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  • Father George

All Saints (using Proper 26)

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

There is a really wonderful picture in your bulletin that my wife took of a door leading into Holy Trinity, Stratford upon Avon in the UK. I use it this week as we discuss the connection between changing location in our faith journey and walking through open doors. Baptism is an open door that leads us into faith, into communal relationship with each other, and an intentional answer “yes” to the call of God on our lives. It is an open door that leads us to the Crucified and Risen Christ we seek and find in the Eucharist each week. Today is the Feast of All Saints, one of the five pivotal days each year for us to celebrate Baptisms and all the community of saints in which we squarely fall.

Now, you may be wondering what Baptism and Open Doors have to do with Luke’s story of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus. Suffice it to say that embracing Baptism and walking through the doors that God in Christ leaves open to us – open to closer encounter with Him and our neighbor - is very much what changing our spiritual location in relation to our faith journey means. Baptism also means that we belong to each other, by virtue of that Baptism, and nothing should stand in the way of our brother/sisterhood, nor is any way truly blocked where we long to come to God. Our life with God is as simple – and as difficult - as us walking through a door that God himself has opened for us.

Zacchaeus went up a tree, the Gospel tells us, to get a better view of Jesus, as he passed through Jericho. He was short, you see, and not only in stature. He was short-sighted, living and going it alone, not living in community, nor worshiping amongst friends. He was a despised person because he was working with the Romans, as a collector of taxes, and he extorted the people, on top of it. So, he was a pariah, one who is alone because of his own choices in life. But all of us know what it means to feel cut off from community by walls of silence, shame, anger, prejudice, resentment – doors that are closed because of our own choices or because of the choices of another. Regardless, we can feel closed off from relationships and from community, encountering locked doors at every turn.

Perhaps some of you have seen the film, The Apostle, starring the resplendent and deep-well-of-an-actor, Robert Duvall. It follows a deeply flawed preacher who is also now on the run. Yet, even though he is in a small town in Louisiana, a new identity, he cannot help but be a preacher. He begins a small church community that is very integrated: black folks and white folks worshipping together in a tiny space, praising God.

One evening a man comes in. He is welcomed by the pastor and congregants. However, he quickly takes exception to the fact that whites and blacks are worshipping together and he begins to hurl racial epithets. The preacher has a becomes angry – he has a bit of a temper, part of why he is on the run in the first place – and asks the man to leave. The man refuses, so the preacher takes him, as we said when I was a boy, “out to the woodshed.” The two men go out into a field beside the church and begin to fist–fight, with the preacher laying a pretty good whipping to the other man. The bewildered churchgoers stand on the porch, in the dark, with one saying, “Lord, I’ve never seen a preacher hit a man like that!” It is a form of evangelism I have not, myself, yet attempted.

The following afternoon, while the church is assembled outside for a picnic, the man returns. He is driving a large tractor and declares he is going to destroy the little church. The preacher places a Bible in front of the tractor and says, “You won’t run over this Bible. I know you won’t.” The man gets down to move the Bible; he cannot bring himself to run over it. The preacher kneels beside the man and begins to speak words of love, redemption, and acceptance and the man’s anger dissolves and he begins to cry. In this story of redemption, a bitter racist, alone and isolated, finds community. He chooses, falteringly, grudgingly even, to walk through the open door of God’s grace manifested through the acceptance of a forgiving community. He has changed his location from a place where he cannot see our Lord Jesus, to a place where, maybe, one day, he will be able to.

Baptism is that open door for Christian community. We find ourselves isolated and alone but when we come to God, asking to belong, needing to turn to grace, God washes us, anoints us, blesses us and says, “Come home. You are home. This is what love looks like.” Zacchaeus walked through that door as he climbs up that tree. He changes his vision of who he understands God to be; that is what changing our location signifies. He wants to get closer, to draw nearer, and his willingness to walk through the door causes God in Christ to say, “Come down, Zacchaeus, I will eat at your house today.” The community may not be ready to forgive the tax collector quite yet but he is ready to be transformed and to walk into a new future with Jesus at the center of it.

Baptism not only washes and cleanses us it marks us, claims us as Christ’s own, and seals us with the Holy Spirit’s attendant presence for all time. No matter where we go or what we do, we belong eternally to God which is reinforced each and every time we remember our Baptism. So, Baptism vaults us into community, through the open door of God’s love. Eucharist, which follows, then reminds us that we continue to need God’s redemptive grace and blessing, known in Christ death and resurrection, even after Baptism has brought us through the door. {I commend these two gentlemen for the courage and faith to seek closer union with Christ and to know that no matter where they go, they are always a part of something saving; part of a community of the Baptized. Jesus has come to eat at their house – at our house – and stays over for good.

Finally, part of our calling as baptized community is to lift each other up. Community is at the heart of who God in Christ calls us to be; not alone, not an island, but a group of people willing to hold each other in prayer, in relationship, love and fellowship, and calling us back when we fall away. There is no test for entry into this community, only a willingness and desire to belong; the courage to choose the way of a Savior who sets the bar of love fairly high. He calls us to dine with him and His hospitality never fails. Remember your baptism, this day, and what it means: we are saved, we are loved, and we are called to turn away from that which does not give life and to belong to each other as surely as we belong to Almighty God. We are the community of saints characterized by a location changed from one of isolation to one of community in Christ.

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