Sunday of Zacchaeus Sermon by Fr. Don Freude – Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fr. Don Freude's Sermon from the Sunday of Zacchaeus - Annual Parish Meeting on Sunday, January 29, 2012 Today, January 29, 2012, is the Sunday of  Zacchaeus, and the Sunday designated for our Annual Parish Meeting.  Zacchaeus Sunday traditionally announces the coming of Great Lent.  As we approach Great Lent, we are given an opportunity to reflect, to return as the Prodigal Son to the bosom of God our Father and in so doing become reconciled to one another. zacchaeus iconThis year the Christmas cycle overlaps this announcement of Great Lent with the Feast of the Meeting our Lord in the Temple 40 days after His birth celebrated this week on February 2. The Sunday of our Annual Parish Meeting also gives us an opportunity to reflect on how well we have responded to the mission we have been given by our Lord: to establish the Kingdom of God on earth and to live out the words we repeat so often in the Lord’s Prayer – Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven - In the recent newscasts of this week, the name of the actress Demi More has been brought to our attention by her present health situation. What caught my ear was her statement about her life that “maybe in the end she will realize that she is unlovable.”  What a tragic thought that the meaning of her life seemingly was rooted solely in her as she viewed her value and her worth! But the truth of life and its meaning goes far beyond ourselves. We are born out of love and we will die into love, that every part of our being is deeply rooted in love, and that nothing can separate us from this love of God, as the apostle Paul stated so beautifully: “I am certain of this (says Paul): neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence, and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8:38-39) What does the Church continually and consistently bring before our minds, our hearts and our souls? It includes very often things that we do not like to deal with and we do not want to hear or put under the scrutiny of self-examination. Often we go off on our own, following our own ideas, enacting our own plans.  In short, in so doing, it is all about us and not about our Lord Jesus.   And I submit to you that those uncomfortable situations within our families and our Parish Family are a result of it all being about us and not about our Lord, His love for us and our love for Him and our love for one another. Zacchaeus, in today’s Gospel, was man of great internal conflicts.  He knew that his own people did not like him.  Maybe, like Demi More, he was thinking about himself as unlovable. He was a troubled man, spiritually.  Despite his wealth and station in life, he felt an emptiness in his soul, and he may have felt the pangs of conscience for his sins. There was a deep desire in him to make right all his wrongs. The people saw his sins and condemned him; the Lord Jesus saw beyond the sins, He saw the deep hunger of his heart, and He consoled him. Jesus saw him with the eyes of compassion and His Great Mercy.  We can picture Zacchaeus looking down from the tree and seeing the eyes of Jesus – the eyes of  Mercy looking back at him. Imagine his surprise when Jesus stopped right under the sycamore tree where probably he was hiding under the leaves.  But there is no hiding from God.  “Zacchaeus!” Jesus called.  The publican was amazed to learn that Jesus knew his name.  Yes, Christ knew all about him, as He knows all about us.  What a lesson it is to realize that our Savior and our God is a Lord Who knows us by our names!  What a comfort this is.  The theme song of the TV show “Cheers” ( now re-runs) calls the bar named “Cheers” a place where everybody knows your name. With God, he knew us before we were born while we were being knitted in our mother’s womb.  He knows us at every moment of our life, every time He forgives us, every time we partake of His Body and Blood, He knows the number of hairs on our head, and He knows us by name when He calls us into Paradise. “Zacchaeus,” Jesus said as He look up into the tree, “hurry up and come down, for today I must abide in your house.” Opportunity was knocking at Zacchaeus’ door.  The chance had come. He came down quickly and joyfully welcomed Christ into his home and given the opportunity in Christ’s Presence,  he came to grips about himself and how he too was a son of Abraham – a beloved son of God. Each of us at any given moment can claim the deeper spiritual truth of who we are, even while everything around us suggests otherwise In moments of crisis, it is not ideologies or theories that guide us, but our primary stories.  True stories help make us capable of love and sacrifice and light up the path to the Kingdom of God.  False stories condemn us to nothingness and disconnection.  Much depends on our story foundation. If the stories we live by are false – such as we are unlovable - our foundations rot and we sink.  Jesus is the true story for each of us  – that we are beloved sons and daughters – we are loveable; and as a Parish Family that we are the beloved Body of Christ that gathers at St. Elia We must be storytellers.  By telling and living the true story of our Lord, we can prepare the rich soil for God so that He can send others to us to love and become sojourners with us to the Kingdom of God. God the Father gave us the best He had – He gave His Beloved Son, Jesus our Lord. If we believe that we are beloved before we were born, and will be beloved after we die, we can realize our mission in life.  We are sent into this world to be a people of reconciliation.  We are sent to teach and to heal, to break down the walls that divide people into different categories of value. Out of that essential unity we can live and proclaim the truth that every human being belongs to God’s heart, which beats from eternity to eternity.The mystery of God’s love is that when you know in your heart that you are chosen and blessed, you also know that others are chosen and blessed, and you cannot do other than embrace all humanity as God’s beloved. We see at times the bumper sticker that says: “I am spending my children’s inheritance.” We too have an inheritance that we are here and now the beloved sons and daughters of God.  We need to spend our inheritance NOW. We need to live life acknowledging and recognizing at every moment that we are loveable.  Love is the most important and only treasure that we take with us from this world. Precisely as we confront life and death in all its many facets, we can finally say to God: “I love, you, too.” There is a tradition in the Church that Zacchaeus, after his conversion, became a bishop and served the Lord faithfully in the Holy Land.  Another story speaks of his tender care for that sycamore tree where he first met Christ.  He loved that place that brought him salvation. May we today dedicate ourselves to keep God’s blessings upon this Church.  May we love this place where many, children and adults, will be brought to be born again in the waters of Baptism and sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit through the Oil of Chrism, where we shall be fed the Bread of Life, where we shall hear Jesus teach us from the pages of the Holy Gospel, where couples love will be brought into the  Kingdom Crowned in Holy Matrimony, where we will be absolved of our sins in Holy Confession and thereby be reconciled to the Church and to God, and through whose doors we, God’s beloved, shall one day be carried and led by the angels to the portals of eternity – into Paradise.  Amen