I ask a further question. For those who have not seen, how did they come to believe? They came to believe because they were a part of a real community like this one at Willow Glen. Maybe they didn't see Jesus' face, but they saw yours. They came to church wanting to experience the resurrection for themselves, and they experienced you. And it wasn't as much of a let-down as you think! In you, they encountered love they can see, grace they can hear (how sweet that sound!), and authenticity they can touch. My friends, there is no app for that. You can't put it on your iPhone, because it's not software. It's soulware. And neither Apple nor Samsung owns the patent.
But I was really put to the test one communion Sunday. I started the Eucharistic prayer and then looked down into the chalice. As I was saying, "This is the blood of the new covenant," I was wondering why the liquid in the cup was dark brown. Now, if there were ever a time I wished I were a Catholic and believed in transubstantiation, this was the time.
Because as science continues to break through, some old distinctions are beginning to break down. That radical separation between life and death, between survival and extinction, is beginning to blur. And so, could it be that, in this incredible new world we live in, the resurrection is looking more believable every day?
But, whatever cloak we wear, it’s just the outside of us. In some sense it covers up who we really are. If we want to be authentic with Jesus, we’re going to have to shed our cloaks. If we want to be in the Jesus parade, we have to give up whatever it is that labels us in order to follow the one who loves us. Think of all the cloaks we wear that keep folks from seeing who we really are, keep us from being who we really are. Today, I want us to imagine laying down those cloaks in order to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem.
All this man needs is to hear his name, "Zacchaeus," and the charge: "hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today!" That's all it takes. Zacchaeus comes down. Zacchaeus stands up. Zacchaeus hands over half of his wealth. Now, can you imagine anyone being so desperate for acknowledgment, so thirsty for acceptance, so hungry for love, that they will give anything, they will give everything to hear Jesus call their name? You don't know anyone that desperate? Look in the mirror. Who do you see there? I thought so.
I wrote this hymn poem when I couldn't find any hymns in our hymnal that went with the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. I sang this song to introduce our lay witness in worship, Peggy Schlosser.
I could have written that sermon for you this morning, but I didn't. I The Spirit must have wanted me to write a poem instead, because that's what got written. It's a poem about how I once ran away and how God found me anyway. Now seminary may seem like a strange place to run from God, but at the time it felt as if the Spirit were driving me into a wilderness called seminary. In those years I was preparing for ministry, I'd never been so hungry. My faith had never been so tested. Let me tell you about that time. I hope you'll pardon the rhyme.
We have all we need. We're ready, and the Word for today is the story of Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness. But it doesn't start out with the devil. Notice that it starts out with the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit that leads Jesus into the wilderness. In the Gospel of Mark, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. So here's the first lesson: if you find yourself in a spiritual wasteland, don't think that God has nothing to do with your being there. The question to ask is this: "What does God want me to learn while I'm here?"
Jesus knew they would do this. That's why he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown." Jesus knew that he couldn't go home because in a real sense, Nazareth was no longer his home. The mental wall that had secured their identity had become a wall of bigotry. And it was bigotry that was holding the people on both sides of the wall in captivity. As far as Jesus could see, breaching that wall was the only way to bring them liberty.
So you see, salvation has never been only about what's going on between the individual soul and God. Salvation has always included what's going on with society and God. John Wesley said that Christianity is essentially a social religion. To make it a solitary one is to destroy it. ["Sermon on the Mount, IV" Part I.1.] That's why Wesley worked so hard to save souls and, at the same time, to end slavery. That's why he preached out of doors and collected blankets for prisoners of war. That's why the Methodist Church, always known for its emphasis on personal salvation, was the first church to write a Social Creed (1908). Because Jesus deliberately chose this text for what we might call his inaugural address, because he chose this passage in Isaiah to define his ministry, we Methodists use it to define ours.