Friday, April 16, 2010

Zacchaeus: A Tea Little Man

In today’s One Year Bible reading, St. Luke considers it newsworthy that a rich publican gets saved. A tax collector who becomes rich at the expense of others is universally despised, but a Jew who worked with Romans to oppress his own people was particularly abominable. Nonetheless, he wanted to see Jesus.

I first learned about this story in Sunday school. We sang about it.

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed him by, He looked up in the tree,
And he said, "Zacchaeus, you come down;
For I'm going to your house today."

The version I learned ended the song with “for I’m going to your house for tea.” Probably the British influence still lingering from my Virginian ancestors brought that to us.

I am unsure of which version of the tune is the authorized, orthodox version, but I’m sure the Lord would have wanted a cup of tea after his long journey and knew this refined gentleman would have a good cup, even if no one else in the village did. The Canadian-made Red Rose – not the pitiable American blend sold under the same name – or the Australian Bushel’s, or perhaps even P. G. Tips would have been nice. Unfortunately, those fine teas were probably not yet available.

Even Herrod’s tea was not yet ready for the world. (Herrod's the store, and NOT the leader, lest you become confused. Consider this your tea education for the day.)

What wondrous things have developed in Western Civilization!

OK, the tea thing may be up for grabs. But the story line is good. Zacchaeus WAS a wee little man.

(Forget for a moment that this is a redundancy, “wee” being Scottish for “short.” And, forget about the issue of Scottish dialect so rudely interjecting itself in the very heart of American Christianity – the Sunday Schools of this sacred land!)

The point, dear reader, is that the Lord upset everyone by inviting himself to eat – even if not to have a cup of tea – at the home of a repulsive man. “Because, Jesus insisted, “he too is a son of Abraham.”

“What?!” I can hear the people saying, “This traitor is a son of Abraham? What planet do you live on?”

The Lord’s house was an open house. Anyone could come, repent and leave behind his old life. Anyone. Even a traitor.

That’s why I am always leery of really righteous sounding churches. It’s one thing to encourage righteous living; it’s another thing to proclaim one’s own righteousness or the supposed moral superiority of one’s own little group.

When I serve at the Lord’s Table, I always enjoy telling the congregation, “This is not the table of Christ Church. It’s the Table of the Lord. If you belong to the Lord, you are welcome to eat from His table.”

Closed communion sucks.

It doesn’t sound like Jesus at all.

Not at all.

The Lord didn’t go into Zacchaeus’s house to condone his wickedness. He went to encourage his journey toward God. The man was obviousness hungry for God. He climbed a tree; went out on a limb; trying to find God.

When he tried to find God, God found him!

That’s what churches must do too: find those who are searching for God.

I’ve been going on for weeks now about the church, asking what the church is, what should it do and so forth. In the need, churches should just do what they see Jesus doing: having tea with wee little people who climb trees; reaching people who are out on a limb. All the safe people will howl for a while but that’s OK.

Go have that cup of tea with the wee little person.

In my last blog, I moaned about how hard we are on the church. We expect the church to be perfect, even when the human beings in it cannot be perfect.

Go figure.

The truth is, even institutions corrupted by wicked living and false teaching often contain genuine believers. Those believers love and serve the Lord. Yes, we represent the eternal body of Christ, which the Bible says is without spot, blemish, or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27.) However, we are fallen creatures. In this fallen world, fallen people must keep calling the churches to be the Church. At the same time, we must also extend grace and forgiveness to those churches – and to the individuals in them – as they keep falling short.

God once instructed Moses to build Him a tabernacle. God said that He would meet with His people in that tabernacle, so it had to be assembles just right. So He ordered Moses to fill it with articles of gold, silver and beautiful fabrics. And yet, the outside of this beautiful and opulent and place was to be covered with badger skins!

Imagine: people on the outside of God’s tabernacle saw only ugly and commonplace stuff. To experience the eternal, one had to go deep inside, into the very center of the meeting place.
The Church, the place where God designed to meet with us, is still like that. You have to get past the ugly and commonplace. You have to go deep inside, on to that place where eternity invades earth.

Zacchaeus saw past the dust covered man who was stirring up the peasants and shaking his world. He saw someone who might just free him from his sins and give him new life. So he climbed up that sycamore tree.

On this date in 1930, the BBC announced that there was no news that day! Soon, the British people would long for a day without news; a day in which some children might sing a silly song about how the Lord of glory once walked under a tree and laughed at the man looking down at him.

He didn’t laugh in ridicule, but in glee. A sinner man had just come to his senses and remembered that he was a child of Abraham.

Just like some us who wonder so far that old friends think we will never get back. And then, suddenly, its tea time and wonder of wonders, it is the Lord himself laughing at us and telling us to get out of that tree and go prepare him some food.

And that is news!

Very, very good news!

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