Hiking to the Cross & Climbing Trees

Good morning, and thank you for being here. There’s a lot going on in your life, if it’s anything like ours, and it’s great that we all made the decision to gather here today. I want to thank Chuck and Joani for graciously inviting me to speak to you today about what the story of Zacchaeus means to me.

I’m going to start with a simple assumption. I bet everyone here considers themselves to be a busy – maybe an exceptionally busy – person. Many of us seek it out, trying to keep busy, others see no way around it, and still others wear it as a point of pride.

One thing I’ve been thinking about lately – actually ever since our Shrine Mont retreat in May – is how we are all just SO BUSY. It wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so few hours in the day –  GOD, why couldn’t there just have been 26 or 28 hours??? – or unlimited amounts of energy – Superfood diets anyone, or more coffee??? – but here we are, pulled in so many directions with only a limited amount we can give to our work, our personal relationships, family obligations, our roles as parents or members of the church, civic organizations, or charities, and more. 

OK, Adam, you may be thinking, “enough griping”. So here’s the question I’m really grappling with: While all of these things are really important sources of meaning and fulfillment, how can we keep from being caught up in the day to day and losing sight of the deeper reasons for why we spending our time and energy as we do?  

Why do we work hard at our jobs? Well, for the boss’s approval, or the promise of a promotion, or mostly just because it’s ingrained in us to do our best at what we do. Is that why?

Why do we get on our computers after dinner and zoom into PTA meetings, or Vestry meetings, or city council meetings? Certainly because of our dedication to the cause, but also maybe because we’re making good on a previous commitment or enjoy the socialization. Is that why?

Why do we spend hours on Halloween costumes (you know what I’m talking about), or harangue children to eat their vegetables, or try to send them to bed at some kind of reasonable hour? Probably just because we’ve told ourselves it’s important – yes, perhaps they’ll remember their 2022 Halloween costume – or honestly, maybe an early bedtime means we can finally catch the end of the game that we seem to keep missing. Is that why?

By my count, I’ve now done approximately 7,400 bedtimes over the past nine years since my oldest was born. I need to give credit to babysitters for a few of those, and if it weren’t for Peggy Conner and others who’ve watched our kids during the day, I’d have to add 2,190 naptimes to that list. It’s a staggering figure, and I know that someday I’ll wish to have just one of them to do just one more time, but… is that why?

Before you call me a cynic and start to tune out, here’s the thing: at some level it might not be important why we do these things. Tradition and sentimentality are well and good. They sure seem like they will add up to a rich, meaningful, and productive life. And the value we provide to our community and our loves ones might be reason enough. But are we really tuned into a higher purpose? To whatever it might be that gives it all value and meaning?

For me, it was a little alone time – the opposite of everything I’ve been talking about – when it dawned on me that Jesus’s life and his messages of love, gratitude, compassion, and sacrifice can provide the answer. Not the superficial “oh yeah, that’s what I meant” kind of answer, but the true love for others that can calm our worries and give us the perspective we need to find true meaning in our day to day busy-ness. It’s not far off from the feeling we get when we volunteer or help someone in need.

OK – “Stay busy, love others, good sermon, Adam.” Oh, but if it were only that easy. Right?

The thing is, as I was hiking up to the cross that day, the day’s noise – I mean news – was bouncing around in my head: Elon Musk had announced he was going to buy Twitter, supposedly because of a professed belief that our right to say anything we want in 280 characters or less is the path to salvation as a society. 

[This part of my sermon has been in and out of the script for months now. Glad that’s settled…] 

We may scoff at such statements, but admit it, how many hours per day, or neural pathways in your brain, are consumed each day with news stories, podcasts, Facebook or Instagram posts, online shopping sites, opinion articles, or even cable news? Is there where we are going to find the proverbial “meaning of life”? The busier we get, will it just appear to us like magic?

Sometimes I wonder what people’s headspace was like 200, 500, or 2,000 years ago. Would Jesus have had to tell Zacchaeus to put down his phone? Clearing your head is probably harder that climbing a tree, honestly, but ultimately it means the same thing. To me, today’s Gospel reading is not just about being rich and deciding to reform your life. There’s something for Zacchaeus in this story as well.

Here’s why the story of Zacchaeus connected with me. The scripture certainly doesn’t describe him as one of the blessed or miracle-worthy characters in the Bible, but my guess is that he probably had all he needed to be pretty content in life – wealthy, successful, probably climbing the ranks of the Roman civil service. Busy for sure. Or at least he probably felt that way. The scripture calls him “rich”, but I think we could also think about that as “privileged” or “successful”. Nonetheless he must have known that something was missing. 

So get this… he literally steps out of his comfort zone, into a crowd of people he definitely isn’t admired by, and CLIMBS A TREE, to try to see what he can’t see from his regular vantage point. And what does he see? He sees Jesus! Perhaps more importantly, Jesus comes to him and says, “hey check this out” (I’m paraphrasing…) and offers a second chance to a man who probably didn’t even realize until then that he was lost.

So to come back to where we started, it’s meaningful that we all chose to seek God’s message – to climb this tree this morning – to see our lives in a way that perhaps we aren’t able to from within our daily routines. 

And I hope that you, like me, find that being here this morning can serve as your tree as we return to our jobs, families, and communities with a renewed sense of gratitude, compassion, and a sense of purpose as we go back to work, or to making those costumes, to doing bedtimes, and to taking care of our communities. Because being busy is okay, but being busy in the right way, in God’s name, will make us whole.

Thank you!

— Adam Schildge

Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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