A Gospel For The Wacky

Zacchaeus Sycamore Tree in Jericho_1517

I will be adding the video for this sermon in a separate post.  Below you will find the manuscript for a sermon titled:  “A Gospel for the Wacky” based on Luke 19:1-10, preached on 11/3/2013 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.

“A Gospel for the Wacky”

Luke 19:1-10

Art Graham, former Associate Pastor of this congregation, often said of Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, that is was a congregation “filled with the wonderful, the weird, and the wacky – with a heavy emphasis on the wacky.”

Today we discover that the same thing could have easily been said of the little town of Jericho.  There were the wonderful – at least they probably thought of themselves that way.  Then there were the weird folks.  Every place has then.  They are not particularly bad…they are just, well, different.

Then there are the wacky folks.  At best, the people of Jericho tolerated these types of folks.  At worst, they despised them and treated them like dirt.  Most of the time they just shook their heads in disgust whenever these folks walked by.  If there were two of three standing there at the time, they’d snicker at one another and offer a disparaging word.

It’s not that the wacky don’t bring some of this upon themselves.  Sometimes these wacky folks are obnoxiously rude and obnoxiously arrogant.  On other occasions they are people who always seem to be gaming the system – looking for another way to get a step ahead at the expense of others.  Still, on other occasions, they have made some really bad choices and simply seem unable to escape the penalties that are associated with making some really bad decisions.

When Jesus traveled through Jericho on the day recorded about in today’s scripture lesson, he spotted one other these wacky individuals.  His name was Zacchaeus.

When I was a growing up, I attended church via the Bus Ministry” of a nearby Baptist church.   The couple who managed the bus which I rode loved to teach us all Bible stories in song.  One of my favorites was the song about Zacchaeus.   Do any of your remember that song?

“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 when the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree.

And he said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down!

For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going to your house today!’

When you are a child, you sometimes feel small, overlooked, and left out.  You want to be the center of attention – and in this story, Zacchaeus, a “wee little man” become the center of Jesus attention.

But I do not think Jesus told this story for “wee little children” to make them feel better about themselves.  He told it to challenge the way religious folks sometimes treat the “wacky folks” who make their way into his presence, whether it was his presence in Jericho – or his presence in the faith communities of today.

This story – this story about Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus – just seems to encapsulate for us what it’s all about – this thing we call the gospel.  It sort of sums up the kind of kind of impact the gospel has on the wonderful, the weird, and especially the wacky type folks who behavior often seems to irritate us to no end.

What we discover is that these types of folks gravitate toward Jesus – and he, too, is drawn to them.  Jesus is drawn to the wacky people.  He spies them out in the crowd.  He seems them when they are out on a limb.  He calls out to them, spends time with them, goes into the very hell hole of their lives and plants himself in the middle of their mess to incarnate (to flesh out) the presence of God in their lives.

Here’s the story.  The people in Jericho – the people in most all of Israel, for that matter – hated the Roman tax.  It was, in essence, a levy being laid on the backs of a subjugated people by the occupying forces of Caesar’s armies.

Nobody was considered more wacked out and worthy of rejection than that the Roman tax collector.  So a tax collector was the lowest form of human being in any community.

It was not merely a reminded of their political oppression, however.   Caesar called himself as King and god, which made this a theological affront as well.  The Hebrew  people had always opposed paying taxes to a non-Jewish monarch.

This hatred of the Roman tax made the Roman tax collector one of the most hated and despise people in any community.  The Romans knew this, so they did not send one of their own to collect the taxes.  They recruited a collaborator.  In this case, Zacchaeus.  To make matters worse, he became very wealthy during the dirty work for Roman.  He was rich.  He was filthy rich.  The text indicates he was overcharging and cheating people to line his own pockets with wealth.  So, in all of Jericho, nobody was considered more wacked out and worthy of rejection than Zacchaeus the tax collector.  In fact, he was not just a tax-collector.  The text says he was the chief tax collector.  He was the overseer or boss of all the other tax collectors in the region.  He was skimming off the top of the people who were skimming off the top.

So Zacchaeus may have been a “wee little man,” but he was a man of power, reputation, wealth, and influence.  He was a “wee little man” sitting on a big throne, so to speak, and everyone in the region had to look up to him.

But when he passed people by on the street, they rolled their eyes in disgust.  If two or three were standing together they would quietly belittle and disparage him.  If he were looking the other way, they might hurl and insult at him, or perhaps even a rotten tomato.  Nobody was considered more wacked out and worthy of rejection than Zacchaeus the Chief Roman Tax Collector.

So when Jesus came to town, the crowd did everything they could to keep Zacchaeus away.  It wasn’t just the size and press of the crowd.  It wasn’t just the size and stature of the “wee little man.”  It was an intentional, concerted effort by the crowd.  Many of you, we can imagine, took great delight in “accidentally” stepping on his toes or elbowing him in the back of the head.

So what did Zacchaeus do?  “He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see!”

Now here’s where the story gets interesting.  Look at how Jesus responds.  “When the Savior passed that way, he looked up in the tree, and he said:  “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.”  That’s how the song puts it.  Luke writes:

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

And when he came down from the tree – I imagine he fell out of the tree with joy – Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus gladly.  Jesus seemed to like hanging out with people like Zacchaeus – the “characters” – the “dingbats” – the “wacky.”

That’s probably a revolutionary type thought for those who like to snicker, wag their fingers, and shakes their heads at the “wacky” who walk among us.   The people with whom Jesus spent the most time and upon whom he lavished the most attention are the kinds of folks most “religious types” – most “good church folks” – try to avoid.  Jesus spent time with the oddballs,  the eccentric, the outcasts, and the ostracized.  He hung with the so-called misfits and maniacs – the wacked out portion of the population that the everyday church attendee would never invite to dinner.  Oh, sure, they might be given a bag of groceries or be taken food when they are down at the shelter.  But spend time with them at dinner?  Go to dinner over at their house?  Most religious type folks aren’t about to do that.  But Jesus did.

That’s not what the crowd expected.

Jesus had  to town with a bit of a reputation preaching about justice for the oppressed, freedom for those in captivity, and equity for the indigent and impoverished.  For the people in the crowd, Zacchaeus seemed like a ready-made symbol for everything that was wrong with the socio-politico-economic systems of the day.  Surely they thought that when Jesus saw Zacchaeus up in that tree that Jesus would  lay the proverbial smack down on that old fat-cat Zacchaeus.  But that’s not what Jesus did.  He invited himself to dinner in Zacchaeus’ home.

We know that Zacchaeus was drawn to Jesus.  We can understand that.  Jesus had a reputation for saying and doing the unusual; for accepting and including the unwashed and unwanted masses.  So we can understand how this wacked out “Chief Tax Collector,” whom nobody liked, loved, accepted, or included, might feel drawn to Jesus.

What’s amazing is that Jesus was drawn to Zacchaeus.  Of all the people he could have ate dinner with – he picked Zacchaeus.  He could have picked one of the wonderful people in Jericho to hang out with that evening: a Rabbi at the synagogue, a Pharisee or Sadducee, some business leader from the Chamber of Commerce who carried with him a good repute.  He could have picked any old weirdo from the crowd:  a rebel rouser, a trouble-maker, some everyday sinner with a bad reputation.  But he pick Zacchaeus, the wackiest, strangest, most unusual character in the entire community.

“Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.”

Suddenly everyone got real quite.  Then the murmurs and snickering began – not about Zacchaeus, but about Jesus.  “What’s Jesus thinking?  There’s no worst person this side of Caesar himself that our Chief Tax Collector.”  Jesus wasn’t just causing a stir, he was creating a scandal.

Somebody wrote:

“What bothered the good people of Jericho was not so much what Jesus had to say to them, but the way he said it. It is one thing to believe in loving your neighbor, to believe in welcoming the lost, to believe in forgiving the guilty; but it is quite another thing to practice what you preach, to actually practice doing it.”

That is what was so troubling.  Jesus taught that we should love God and one another – even the wackiest of the wacked out that walk among us.  He said that.  That was one thing.  Then he went out and did it.  That was a whole different thing.

I told you about a friend in another denomination who started a church in one of the most secularized regions of Virginia Beach.  He worked for a year to build relationships and friendships with people in his community.  Many of them were really wacky to our ways of thinking.  Some were Wiccans, some were addicted to drugs and alcohol, some were very sexually permissive, most were into all sorts of new age religions and spirituality.  They dressed and behaved what many of us might consider wacky.  If we saw these people at the grocery store, at Hardees, or on the street corner, we would whisper and snicker about them as they passed by.

My friend met them in coffee shop, lunch counters, and nearby pubs.  He didn’t push his faith.  He just was who he was and let them be who they were.  He grew to like them and love them and they grew to like him and love him too.  So when he announced that he wanted to bring folks together to sing a few songs and talk about Jesus, they were skeptical – but they kept enough of an open mind to listen to what he had to say.

About thirty people met in the first gathering.  In a few months, they size grew to the point where they needed a fairly large sized room.  The owner of a local bar agreed they could use his place on Sunday morning.  In fact, he’d been one of those attending.

This guy went to the denominational leaders of the tradition where he was connected, told his story, and asked for support to pay a little rent and purchase Bibles.  Nobody in the group had ever even owned a Bible.  To make a long story short, the religious type rejected his request for help.  They did not like the location for the meeting and encouraged him to get those people to clean up their lives and go to an “established church.”

The guy got the support from individuals and there is a thriving, though rather wacky “church” meeting in that now former bar.   All that happened because one young preacher did just talk about God’s love and grace – he went out and put it into practice.  He went out and embraced those nobody else would embrace and told them that God liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted them all by His grace.

What if we started doing that here in this fellowship?  Art Graham said, “Patterson Avenue Baptist Church is filled with the wonderful, the weird, and the wacky – with a emphasis on the wacky!”  What if we started loving each other across that spectrum in the same fashion that Jesus loved Zacchaeus.

What if we started loving our community and world in that fashion?  There are some people out there who are wonderful, many who are kind of weird, and a who boat load of people who are (to our ways of thinking) really wacked out.  Right now they are hanging out on a limb, like Zacchaeus.  What if we became like Jesus to them?  What if we learned to like, loved, accept, and include them the way Jesus does – so that they might learn that through Jesus they are adopted into God’s grace embrace?

What if we stopped talking about being a missional church and we actually became a people on God’s mission with God.

What if we became the Incarnation of Jesus in the world, just as he was the Incarnation of God.

What if we acted out the ministry of reconciliation we’ve been given by Christ, living as though God is making his appeal to the world through us.

What if we boiled all that down into a lifestyle practice of loving people no matter what – even the wackiest and weirdest people we know?

What if we became the embodiment in our community of a Gospel that is for everyone…the wonderful, the weird, and the wacky?

What if…


The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community
by: Hugh Halter
publisher: Jossey-Bass, published: 2008-04-14
ASIN: 0470188979
EAN: 9780470188972
sales rank: 60507
price: $12.96 (new), $12.92 (used)

Written for those who are trying to nurture authentic faith communities and for those who have struggled to retain their faith, The Tangible Kingdom offers theological answers and real-life stories that demonstrate how the best ancient church practices can re-emerge in today’s culture, through any church of any size. In this remarkable book, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay “two missional leaders and church planters” outline an innovative model for creating thriving grass-roots faith communities.

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