Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Lifts Us Up

Text used – Luke 18:31-19:10

  • I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio this week, and Kerri Miller was having a discussion with Christian author Anne Lamott.
    • (If you’re not familiar with Lamott): born- again Christian, recovering addict (35 yrs. sober), prolific writer → 19 books (a few fiction, most non-fiction) – some of the most recognizable:
      • Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers[1]
      • Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith[2]
      • Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy[3]
    • Lamott’s conversation with Kerri Miller[4] was inspired by her newest book – Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage[5] – and was a discussion that revolved around redemption and forgiveness and courage when it’s hard. It truly was a beautiful and fascinating discussion. If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to visit the MPR website archives and listen to it. It’s Kerri Miller’s program from Tues., Mar. 16.
    • Part of the discussion toward the end of the hour was about grace – Lamott’s description of grace was both so amusing and so captivating that I’ve been thinking about it all week long → She said grace was like spiritual WD-40 – the grease that gets our stuck places unstuck, that loosens the knotted-up parts of our relationships, our souls, our very selves.
      • Scripture this morning is full of knotted-up people in need of the grace of God to lift them up → 3 different, distinct sections
        • Jesus trying to talk to the disciples about what is coming
        • Jesus’ encounter with the blind man
        • Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, the tax collector
  • First encounter = disciples all knotted-up, stuck in their inability to understand – text = Jesus trying to explain to the disciples what is coming (namely: arrest, torture, death, resurrection)
    • 3rd and final time Jesus tries to clue the disciples in on what is coming
      • Other two times occur in ch. 9[6]
      • None of these times are Jesus being subtle → Jesus, who we all know can be a little vague and enigmatic sometimes (some of those parables can be a little rough!), is very clear and direct in this discussion with the disciples. – Gr. = abundantly clear in lots of ways[7]
        • Right off the bat, Jesus draws attention to the importance of what he’s saying – “Look!” = idou → This is that little Greek word that gets used as an attention getter. When it’s uttered, the hearer (or reader) is supposed to pay special attention to what comes after because it’s important. Really important. Really, really And what follows Jesus’ utterance of this word? “Look … [PAUSE] … we’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything written about the Human One by the prophets will be accomplished.”
        • BUT, just in case that direct statement wasn’t clear enough, Jesus spells it out even more explicitly for them: “He will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be ridiculed, mistreated, and spit on. After torturing him, they will kill him. On the third day, he will rise up.” → Gr. in this passage is loaded
          • Gr. “handed over” has implications of personal involvement, not just some nameless, faceless Roman official coming to get him → Jesus is hinting that someone – someone close to them, close to him – will be involved in his betrayal.
          • Gr. “mistreated” includes layer of meaning that involves harming someone to the point of loss (particularly reputation/honor) with clear implications of violence and abuse
          • Gr. “tortured” comes from word for the device used to flog prisoners and criminals – a whip with leather strips that had bits of metal imbedded in them to inflict maximum pain and damage
          • And of course, Jesus finishes this description with something that’s clear in any language. – text: “They will kill him.” → Period.
    • Now, I don’t think we can blame the disciples for not cottoning onto that last bit – “On the third day, he will rise up” – because the implications of that are mind-blowing. But with the rest of it, Jesus is clear! And yet … text: But the Twelve understood none of these words. The meaning of the message was hidden from them and they didn’t grasp what he was saying.
      • Gr. makes it clear that the disciples were lost when it came to putting everything together → They just couldn’t make what Jesus was saying to them make sense. They couldn’t fathom it. They were stuck – knotted-up in their own unawareness and naiveté, in need of God’s grace to loosen the ignorance that kept them bound so they could be lifted up in knowledge and understanding.
  • 2nd encounter and 3rd encounter sort of mirror opposites of each other
    • Both involve individuals previously unknown to Jesus who were stuck in difficult situations
    • Both require Jesus’ attention and God’s grace to release them and lift them up out of those difficult situations
    • But those involved in these other two encounters go about things in very different ways.
      • Quick story review
        • 2nd encounter: Jesus coming into Jericho on his way to Jerusalem → blind man begging by the side of the road hears a commotion → asks the crowd what’s happening → finds out Jesus is passing through and cries out to Jesus for help → crowd attempts to shush the blind man but he cries out again: “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!”[8] → Jesus stops and asks the man what he wants Jesus to do for him → man says, “Lord, I want to see.”[9] → Jesus declares that man’s faith has healed him → man’s sight is restored → begins to follow Jesus
        • 3rd encounter: Jesus on his way out of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem → enter Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector (text: “a ruler among tax collectors”[10]) → heard Jesus was coming but couldn’t see over the crowd → runs ahead and climbs up a sycamore tree to see Jesus better → Jesus passes by the tree and looks up to see Zacchaeus perched there → Jesus addresses Zacchaeus: “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay at your home today.”[11] → thrilled, Zacchaeus climbs down → crowd grumbles because Zacchaeus is a tax collector (“Who does Jesus think he is, associating with that kind?”) → Zacchaeus has a revelation/conversion moment right there on the road and pledges to not only give away half his possession to the poor but also repay anyone he’s cheated fourfold → Jesus declares that today, salvation belongs to Zacchaeus, too
