Can you believe it’s only 2 months until Christmas?! I don’t say that to stress you out, but rather to highlight how fast this year has gone by. Sacred Place officially this past summer on June 9, so we’ve already been worshiping together for 20 weeks. I’ve already shared how our mission in San Dimas was fulfilled and how that launched us into a search for where God was calling us next, but I wanted to talk a little bit about how exactly we figured that out.
Yes it was about focusing on whom we were called to serve first and foremost, but I think it started for many of us with our individual experiences. This past Sunday, our reading was from Luke 19: the story of Zacchaeus. You know, the wee little man who climbed up in a sycamore tree because the Lord he wanted to see? I don’t think we talk enough about who Zacchaeus was. He was a tax collector, but I think most of us doesn’t have any idea of what exactly that meant in 1st century Israel.
The reality for Zacchaeus and his people was one of oppression and occupation by the Roman Empire. The reason Zacchaeus was a guy who was not well-liked lies in his physical representation of Roman occupation. As a tax collector, he collected taxes for Caesar, the one who ruled over them. One who was not their people. Zacchaeus was the very hand of oppression of his own people.
While we may not be very fond of the IRS in our modern context, we cannot claim to be oppressed by taxes in the same way. So our image of a tax collector does not quite invoke Zacchaeus’ reality. It’s a bit hard for me to find our equivalent.
Oppression is something the marginalized are familiar with however, those we talked about building with in episode 2. It is usually those who have privilege because of our gender, the color of our skin, or fitting in line with heteronormativity who look like the oppressor. For most, this isn’t a conscious effort to oppress, the oppression present in our society is systemic. Socioeconomic structures are often designed to maintain the status quo, which works for those who are already in power and further oppresses those who are not. Any attempts to change that structure create the current political climate in this country. Those who say that our normalized ways of oppressing people have to change are seen as threats, and those who feel like they stand to loose something if justice is realized in our world respond in ways to ramp up fear and hate. I won’t name any names, but it’s something we see every day just by turning on the news.
Yet the wealthy oppressor is exactly who Jesus decides to spend time with. Not the hundreds maybe even thousands of people who are vying for his attention who would consider themselves more worthy, more righteous. It’s the one who is filled with passion for building something different. We see Zacchaeus’ desire to act differently, in a way that truly subverts culture and Empire, by donating half of his proceeds and repaying 4x what he has cheated others out of. The way in which Jesus responds is the most powerful to me. He says “today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He reminds whoever might be listening that Zacchaeus is one of them, and his return from being lost is a reason to celebrate. Jesus is effectively restoring his status as one of the people.
I know for me, and for the other people who have chosen to build Sacred Place Untied Church, our lives have been transformed in this way. We have experienced oppression and often being the oppressor even while calling ourselves Christians. We have sought to create a place where those who have been oppressed by the Christian Empire might find a place of refuge and healing. For empires are structures created by humankind and serve to give us power that really only should belong to our God. And in our repentance, in our transformation, we have found a passion for building a different Church, a different world, where God’s justice reigns supreme.
This work of dismantling empires and building the Kingdom of God is not easy, yet it is the call of justice we must answer as Christians. It’s the kind of Justice which Jesus sought to create and instilled in people like Zacchaeus. This is why justice is is so important to us in the United Church of Christ and at Sacred Place. For us, the very act of creating sacred places is that work of justice, of building God’s Kingdom. It’s one of the most important ways we respond to God’s call on our lives.
It is a daunting task. But we know we are not alone. There are others committed to this work of God’s justice even within the Church. Those are the kind of people with whom we want to build. Our job is to find those people and invite them work with us, here in person, and in our connected faith family across the world. May our work be bold, and may God’s Kingdom be built here and everywhere, for this is your Sacred Place.