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Who's a Saint?
We've had fun this fall introducing the various laypersons who gave their witness in the "I STEPPED UP" finance campaign. I started it by calling Ben Wilson a saint. Alice Fyten took exception to that, and wondered publicly if I had first consulted with Ben's wife, Jane. Gerry Hegel then called Ben our "resident saint." Actually, I called Ben a saint because he signs my pay check!
Who is a saint? Today is All Saints' Sunday, the Sunday following All Saints' Day which is November 1, preceded by the hallowed eve. Because saints in Roman Catholic tradition are all dead, the hallowed eve celebration became associated with ghosts, spirits, and the like. All Saints is an ancient tradition in the church when saints are honored and remembered.
But, the question still persists. Who's a saint? The Roman Catholic Church has developed a rigorous set of criteria by which they identify and name saints. Included in the criteria is 1) the person to be honored and initiated into sainthood must be dead; 2) the person must have performed miracles of some sort.
But, in our tradition, as with most of Protestantism, who is a saint? How many are here this morning? According to Webster's New World Dictionary, a saint is: 1. a holy person 2. a person who is exceptionally charitable, patient, etc.
In the Wesleyan tradition, we use words like perfection and sanctification; a saint has received the second blessing, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and is sanctified, set apart for holiness, a person who is growing closer day by day to God.
It is interesting that the lectionary--the suggested biblical readings for today--include the story of Zacchaeus. Are we to conclude that the people who select the Scripture readings are implying that Zacchaeus is a model of sainthood? It is an interesting speculation, and why not? Jesus praised Zacchaeus, and rejoiced by saying, "Today salvation has come to this house!" Who would have predicted that Zacchaeus would be a saint? Certainly not the townspeople. They murmured, said Luke. Can't you see them wagging their heads, whispering behind their hands, dumfounded that Jesus would want to stay with Zacchaeus! God is always turning things upside down. That is why the Christian faith is so exciting. There are always surprises. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, then Jesus does something unexpected.
Well, let's call Zacchaeus a saint, and realize that if Zacchaeus is a saint, anyone can be a saint. If Zacchaeus can make it, anyone can. Zacchaeus was rich, hated, a crook, and, as if that weren't enough, he was short! Isn't that great! Even short people can be saints. Our culture places such a premium on height; especially now that the interminable sport called basketball is beginning, short people tend to feel inferior. You've heard the definition of eternity? Eternity is like the NBA playoffs, only not as long!
Short people tend to feel self-conscious about their lack of height. When I was a short-term missionary, teaching in a junior and senior boys' high school in Nagoya, Japan, a visiting American athlete spoke to the school assembly. He was a tall, black basketball player. When he came into the room, he had to duck to get through the door. After the assembly, I talked to him and asked if he noticed the reaction of the boys. He had, and assumed they were commenting on his color. I said, "No, they were saying `Takai, na!' which means, `Man, is he tall!" The short Japanese boys hadn't even noticed his color.
Zacchaeus was short, so short he had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus over the heads of the crowd. When you visit Jericho, the tour guide will point out the sycamore tree Zacchaeus climbed! And, on our trip, we believed it, and we all took pictures too! Jesus noticed Zacchaeus in the tree and called, "Zacchaeus, come on down. I'll stay at your house today."
This act dumfounded the good citizens of Jericho. They all shook their heads and murmured, "Jesus has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." Jesus liked the riff-raff. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a hated and despised tax collector. Tax collectors were disliked in that day, even more than today, because they were collaborators with Rome, the conquerors. Not only did they collaborate with the hated Romans, but they added a substantial service charge on the tax bills, and pocketed it.
Zacchaeus did not have much to commend himself to the popularity polls, but Jesus noticed him and rejoiced in the salvation that came to Zacchaeus' house. If Zacchaeus can be a saint, anyone can, even you.Let's look in the delightful story for some criteria, some characteristics, of a saint. Of the many characteristics of a saint, I see three in the story of Zacchaeus.
First, Zacchaeus received Jesus. He heard Jesus' invitation. He responded to Jesus' invitation, and he welcomed Jesus into his home, and into his life. He welcomed Jesus into his value system, his beliefs, his life style. He opened the doors of his heart, the doors of his life to Jesus.
