13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the son of humanity is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the dominion of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then Jesus sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
In a world with so many voices
Competing for our attention,
Rise above the noise.
Help us to hear your voice.
Help us to find our own voice
And give us words of love to speak
To help bind up our hurting world.
Back in February, maybe some of y’all will remember, I had a cough that I couldn’t kick. It was some sort of illness, you’ll remember that I refrained from serving communion for a few weeks, I also stopped shaking hands and instead offered my elbow at the door, but the cough persisted.
Even after I got feeling better, the cough stayed around for a total of, like, 2 months. It was maddening.
Oliver enjoyed it, though. After a week or so of not being able to control my cough, he started coughing, too. And we were concerned at first until his cough never became productive. And he wasn’t fussy or anything, just coughing. And then Tiffany noticed that he would only cough after I would cough. “I think he thinks it’s a game,” she said, “I think he’s just copying you.”
“Hold on a second,” I said, “Are you telling me that my 6-month old is making fun of me?”
“Yeah,” Tiffany said.
And it was just then that I realized how big of jerks kids can be.
But the biggest frustration out of the whole ordeal was on Sunday mornings when I would preach. I would have to pause way more than normal to take a drink of water, I’d have to stop to cough occasionally, I even doubled up on the cups of water I had with me in the pulpit. My voice was raspy and hoarse…I didn’t like it at all. I felt like it detracted from the message.
As a preacher, my voice is a vital part of my ministry. It’s my money-maker.
What is a preacher without their voice?
Many of you who are vocalists can relate. For some of you who have been paid to do what you do, it’s also your money-maker. For all of us, it’s one way we express our praise and thanks to God…by singing. For those who participate in choir, your voice is not only how you yourself worship, but how you assist in worship, how you help others worship, how you help facilitate worship for the assembly.
So really, who are any of us…without our voices?
This morning, I want to talk about finding your voice…
I’ve talked to a number of you in recent weeks, and a good number of you let me know how much you miss being in worship. I hear you. I do, too. We will worship together again. I promise you. This is temporary…even if it’s a much longer temporary than any of us ever thought it would be.
I promise you this will pass.
And in all of this, that’s been the biggest loss that weighs on my heart. I long to gather back together with you for worship. Lively, bright, jubilant, face-to-face, sharing peace with a hug, no maks, full-throated singing, loud voices…worship…
And we will get there… I promise. It’s not now, but we will get there.
I long to hear the Sanctuary full of voices again.
But right now, it feels like we’ve lost our voice.
And I want you to hear me, that’s ok. We’re going through a season right now and dealing with some things, and have lost our voice in the process…that’s ok.
Sometimes we need to give our vocal cords a rest. Right, singers?
But how do you find your voice again when you’ve lost it?
Or…how do you find a new voice…when you’ve lost your old one?
Zacchaeus is a familiar story for us. Probably mostly due to a certain song many of you learned in Sunday School. We have this idea about Zacchaeus, I think…we believe he was probably small, he had heard about Jesus and was so drawn to Jesus’ message that he comes out to see about this Jesus, climbs a tree, and finds himself with a dinner guest. All of which is not untrue.
But Zacchaeus was also a tax collector—the chief tax collector, the story from Luke notes—a detail oddly left out of our cute Sunday School song. I suppose it’s difficult to find a word that rhymes with “tax collector.” And here’s what you need to know about taxation in 1st-century Palestine: the people—the common people…Jewish, Gentile, Samaritan, Syrophoenician, didn’t matter—all people who lived in that area at that time—the area forcibly occupied and governed under Roman imperial rule—those people all paid taxes to Rome. And Jericho, like Jerusalem, a Jewish city, you also paid taxes to the temple, because those temples were also taxed by Rome and so they passed that tax on to the people. And the tax collectors were in charge of keeping track of and accounting for who had paid what to whom and making sure everyone was up to date. And if that’s your job, you’re not just a pass-through, right? Because you and your family have gotta eat and you have to earn your own livelihood because you have to pay your own taxes… So the people in 1st-century Palestine paid triple taxes. Everyone in that taxation process was trying to get their cut and the taxes keep getting passed down to those who can’t do anything about it except pay it.
The people were literally having their lives taxed away from them.
So yeah, Zacchaeus wasn’t very well-liked. Like, at all.
