The Politics of Salvation and other Misnomers about Worship

Habakkuk 1:1 – 2:4
Psalm 32
Luke 19:1-10

Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine

 

19:1 “He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 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.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: In your Son you seek out and save the lost, O God, and you invite us to the banquet of your eternal home. Visit us, and all your people with the joy of salvation that we may rejoice in the riches of your forgiveness and reach out in welcome to share your love with others. Amen.

 

Well we are in the home stretch.  Little more than a week until the election and all I have to say on that topic is please do your part and vote.  I have heard it said more than once that the Bible was not political, that Jesus was not political, that Church is not political and that worship is not political.  It may be because we believe in the separation of church and state or it may be because the Bible isn’t written for Democrats or Republicans.  Pastors and churches are not to use their pulpits to endorse a political candidate or party or else we could lose our tax exempt status. So, please hear me, I am not endorsing any candidate or party, but I would like to point out that the Bible, Jesus, Church and worship are political.  Let me explain.

 

Our Gospel reading for today is hugely political, because Jesus went to eat with a tax collector.  Zacchaeus, is a traitor to the faith of Israel since he was a representative of the powerful Roman government.  Zacchaeus was not only a wealthy tax collector but he was also a cheat who was despised by the community.  The only way for a Roman tax collector get wealthy was by extortion and embezzlement.   By taking advantage of the elderly, by exploiting the working poor, and by taking care of his cronies.  There’s an unspoken assumption of corruption here.  Zacchaeus was a bad man.  Religion ruled that sinners are punished and only the good or the righteous are saved.

 

Yet, it is this reviled little man who is publically claimed by Jesus and declared a child of Abraham, a beloved child of God, and a recipient of God’s salvation.  This was all a bitter pill for the townsfolk to swallow.  They had to wonder: what kind of so-called Messiah would even acknowledge, much less eat with the most notorious sinner in town?  Luke says they began to “murmur,” to “mutter” “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”  Talk about political.  Here was a traitor, a representative of the powerful Roman government and Jesus welcomes him into the Kingdom of heaven.  Jesus was making a statement — a powerful statement which did not sit well with the status quo.

 

In addition to this Gospel reading, today is also Reformation Sunday, the Sunday we celebrate Martin Luther and his immensely political act of defiance of the Catholic Church and its rules.  We celebrate the rich history of the birth of the Protestant Church and we look forward to the new thing that God is doing to as God continues to reform the church.  Religion, in the age of Luther, ruled that God was holy and God demanded goodness from people and ruled by fear.  The main point of Martin Luther’s Reformation was the recognition that the church was worshiping the wrong God.  Martin Luther was taught to see and fear a God of holiness and justice, a God who was demanding and vengeful. Luther, apparently personally agonized because he knew that he was not worthy or righteous enough for God, when he finally realized that righteousness wasn’t what God was about.  Rather, God was gracious and loving and righteousness was the gift God gave to us.  The God Luther expected ruled by fear; instead the God Luther met through prayer and study and in the person Jesus was all about love.  So, Luther taught that Jesus did not die to make God forgiving no instead Christ died to show us how forgiving God already is. [1]

 

Luther’s ideas might not sound so radical to us since we hear it every week in worship, but what Luther was saying was radical and dangerous.  He was making a powerful statement when he nailed his 95 thesis to the Church door in Wittenberg, Germany stating all the things he thought were wrong with the church. Talk about political.

 

As part of our Reformation Celebration we are joined by the drums and bagpipes of the Cincinnati Caledonian Bagpipe and Drum Corps.  In case you don’t know, The Kirkin of the Tartans or calling of the Clans to the church was an enormously political act in Scotland.  In order to control the Scots, the British Parliament passed a law that prohibited the Scots from carrying arms and from wearing kilts or tartan which represented their rich Scottish heritage.  The British troops were ordered to kill any person dressed in or displaying the tartan.  So, the stubborn Scots rebelled by secretly carrying a piece of their tartan with them when went to the Kirk (Church).  The Scottish ministers then offered a special blessing (a Kirkin’) into the worship service for the tartans.  The Scottish people living under British domination seeking freedom from oppression by taking a subversive stand against the dominate British Culture.  Talk about political.

 

Being political, taking a stance, standing up for what you believe is risky. Jesus took a tremendous risk by eating with tax-collectors and sinners.  At the heart of this Gospel story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, is Jesus breaking down barriers and overcoming obstacles. He declares that even Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector despised by his neighbors, is loved by God, and a recipient of God’s salvation.

 

Martin Luther was making a tremendous stance against the church of his day.  He dared to raise a new way of worshiping and believing in God, was willing to say publicly that maybe the Church was wrong about God that God was not vengeful but loving, forgiving and grace filled. Not the angry, punitive, authoritarian the Church taught.

 

So what do we do with all these radical messages of this Sunday?

From Jesus

From Martin Luther

From the stubborn Scots

 

We recognize our own sinfulness, our own humanness.

We recognize that there are times that we too might have God all wrong.

We leave room for seeing God in a new way,

We leave space for reforming to continue,

We welcome conversations and engage with others who see things a bit differently from us and in the end we take a stand and a risk to follow the God of love, grace and mercy for the rest of our lives.  Talk about political.

 

Let us pray:

 

[1] The Reverend Dr. David Lose

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