El Paso, Texas.
Las Vegas, Nevada.
Aurora, Illinois, Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Newtown, Connecticut.
Pittsburgh, Christchurch, Poway, Ottawa, Dayton, Fort Worth, Charleston, Munich, Oslo,
Austin, Washington, Odessa, Blacksburg, Gilroy.
In every one of these cases, and others, the same sad refrain is reported:
The gunman acted alone.
I'm not going to talk today about guns, or why those who use them in these
rampant stories always seem to be male; you can argue about those things later,
in the parking lot or on social media.
Instead I'm going to focus on the word alone.
Nearly twenty years ago, Robert Putnam sounded an alarm with a watershed book,
The title comes from the fact that more Americans than ever before were bowling, but far
fewer in leagues.
It's a window into a wider phenomenon, a precipitous drop in social capital, the fabric of
our connections with one another.
His extensive research revealed that we know our neighbors less, sign fewer petitions,
belong to fewer organizations that meet in person, socialize less frequently with
family and friends ... and these trends mostly predate the recent explosions of
social media and political polarization.
We are more and more isolated from one another.
This is why I am so appreciative of this social community here at Shepherd, and
why I'm always so hesitant to cut short the sharing of the peace.
Not just gunmen, but many of us are more and more acting alone.
A few of my best and most of my worst ideas happen when I am alone.
The times I have considered, even started planning suicide, I was acting alone.
I didn't bounce those thoughts off of others.
I kept them, and increasingly kept myself, hidden in solitude.
I am still the same overwhelmed teenager who escaped to his room and shut the door.
I usually want to be left alone, especially after I've been around a lot of people.
Solitude replenishes my introvert soul.
But too much isolation can be dangerous unto deadly.
We can too easily drown in the cesspools of our own circular thinking.
We need each other.
So salvation pays a house call to Zacchaeus.
Jesus does not let him remain alone in the sycamore tree or in Jericho.
He tells the booing crowds and offended sensibilities that this midget traitor is
one of us—he too is a son of Abraham.
This oily, friendless little urchin is a beloved child of God.
Even Luke probably can't believe it as he includes the story in his gospel.
For eighteen chapters he has been shouting warnings to the wealthy, from Mary's song
to Jesus' sermons: Woe to you who are rich!
Rich guys in Luke die overnight, walk away from the kingdom, and beg in hell.
Yet salvation comes to Zacchaeus' house, for he too is a son of Abraham.
He can come down out of his tree into the street.
He can break bread with the Son of Man.
He no longer has to go bowling alone.
We the church have been complicit in the fragmentation and isolation we now suffer.
We have spent so much time and energy worrying about whether individuals
will be admitted to heaven and calling that "salvation."
We have bought into and advanced the toxic individualism of our society.
This is mostly foreign to the Bible, and it would make Luke shake his head.
Salvation is not a single file line into the club; it is a community event.
When some single one is lost...a sheep, a coin, a son, a chief tax collector...the
Son of Man searches and finds them and restores them to the household.
Salvation has social implications: the set is complete, the flock is whole, the family is
reunited, the brothers have to live and put up with each other.
Zacchaeus is restored to his grumbling people—he too is a son of Abraham.
Zacchaeus instantly grasps what this means: the poor are his sisters and brothers,
and anyone he defrauded is family.
He is lavishly generous in helping them and trying to make things right, and, in the
middle of the throng that knows he's wrong, celebrity Jesus declares him right.
Jesus is healing the relationship between Zacchaeus and his people the same way he does
when he shows up among us in bread and wine and water and word.
The one and only Son of Man does not act alone; even hanging on the cross, he is
dragging another criminal to paradise.
Salvation is a team sport.
As a result, stewardship is too.
Giving offerings and making pledges is a discipline of reminding ourselves that
God's love is bigger and broader than me and us.
As Gina Hagen said so beautifully last week, Stewardship is about being part of
something greater than myself.
It includes people we don't see but Jesus does, like the crook in the tree.
It includes people we don't like but Jesus loves, like the tax collector and the
family member we blocked on social media after too many unacceptable posts.
It includes people we will never meet, saints long dead and yet to be born, saints who
receive food and shelter and blankets and care because of our offerings.
As Zacchaeus grasped immediately, salvation chases down those who need it, and as one
of those himself, he was determined to help.
Our offerings, like his, are both thanksgivings to God and commitments to one another,
tangible gestures that we are in this together.
They are signals and evidence that in a world overrun with death acting alone, Jesus people act together to protect and promote life.
We do this because on the night that Judas acted alone, and Peter acted alone, Jesus took
bread, broke it, and shared it, and now so do we.
Salvation has come to this house too, and now matter how short you feel, He sees and
calls and honors you.
You too are a child of God.
You are not alone.