Sermon for Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 26, Year C

October 30, 2022

Isaiah 1:10-18                     Psalm 32:1-8                       2 Thessalonians 1:-4, 11-12                          Luke 19:1-10

          Jesus sees Zacchaeus, and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  Zacchaeus is a rich man and an unpopular man because he is a chief tax collector.  Tax collectors are known to be corrupt; they are known to be sinners.  The people object to Jesus going to be with him because, they say “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”  Yet, like the apostles, Zacchaeus does not question Jesus.  When Jesus calls the apostles, they drop everything and follow him. 

Zacchaeus is not called to follow Jesus, but just being in his presence changes his life.  Zacchaeus wants to be a better man.  He repents and says, “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.”  Jesus responds, “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.”

          “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.”  Isaiah is seeking out the lost as well in today’s reading.  He addresses the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah, telling them to listen to the teachings of God and repent.  God asks the people, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?  I have had enough of burnt offerings . . . bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination . . . your appointed festivals my soul hates.”  What God wants instead, is for the people to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”  In Isaiah God is seeking the lost; God is attempting to save them from themselves.

          These lessons are about sin, repentance, and forgiveness.  They are about God’s desire for us to choose a relationship with him over power and possessions.  “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus says after Zacchaeus promises to make right of the wrongs he has committed. 

          There is a difference, though, between the sin talked about in Isaiah and the sin talked about in Luke.  In Luke, it is Zacchaeus who has sinned and forgiven.  In Isaiah, the sin is what we refer to as “corporate sin.”  The people as a whole have sinned and are in need of salvation.  When we, as a people, fail to do what is right, when we as a people neglect to rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow, then we are all guilty of sin.

          Last week I attended the vigil remembering the victims of family violence in our state.  Candles were lit as the names of those who died were read.  At the end, we were asked to extinguish our candles if we were victims of domestic violence.  Several people blew out their candles.  Then we were asked to extinguish our candles if members of our families were victims. Several more candles were blown out.  And finally, we were asked to extinguish our candles if we personally knew a victim of family violence.  There were only a couple of candles that remained lit.  Domestic violence affects us all – whether we’re aware of it or not.  It is one of many forms of injustice that exists in our community and our world.

          Not only should we, as individuals, speak up when we witness injustice in all forms but we as a church, as the body of Christ, are called to help people in need.  Over and over again, Isaiah and the prophets speak of the people neglecting the widows and the orphans, those who are poor, and those who are suffering.  Helping today, for many of us takes the form of financial support for institutions that do this. But today’s gospel teaches us to do more.

Jesus rejoices over saving one soul.  His ministry is one of helping one person at a time.  He heals the sick, he drives out evil spirits, he raises the dead and he sends them back to their families.  It is not difficult to imagine what happens upon their return.  They praise God and draw others to God. 

          Mike Mundy spoke at the vigil.  He told of helping one victim of family violence get out of the alcoholic and abusive relationship she was in.  Years later she stopped Mike in a store to thank him.  She was a much difference person.  She was sober and had completed nursing school.  Her daughter had grown up to be a physician.  There is a ripple effect to helping one person, he noted.  Changing one life, affects countless more. 

Last week, a young man in St. Louis entered his alma mater, shot and killed a teacher and a student and wounded several more before he was shot and killed by police.  He left a note which spoke of his feelings of isolation and lack of friends.  It was a text book profile for a school shooter, the article said.  The report then called upon all of us to be on the lookout for people with mental health issues and speak up when we have a concern about someone.  Whether it is domestic violence or troubled youth – we have a responsibility to act.

          Acts of kindness, demonstrating we care, and taking time to listen to others can have a tremendous impact on changing our world for the better.  It also changes us.  Attending the Community Meal, sitting with the people who come, and getting to know them, has changed me.  I do not attempt to solve their problems, I can’t.  I simply don’t have the resources to do so.  I have, however, learned to appreciate the challenges they face. I have learned to be more emphatic and less judgmental.   I have come to appreciate the saying, “but by the grace of God, go I.”  Alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and deficiencies, along with poor choices are all contributing factors to poverty and homelessness. 

          I have been blessed with so much, including a support system that has helped me move past my own poor decisions.  The little that we can do to help may seem insignificant, but if what we do can cause the ripple effect, it can make a difference.  In addition to providing food, our community meals help treat feelings of isolation, it provides people a place to come and be with others. 

“For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.”  We can make a difference, one person at a time.  Seeing people as God’s children and responding to them with compassion. 

Let us pray.

          Loving God, fill us with your Spirit that we may see and respond to the needs of others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.