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Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Unzippered in Church

Sunday, June 1, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
Preached at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church

I dedicate our reading from Habakkuk this morning to the families and loved ones of Keith Day and William Massaquoi, the two most recent murder victims in Trenton. So far this year there have been 13 murders in Trenton—we are keeping pace with 2013.

Update: Since Sunday morning, we lost Rayquan Brown, a 16 year old boy who was shot in the head on Stuyvesant Avenue in Trenton. My heart is screaming.

We will have a vigil at Covenant Presbyterian Church at 471 Parkway Ave, Trenton, NJ on Monday, June 8 at 6pm, followed by a community meal at 7pm. Please join us if you are able--we welcome all who wish to mourn the deaths of these three men. We welcome you if you are hungry and just want to eat. Bring a pot of soup or a loaf of bread if you can. If you cannot, come and eat some of my soup and bread. 

I did record the sermon. For those of you who prefer the spoken word, you can find it here:

Unzippered In Church

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

Two Women with Contrasting Dress
Mennonite World Conference, 1967
Here we are back at the gospel of Luke. Jesus had been busy with parables and healing and foretellings. The parable of the sower, the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son. The dishonest manager, Lazarus at the gates, pharisees, and rich rulers. The widow and the unjust judge. Interspersed were the miraculous healings—10 lepers, a man with dropsy, a widow unable to stand straight. And artfully woven into the story, Jesus foretold his own death and return. Just prior to meeting Zacchaeus the tax collector, Jesus spoke for the third time of his arrest, execution, and resurrection. It must have been an exciting time—full of movement and action, wandering about, following a beloved and charismatic teacher. They were so caught up that Jesus’ words of warning didn’t register. When Jesus spoke of the coming troubles, “they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (Luke 18:34)

There is something about this kind of urgency that opens us up to new possibilities—new ways of living our lives, new ways of interacting with friends, families, and strangers. The constant pressure of Jesus’ movement toward Jerusalem and the fulfillment of his promises to his disciples is hard for us to imagine in our everyday lives. We get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other, going about our business like we always do. Jesus died and scurried up to heaven 2000 years ago now, and we are still waiting his promised return. But we shouldn’t forget that Jesus was feeling the crunch of time as he passed by the sycamore tree where Zaccheus was hiding. And perhaps we might keep in mind that regardless of when Christ returns, the days of our own lives are numbered; we ought to feel the pressure of that—we have this life to be who the Spirit calls us to be. None of us knows what comes next—we have this life.

Zacchaeus was a rich man—he was a chief tax collector. He made money off of collecting those taxes—and most likely he skimmed extra off the top. Tax collectors were not popular at all—probably less popular than tax collectors are in these days. This was a guy who took money from his own people and gave it to an oppressive government, and then took some extra for himself, and there was nothing you could do about it. This was a guy you avoided; he wasn’t a guy you ate with. Or socialized with. Or introduced to your other friends. 

He was a short man, and he wanted to see Jesus, so he climbed a sycamore tree and waited for Jesus and his crew to pass by.  When I was in New York a few summers, President Obama came through town, and his motorcade passed by the movie theater where I was sitting on some steps. I didn’t realize what was happening until a crowd formed around me. The motorcade included several vehicles—it was impossible to tell which car the president was in. But that didn’t stop us from speculating, “ooh, it must be that one.” Everyone in the crowd had a reason for why they thought this car or that car would be the one the president was in. But imagine how surprised we would have been if the motorcade had stopped and the president popped out of one of the cars. Imagine if he’d singled out someone in the crowd and said “Come on down from those steps! I’m having dinner at your place tonight.” It’s not a perfect analogy—I promise I am not saying the president is Jesus. But do you get the sense of it? The surprise, the jealousy of others in the crowd, the grumbling that might begin if the crowd sensed the person singled out was not worthy of this honor?

Zacchaeus was a smart man, and scrambled out of that tree to welcome Jesus. And as the crowd grumbled around him, Zacchaeus took Jesus home and fed him, and he made a promise to give back half of his possessions to the poor—if he had defrauded anyone he would pay it back four times over. Satisfied with this promise (and perhaps with the fine dinner we don't get to hear about), Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

What would it be like to bring Jesus home to your house this afternoon without warning? Would your loved ones appreciate the unexpected guest? Is your house in order to receive guests? Do you have time in your schedule for such an unexpected event? Or would you be more like me? With 12 loads of laundry to be done and the dishes piled up and the cats are unruly and the children tired and cranky. Would you offer Jesus carrots and ranch because that’s what is readily available in your fridge? Do you think that Jesus would demand more? Do you think that he does? Do you think that Jesus demands more from us as a church, that we be ready at all times, properly dressed, properly pressed, ready for a visit from royalty?

