Nice to see you!

Luke 18.31-42

Luke 19.1-10

 

The King James Version of the bible has many faults. But the one I enjoyed most, as a small boy, was the direct translation from Latin of the tax-collector as a publican. The mental image of some poor bartender polishing glasses up a tree amused me no end.

 

But the Latin word ‘publicani’ meant either to be contractor of public works or farmer of the Roman taxes. This confirmed that Zacchaeus was sub-contracted to collect customs duties and other taxes in his neighbourhood.

 

Now history tells us that he would have won this lucrative franchise from the Roman authorities at auction. Once that was done, he only had to collect dues at least to value of his up-front payment. In essence, his purchase price was treated as a loan to the Romans.

 

However, the danger was that the taxes collected would be less than had already been paid out. So, these collectors weren’t inclined to leniency. More to the point, anything he made on the side was his to keep. As a result, tax farmers would have lived a very good life with temptation for corruption never far away. Unsurprisingly too, these revenue men were pretty universally loathed.  So we can imagine him singing the old pop song – let’s make loads of money.

 

 

Therefore, Zacchaeus’ conversion to the side of good was not just to be welcomed it was a miracle. No wonder his change of heart would have been not just a matter of rejoicing, it would have been greeted with astonishment. For he was now singing another Pet Shop Boys’ hit:

 

When I look back upon my life
It’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common, too

It’s a sin

 

What a great sight Zacchaeus now has of himself!

 

It was if he was the blind man, in the first lesson, who wanted to see and had his sight restored by Jesus.

 

But that regained insight begs the questions – what are people not seeing today and why are they not seeing?

 

Certainly, the disciples could not see. They could not see the reason for our Lord’s passion. To them this talk of insult, injury and death were an anathema. This just wasn’t the way the script should be played out. Thus, we read – the meaning was hidden from them.

 

Yet here I suspect the gospel writer was being rather charitable. Since they probably were hid the meaning from themselves. For none of us willingly hear bad news. All of us what purely good news. All of us wants lazy ways. All of us want simple answers.

 

Therefore, in these troubled times, if we are not to fall into the same blinding trap, we need to start where the blind man was. We need to cry out to the Son of David with an open heart. We need to rush with expectation. We need to shout out – I do want to see. Because that is the only way to grasp the future as Christ sees it – the future not just of passion but also resurrection. That is the only way to face a future of pain as well as joy through God’s support and encouragement. For that indeed is the only way to run towards a saving vision with all the vigour of Zacchaeus, all the abandon of Zacchaeus and all the contrition of Zacchaeus.

 

Yet why not remain comfortable in the easy and simple solutions so readily on offer?

 

Why take the trouble to be persistent in seeking the Lord’s saving power?

 

Why be cured of our deluding blindness?

 

Well those questions have is a least one clear and honest answer. For it is through Christ alone will we be free of fear of the real future that awaiting us.

 

Shokoi Yokoi spent 28 years in a prison. Not a prison of walls, but a prison of fear. When the tide in World War II began to turn, Shokoi was a Japanese soldier on the island of Guam. Fearing that defeat meant certain capture and death at the hands of the American forces, Shokoi ran into the jungle and hid in a cave. He later learned that the war was over by reading one of the thousands of leaflets that were dropped into the jungle by American planes. But he still feared being taken prisoner, so he remained in his cave.
For over a quarter century, he came out only at night. He existed on frogs, rats, roaches, and mangoes. A few years back, some hunters discovered him and it was only after they sent to Japan for his aged commander to come and talk with him that they could convince him that it was safe to come out and return home.
Twenty-eight years of living in a cave because he was afraid. Twenty-eight years lost because of fear. What a shame. How could a person be so foolish? How could a person be so imprisoned by fear? A life wasted because he was afraid to see reality. A life lost. And it is all too common…

 

Let us not approach this Easter looking for the undemanding and simplistic. Let us not be blind to our risky future ahead. Yet us not also be imprisoned by fear. For the Son of David is listening. He is watching. Moreover, he is beckoning. Because this is the season of him coming to stay and stay for good. This is the season of his rising to restore glorious sight. This is the season of his merciful salvation.

 

And so, we need not say –‘ Goodbye, we miss you already’ we need only say ‘Hello – it’s nice to see you!’

 

 

 

Deep Pool of Peace

With Easter rapidly approaching, I found myself wondering what is the difference between it and Christmas. Of course, one is about birth and the other death and life eternal. But there is also a dissimilarity in atmosphere. For, whilst Christmas has been commercialised almost out of recognition, it seems that  Easter is less so. Maybe this season’s themes are just too deep to be trivialised by the advertisers.  Since the very nature of our Lord’s passion and resurrection beckons us into thinking through the big questions;  what is it ‘all about’ and  what am I ‘all about’?

 

Yet in this era of fake and real news, populist and reasoned politics, twitter feeds and texts we struggle just to stop the mind for just a few seconds. Indeed, we become uncomfortable nowadays without constant stimulation of our eyes and ears. And so we must be more disciplined, we must take charge of the situation and we must apply the ‘brakes’. Concisely, we need to get the Easter spirit.

 

Well that is all fine and dandy, in principle, but how we start?