    • As I said, these two encounters provide a really interesting mirror of each other, so let’s dig a little deeper into the differences and similarities here.
      • Encounters bookend Jesus’ short time in Jericho → Nothing in the text tells us that Jesus spent any great amount of time in Jericho. As far as we can tell, he’s literally passing through the town. Yet as he both enters the town (2nd encounter) and leaves the town (3rd encounter), Jesus has these formative interactions with two different people, leaving both of their lives profoundly changed.
        • Grace on the fly → sometimes the experience of grace takes a lot of time and effort to fully acknowledge and understand BUT sometimes it comes upon us and lifts us up when we’re least expecting it
      • 2nd encounter = blind man sitting by the side of the road begging, relying on the charity of others for his very survival – a man with nothing → 3rd encounter = Zacchaeus, chief tax collector (read: Jew acting as Roman stooge) which makes him incredibly rich
      • 2nd encounter = blind man sitting in the dirt on the road – about as far down as you can get (socially and physically) → 3rd encounter = Zacchaeus up in the tree, climbing higher (literally and figuratively – “up” in his surroundings and “up” in social structure)
        • Reminds us again (and again and again and again) that God’s grace is grace for all
          • All backgrounds
          • All types
          • All circumstances
          • All situations
          • God’s grace is able to find us wherever we are. No matter what.
      • Then we come to a similarity: 2nd encounter = man cannot see → 3rd encounter = man cannot see
        • Both the blind man and Zacchaeus need help to experience what’s going on around them
          • Blind man has to rely on others (has to ask the crowd what’s happening)
          • Zacchaeus relies on himself (climbing a tree to gain sight)
          • Either way, both of the men in these encounters cannot fully comprehend what’s happening around them on their own. They need help.
      • 2nd encounter = blind man cries out to Jesus, not once but twice – intentionally engages, seeking out Jesus’ attention and assistance → 3rd encounter = Zacchaeus passively observing in the tree – Jesus has to seek him out (Jesus sees Zacchaeus, Jesus addresses Zacchaeus, Jesus even invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house)
        • Reminds us that there are many different ways to approach Jesus → Sometimes we recognize our own stuck situations, our own knotted-up souls, our own need for grace. And we cry out to God! But sometimes, we are so entangled in what’s happening that we don’t even see our own need. Either way, Jesus finds us in our need.
      • Another similarity: 2nd encounter = crowd grumbles about the blind man associating with Jesus → 3rd encounter = crowd grumbles about Zacchaeus associating with Jesus
        • Text: When the man heard the crowd passing by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus the Nazarene is passing by.” The blind man shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy.” Those leading the procession scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy.”[12]
        • Text: When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus. Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”[13]
        • Interesting: one of those grumbles is directed at the man himself (2nd encounter) while the other is actually directed at Jesus (3rd encounter) → But in neither case does the judgment and prejudice of the crowd deter Jesus’ offer of grace. It is not the world around us that deems us worthy of grace. It is Jesus and Jesus alone.
      • Final fascinating connection pt. btwn these 2 stories = both similarity and difference: 2nd encounter = man’s life is changed … but by his own faith → 3rd encounter = man’s life is changed … but by Jesus’ faith in him
        • In both encounters, Jesus leaves the man he interacts with profoundly changed. The blind man comes away from his meeting with Jesus with his sight restored. Profoundly changed. Zacchaeus, after being in Jesus’ presence for only a few moments, pledges to not only give away half his possession but to make extravagant restitution with anyone he’s cheated in the past. Profoundly changed. Both men walk away from their encounters with Jesus into a life wholly and undeniably different than the life they were living only hours before. In the second encounter, the blind man had faith enough in Christ to call out to him, to beg him for healing, to believe wholeheartedly that Jesus had the ability to grant that healing. And he did. But for Zacchaeus, Jesus had to see that faith within him before Zacchaeus was even aware of it himself. And he did.
          • Last line of our Scripture this morning: The Human One came to seek and save the lost.[14]
            • Reminder that there are many states of lostness
            • Reminder that there are many states of seeking
            • Reminder that Jesus is there in the midst of all of it, offering God’s grace to lift us up whenever we are ready to accept it
              • No matter who.
              • No matter what.
              • No matter where.
              • No matter how.
              • Saving is saving, no matter the circumstances of our encounter with Christ. Jesus lifts us up. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Anne Lamott. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayer. (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 2012.

[2] Anne Lamott. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. (New York, NY: Pantheon Books), 1999.

[3] Anne Lamott. Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 2017.

[4] https://www.mprnews.org/episode/2021/03/15/anne-lamott-on-the-hard-work-of-forgiveness-and-renewal.

[5] Anne Lamott. Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage. (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 2021.

[6] Lk 9:21-22, 43-45.

[7] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/luke-1831-1910/.

[8] Lk 18:38.

[9] Lk 18:41.

[10] Lk 19:2.

[11] Lk 19:5.

[12] Lk 18:36-39 (emphasis added).

[13] Lk 19:5-7 (emphasis added).

[14] Lk 19:10.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Lifts Us Up

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Who Comes | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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