Friday, January 12, 2007

Monet in Normandy and Zacchaeus

Well, I’m preaching this week, which is fun. Sometimes I really miss preaching every week, and sometimes I’m glad not to have to do that part of the work. I had gotten really lazy, preaching from an outline and not preparing as well as I’d like. While I don’t feel that my congregations were really suffering or hearing bad sermons, I also kind of think I short-changed them and myself by not putting into my preaching all the effort I know it deserves.
So now, I get to preach once a month or so. At least, that is, until we start the new service. Then it looks like it will be once a month in the morning services and twice in the evening. It’s interesting looking at this week’s passage (Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus) and thinking about how I would deal with it in both contexts. I’m enjoying the exercise…but I’m not getting Sunday’s manuscript written.
Of course, there’s the little matter of not working on it at all yesterday, too. I went to see the “Monet in Normandy” exhibit at the NC Museum of Art, which was really pretty great. I avoided Art Appreciation in high school and was too busy taking “serious” courses to take it in college, but I have always loved the Impressionists. On family trips to Washington, DC, I always held my family back on visits to the National Galleries because I wanted to linger over them. So I was excited to be able to see this exhibit.
The best thing about it was that the pictures are arranged more or less chronologically, so that we were able to see how his style changed over the years, and begin to see how the subject he was attempting to capture determined his technique. He was transformed in the effort to capture familiar subjects (the Rouen Cathedral, the Normandy coast) in literally a new light, studying them in as many as 14 paintings, all emphasizing a different light effect, weather, time of day, perspective. He saw these well-known places in a different way from the rest of the artists of his day, because he was able both to concentrate on minute details or to draw back and look at things from a distance. In painting so many studies of the same subject, he must have had almost an intimate relationship with them, feeling as if he knew them very well.
Unfortunately, the exhibit was limited by the crowd (although from what I’ve heard it wasn’t too bad compared to other days) and the fact that I couldn’t get far enough away from the paintings. It was a large exhibit in a relatively small gallery and so there just wasn’t any way to step back and take in a painting or series of paintings with any distance. I spent a good bit of time comparing brush strokes and painting techniques, a sort of can’t see the forest for the trees kind of approach.
Okay, back to my thoughts on Zacchaeus. I think it’s important to compare him to the rich young ruler, whose story appears in the chapter before old Zack. The ruler apparently was a righteous man, obedient to the ten commandments and keeping the law, but he was unable to part from his wealth. Zack was a tax collector. He may have been an observant Jew but he would have been despised for being an agent of the Roman Empire, and was likely to have made his fortune at the expense of his countrymen. It’s interesting that he was short: short in stature, surely, but he was not short-sighted when it came to Jesus: he was so intrigued by what he had heard that he climbed a tree (abandoning all dignity) to get a better view. His zeal apparently earns him Jesus’ attention and a backwards invitation: Jesus will be his guest that night.
Zack is so moved that he makes restitution above and beyond whatever sin and fraud he might have committed, demonstrating that his life has been transformed by this brief encounter with Christ. Jesus responds to the crowd by making it clear that Zack’s transformation is not only personal but that he has received salvation…and restoration in the eyes of God as a child of Abraham once more.
I’ve picked up “Who is a sinner” as a title (intentionally omitting a question mark) and thinking about “It’s not about you” as a theme, in that it’s not about what the crowd wants (the sinner humbled or Jesus for themselves), or what Zack wanted (did he even know?) but about what God wants: salvation for the lost and restoration of all people into the Kingdom of God. It’s not about rules…if it were, the rich young ruler might have made it. Instead it’s about transforming relationships in which the power of God in our lives drives us to changed behavior because of the goodness and mercy of God. It’s not about us…it’s about God in us.
So that’s the soapbox for today. Maybe, if I actually finish it, I’ll post the sermon tomorrow.

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