Oct. 27, 2019 -- Broken Pots & Watering Cans

Broken Pots and Watering Cans

Story of Zachaeus from Luke 19:1-10

All Saints Sunday 2019 – Pardeeville

Julie Waterdu


            Storyteller Kevin Kling from Minnesota tells a story from a time long, long ago. It goes like this: “Back in the days when pots and pans could talk, (and Kevin says that this is still true today), back in those days, there lived a man. In order to have water, every day he had to walk all the way down the hill with his two pots, fill them, and walk them home. One day, it was discovered that one of the pots had a crack. As time went on, the crack widened. Finally, the pot turned to the man and said, you know every day you take me to the river, and by the time you get home half the water has leaked out. Please replace me with a better pot. And the man said, I don’t think you understand. As you spill, you water the wildflowers by the side of the path. And sure enough, on the side of the path where the cracked pot was carried, beautiful flowers grew, while the other side was barren. I think I’ll keep you, said the man.”

            Hmm… was it a cracked pot, ready to be thrown away? Or a watering can for the wood violets and columbine? It’s a matter of perspective, a matter of how we look at things, how observant we are, how open we are to seeing things as they really are.

            Pema Chodron says that in the years since she’s been an ordained Buddhist nun, she has come to know a lot of people. One of them is a man who is serving a life sentence in prison. One day she was asking him about what the men he knew in prison had to say about gang life. He says that the guys told him there was actually a way to safely avoid gang involvement. The way to do it was to appeal to common humanity. A teenager who was being targeted to become a gang member should definitely not flat out refuse engagement, saying anything like, “no way, you guys are bad news, I’m gonna keep my distance.” That would likely get you in real trouble. Instead, if they said something like “I can’t go cuz my mom’s a drunk and I need to stay home and take care of her,” or, “I gotta study for this test cuz my teacher says if I get good grades I can really make something of my life,” then, the pressure would be off. While the actions of gang members are often cruel and criminal, underneath all of that they are human beings, with moms, and teachers, and dreams of a better life for themselves. It’s all about using right speech, and preceding that, being able to see that hidden goodness and humanity in the person before you. If you look down on someone, the way you talk to them is going to reflect your judgment. If you have an awareness of the shared humanity you have with even your worst enemy , and you let your words reflect that, your reality will change. Gang member to be avoided? Or troubled soul who is also capable of understanding and respect? It’s a matter of perspective, a matter of how we look at things, an openness to seeing things as they really are and not just through our habitual lens.

            Jack Kornfield tells a story of a friend of his, an elementary school teacher, who had an encounter with a young mother and her toddler son in a grocery store one day. The little boy was throwing a tantrum that could be heard aisles away. Jack’s friend rounded the corner and came face to face with them. Not only was the young boy whining and crying in that jagged edged way little kids do when they’re just so done with being in the cart, his mother wasn’t exactly showing her best parenting. There would have been plenty for the teacher to be irritated with. Her thoughts could well have gone in the direction of, “I can’t believe she’s talking to her child that way. Why doesn’t she just take him to the car? He’s acting like a spoiled brat. I’d never let him get away with that if he were my child.” She, like many of us, could have turned her own cart around and gotten away from this sorry scene. Instead, she took a breath and calmed her own jagged nerves and casually slowed down as she approached the young mom and child. With a kind and warm voice, she looked tenderly at the two and said, ‘Oh, I remember when my son was that age. He was always so tired at the end of the day. How old is your boy?” The mom paused and look at her son, tears and snot streaming down his face, and her own face softened a little bit. “He just turned 2 last month. And yeah, he’s had a long day and is probably hungry.” The teacher asked her about what her supper plans were and they talked a little more about how fussy kids can be when they’re little. And the mom relaxed a little more and looked at her boy with loving eyes now instead of anger and frustration. “I’m going home to make some mac and cheese for him,” she said, and as her tone softened, her son’s crying lessened and he, too, looked at the teacher, absorbing some of the kindness she was offering.

            It’s a matter of perspective, a matter of how we look at things, an openness to seeing things as they really are and not just through our habitual lens. It’s a matter of right seeing, and right speech, and right actions.

            When we meet Jesus today in the gospel, he shows us how masterfully he does this. It’s a story we’ve heard since Sunday school days, a story told in the form of a song “Zachaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he! He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And when the Savior passed that way he looked up in the tree. And he said, Zachaeus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house today!”

