Thursday, November 3, 2016

Seeing Jesus When People Get In the Way

I love the Zacchaeus story. I love Z's earnestness and the simplicity of the connection between what he wants and what he does. Longing to see Jesus, he climbs a tree. I love that it is not enough for Z to be at the party. Z knows what he wants from his participation in the party. I love that, wanting to see, he is seen. 

I love how Luke is open and rather matter-of-fact about the truth that people sometimes get in the way of seeing Jesus. Other followers of Jesus even. I love that the truth that people sometimes get in the way of Jesus doesn't keep Z from seeing Jesus and being seen by Jesus. 

Luke's honesty about the sometimes-obstructing-people-of-God disinclines us 21st century folk, inside and outside the church, from smugness in making the observation. You know, some version of Gandhi's oft-quoted line, "I like Christ fine, it's you Christians I'm not as sure about." Of course people get in the way of seeing Jesus, Luke says. So it has always been. Not that that's the whole story or the end of hope (far from it!), but Luke gets it. "I feel ya," he says.

Of course, there's another truth, namely, that it is not always the case that people get in the way of seeing Jesus. People can be windows through which others see Jesus. And it's the Spirit's good humor that this reminder gets included, via the epistle, on the same Sundays we remember Zacchaeus in lectionary traditions. Reading the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians alongside the 19th chapter of Luke is a kind of humorous speaking and balancing of truth things. 

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus write that they thank God for the Christians to whom they are writing. They thank God especially that the faith of the Christians in Thessalonica is growing and that the love of the Christians in that community for one another is increasing. What's more, by living steadfastly in the face of adversity, the Christians in Thessalonica are pointing with their lives toward the Jesus whom Paul prays will continue to be glorified in them.

I actually don't think most of us need convincing that people can be windows through which others see Jesus. The feast of All Saints' names our experiences of God and God's love in the lives of saints before and around us. Of course, even saints can be opaque. Their gift is not found first in their perfection but in their baptism. Still, it would be dishonest to contend that the gift of baptism, the water, the oil, the Holy Spirit of God, the rhythms of Word and Sacrament, haven't left visible marks in the lives of some, making saints whose lives cling less to themselves, risk vulnerable transparency through which Christ's light is seen, and whose love knows a reach as wide as its utter trust in God's love is deep. They are encouragements, supports, courage, a new imagination, balm. We thank God for these. We pray to be these, for others and the world. And, if we're smart, we'll take a page from Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus, and tell those in whom we see God at work that and how we do see God at work in them, specifically, when possible. And that we're thankful. After all, you don't have to be told the miracle they are; like me, you know the story of Zacchaeus! Thank God for God's saints in every generation. 
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one 
with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our 
earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this 
fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be 
surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We 
ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our 
intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives 
and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP p 395)

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