Sunday, May 2, 2021

Welcome and Announcements

Welcome to May Sundays. We are so glad that you are worshipping with us. It is already Spring, though you would never know by the temperature. After a very brief shot of hot weather, we have suddenly been experiencing many cold days. Our prayer is that you are able to rejoice in God as God’s creation glorifies God with new lives sprouting everywhere.

We have been thinking a lot about how to reopen our community when the virus is no longer a major threat. We need your prayers as we go forward. Help us to share in God’s grace as we begin planning. Please pray that God would give our elders wisdom to make decisions that will reflect God’s will through all that we will be doing in Drummond Hill as we serve God and our neighbours.

We are in search of great ideas on how to be a vibrant and growing community when we begin to get together after the lockdown. Please pray that God will help you think of wonderful new ways of being Christians as God’s people here in Niagara Falls.

We are continuing our mission work in various ways. We will continue giving out Saturday lunches. Your support in supplying desserts have been greatly appreciated. The Niagara Health inspector reminded us again this week that we ought to make sure we do not make anything at home and that all food we are preparing ought to be done at the church kitchen. If you are buying cookies, pudding, etc., please make an effort to send your receipts as well. It is to keep track of items in case there is a recall for some products for health reasons.

Please pray for Bob and Isobel Norminton and their neighbours, Bernie Kellam, Andy Paterson, Hugh and Judy McKeown, Betty and Harry Jolley, Doris Race, Bob and Virginia Ward. Harry is waiting for a bed at Hospice Niagara. Your prayers for everyone will be very comforting and caring.

Next Sunday we are going to give God thanks for mothers. We will see how we can do it in this very difficult situation when we cannot get together.

Now a simple question: When did you sing the children’s song Zacchaeus? Let’s see if we can sing together.

One of the questions we asked last Sunday had to do with Jesus telling his disciples to enter a house and give peace. We wondered out loud about how these disciples, who were being sent out two by two into the world, would find which house to enter. In today's passage from Luke we will see how Jesus chooses which house to enter. But first, some important things to remember being a church in the world today.

Exodus Church

‘Exodus Church’ is meant to focus attention on the reality of Christianity as that of the ‘pilgrim people of God’, as described in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “‘Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come’ (Heb. 13:13). (Jurgan Moltmann, Theology of Hope p. 304)

Christians are often known as pilgrims. We see ourselves, not as ones rooted in this world, but traveling through this world to reach the final destination which is God’s reign. This is why we say that though we are in the world, we are not of this world. Yet, as ones in the world, we participate fully in all worldly matters. As guests, we do our best to enjoy the hospitality of this world, but leave as little trace as possible while sharing God’s peace with those who are in the world in the same way that hikers in the mountains are reminded to leave nature as is and leave as little traces of our passing as possible by taking out our own trashes as we hike. As pilgrims, local churches are not only the sign posts but also resting stations to help us onward. Like Abraham of the Old Testament, we do not stay in one place, but are continually led through various parts of the world as we heed God’s call.

Hymn: I am the church; you are the church; we are the church together

The people of Israel always recited as part of their confession Deuteronomy 26: 5-10:

‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’

Even though they were in the promised land, they began with the confession that their ancestor was a wandering Aramean, named Jacob whose name was later changed to Israel. Christians remember Jesus’ saying, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). Based on John 15:19, we say that we are in the world, but not of the world. We are sojourners until the time of the coming reign of God.

This means that like the disciples Jesus sent into the world we go with nothing and depend on those who will welcome us. This is why we are very aware of what it is like to be treated as outsiders and are always on the look to welcome those who are not part of the mainstream groups in our world.

Go down Moses

How are we called out of this world to be the followers of Christ? It begins with receiving the peace of our Lord. We will see how Jesus comes to Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was not special. At best, he was the sinner most in his town disliked. Yet, Jesus chose to stay with him. Last week we wondered how the disciples were going to choose which house to enter as strangers. Today we see Jesus entering Jericho and choosing Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus neither knew nor expected Jesus’ call. A surprise that changed his life!

Scripture: Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Zacchaeus is trying. He is trying to see Jesus. Not that he knew Jesus. He only heard about him and what he was doing everywhere else. Today he is passing through Zacchaeus’ town Jericho. Like everyone else he wants to see the man for himself. Zacchaeus is well known in his own town. In fact, most people in Jericho do not like him. He is a tax collector for the Roman government. They all know that he enriches himself when he collects tax. They know that he can use the power of the local Roman representatives to come after them. They don’t say out loud, but they are not happy with him at all. He may be rich, but everyone knows who he truly is.

Zacchaeus knows his position as well as anyone. He knows the world knows that he enriches himself through tax collecting, that he is resented for his wealth and power, and that he is a sinner. He is very self-aware that his small stature represents his status among the Jews. It is no surprise to anyone that Zacchaeus is blocked from viewing Jesus and has to take the very undignified route of climbing a tree to see this passerby. His wealth and position in life did not help him. Not only that, as if to signal his exclusion from God’s people, his name sounds Greek, neither Hebrew, nor Aramaic.