I was out walking once around my neighborhood. I was lost in my head as I am wont to do when I am out walking. I was thinking about a blog post I needed to write, and this sermon, and an essay that was being stubborn. I was musing about how my son had an essay he needed to write, and how funny it is that our children are so much like us. I stepped off the curb, and a car pulled in front of me and stopped.

A lady dressed in black jumped out of the car, startling me. She waved and called out, “Hey! Can I ask a favor?” I couldn’t think of much to say, startled out of my daydreams and stopped short on my walk. I looked around, but she was definitely talking to me, so I nodded. She said, “Can you help me with my zipper? I hate being unzippered in church.” And then she pulled off her jacket and turned around, and sure enough her zipper was stuck about 10 inches down her back.

It was an oddly strange event to be zipping up a woman’s dress on the street. And it was an oddly strange dress to dash off to church in—gauzy and black and full of glittery sequins. It took me a minute to untangle the zipper from the fabric where it had caught, and then there was the tiny clasp at the top of the zipper, which my cold fingers had trouble with.  And I’m pretty sure I accidentally pulled off one of those sequins. But finally I had her zippered, and she jumped back in the car saying, “Thank you! One should never live alone!” And then she dashed off to church, I guess, on a Saturday afternoon.

Her words stuck with me—“I hate being unzippered in church.” And isn’t that true? We don’t much care for being exposed in church—we dress up, act appropriately. We zipper up—we don’t tell the full stories of our lives. Church is a place where we ought to be unzippered, but it’s surely one of the places where we are most tightly bound.

The lady’s words reminded me of another time when I worked at the YMCA. I was lucky enough to be able to bring my baby to work with me, and I was still nursing. I had a meeting with my boss and the other associate exec—both men who were accepting of the fact that I was nursing in the middle of this meeting. About halfway through my baby was done, and I started to smoothly set him to one side and zip up my jacket like I normally did after nursing. I’d nursed this baby in public all over town and rarely had a problem. But in that moment, the zipper got stuck, and I couldn’t fix it one handed.

Out of options, and unable to concentrate on the meeting, I disrupted the conversation and said, “Excuse me one moment.” I handed the baby to my boss, stood up, and fixed the zipper, but not before I exposed more of myself than I had hoped to. It was a startling moment, this moment of being unzippered.  It’s the kind of moment the lady in black was trying to avoid Saturday at church. The kind of surprise and discomfort I felt at being stopped by a stranger who asked me to zip her dress. It is perhaps the kind of surprise and discomfort Zacchaeus felt at being called out of his tree and imposed upon for dinner.

Being unzippered in church. What would that look like? What delightful mischief would Jesus get up to if we let our guard down? He surprised Zacchaeus into giving half his money to the poor and paying back those he’d defrauded four times over. If Jesus was here this morning, unizppered, what might we do for him? What might we do for each other if we had the honesty and courage to come to church unzippered? What might we do for the world in such a moment of self-honesty and vulnerability?

Impossible! You say. Improbable! Inappropriate! Unzippered in church! Not as grievous a sin as drinking coffee in church, perhaps, but surely you would find someone to zip you up as soon as possible!

But what if you didn’t. What if you let that 10 inches of zipper just stay stuck—exposing just a bit more skin than you are normally comfortable with—what secrets of your soul might leak out? How much more of the Spirit might sneak in through the gap? How might you be saved from yourself this day?  It’s something to think about, being unzippered in church.

One never knows when Jesus might call you out of your tree and insist upon following you home for dinner. And one answer to that dilemma is to keep your house clean at all times, dinner ready, the guest room made up. But another answer is to let your house be as it is, and to welcome the Spirit into your home just how it is. The other answer is to just be unzippered and not worry too much about it. Take Jesus home for dinner and offer up those carrots and ranch. Move the newspapers off the chair to offer a place to sit, and let the children run as they do. Let the Spirit startle you in a moment of undress and disarray, and then see what comes.

May you be lost and found many times over. And may the Spirit find you half-dressed every time. Amen.

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