Anyone can be a saint, even you, when you receive Jesus. Have you received and welcomed Jesus? It is not enough just to hear the invitation, like receiving an invitation to a party and not going. Churches are filled with people who have heard and heard the gospel, but have never responded. They have heard the invitation to the party, but they've never gone. The joy is missing. The excitement is missing, because they never respond.
Jesus says to you, "I'd like to go home with you. I'd like to enter your value system. I'd like to influence your priorities. I'd like to dine with you, enjoy life with you. I'd like to bless you and your family. I'd like to be your friend. I'd like to help you with your problems. I'd like to enter your life!"
That's the invitation; it's a daily invitation, minute by minute. Have you received Jesus, or is he still standing on the Jericho road, looking up into the tree, waiting for your answer? Are you too busy to answer, too involved in whatever you're doing to invite him in? Or, are you afraid to let him in, knowing how Jesus upsets things? A saint receives and welcomes Jesus, constantly.
A second characteristic of sainthood: Jesus went home with Zacchaeus. Jesus entered his house. Jesus entered his life. Jesus touched him, and Zacchaeus was never again the same person. We sang earlier in the service, Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same. He touched me, O he touched me, and O the joy that floods my soul! Something happened, and now I know,he touched me and made me whole.A saint receives Jesus, and is touched by Jesus.
A third characteristic of sainthood: Zacchaeus had the willingness and the courage to make changes in his life. Zacchaeus repented and made restitution. Here is the step that keeps many of us from sainthood, and from a happy, fulfilled life. We look for the miracles. We look for Jesus to touch us, heal us, make us whole, make us happy. But, when it comes to keeping Jesus in our lives by making the necessary changes in order to become a disciple, a whole-hearted follower, a saved, sanctified, holy, filled with the Holy Spirit saint, we hesitate.
Zacchaeus made the changes. He changed his life style. He saw in Jesus a new way of living. He changed his life style. He cut it in half. He said, "I will give half of my goods to the poor. Half of what I have I will give to the poor. 50%!" Actually, he cut his standard of living more than 50% when the claims for four-fold restitution began coming in! He promised to pay back four times whatever he had obtained through fraud!
What Zacchaeus had been doing with his life was hoarding. He collected and collected and held on to much more than he needed. The buck stopped with Zacchaeus. He was rich...and miserable. Glendon Harris calls this phenomenon, the Greed-House Effect. When greed blocks the flow, debris, garbage, spoiled goods back up, and ruin a life. Both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are fed by the Jordan River, other streams and numerous springs. the Dead Sea has a daily intake of over six million tons from the Jordan alone. Yet nothing lives in the Dead Sea, where the salinity is four to six times as great as the ocean's. The Dead Sea keeps all the water it gets, and is dead--the greed-house effect. By contrast the Sea of Galilee's outflow supplies water for dozens of farming settlements, and a population is fed by the fish. One lake keeps, the other gives. One lake is dead, the other is fresh and alive.
Zacchaeus discovered through Jesus a new way of living. He cleared away the accumulated debris, and love, generosity flowed through him. He began to give. He gave to the poor. He gave to those he had cheated. He made restitution. He repented, changed, and Jesus rejoiced in the salvation that today had come to Zacchaeus' house. We are not given things to keep. We are caretakers, stewards, to let wealth flow through us to others. A saint receives Jesus, is touched by Jesus, and shares.
Zacchaeus had the courage to make significant changes in his life. A saint can handle change. A saint copes with change. Change is not only a fact of life today, but change is increasing in frequency. Look at technological change. By the time you buy a computers or a telephone, it is out of date. Look at social/political change. There are people in this room who in their lifetime have witnessed the rise and fall of nazism and communism. The Communist experiment is crumbling all over the world. The 1918 Communist revolution, the growth of communism as a world force and threat, and now the demise--all in one lifetime.
Even our church is not stable, but experiences constant change. Now, with the resignation of Ann Clausen, we have yet another staff change. Change is a fact. Change is frequent. A saint copes with change. A saint has the courage and patience to change with change. A saint is flexible, resilient, knowing that security is not found in a stable earth, or in accumulated resources, but in God.
Who's a saint? Anyone can be one, even you. A saint receives and welcomes Jesus into his/her life. A saint is touched by Jesus, and is never again the same. A saint has the courage and resilience to make the necessary changes in his/her life where he/she becomes a channel of God's love and blessing to everyone, not a dam but a channel. A saint receives, is touched, and changes. Anyone, even Zacchaeus, even you, can be a saint.
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris