The Rev. Hal Chorpenning
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
It’s interesting that today’s story from Luke’s gospel involves Zacchaeus climbing up a tree. (When exactly was the last time you saw a grownup climb high up a tree? That may be the first sign that there is something extraordinary going on here!)
Part of the reason I find this interesting is that this year at Plymouth, we’ve invited you not to go higher…but rather to Go Deeper. We don’t ask you to perch yourself at the top of a tree or even at the top of the cross in our chancel…instead, one of our members created roots that visually symbolize going DEEPER, not higher. And the Stewardship Board invited you to Go Deeper and give thanks for the gifts of Faith, Hope, Community, Life, Treasure, Love, and for Plymouth. You’ve been invited by our preachers this month – Charles Buck, Sue Artt, and me – to be part of a minor miracle in the making, to imagine God’s heavenly economy, rather than the dismal science of human economy, to imagine what it would be like if we spent our money on things that changed the lives of our fellow humans, instead of buying a new couch. And how mission changes lives. Holy Cow, we even had a surprise visit from Jesus during the sermon three weeks ago!
Luke tells us that Zacchaeus is a tax collector. Now, I don’t want you to think of him as a respectable IRS employee, because that isn’t what the role entailed in ancient Judea. Instead, think of someone collaborating with the occupying Roman army and extorting money from the subject people in order to line his own pockets. (Even if you consider your taxes to be extortionate, this is a totally different situation!) So, what we witness as Zacchaeus brings Jesus into his home is a radical personal epiphany and a counter-cultural transformation away from human economy into heavenly economy. Zacchaeus says I will give half my possessions to the poor, and I will pay back four times as much to anyone I’ve defrauded.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus doesn’t even ask Zacchaeus to do this? It isn’t like the story of the Rich Young Ruler, as Jesus responds to the man’s question about what he must do to inherit eternal life – give away all your possessions. (And you remember how it ends…the Rich Young Ruler ends up going away grieving.)
What is the one thing Jesus asks of Zacchaeus? There is only one sentence in this text that encapsulates what Jesus demands: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down!” Because of his stature, Zacchaeus was just trying to see Jesus from afar, but Jesus notices him and says, “Come down.”
You all know that beautiful Shaker hymn that Aaron Copeland used in “Appalachian Spring,” “’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight.”
I wonder if that is what Jesus has been calling us at Plymouth to do this year… “Plymouth, come down! Come down from that treetop and Go Deeper. Dig into your faith. Remember that you are rooted in God’s love and in the faith of this community. Understand what holds you in place. Go Deeper!”
I don’t know whether you read about this or not, but the UCC together with several local churches in Chicago last week invested $38,000 to buy $5.3 million in destructive medical debt for over 5,000 anonymous residents of Cook County, Illinois – and then they forgave all of the debt. That is God’s heavenly economy at work. Whether it is immigration justice or ending gun violence or educating our children or ending loneliness for seniors or deepening the faith of the person next to you, or giving you a song to sing, you are changing lives through Plymouth.
We come today to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty God has entrusted to us, to stand in the light of God’s heavenly economy. We are here to celebrate a community that not only provides a shelter from the storm of our rancorous politics, but gives us a way to make a difference as an outpost of God’s realm. We are here to consecrate and ask for God’s blessing on our commitments for 2020. We are here to keep on Going Deeper and reach the wellsprings of our faith that nurture not only own lives, but all the lives this congregation touches.
May our journey continue.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.