Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sermon on the 15th Sunday of Luke, 2014

The gospel this morning tells us Zacchaeus was small of stature, that he just wanted to get a glimpse of Christ, and then, all of a sudden, Jesus looks up, and he says, "I must stay at your house tonight." Now, many of us, most of us here, have Greek or Eastern roots and we know what an invitation... when somebody important comes to your house, what that entails. I can only imagine what Zacchaeus—all he wanted to do was get a glimpse of Jesus—what he did to prepare himself for the coming of Christ, Jesus' entry into his home.

Zacchaeus was a rich man, and he probably had his servants running up and down, making sure everything was polished and that there was enough food for probably three households. It's just the way it is, at least in my experience. In Presvytera's experience, when we went to Romania, now seven years ago, everywhere we went to visit, there were dishes everywhere. Everything was prepared; everything was ready. There were people who hadn't seen us in so long, and they'd never met her, and they wanted everything to be right, to show their appreciation.

So I am certain that, in addition to the work he did in climbing up into the tree so that he could see, Zacchaeus also went through all these preparations for Christ to come under his roof. And then after he came under his roof, he was not done, but he said, "Look, Lord, I gave away half of my possessions, and if I have defrauded anyone, I give it back four-fold."

Why do I mention that? Because each and every one of us is Zacchaeus. Jesus wants to come and dwell within the house of our hearts. He wants to come and be with us. Of course, we know this, not only because of everything we read in the Gospels, but because every time in the Divine Liturgy when the priest says, "With fear of God, faith, and love, draw near," and what does the priest invite us to, but to receive Christ within us? So we are Zacchaeus. Christ wants to come and dwell within the house of our hearts and our souls. The question that I can ask and that each and every one of us has to answer individually is: What kinds of preparations do we need to make for Christ to come into our home? And then: How do we respond to Christ coming and dwelling within us? What is our preparation? How do we prepare, day to day, Sunday to Sunday, for Christ to come and dwell within us?

Of course, the answer to that lies, for Orthodox, is by putting into practice the teachings of the Church. In our "Orthodox Spirituality" series, we said that the spiritual life begins by doing the commandments. So listening to the word of God, and not just listening, but listening to it in the way that we always ask ourselves, "How does this word of God apply to my life?" That is part of our preparation, because, again as we were saying in our "Orthodox Spirituality" series, we have to do before we can get to know God directly.

So how do these commandments of Christ, of God, apply to us? What do they mean that I need to do in my life, so that I may get to know God, so that I may have God dwell under the roof of my house? And, of course, when I mentioned earlier, the part about Zacchaeus going into his house and making everything spotless, in the Orthodox Church, we can make a parallel between that and the sacrament of confession. In that way, we get the house of our heart, the house of our soul, spotless, so that we may come and have Christ dwell within us.

Then there is the last point. When Jesus came into the house of Zacchaeus, he said that he gave half of his goods to the poor, and if he had defrauded anyone, he restored four-fold. The response to his greeting of Christ is one of thankfulness and generosity. Since I mentioned earlier about the sacrament of confession, what Zacchaeus does is he fulfilled the contemplation of that sacrament.

I'm going to make a short detour here. When I was in seminary, during the course about missions, we had to read books. We had a choice of about 10 or 15 books about the lives of people who had worked in and done evangelism, who had gone to proclaim the Gospel where it hadn't been proclaimed, where Christ was not known. One of the books that I ended up reading was about a Russian bishop who was in Asia, in a part where Christianity was not very well known. There were some Orthodox people, but most were not. When he got there—this was somewhere in the 19th century, and it was winter—the way he would get around from place to place, from parish to parish, is that he had a sled and a sled driver, and the sled driver would take the bishop to all these parishes.

The sled driver was not Christian and didn't particularly like Christians. The bishop, after they'd gotten to know one another a little bit, asked him, "Why do you have a problem with Christians?" and he said, "Well, because whenever they do something wrong they go to the priest and he forgives them, and they can go and do the same thing over again." And the bishop, of course, realized he had a lot of work to do in that area among his own flock, in addition to bringing Christ to the other people.

The reason I mention Zacchaeus being the completion of the sacrament of confession is that in confession, we receive the forgiveness of God, but the completion—if we come to confession, if we confess something, if we truly are repentant, then part of the process is making things right if we have done something wrong to someone else. And Zacchaeus, when Christ came into his house, responded to this great gift, went and put things right. He said, "If I have defrauded anyone, I give back four-fold." So not only did he do things right, but he went over and above what the Law would have required him to do, and he fulfilled the law of love.

May we always carry with us the message of this morning's gospel lesson. May we learn from this man who was small of stature, but with great heart. And may we always, in love, serve one another and give glory to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.