Similar to Matthew, the apostle, and follower of Jesus, they were hated by their own people. And Rome certainly didn’t care for them. The temple, the religious institution, saw tax collectors simply as tools. So if you were a tax collector, you were an outsider in your own community. Brushed aside, marginalized, ostracized, pushed to the fringes of society. Which, you know, is precisely where Jesus locates himself and his ministry.
And Zacchaeus has this kind of epiphany in his encounter with Jesus. Jesus shows him extraordinary hospitality. “Zacchaeus, come down, you’re hosting me for dinner.” Jesus sees Zacchaeus. And in this exchange, Zacchaeus radically shifts from a cog in the system, simply doing his job, to finding a new voice…one that gives to the poor and pays back what is owed. Zacchaeus becomes a champion for reparations here. Zacchaeus discovers something new about himself.
I think of our parents of our young ones during these extraordinary days. I think of parents who are also teachers, not just trying to manage their own virtual classrooms, but also trying to help their own kids make the best and learn the most with these unusual methods. I think of our young ones who, in any other time, would be meeting and making new friends and running up and hugging their old friends…I think of how their sociability and psychology will be affected by this. I think of the young people who aren’t able to log on for learning, due to any number of issues…no reliable internet, no stable housing situation, no device to use, no understanding of the communication of what’s expected of them during this time…
I want to say something in particular to you this morning.
If you’re a young person…if you’re a parent…if you’re a grandparent helping out with virtual learning…if you’re a teacher…if you’re an administrator……hear me.
You’ve lost your voice.
You’ve lost your voice.
And that’s ok.
You’ve lost your voice because the voice you’re used to having isn’t the voice that’s needed during this time.
Stop feeling like you have to have all this together and be totally rocking it. You don’t.
If you are, great! Work it! Go on with yourself! And maybe let the rest of us know how you’re doing it.
But if you’re not…do not be down on yourself.
You just gotta find a new voice.
And you have, right? You’ve waded into these new waters, with all kinds of uncertainty. You’re doing your best and that’s good enough. Be ok with good.
And celebrate the other ways you’ve found a new voice in this time.
How many of you picked up a new hobby during this pandemic? Any new sourdough fanatics?
How many of you read something new about a topic that made you uncomfortable?
How many of you learned a new perspective that you didn’t see before?
Church, at the beginning of this series, I told you that when we start unraveling things, it can get messy and uncomfortable. I told you that if you stuck with me, I promised that I would show you what transformation looks like. I implored you to lean into your discomfort, and hang in there with me because I promised you that if you endured through the discomfort, that you would experience transformation yourself.
I told you to hang in there. I said, “We are going to talk about this.” This conversation is too important to sweep aside or ignore.
What new voice have you found within yourself that you didn’t know you had before?
What new thing have you found the strength within you to say that you couldn’t before?
Peter’s declaration about Jesus was a new thing he didn’t know he had within him.
I like Peter in the Gospel narratives because Peter is us. Peter is me. Peter wants so badly to be the favorite. “Of course, Jesus…you’re the Messiah, the son of the living God!” Peter probably didn’t even know what those words put together in that way even meant. I think he probably picked up bits and pieces of it from things he heard Jesus say and just repeated it, trying to be right, trying to be the favorite. And then Jesus lavishes the praise on him… ”Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah…this was revealed to you by God…and I’m going to build my church with you as the base.”
Peter found his new voice.
But also remember that Peter’s new voice didn’t last all that long. In just a few short chapters, when things get tough and the temperature gets turned up, Peter’s tune will quickly change from “You are the Messiah.” to “I told you I’ve never met the guy.”
I told you…Peter is us.
Peter is me.
And still, when Peter denies Jesus…Jesus never denies Peter.
Jesus never takes back the bit about being the base of solid rock for the church.
Maybe there’s something to be said for the base of solid rock of the church to have a few rough edges or even a few cracks.
And this is the promise for you, too, beloved children.
You might be unsure about your new voice. If might feel strange to you. It might even change again in a few weeks when all these circumstances change. But that, too, will be an incredibly important voice.
We do find new voices.
I dare say, we aren’t meant to have the same voice our whole lives through.
Our voices are meant to change.
We are meant to grow. We are meant to change.
We are meant to be transformed, by God.
What does your new voice sound like?
The world needs to hear it.