 

The Renfrew born theologian, John Macquarrie once described God as a fathomless limpid pool with the visible universe the mere ripples on its surface.  It is that image’s profundity that invites us to close the doors, switch off the devices and press the pause button on life.  Then through the Easter story, let us submerge ourselves in the deepest meaning of God. Since that is the way to the truth and life of Christ risen. That is the way to find out what each of us is ‘all about’. That indeed is the entry point to our own Cross and our own resurrection.

 

May we find the spirit and its reward this Eastertide.

 

Lost and found

My grandfather was a keen photographer. And in those days nearly 60 years ago, equipment and materials were expensive. So, he was delighted when he received a gift of an Agfa camera when he retired from his employers – the department store of Copland & Lye’s in Glasgow.

 

You can also imagine his distress when on his annual trip on the train to Lairg, he left the precious gift behind. My mother relates trying to think how the family could afford to replace it when it was handed in further up the line.

 

Well, this family anecdote hopefully illustrates the keen concerns that the parables of the lost sheep and coin evoke. However, the parable of the lost son is the more emotional, the more heart rendering and the more meaningful. Why? Well, it deals with a lost person, a lost relative and a lost son. And can we imagine any more heart gripping tale than that type of loss?

 

Nevertheless, if we are not directly involved in any modern version of this tale, we can feel slightly detached. For when we hear of a son or daughter going off the rails, we can be dispassionate. When the TV news reports the loss of someone possibly categorised as ‘a bad lot’, we can think quietly – no great loss.  When the headlines castigate a newly convicted offender we rarely think that they are also a son and daughter, mother and father, wife or husband.

Perhaps then the first point of the parable is to remind about the parent mired in the distress of losing a child not to death but to a fate of their own making.

 

So, as we hear the anxious wait of the father waiting of prodigal son, we need imagine the agonised feels of parents dealing with problem children. With a new compassion inspired by our rethinking, let us be there to listen, to support and give affirmation in their tumult and uncertainty. Let us indeed just be there without judgement for them and them alone. For then we part of the God’s solution and not part of the world’s indifferent condemnation.

 

Now when we hear about the prodigal’s behaviour we are tempted to utter Captain Mainwaring’s immortal words – Stupid boy. For his tale of profligacy is so common as to be unremarkable. Yet Christ does remark on it. And he does so not from the outsiders point but from the viewpoint of a fallen angel. As result, we spy something of the human condition when in default. In fact, I often meet our own congregational members who are no longer Church hungry. And they invariably give a string of reasons for not joining us today. We ourselves know the feelings of guilt if we have not been along to a club, group or other activity we used to enjoy. Moreover, we also understand the embarrassment about going back. This sense then must be amplified in those who are estranged from their families. Put directly, they want to come home but don’t know how too. So, in this week ahead, let us pray for those who are split from a relationship that was once crucial. Let us bring to God’s attention those who have fallen out of our company. Let indeed actively seek to run towards those who need to come back with the welcome of the fatted calf. We might feel foolish in doing so – but be in no doubt, we will only be fools for God.

 

Now, I have been to church services which have included participants giving their testimony. These personal stories tend to have a common thread. For, rarely, will the individual say that before coming to faith they worked in an office, were keen members of their local bowling or golf club and mowed their lawn every Saturday. Instead, the witnesses always have lived a life of profligacy even debauchery prior to becoming Christian. My response to these tales have often been somewhat less than worthy. Since in my scepticism, I did not appreciate the genuine gratitude being expressed about the change Christ has made in the speaker’s life. More to the point, on such occasions, I have expressed a less than whole hearted thanks for a God who has outreached himself to catch me, hold me and uplift me.  Therefore, my response has mirrored that of the elder son.

 

Let us then in this time of reflection, feel less like that older brother. Let us re-examine our own reasons for being grateful. Let us count our blessings and they say three simple words without reservation – gee pa ta!

 

Yet rather like the elder son, we can still feel that our loyalty has been taken for granted. Why should I give thanks for the fruits of my hard work and diligence?

 

An old legend tells how a man once stumbled upon a great red barn after wandering for days in a forest in the dark. He was seeking refuge from the howling winds of a storm. He entered the barn and his eyes grew accustomed to the dark. To his astonishment, he discovered that this was the barn where the devil kept his storehouse of seeds. They were the seeds that were sown in the hearts of humans. The man became curious and lit a match. He began exploring the piles of bins of seeds round him. He couldn’t help but notice that the greatest majority of them said, “Seeds of Discouragement.”
About that time one of the devil’s helpers arrived to pick up a load of seeds. The man asked him, “Why the abundance of discouragement seeds?” The helper laughed and replied, “Because they are so effective and they take root so quickly.” “Do they grow everywhere?” the man asked. At that moment the devil’s helper became very sullen. He glared at the man and in disgust he said, “No. They never seem to grow in the heart of a grateful person.”

 

Let us then give thanks for our parental God’s indulgence and his Son’s companionship. For then we will have the divine encouragement to place an arm around the one who searches for one lost and estranged. For then we can have the courage to go out and bring back the lost sheep and coin of this wholesome community. For then we will ourselves be fully reconciled as not a servant but child of the merciful Lord who quietly says during the party of reunion – you are always with me and all that I have is yours. So now come along, give thanks and celebrate! For what was lost is now found.