Zacchaeus and Goldilocks

  • September 9, 2014

three chairs goldilocksLuke 19:1-10

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus and his friends travel to a town called Jericho. In Jericho there was a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a very important man, a rich man. If you lived in Jericho, you would have recognized him when he came walking down the street. But Zacchaeus wasn’t very popular in Jericho, because he was the chief tax collector for the Roman government, and tax collectors were known for cheating people out of their money.

Jesus was coming to town, and this man Zacchaeus wanted to see him. But Zacchaeus was a short man, and he couldn’t see over the rest of the crowd. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus so much, though, that he ran down the road and climbed up into a sycamore tree.

When Jesus came to the tree, he looked up. He saw this strange short stranger in the branches above him. And do you know what he did? He said: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

Everyone was surprised. The crowd was surprised, and they were angry, because they didn’t want Zacchaeus to have the honor of hosting Jesus. Zacchaeus was surprised that Jesus knew his name, and that he wanted to come and stay at his house. But then Zacchaeus said something even more surprising. He told Jesus: “I will give half of what I have to the poor, and I will pay back four times as much as I have stolen.” Zacchaeus told Jesus that he would give away almost all of his money, to try to make up for what he had done wrong. And Jesus said, “Today this man has been saved. I came here to seek out and to save the lost.”

Some of us have heard this story about Zacchaeus before. But I want to tell one more story this morning, and that’s one that I think everybody will know. Has everyone here heard the story of Goldilocks?

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the forest. And she discovered a cottage. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.

You know how the story goes. At the table in the kitchen, she found three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry, so she tasted the porridge from the first bowl. And she said: “This porridge is too hot!”  She tasted the porridge from the second bowl. She said: “This porridge is too cold.” So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge and said: “Ahhh, this porridge is just right,” and she ate it all up.

After she’d eaten the porridge, she walked into the living room and saw three chairs. Goldilocks sat in the first chair, and she said: “This chair is too big!” She sat in the second chair and said: (sources disagree, but she didn’t like the chair). So she tried the last chair and said: “Ahhh, this chair is just right”.

But just as she got comfortable in the chair, it broke! Goldilocks was very tired, so she went upstairs to the bedroom and found three beds. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right.  And she fell asleep.

Now we know that the story didn’t end so well for Goldilocks. The three bears who lived in the house came back, and they weren’t very happy to find that a stranger had been eating their food, and breaking their chair, and sleeping in their bed. And so, she ran away. But I think the first part of her story has to do with us, and with the story of Zacchaeus.

This morning we have lots of places to sit in the sanctuary. We have a little chair, a medium-sized chair, and a big chair. But we know that not everyone likes to sit in chairs. So, we also have a zafu, a meditation cushion. And out among you, we have some folks who sit in wheelchairs. We have some folks who love sitting in our beautiful pews.  And we also have folks who like to sit up on the steps.

When we come to church, often we are like goldilocks: we’re looking for what we like. We want a seat that’s comfortable for us. We want to hear the kind of music that’s our favorite. We want a quiet time of prayer; or want church to be full and lively; whatever suits us. We’re looking for something that fits us just right. And who can blame us? We have excellent taste!

But most churches have something we don’t like. We don’t like the seating; we don’t like the music; we don’t like the preaching, or the preacher, or the prayers, or the coffee. The church does not quite fit our excellent tastes. It is not “just right” for us. And yet people like us are crazy enough to show up at church anyway. Why is that?

The thing is, Jesus says that he is here for everybody. He came to bring good news to the poor, and the righteous, but also to people like Zachhaeus, a rich and corrupt tax collector. Jesus is here to help everybody, and especially those who are lost, or considered least. So if the church is doing its job well, we’re not designing a perfect fit for any one person. We’re trying to make as much room as possible for anyone who wants to come get a glimpse of Jesus.

This fall, we’re trying new things in worship, and we are considering new possibilities for our sanctuary. Some of the things we try, some of the possibilities that emerge, may not be comfortable for all of us; they may not meet our personal preferences. But the question we need to keep asking together is this: will this widen our welcome? Will this make it easier for people who are too short to see past the crowd, and those unable to climb up the steps; for people who are young, and those who are a little less young; for the great diversity of the people who have already gathered here, and those we hope will someday find a home here; will it make it easier for more of us to get a glimpse of Jesus?

Here is my great and audacious hope, what gives me strength for all of these conversations and experiments: Maybe, together, we can form a church that’s not so much what we like, but rather, what we need. Maybe, together, we can form the kind of church about which God might say: that’s just right. May it be so. Amen.