Rarely have I spoken on any subject on which I have considered myself such an expert. Little things must be at the top of my knowledge base. I’ve often said that the part of heaven for which I look forward the most is never having to have something out of reach ever again. The tallest shelves – no problem! Today’s lesson deals with “little things”. We visit Jericho, near Jerusalem to find a person known as “a wee little man”. I’m sure you remember the song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he…” The elements of his story are simple and straightforward. A hated tax collector, hears about the visit of the Messiah through his town. Royalty of that sort usually looked down on someone like him thinking him to be nothing but a crook (which he was). The parade route was packed (naturally), making any view of Jesus impossible for someone his size so he did the next best thing, he climbed a tree from which to view the festivities. Imagine how his heart must have skipped a beat when Jesus eyed him in the tree, then made his way over, then had the audacity to speak to Zacchaeus (something no decent citizen did willingly). Unbelievably Jesus invited himself home to have lunch with Zacchaeus! We know that story like we know the back of our hand but maybe it’s been a while since we reflected what, if anything, this strange tale has anything at all to do with us. After all when the tax man cometh, we certainly don’t think of breaking open the coffee cake in his honor.
Perhaps we can find a couple of lessons worth writing in our hearts to take home with us today. The first was taught be this strange, unlikely hero of sorts and here it is – Zacchaeus isn’t really a small man who does something big, rather he is a big man who does something small. Think about it. Have you ever arrived late to a parade? All the front row seats are taken. People line the streets and those with toddlers have them stuck on their shoulders. Who can see over or around that kind of obstruction! Even Lebron James would be no match for a dad holding a toddler at a parade. But whether Zacchaeus was 5’3” or 5’11”, the reason he was shielded from the festivities was because of people who hated him and thought he had no business being on the same street as one so characterized by love and generosity. Perhaps you could identify with Zacchaeus – to constantly feel slighted by others – to be belittled by people who think you have no business in the same social circle as yourself. How do you capture a corner of acceptance? Maybe like Zacchaeus you find a place where there aren’t any barriers between you and the love and acceptance that you and I need. It seems that life stays busy with our repeated attempts to work through and around the barricades keeping us from the love that we so desperately seek. Of course Zacchaeus was no saint himself. Although his name means “pure” or “righteous”, he was far from either of those characterizations. He was certainly no bastion of integrity or honesty. In fact the hatred he generated from the crowd was in some way merited by the scandalous overcollection of the people’s taxes. In modern language, Zacchaeus had painted himself into an anti-relationship corner, had built a wall between himself and others to the degree that he needed something drastic to break out of the hopeless life he now lived. Catching sight of Jesus might just spur him out of the chasm that he now found himself in. Sometimes all you need is one small new act to break the negative patterns in which we find ourselves. Climb the tree…see the man and go home. Surely that’s all he expected.
What small acts have changed your life? Jackson Brown has achieved fame by writing small books that have captured the significance of the Little Things. The first, entitled Life’s Little Instruction Book contain over 1000 bits of advice that he put into his son’s hand as his son left for college. He suggests “Always leave the toilet in the down position, Never give anyone a fruitcake, When moving a piano, don’t reach for the stool first, Never refuse homemade brownies. Even so often, go where you can hear a screen door slam shut. Do you think Jackson Brown learned the simple but valuable lesson that Zacchaeus learned – that the small acts are the ones that really count? Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day which derives from the men and women canonized by the Catholic church as persons who in the church’s estimation have embodied the good news of this life of faith. In other words, they have either the ability or the commitment to do the important things in life. St. Terese of Lisieux was a Carmelite nun who died prematurely at the age of 24 from tuberculosis. She wrote in her book “the Story of the Soul”, (published two years after her death) “One best serves God by his/her own willingness to follow what she called (the Little Way) doing what one could do in a given set of circumstances with an utmost love for God. She never expected to be a saint but she would say to you and me, “To be a saint stop waiting for more time…for the perfect moment…for enough money or power…for better health or for the perfect circumstances because none of those things will be likely to come about.