Zacchaeus was trying, but not for the following reasons: 1. Zacchaeus was not trying to see Jesus because he was a sinner who wanted to be forgiven; 2. Zacchaeus was not trying because he thought he was being called by God to repent his ways; 3. Zacchaeus was not trying because he needed healing. Zacchaeus was not trying because he wanted to be saved, changed, and made anew. He was simply there trying to see Jesus. He wanted his curiosity satisfied. He was going to be a bystander who can tell his grandchildren someday that he once saw a well known man passing through his town.

Things would have been as it should have been except that Jesus stopped. Jesus stopped exactly at the spot where Zacchaeus was. Imagine the scene. Zacchaeus might have been disliked by many villagers, a traitor who was a Roman lackey, a butt of a joke for many who saw his diminutive physique, but still holding his own head high, yet, having to climb a tree in order to see Jesus, was there awkwardly uncomfortable hanging on the tree. Now as Jesus looks at him, all others are, too. All the town folk and the crowd with Jesus are seeing this sad image of a small man holding onto a tree. O the shame! Zacchaeus could not even escape into a hole in the ground. He is exposed. Town folks can laugh at him any moment. How he must have felt so small, yet not small enough to hide behind a branch.

Let’s pause here for a moment. It is quite easy for us to see Zacchaeus as that miserable sinner none of us has sympathy for. It is not a mistake for me to say that we probably know of someone who is an easily identifiable selfish ambitious ruthless climber who leaves lots of destruction on his path among our friends or neighbours. Charles Dickens created a similar character in David Copperfield naming him Uriah Heep, a dark slimy figure no one could love. In Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien gave us Gollum to embody similar egotistical, selfish and ruthless characteristics.

In a way, we are abhorred by these characters and distance ourselves from characters like Gollum and Uriah Heep. Yes, we do know why some people end up becoming like them. Since the 1960s we have done research and discussions on how to change our socio, cultural, and educational systems to bring about ways to help the young to grow into more ethically and morally caring individuals. Whether the sources of our troubles are poverty, abuses (both physical and psychological), discriminations, or otherwise, we have been aware how the world shifted and more and more people are growing into selfish and self-serving at all costs than ever before. There are lots more of us who are like Gollum and Uriah Heep. Psychologist Jung pointed out in his works that one of the reasons why we detest these qualities in others so much is because we also have them deep within us. These are our blind spots.

The point is, most of us are far more like Zacchaeus than we would like to admit. Low self-esteem, overcompensation, usurping the powers that are not ours to get ahead, corruptions, all these are part of who we are. All those politicians who appear as self-confident turn out to be shysters like Zacchaeus. Everyone of us has at one time or another used Zacchaeus’ tactics to survive in life. We know we are sinners. We do feel small before the giants of faith. Well, sometimes we feel small in faith when we see all those tele-evangelists talking about doing miracles and wonders, or quote Bible passages breathlessly.

You may be asking why I am bringing in the dark side of who we are on such a joyful day.. Is there not 51 Sundays in our year to talk about sin and darkness? Why can we not enjoy one sermon on the joy, beauty, and all that is good for one Sunday? A fair point!

What is actually happening when Jesus stops to speak to Zacchaeus? Why did Jesus stop to speak with him when there were many others who were in either similar or worse predicaments? In a way, Zacchaeus was better off than most because he was rich. His mental, psychological, and spiritual state might have been a mess, but at least he was rich. Yet, Jesus stops for Zacchaeus. He might be rich, but as we mentioned earlier, he was the lost one to the Jews for whom he had become. The reality is that Jews are not hesitant in excluding him for many reasons. He was an outsider with money--the one despised behind his back by everyone in the town mostly because of his corrupt behaviours..

When Jesus stops to speak to Zacchaeus, the time changes from temporal to eternal. By this, I mean that Zacchaeus suddenly experiences the kingdom of God unfolding before him. The outsider is being included. There is no precondition he had to meet so that Jesus would speak to him. It is Jesus who chooses to speak to this man no one likes. When Jesus speaks, the kingdom of God is at hand and the world changes for those who interact with Jesus. Suddenly the world changes and Zacchaeus the rich man listens.

Jesus is straight forward, “Zacchaeus, hurray and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Remember last Sunday how we spoke of Jesus’ disciples were to enter a house when they arrived at a village? Remember how we mused about in what way the disciples were to enter a house and greet them with peace? Here is the way Jesus does it. Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name. He has not asked anyone including Zacchaeus what his name is. Calling him by name, Jesus lets this man on a tree know that he, the very one who had to climb a tree to see Jesus passing by, is not a stranger, but is known to Jesus and to the one who sent Jesus into the world. Zacchaeus does not need to prove his heritage or belonging. Jesus already knows that he is a sinner, one who gained wealth unfairly, one who is disliked by all, and one who has little respect from his peers. It is indeed a good news for Zacchaeus! As the one who was always on the outside, he finds himself inside in spite of what he thought of himself to be. Jesus gives him peace.