            So, he was already labeled as being less than significant, maybe even one of the first guys to be seen as having the “short man complex”, otherwise known as the “Napoleon complex.” Being a wee little man, he was more aggressive than others of greater stature, proving his worth and power in the job he held as the one who extorted money out of the Jews to give to the state of Rome. It was a dual burden. He was short and he was mean. Or at least that was how others perceived him.

            But it’s a matter of perspective, a matter of how we look at things, an openness to seeing things as they really are. And Jesus saw him. He saw him there, lurking on the edge, up in the sycamore tree, the very tree that symbolized the state of Israel. He collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans, but there he was, not to cause harm, but to listen and see the Rabbi. Jesus saw him, in his shared humanity, and he also saw the spark of godliness in the man that others had overlooked. He knew full well what the man did for a living, yet he did not address him as a criminal and enemy of the Jews and the God he worshipped. He addressed him as the child of God he was and always had been. And Zachaeus recognized Jesus as having come from God. He was not the enemy the Romans said he was. He was a spirit filled person, a teacher of the highest calling, a healer and reconciler and restorer of peace.

            As we glimpse both of these men greeting and meeting each other as brothers, friends, we hear their right speech and we see their right actions. There is something about this change of perspective, this way of looking at things through our basic sense of humanity and care, that changes the whole experience.

            Zacchaeus went from being a hardlined crook in the eyes of others to being a hospitable cook for his honored guest Jesus. And then, we find out the truth that’s been there all along. He’s not a crook afterall. As Peterson writes in the Message, when people questioned “What business does Jesus have getting cozy with this crook?” Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor – and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”

            Jesus saw into this man’s heart as soon as he laid eyes on him, because that’s what Jesus does. He comes to each of us, not with words to shame and blame us for all the mistakes we make and shady deals we’ve done. He comes to us and sees into the soft underbelly of our hearts. He sees our good intentions in spite of the exhaustion on our faces. He focuses not about status or wealth, about times we lose our tempers or crawl back into bed or get snarky about our neighbors. Instead, he sees the goodness in which we were created and invites us to act out of our highest calling.

            Sometimes, returning to our true self, waking up and growing up, can happen in an instant. Something occurs and we can suddenly no longer see things the way we once did. The storyteller I mentioned at the start of the sermon, Kevin Kling, tells of his own awakening during a particularly difficult time in his life.

            Kevin was born with a congenital defect, his left arm is about ¾ the size of his right arm, he has no wrist or thumb on that left side. In many ways, growing up with this disability as well as being raised in a family of truly wonderful storytellers, made him into the treasure he is as a writer, speaker and spinner of stories. He already had made a name for himself when, in 2001, he was driving his motorcycle in Minneapolis and got into a terrible accident. Onlookers were certain he had died. And, while he did go through two episodes when he was clinically dead, he came back, finding himself in the trauma center, surrounded by friends and family.

            The road to recovery was long and difficult. While he was in rehab, recovering from extensive injuries and plastic surgery, 9/11 happened and the whole nation went into trauma mode. His life reflected the suffering of so many others as, day by day, he struggled to regain his strength. His job, while there, was to take the elevator down to the first floor and take a walk half way down the block and back. One day, he reentered the building and saw his girlfriend Mary, now his wife, waiting for him in the lobby. Now Kevin had pretty much lost his appetite after the accident. He couldn’t taste anything, wasn’t really eating, and was losing weight. But Mary had this apple and she held it out to him. Take a bite she said, just one bite, for me. So Kevin did and in that moment, his taste came back, and there was sweetness in his mouth, and it was there, this delicious, juicy, sweetness and in that moment he broke down for the first time since the accident and prayed, thank you, thank you, thank you that I lived. From praying to God to get things, to praying to avoid them, to saying thank you thank you thank you, it , in that moment, became a whole new life. Mary saw that life force within him. She had never given up on him. And in the gift of that apple, he found it once more.

            It’s a matter of perspective, a matter of how we look at things, an openness to seeing things as they really are and not just through our habitual lens. It’s a matter of right seeing, and right speech, and right actions.

            Is it a cracked pot? Or a watering can?

            Are they ruthless gang members? Or teenage boys with dreams of their own?

            A spoiled brat in a tantrum? Or a tired and hungry little boy?

            A creepy little crook? Or a kind and generous spirit?

            A broken and worthless way of life? Or a life saved for gratitude and joy?

May we have the eyes of Jesus when we look at the world, when we behold one another. Amen.

  September 2020  
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