywood on top of milk crates. She sold her desk a few weeks ago so she could buy groceries. Faith sits at her desk for 10 or more hours a day on the internet searching for a job. Each day she sends out 15-20 resumes, all over the country. She has had 2 interviews in the last two and half years.
Every Saturday, Faith and her husband load up their minivan with stuff and head out to the local flea market and sell their belongings. Her husband is selling his collection of Star Wars toys this week for a fraction of what they are worth. Faith is selling the living room furniture. They are just trying to survive. They have lost their house, their jobs, and are losing their faith.
Faith and her husband are what have been termed, 99ers. Those who have been unemployed for more than 99 weeks, and have exhausted all available unemployment benefits.
“These last few years have been a living hell,” Faith says, “We’re dying emotionally, spiritually, and physically.”
Despite her name, Faith says that she is finding it hard to have faith that things will get better, finding it hard to have any hope at all of finding a job. It’s easy to lose faith when it seems that the deck is stacked against you.
I know a little about what Faith is going through. Except for a part time job as a lifeguard at the Y, and summer jobs at camp, I have been unemployed for 64 weeks. There have been times in the last 15 months when I have felt like I would never find a job; that I would have to start looking for a job in the corporate world. I was losing faith in myself, in the church, and having doubts about God calling me to ministry. Read more…
My Lectionary Thoughts and illustration from the other day has been expanded on to become this week’s sermon.
The first time I met my college girlfriend’s parents was at harvest time. They lived on a farm about an hour north of Omaha, Nebraska, and I remember driving along the dirt roads towards the farm, watching the lights of the combines in the fields moving along well after 10 at night. It seemed that as we made our way north out of the city, every field had machinery working to bring in the harvest. The air was heavy with the dust of the corn fields; at times it looked like the fog we get in the valleys here in New England.
The next morning, as I was getting the tour of the farm, I saw the results of the harvest. Inside the machine shed, where all the equipment should have been stored, were instead 3 huge piles of corn, reaching from floor to ceiling – about 2 stories high.
“Why is all this corn here, instead of in the silos?” I asked.
“Oh, the silos are full,” was the reply, “the machine shed is full, and next we are going to put it outside under tarps.
As it was explained to me, the price of corn was so low that fall, that many farmers were not taking their harvests to the market, hoping to wait for a price increase. The harvest was so abundant that year that they were running out of places to store it. I don’t remember how well that strategy worked for them that year, but I can’t help thinking of that farm tour when I read this morning’s Gospel lesson.
Our story starts off with a simple question by someone in the crowd, a request by a man to settle a family dispute about inheritance, even though the law required the older brother to inherit a double portion. It is an odd request of Jesus, it’s not a theological test, or a request for eternal life. Jesus is asked to mediate a problem over an estate distribution.
But, Jesus declines to act as a judge over the situation, instead seizing the moment to teach. Turning to the crowd, he warns them to be on the lookout for greed, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he tells them a relatively short parable, the one that has become known as the Parable of the Rich Fool.
It was an abundant harvest, and the farmer ran out of room to store his crops. So, talking to himself, he decided to build bigger barns to store the fruits of his labor. And once that was done, he relaxed and enjoyed a well-deserved break. But God had a different plan for him. God comes to the farmer says, “You fool – tonight you die, what will happen to all the things you have? Who will get them?” The parable ends with the ominous words of Jesus, “So it is with whose who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.”
The texts for this week can be found here.
The first time I met my college girlfriend’s parents was during the harvest. They lived on a farm an hour north of Omaha, NE, and I remember driving along the dirt roads towards the farm, watching the lights of the combines in the fields moving along well after 10 at night. The next morning, as I got the tour of the farm, I saw the results of the harvest. Inside the machine shed, where all the equipment should be stored, was instead huge piles of corn.
“Why is all this corn here, and not in the silos?” I asked.
“Oh, the silos are full, the machine shed is full, and next we’re going to put it outside under tarps,” was the reply.
You see, the price of corn was low that fall, so low that many farmers were not taking their harvests to the market, hoping to wait for a price increase. The harvest was so abundant that year, they were running out of places to store it.
When I read the Luke passage for this week, the Parable of the Rich Fool as it is traditionally known, I thought of this story. I am supply preaching at a church I’ve never been to before, so I’m not totally sure where my sermon is going at this point in the week, but it might just have that illustration.
What are you thinking about with the texts this week?