Do you worry, I wonder, about promises?
Promises you made and couldn’t keep?
Promises that have been made to you and broken?
Promises that maybe, you are feeling pulled to make, or that you have made, but that you worry about being able to honor?
I do. As I think about, I realize I worry about it quite a bit. I tend to hold onto the pain of promises that were made to me and then cast aside. When I let them, which is quite often, these broken promises shape my ability to trust and to hope.
And I worry about promises I want to make to others, my children. Big promises and small ones.
“I’ll pick you up at 4” even that can stress me out on days I find myself running from appointment to appointment trying to get everything done.
Or “Love wins.” I don’t know about you but that’s a promise I really want to stake everything on, but it’s harder to hold on to in the midst of such hate filled and divided politics. Or as we try to find solutions to increased homelessness and hunger, or as we watch those with less power dishonored and pushed aside, sometimes subtly, sometime brutally, by the more powerful. Just when will love win? What does that look like? How do we promise a better future for our young people amidst climate change, and amidst war and rumors of war.
Thankfully, the love of God and the vision of God for us does not depend upon our promises.
They are like leaves in the wind next to the love of God.
Next to God’s vision of salvation that remains steady and unwavering.
It was this love and this vision that Jesus brought to Zacchaeus. He saw him there out on that limb, anxious to get a glimpse of this Jesus phenomenon. Who knows what propelled him there. Curiosity, maybe. Quite an extravagant act, though, for someone just curious. Yearning, perhaps. Yearning for something Jesus could offer. I wonder if it was hope. Hope for something different. Had he maybe heard of this Jesus who welcomes tax collectors. People like him. A section of community shunned, look down upon. Was it for a glimpse of someone who saw people like him as valuable in his own right, a child of God, worthwhile. Was he looking for someone who could perhaps bring him the security that he hadn’t found in the broken promises of his accumulated wealth.
Well, whether or not that was what he was looking for, it is what he found. Jesus sees Zacchaeus. This wee little man out on a limb. Jesus calls him by name and he says I am coming to your house today Zacchaeus. I am entering into the place where you live and we’ll be together there today, Zacchaeus. You are good enough for me, Zacchaeus.
Now this noticing sets something powerful into play for Zacchaeus and what does he start doing? He starts making promises. I’ll give half of my possession to the poor, he says. If anyone can find that I have defrauded anyone I will repay 4 times as much. Pretty grand promises.
Now I don’t know about you but there have been many times when I have been overcome by some truth and I’ll start making promises. Something I’ve seen or heard will connect with something I know to be right and good. Maybe in a really good sermon, (it’s gotta be really good though) or in the story of the good work of someone else and the difference they are making in the world, or it’ll be when I witness an injustice that I know deep in my bones is just wrong. Heck sometimes it’s even in a good movie where the hero shows me a better way – a way that I want. Yup, that’s it, I’ll say to myself, I am giving away more. I am going to do more. I am going to do something to help. I was just on my phone the other day in fact. Ready to text a donation, moved by the story of folks standing for justice in North Dakota when I decided hmmm…I will just wait. Check it out a bit more. Maybe this website is a scam. I should probably read some more back ground on the story. Fleeting thoughts of dozens of other worthy causes went through my mind. Thoughts if I could afford a donation niggled at me. Needless to say, I put the phone down. For sure those are all worthy considerations and I should give the them all some thought but I haven’t. I haven’t yet picked that little phone that connects me to everything I need to research my various questions or make good on my intention to give something to help in some concrete way. The promised passed, I moved on until the next time some truth over comes me.
And so I wonder, as life went on and Jesus carried on his way did Zacchaeus follow through? Then I realize that while that’s a very good question it’s really not the point. Not of this story. The point is that salvation came today, in that moment, to Zacchaeus’ house and he had everything he needed in that moment to be well. He was named and seen as a human being worthy of connection with the creator of the universe and worthy of love. And salvation, wholeness, everything we need to be well comes is here for us, in every moment, if we can remember in every moment that we simply belong to God, unconditionally loved, forgiven, claimed, and through that God to we belong to each other.
Could this story of Zacchaeus, be a reminder to be present to the God who loves us right now, in this minute. And could it be a reminder to be like Jesus present to our neighbors loving them right now for all they are. Could it actually, maybe be a call to move away from grand promises and more towards noticing and being with each other in the here and now.
As I was thinking about all of this yesterday about being present to the my neighbor and who they are and what they need over getting consumed by the broken promises of yesterday and what I think the future needs, I was struck by a piece by Kelly Hayes. Hayes writes for a website called Truthout and various other publications and yesterday she wrote a piece on the stand of the Sioux tribes at Standing Rock in North Dakota. What she sought to do was give some space to the thoughts of some folks who are members of the Sioux tribe and who are there at the camp in North Dakota, out on a limb, hoping they might be seen and heard.
“We are not simply here,” they said, “when you see us. We have been struggling for survival since America was first colonized and we deserve to survive.” This is not just about your desire to prevent climate change these folks said to those who would come alongside. Of course, that is so very important and we share deeply your concerns. “But please acknowledge that this pipeline was redirected from an area where it was most likely to impact white people [towards our sacred lands and under our water supply without even conversation with us - the people of the land]. Please don’t just retweet or comment when there is a concrete connection to your own issues [and what you want for the future]. Our friends, allies and accomplices should be alongside us because they value our humanity and right to live in addition to whatever else they believe.”
The story, the words and the needs of a people who have borne the brunt of broken promises over the centuries. The words of a people asking to be seen and heard in the here and now as much by their allies as anyone else. A plea to not make this about the promises we want to make to future generations but to see them. See them for who they are. Worthy, beloved children of the creator of the universe.
If these stories have anything to say for today I wonder if they might be asking us to put aside our own heartbreak over promises broken, to resist prioritizing our own agenda for the future, and to honor and listen to our neighbor. I wonder if they might be asking us to learn from the past but to forgive what needs to be forgiven in ourselves and to ask for what needs to be forgiven by the other. I wonder if they might be telling us that as we really listen and trust in God’s vision for God’s people as a community deeply connected to each other we will find we want the same things, we really do. We are people of the same creator who each need to feel secure and worthwhile. Might they be asking us to rely on the minute-by-minute love of God as we move in daily loving actions, seeing and hearing each other, working for common needs, towards God’s shalom – a community where all are loved, and included.
So be our Vision, Lord of our heart,
Nothing else but your way,
Be our best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, be our presence, our light