On Searching and Being Found
October 30, 2022
Isaiah 1: 10-13, 16-20
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.” Then Jesus said to him, “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.”
Today’s sermon is titled, On Searching and Being Found.
Can you remember a time when you were searching for one thing, like car keys or a book you can’t remember if you loaned out or not and, while searching for the lost thing, you stumble across other things you had forgotten about, things that you weren’t even looking for in the first place? Just this morning, one of my kids was turning the house upside down looking for one specific pair of pants and in the course of looking, they managed to find the water bottle they had been looking for and the missing match for a favorite pair of socks before, finally, finding the pants. Isn’t this the way life goes? We set out searching, sometimes searching for big things like a career or a partner, sometimes searching for even bigger things like fulfillment, forgiveness, or peace, and in our searching we find all manner of other things and people we didn’t think we were searching for. Did we find them, or did they find us?
I have four stories to share today about searching, finding and being found. The first two come from the scriptures we heard this morning. I especially appreciate the admonitions of the prophet Isaiah, warning the Hebrew people that God has “had enough of burnt offerings…what to me is your multitude of sacrifices?” The people are trying to do the right thing by bringing their sacrifices, they are seeking to honor God and to seek God’s blessing, but the prophet Isaiah is seeing that the sacrifices are too often an empty gesture, a simple fulfillment of a requirement. What about the sacrifice of your love, your time, your attention, and your care for one another? If you’re seeking God’s blessing, Isaiah says, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” The prophet Isaiah is telling his people it is not through burnt offerings that you will be blessed. It is in caring for others that you will be blessed; it is in serving others that you will find God…and the grace of God will find you. Listen again to the final passage of the reading, “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are red like crimson, they shall become like wool; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.” The people searched for God, Isaiah guided them in how to find God through serving others, and through serving others, the grace and forgiveness of God is experienced.
We see the same pattern in the story from Luke about the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus. We learned last week why the tax collectors were despised, mistrusted, and ostracized from the core of community life. Zacchaeus was the Chief tax collector. He was the one who fronted money to the occupying Roman government and then instructed his underlings to collect all the taxes they could. The profits would be divided, so you can see the incentive for grift and corruption. But Zacchaeus is not like the tax collector we met last week who would not even lift his head in the temple. Zacchaeus is not too shy to make a spectacle of himself by climbing a tree in order to get a look at Jesus. Imagine the shock of the crowd when Jesus, spying Zacchaeus in the tree, announces he will go and stay at the home of Zacchaeus.
I have heard this story my entire life, but no one has ever revealed an important grammatical point that significantly changes the narrative. I have always been taught that because Jesus honored Zacchaeus by going to his home, Zacchaeus repented and made promises to be honest and generous. We read that he says, “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.” It is written in the future tense…I will give to the poor, I will pay back four times as much. The oldest version, written in Greek, does not use the future tense in the first phrase (half of my possessions I will give to the poor) the present tense is used. “Half of my possessions I give to the poor” is the correct translation of the Greek word didōmi, (did-O-me), meaning “to give.” The second part of the sentence, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” is accurately translated because the Greek word apodidōmi is used, carrying the future tense “will give.” Zacchaeus is not asking for forgiveness from Jesus. What Jesus is offering Zacchaeus is public acknowledgment of his worthiness. Jesus called Zacchaeus “a son of Abraham” reminding the people, “he is one of you.” Jesus offers Zacchaeus the chance to publicly set the story straight, with Jesus as his witness. I like to think that Zacchaeus was welcomed back into the community and restored to a fuller life because of this encounter. Zacchaeus was searching, willing to climb a tree to find what he sought, and he found more than he could have ever hoped for because Jesus found him, and, I suspect, changed his life forevermore.
Sometimes even when we aren’t searching, or when we are searching in other places, God still finds us. Consider the life story of Paul Kingsnorth. He chronicles his spiritual path in an award-winning essay entitled “The Cross and the Machine.”* The essay was chosen by David Brooks for the 2021 Sidney Award. [There is a link to the essay printed in the bulletin today if you wish to read it.] The author of the essay, Paul Kingsnorth, recounts his childhood years in the church and his intentional and adamant departure from Christianity. He practiced zen buddhism for many years and then, unfulfilled, he entered the Wiccan coven and went to church in the deep woods by moonlight. At first he loved it. It was exciting and different and he says he felt “at home.” Then he began having dreams, dreams of Jesus. I really hope you will read the essay because I haven’t the time to relay all the details. Suffice it to say that in searching for anything but Christ, Paul Kingsnorth found many other things and then Christ found him.
The final story I want to share is my own. Like the previous gentleman, I was churched from the very beginning of my life. In my late teens, when a new minister made it clear that“unbelievers” and, in particular, “homosexuals” were not welcomed in church, I knew then that the church was off the rails and I wanted nothing to do with it. I searched far and wide for another path. For ten years, I would not say the word “God” or “Jesus.” Then, in my late 20’s, while reading a book about an Indian saint named Neem Karoli, I read a story that radically changed my life.** The Indian saint instructed his western devotees to “meditate like Christ.” The westerners had no idea what he meant. Finally, a moment came when they could ask Neem Karoli, “How did Christ meditate?” It seemed as if Neem Karoli was about to say something, but then he closed his eyes and became very still “as if the earth had stopped moving.” After a few minutes, two tears fell down his cheek. He opened his eyes and answered their question. “He lost himself in love. Christ lost himself in love. That’s how he meditated. He lost himself in love. He was one with all beings. He didn’t die…no one understands. He lost himself in love.” When I read those words, I knew I had been found. I had been found in the most unlikely place. Jesus found me at the feet of an Indian saint. You might think I ended up where I started and in a sense that is true, but I had found so much, learned so much, in my searching and I was finally ready to be found.I was finally ready to lose myself in the biggest love of all, the love that is God.
In closing, I lift up and honor that we have all been found. You might think, “Have I been found, really?” To that I say, “Friend, you could be anywhere, doing anything, and yet, you are here.” I say to you, “Welcome home.” Amen.
Lord of all things, we find ourselves in tumultuous times. Your presence is often difficult to sense among the news headlines, and yet Your Presence is in us and among us in ways we can not comprehend. We pray for a heightened awareness of how we may be instruments of your goodness and your peace. Remind us to set our judgements aside, and to search for the Godspark in one another and in every circumstance. Help us to still our bodies and minds so that we can be found by your holy presence. Spark our memories, that we may be reminded of the power of prayer, as we pray for ourselves, and as we pray for our sisters and brothers around the world. In many languages, and in many foreign lands today, your children are praying this prayer that Jesus gave us so long ago…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from the book of Ephesians, chapter 3:
May you “be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, in order that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God…Amen.