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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Mine Field

2007-11-04 "Mine Field"

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 and Luke 19:1-10

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

The sermons for November aren't really a series as much as they're an exploration of scripture through the lens of one word. Mine. Today's title is "Mine Field." Next Sunday, it's "Gold Mine," and the following will be "Yours and Mine." I say this starting off because a lot of times we forget both how powerful and how complex just one word can be. We forget how even more powerful and complex words can be, when they’re words of faith. A word that means one thing to you might mean something different to me, simply because I grew up on a different side of the world, different side of town, or a different side of the tracks. Especially when we say words of faith - words like, “Jesus,” “God,” “devil” - there are meanings and shades of meaning that you hear and I won't, mental images that'll pop into your brain that are surprisingly different from the thoughts of even the people closest to you.

Plus, it's Stewardship Season, and the word, "Mine," seemed doubly appropriate. I'll tell you up front, during Stewardship Season, I will not use the sermons to ask you to increase your annual pledge. We've got a Stewardship Committee, they're doing a great job, and you don't need reruns from me. What I will do these next few weeks, and why I think these sermons are important, is to talk about that one little word, “mine.” How you understand that one little word makes all the difference in how you approach all your stewardship. But more than that -- Understanding that one, little word, "Mine," makes all the difference in how you approach everything.

The moment something becomes "mine" it becomes important. It becomes important to ME. To an extent, something that's "mine" is part of me. They're part of the field that defines me, my "mine field." My car, my house, my computer, my remote control... my disease, my friends, my world, my church... my life. How I treat what is mine... how you treat what is yours... whether we share, or take, or give or loan, or borrow - what we determine is ours and how we consider what is ours -- all of these questions are about both self-definition AND stewardship. On one level, Stewardship Season in the church is about planning for next year's budget. But on a deeper level, Stewardship Season is a chance to sit still and think about deeper questions, such as, "What IS mine and how am I going to treat it? What's mine and what's yours? What do we mean when we say, "Mine"?


In today’s scripture, Jesus is walking through a mine field. Not the kind of mine field that our soldiers in Iraq have to walk through. This one's a socially explosive mine field. I know some of you veterans have literally walked through physical mine fields. I know some of you have parents who lost limbs because they were brave enough to walk through mine fields to retrieve fallen soldiers. I saw a mine field, once, when I was on a trip to El Salvador. You know what it looked like? It looked beautiful. You could stand on a hillside by the edge of the village and look out over this verdant, green plain, with plants and flowers growing wild all over it. There was a river in the background. It looked like a postcard. It was very difficult for me to wrap my mind around that idea that if I were to step into this lovely garden of Eden, I wouldn’t step out again.

In today’s scripture, Jesus walks straight into a religious and social mine field. Unlike a military mines, the hair trigger of this mine field wasn't under the ground. Instead it was above the field, looking down from a sycamore tree. Zaccheus. The meanest man in town. A wee little man, with a wee little heart. Zacchaeus is evil, but he’s also comical.

As a person who’s somewhat vertically challenged myself, and as someone who sees a lot of children’s cartoons, I’d like to point out an injustice. Have you ever noticed how almost all of the evil, yet comical bad guys in cartoons are wee little men? The Chef in “Ratatouille,” Syndrome in “The Incredibles,” Lord Farquaad in “Shrek.” Elmer Fudd. This discrimination must end. I’d get off my soapbox, except that you wouldn’t be able to see me.

Back to the Bible. Here's Zacchaeus, the meanest, wee-ist man in town, being comical and undignified, climbing up a tree like a little boy in order to see Jesus. Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today.” Now, remember, this is a society where hospitality and manners are of highest importance. I know if you’ve been to a restaurant lately, that’s hard to imagine. Hospitality and manners were crucial. Whose house you chose to stay in, whom you chose to eat a meal with, how well you were received – even if you were an enemy – these were the fabric that held together society. In America, we’re a nation of laws. The land of Jesus was a nation of manners.

So as he enters Jericho, a crowd forms to welcome the celebrity, Jesus. Flash bulbs are popping, reporters are pushing for position, people are lining up for public health care. But the unspoken question that everyone knew had yet to be answered was, “Whose house is Jesus going to stay in? Who gets the honor of showing him their best hospitality?”

Up in the tree. Monkey boy. Zacchaeus. The one man who enforces laws without a shred of hospitality, the wee-ist man with the wee-ist heart. This is who Jesus chooses? Jesus walks straight into this societal mine field. And sets it off. Why?

Zacchaeus ends up having a conversion experience. He swears to give half of his property to the poor, and to pay back four times as much to everyone he has ever cheated – and that’s a lot of people. What happened over dinner in Zacchaeus’ house that evening? What happened to Zacchaeus, when Jesus was sitting across the table from him? What changed in Zacchaeus’ mind? What melted in his Grinchy little heart? We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. But we do know the effect. Zacchaeus’ might not have grown in stature, but he did grow a conscience. And as his conscience grew, Zacchaeus’ personal “mine” field shrank.


The Bible makes Zaccheus a comical little guy. Like Yosemite Sam trying to steal the rabbit’s gold, he makes us laugh at the weakness of greed. If we were able to look from some vantage point of distance over our own beautiful little fields of “mine,” wouldn’t we have to laugh? If we had some tool to measure all the energy we put into building up our mine fields, and then protecting our mine fields, and keeping our mine fields from being taken by people like Zacchaeus – if there were some tool to measure all that energy (and maybe it’s called a blood pressure monitor), wouldn’t we either have to laugh or cry at the amount of time and hope and work we put into constructing what’s, “mine”?

They say you can’t have everything; where would you put it? And even if you did have everything, you sure can’t take it with you. Something about being chosen to show hospitality to Jesus shrinks the mine field around Zacchaeus. The evidence of hospitality turns Zacchaeus from a comic figure to a model of serious social conscience. Is there, anywhere in us, a lack of hospitality that we need to leave hanging in a tree? Is there, anywhere in us, a rip in the social fabric that makes us look laughable?

We each have around us an invisible force field made out of what we call, “mine.” That’s just a part of life; I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. But what we each have the power to choose is how wide we imagine this field to be. What we each have the power to choose is how loaded we make this mine field, what its barriers and preconditions for entry might be. What Zacchaeus teaches is that a sphere of influence built on hospitality is everlasting. After all, it’s been 2000 years and we’re still reading about him. Zacchaeus teaches us that a sphere of influence based on hospitality is infinitely more powerful than a mine field. Zacchaeus teaches us that as the mine field shrinks, the sphere of influence increases.

If you’re remembered 2000 years from now, how would you want to be remembered? For what you had the right to declare as “mine”? Or for your conversion to hospitality? That’s stewardship. And that’s the sermon for today.