The stories of saints in our day raises for our consideration person after person who like Zacchaeus grasped the opportunity of the moment in doing something small but profoundly significant. And is that not the promise of the Master of Small Things who says, “In so much as you have done these acts of kindness to the little ones – the least of these – you have done them for me. As Zacchaeus climbed the tree that day, he did so as a statement of his determination and his desperation that somehow the deep chasm of his life might be made whole. In the process Christ got a meal and Zacchaeus learned what it was to give back what he had taken. He later became the Bishop of Caesarea as his life came to be influenced forever by seemingly minor thing he did that day on the Jericho Road. We are called to be the saints who do the small things. Pray. Write a letter. Make the call. Tell him you appreciate him. Invite her to church. Take her out to eat. Apologize. Give back what you took. Thank them. Believe it or not we have a few saints around here who have lived their life among you – doing their things you might not have noticed – but over the years have added up considerably.
Will and Nan Rose came to us in April – 63 years ago. In no time Will became Church Treasurer – serving 6 years, then Chair of Finance Committee, Sesquicentennial Committee, Christian Education, Scout Leader, Presbytery Commissioner, Elder. But the entire Rose family applied their gifts, Nan as organist, in Youth Fellowship and Women’s Association among others and Cindy ordained as a deacon for the year’s 70-72.
But the oldest member of our church (at least the one who has been a member longer than any other at First Presbyterian Connersville, is Bob Hurst who joined on July 1, 1930. 15 years later, Margaret joined and she tried us out 8 months before she said “I do” to Bob. So combined Bob and Margaret Hurst have been members of this church 151 years. Bob served as an elder when the church dealt with a situation in which Rev. Aelick was the subject of undue criticism. The Session report from July 1970 addressed it when it said, “The situation in church should be corrected. The attitude toward the minister should be improved. The Staff Relations committee feels that We have a fine pastor. The church is expecting more than one man can accomplish and members should carry their full share of the load. A Christian spirit of love and compassion is lacking. The report was moved by Chair of Staff Relations Committee – Fritz Claerbout and 2nd by Robert Hurst. That next year, (1971) that same committee moved the hiring of Robert Swope as Choir Director on January 1, 1971 (Claerbout moved the report and Hurst made the 2nd,)
Roger and Ellen Doty moved to Connersville and became members in 1966. Ellen served on Session. Roger was in on the discussion about remodeling the basement in 1968 in which it the advantages to remodeling were that the church school would have more space, more
pleasant surroundings could be enjoyed, a suspended ceiling would provide necessary lighting and the Mariners could do the work. But the called Session meeting in June, 1974 described the flooded basement with a damage of at least 3K. The General Assembly letter about the Vietnam War, the Open Housing problem which denied blacks affordable and appropriate housing and the Memorial for Dr. King, held at Central Christian were all addressed.
At the time perhaps small things in their own right, but looking back each saint who has served often did the small thing with really significant results. One of my favorite prayers, a blessing, was offered for a church (perhaps at the close of worship) that says, “Now to Him who by the Power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than might ever ask or imagine.” What a powerful prayer and yet the other half of the secret which makes this sainthood thing work – a power and strength at work behind – within – sometimes in spite of us. The prayer before the pinnacle of his prayer talks about being strengthened within, being rooted and grounded, and to be in touch with enough knowledge as well. These things were promised to a church – weak, finite, questionable at times, but still the family of faith. One more admonition in Jackson Browne’s book says, “Love someone who doesn’t deserve it.” Thus is the motivation behind it all – none of us really deserve it. God’s love that is. But it’s there. And it’s significant. And it’s real, And it’s powerful beyond all measure. The tiny piece of bread and this small cup that we are about to receive are the little things but they symbolize a big, big love that none of us deserve. Oh when the saints, go marching in..oh, when the saints go marching in…Oh Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in, oh, when the saints go marching in. They’ll be doing the little things – one at a time. Thank you St. Zacchaeus for showing us their importance.