By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

Luke 19:7

Catholic spiritual writer Edward Hays recounts a story from the desert where a young man goes to visit a wise hermit.  He finds the monk sitting outside his cave, enjoying the sun, his dog laying lazily at his side.  The seeker asks, “Why is it, Abba, that some who seek God come to the desert and are zealous in prayer, but leave after a year or so, while others, like you, remain faithful to the quest for a lifetime?”

The old man responds, “One day my dog and I were sitting here quietly in the sun, as we are now.  Suddenly, a large white rabbit ran across in front of us.  Well, my dog jumped up, barking loudly, and took off after that big rabbit.  He chased the rabbit over the hills with a passion.  Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking.  What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking across the creek, up stony embankments, and through thickets and thorns!  Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase.  Only my dog continued to hotly pursue the white rabbit.”

Confused, the young man asks, “What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?”

The hermit replies, “Why didn’t the other dogs continue the chase?  They had not seen the rabbit.”  They were only attracted by the barking of the dog.  But once you see the rabbit, you will never give up the chase.  Once our heart’s eye has seen God, if only for a moment, with “the eyes of our heart enlightened,” (Eph. 1:18) – we are drawn to seek God forever. (Pamela Cooper-White FOTW C.4.244; Edward Hays, In Pursuit of the Great White Rabbit: Reflections on a Practical Spirituality (1990), 10-11).  How do we remain faithful in this world?  When you have seen God act in your life, you are always going to be called to find God again.

In the next four weeks, we are studying how we should be the church as we await the coming of Christ.  This last part of the church year, the four weeks before Advent, we reflect on the period of waiting for the second coming, as the apostles did for all their lives after Jesus ascended into Heaven after the first Easter and as the church still does today.  We are still waiting for the day of Judgement when Jesus will return and all will be made right in the world.  And we are, of course, told that we will not know the day or the hour that this will be.  Yet here we are, called to continue the church that Jesus and Peter and Paul left us with, so that our lives could be enriched with the blessing of the Lord.

As we wait for the inevitable, it will be difficult to continue the chase if we have not actually seen the rabbit.  Thus, my advice to you is, Seek the rabbit.  Seek the opportunities to see God in our midst.  God is all around us, but we will not see God if we are not looking.  Do not just wait for the Lord to come to you; seek the Lord.

Seek the Lord, as Zacchaeus sought the Lord.  He could not see the Lord because of the crowds, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree so that he might be able to view him.  Luke 19:4 tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.”  Jesus probably saw him because of the earnest way that he was seeking.  He probably saw the joy on his face when he was able to catch a glimpse of Jesus.  Maybe this story will inspire you to start practicing climbing trees in case Jesus comes this way.  But if not that, use his example.  Do you do everything that is in your power to see Jesus?  And when you do see Jesus in your midst, when you talk about Jesus to others, do you experience joy?  Do you experience a happiness that is greater than any other when you think of our Creator and Savior?  This is how Zacchaeus felt.  All of a sudden, when Jesus recognized him, he lost the joy that he found in his money and wanted to give it away to right his previous wrongs, as he had cheated many in his profession of being a chief tax collector.  Instead, he found joy in giving to those in need.  He took an about face. 

We cannot blame the disgruntled audience who mumbled, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7).  We can see that he was not a good guy at heart, at least originally.  Being a chief tax collector, he supervised the capital gain that tax collectors were known to take for themselves.  He was the rich man who was made rich by making everyone else poor.  Everyone knew he was rich and why he was rich, so no one liked him.  This is why they don’t like the fact that Jesus chose to stay at his house.  But in doing so, Jesus sends a very important message.  Jesus has come for the sinners – for those who need to be saved.  Jesus is not necessarily here for those who are already pious and truthful.  Luke 19:10 concludes this story aptly: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  Ask yourself this:  Are you Zacchaeus, who knows he was in the wrong and goes all in to seeking God and trying to fix his wrongs, or are you the crowd, who dissociates from those who have done wrong?  Would you be upset if Jesus came back and chose to preach at a prison rather than the church?  What if Jesus spent the night with that guy no one has heard from in years?  Would we question his decision?

As we develop our identity as the Church, with a capital C, we must seek out the rabbit – God, we must exhibit joy when we experience our breakthrough with God, and we should create a welcoming place for the lost.  When hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees were flooding into our borders, many churches elected to temporarily house some of them until organizations could help find more permanent solutions.  This is welcoming the lost.  When the Transformation Life Center opened as a homeless shelter in Tiffin this past winter, they were – and are – making a commitment to help the lost, who have hit a hard moment in their lives.  When a stranger sits down with a homeless man on the street, just to talk, that is making the lost feel welcome.  Part of being the church is loving someone even if they are different, whether they are at a different point of life, are down on their luck, or not even sure where they are going.  They are people too, after all.  I enjoy staying connected with my non-religious friends.  For one, it challenges me.  Second, it keeps my eyes open to their perspective.  And finally, it gives me a chance to love someone.  As a church, we are called to embrace diversity.  We embrace diversity when we are willing to welcome all, whether they be of a different belief, whether they have done more bad things than you, and even whether they are as open to others as you.  If someone walked into the church who does not look like us, or act like us, I would hope that we would give them the same greeting we would give anybody else.  If Jesus can invite Zacchaeus into his family, we also can invite in someone like Zacchaeus.  Church is a challenge because Jesus Christ will not let us choose with whom we will be church.  Assembling sinners, and only sinners, is bound to assemble a sometimes hard-to-get-along-crowd.  Society today has taught us that someone different could be someone dangerous.  Yet, where fear grips our hearts, let love prevail.

In Second Thessalonians, the author recognizes that the people in the church of Thessalonica are doing a good job growing the identity of the church.  He notes three specific traits that were important in this early church: First, “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing,” second, “your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions” is to be boasted of, and third, “We always pray for you” (2 Thess. 1:3, 4, 11).  It does not matter what the others are saying; we want to increase our love for one another and be able to persist in our faith.  We want to be able to have the strength to never give up chasing the rabbit.  Those who were being persecuted, and still are in many countries today – may we pray for them – are able to persist in their faith because they have seen the Lord act in their lives.  But despite that, no matter how strong we may feel, we still need people praying for us on our behalf.  Paul models this very well through what he says in this letter.  Pray for one another.

‘Words from a prayer declare, “As fear grips our country, let us choose love.” It is love’s power that can REFORM hatred into care and compassion. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to change our ways by the working of the God’s Spirit in us, RE-FORMED into the image of Christ as persons of love through us in word and deed. Never forget that we are part of God’s family, accepted by God, RE-FORMED through God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. REFORMATION is in every moment of life. BLESSINGS ALWAYS.’ (Dan Busch, Association Minister, NWOA).  May all honor and glory be to God! Thanks be to God! Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
1:3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
1:4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.
2:3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1:3 We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.
1:4 Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.
1:11 To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith,
1:12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Luke 19:1-10
19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it.
19:2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.
19:3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.
19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
19:5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
19:6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
19:7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
19:8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
19:9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.
19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

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