Zacchaeus gladly comes down, takes Jesus and the disciples to his house. While others grumble that Jesus is associating with a sinner, Zacchaeus enjoys this new presence of God’s kingdom at hand by declaring that he will give his possession to the poor and recompense all those whom he had defrauded. Zacchaeus is a new man. He is one of those who are in God’s kingdom now. He is no longer the old Zacchaeus, the sinner, but the new one who is saved. He confesses his sin by declaring what he will do for the poor and do to those whom he hurt. This is what it means to belong in the coming kingdom of God. Jesus by telling him that he is to stay at Zacchaeus’ house has made the kingdom of God at hand a reality for Zacchaeus.

This deep spiritual desire for belonging and arrival at a place where we truly belonged is not something we can make it happen. Yes, in theory all churches ought to be the place of this wonderful grace of God. However, in our broken world, somehow, our belonging is not as where others tell us it is. It is a place of love, hope, and faith shared in fellowship with each other as God fellowships with us. It is a place where like Zacchaeus we become new people in Christ. When this brokenness is mended, people change.

In seeing Zacchaeus being called, for Jesus already knows who he is, we find hope that we, too, are known to Jesus. After all, we have been baptized in the name of our triune God. As Zacchaeus turns, we, too, turn from those places of shame we dwell in to people full of grace. In those places of shame and sin, we hoarded, coveted, enriched, and did everything to get ahead. In God’s kingdom, like Zacchaeus, we become the people of grace through forgiveness and reconciliation. As Zacchaeus who could have been easily laughed at and ridiculed for hanging on a tree, knowing our own sins, we also would have been embarrassed to be singled out. In spite of all these, because Jesus calls and in his calling we experience God’s kingdom at hand, we are given the opportunity to receive the peace Christ gives to Zacchaeus.

In this pandemic we have become aware of what isolation does to a person, especially a child. Forced separation has increased mental illnesses to levels we have never seen before. Some are calling this increase in mental illness the hidden pandemic that is killing the spirits of many people. As suicide rates increase, we wonder how we can connect. This is in stark contrast to what used to happen. The wonder of reunion used to be everywhere. At airports, at our doors, and all places where people were reuniting together for whatever reason, we saw embraces as well as joys not only on people’s faces but in all their body expressions. Hugging, holding, touching, and doing these all over again.

Zacchaeus was excluded until he met Jesus. He did not experience a pandemic like we were, but was certainly affected by being isolated, shunned, and separated from the rest. When he experiences God’s coming kingdom, he becomes part of this new world, no longer excluded, but now in the centre. Like Zacchaeus, many of us found ourselves outside of God’s kingdom as being lived out by many faithful people. Through this story of Zacchaeus all of us, especially those of us who did not belong, are now being included in ways that our lives are changing. Finally we get to be part of this great joy that is from God.

This joy comes with this new life where we no longer need to hoard, accumulate or surround ourselves with wealth and riches. We can do away with all these material things because we come to realize that God is sufficient for all our needs. Zacchaeus gives away half of his possessions to the poor and gives full restitution to those whom he defrauded. He no longer needs power and wealth to be somebody in this world. We, too, can realize this life that comes from our belonging in the very God who called us through Jesus. Wealth and power are not needed to prop us up and make us important, notable, or famous people. We can do without worldly ways of being. When we come to know that our God knows who we are and provides for us sufficiently, our task is nothing more than to glorify by freely sharing all that we are given and enjoy God as we enjoy one another.

May God’s peace rests with us now and always!

Offering Hymn: Jesu joy of man’s desiring

Offering Prayer

O Lord God, in gratitude for your love, we bring these offerings. These tokens represent our love for you, our promise to you, and our confidence in you. Receive them as our gift. Use them to further your kingdom here in Niagara Falls so that many will come to know your Son our Lord as only hope in this troubled world. We pray in his name. Amen.

May the God of hope go with us


O Lord, each day, we find strength in your presence with us. As we learn to receive our peace, we find out how we are ready and willing to give away like Zacchaeus in the passage we read. All those things we hold dear no longer appear as important or necessary things that will lead us to you. Through your Spirit, continue to strengthen us to give all to others and take up our cross to follow you. Help us to focus on you and your children as we learn to deny ourselves in humility.

We pray for this world in trouble. We hear about people in India and elsewhere who are dying in large numbers. On our news we see their loved ones crying in grief. Be with all those who are suffering. Tend to their despair as the only hope that helps them find new life in this grief stricken world.

We pray for those who are struggling in faith. Many are turning to themselves and falling into despair. Their hope in leaders, friends, family and loved ones has failed. They search for life without finding it. Help them, O God, in ways that your love becomes their hope.

We pray for our own. Bob and Isobel, Bernie, Betty and Harry, Hugh and Judy, Doris, Bob and Virginia need your presence and encouragement the most. Continue to bless them and keep them. Love them so that they will continue to walk with you as they struggle against the power of death.

We pray for this church. It is yours, O Lord. Look upon us with kindness and help us to walk with you, always pointing to you.

All these and more, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.