Can you get to that?

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The Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 26
October 30th, 2016
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

All week I have been hearing a chorus reverberating in my head, and I want to share it with you all today.

Now, I’m not sure how this is going to work, because we don’t have the background vocals or instrumentation to help us out.

But, I’m pretty sure that if we all give it a shot, we can make this work up in here.

The song is Can you get to that, from Funkadelic, and the chorus goes like this.

“Can you get…I wanna know…I wanna know if you can get to that.”

Now I know we are going to have to practice this a bit, so get ready.

I’ll ask you “Can you get to that?”

And you sing in your best 1970’s funk voices, “Can… you… get…I wanna know…I wanna know if you can get to that?”

Now, I’m gonna bring the mic around because I want you to add the bass voice “I wanna know” to this phrase.

Oh people, if you came to church today and you are feeling shy, you are out of luck!

Don’t be bashful, just throw out your best and deepest offering, and I promise the Lord will make it right.

“Can you get to that?”

[Practice chorus as many times as necessary]

Well, now I think we can get to this sermon in a new way.

You may be asking yourself “Why this chorus today” and why I’ve subjected you to such silliness.

It’s not just because I think this Funkadelic song is boss and can help lift the spirit, but because there is something in its lyrics that touches on our Gospel reading today.

Here is the first verse from the song:

“I once had a life, or rather, life had me
I was one among many or at least I seemed to be
Well, I read an old quotation in a book just yesterday
Said “Gonna reap just what you sow
The debts you make you have to pay.”
Can you get to that?”

That was your cue people!

Can you get to that?

Ok, so today we hear the story of Zaccheus, the diminutive tax collector from Jericho that met Jesus and saw his entire life turn around.

There is so much going on in this story.

In fact it is one of my favorite in the entire gospel of Luke.

Part of it has to do with Zaccheus’ transformation. He is a tax collector, a sinner and a collaborator with the Roman oppressors who has gained wealth and position upon the backs of his fellow Jews.

His desire to pay back whatever he has defrauded four fold is about Zaccheus being free from the unjust profits that he gained through extortion, and about his desire to be restored to the community and God.

Jesus comes into his city and even though he knows that Zaccheus is a social pariah, he also is aware that within this man is a sincere desire for transformation.

How about you? Do you have a sincere desire for transformation, even if it means your life will be different as a result?

“Can you get to that?”

Zaccheus will not let his present circumstances stand in the way of his desire to encounter the Christ.

Knowing that because of his stature and because he was just “one among many,” he climbed the tree in order to see Jesus and be seen by him.

I have stood on the street corner in Jericho where the tree Zaccheus climbed may well have grown.

There is a bend in the road there and in the distance rises the mountain of Temptation, the place where the church remembers Jesus being tempted by Satan in the Judean wilderness.

From that vantage point, Jesus’ difficult triumph over the temptations to worldly power and kingship would have stood as a symbolic reminder to the temptations Zaccheus was facing down as he climbed the sycamore tree.

Both the mountain and the tree encouraged ascent from the normal responses that Zaccheus had lived to that point and represented a will to reach toward a higher goal.

Do you know what it is like to have to reach beyond your current circumstances in order to accept the calling to a new life?

Have you felt the need to climb up from where you are in order to see and be seen by God?

Can you get to that?

In the end of the story, Jesus says that he is coming to stay in Zaccheus’ house… the ultimate sign of acceptance and forgiveness.

The Pharisees and other religious power brokers of Jesus’ day constantly chided him for eating with sinners, and for associating with unclean people like prostitutes and lepers.

It is one of the reasons Jesus was so despised by the religious authorities of his day…he meddled with their system that assigned outcast status to those who were considered unclean and unworthy of God’s grace.

Zaccheus was just one more among many who came into contact with Jesus and found freedom from the categories that had defined them.

Instead of his role as the horrible, wealthy tax collector, Zaccheus was called a child of Abraham, a descendent of the promise of his people.

His fortunes have been changed.

In the past it was material wealth which dictated his fortune…now it was sharing in the eternal heritage and hope of his people.

Restored to community…freed to live.

Maybe poorer by worldly standards, but fully on the way to storing up treasures for himself in heaven.

Sometimes I imagine the change that might have come over Zaccheus’ face after his encounter with Jesus.

A furrowed brow is replaced by smile lines.

Sorrow gives way to joy.

There really is no way to measure the power of such a complete transformation.

But all of us are called to such transformation.

We may not be as notorious a sinner as Zaccheus, nor as short in stature, but nevertheless we are called to seek out the Christ, to accept his invitation to come stay in our house, and to be changed as a result of our encounter with him.

Zaccheus’ story is a microcosm of the story of all believers, maybe just set starkly so that we can clearly observe and replicate it in our own lives.

Each of us are faced with a mountain of temptations to live in a way that keeps us separate from our fellow community members…that keeps us comfortable, but not necessarily satisfied, and the question we all must face is whether we are willing to rise up from that and seek the life that God offers us in Jesus Christ…or not.

Only you know what the obstacles you need to overcome are…only you can decide what the details of repentance and restoration should be.

But all of us are called to be children of the promise, to be descendants of Abraham, to be in right relationship with our neighbors and the God who created us.

What will it take to get you to the point of such transformation?

What obstacles prevent you from fully encountering Jesus, and from moving beyond the temptations to live a lesser life than the one to which you have been called?

What’s keeping you from the fullness of life that scripture and the community of faith promises and points toward?

Whatever it is, today is a day in which you can let it go.

Today is a day in which you can make a new start and begin a new life.

Today is your chance to be restored and reborn through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Can you get to that?

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