Do you remember playing the game hide-and-seek? It was such a fun game…and easy; right? There was no equipment to buy, no confusing rules; just one kid seeking, and about a million other children hiding in every available space imaginable.
The difficulty and skill of such a game develops as one ages. I guess we start by playing peek-a-boo as an infant, and then we progress to hide-and-seek as toddlers. I have played with numerous toddlers who simply believe that hiding on the other side of the room ensured them of an invisibility that only the most accomplished hiders could manage. Their seeking skills were even less attuned. I have found myself waiting for several minutes in closets and under stairwells, only to finally reemerge from the darkness to discover that such a toddler had already given up and moved on to some more immediate form of entertainment; perhaps I was not as entertaining as the wandering dog or the enrapturing set of building blocks they came upon in their seeking.
Here’s a confession: I played hide-and-seek well into my teen years. My friends and I may have been driving to each other’s homes by then, but we were driving to one of the most hard core games of hide-and-seek in Cleveland, Ohio (why were we single, again?). We were grown men by then, so we called it ‘Manhunt.’ We arrived in full attire, black shoes, black pants, black shirts; even camouflage face paint. Our games would take on epic proportions as the boundaries would expand to entire streets and neighboring woods (of course going inside homes or cars was ‘out of bounds’). We would awake the next day with bruised body parts, muddy clothes, cuts and scrapes, and the occasional animal bite. We had reached the apex; we were experts at hide-and-seek.
So my question for us this morning is this: when does playing hide-and-seek (or Manhunt) ever really end in our lives?
There are times every day where we find ourselves seeking out friends, or family, or co-workers for a conversation or an answer to a question. We seek out job opportunities, bargain shopping, and moments of quiet amidst the madness of the daily grind.
And there are times when we are hiding as well; right? From the moment we pull the sheets back over our heads after hearing the morning alarm, to the scenic route through the grocery store to avoid having to talk with our overly conversational neighbor in the cereal aisle, to the phone call that we let go to voicemail, or the text we say we never received, or the Facebook message we wish we didn’t click on because now they know that we opened up the message and they have evidence we saw it! We are pretty good at hide-and-seek in today’s world.
How many of us would rather hide from this year’s political campaigns? How many of us turn off the TV, or the radio, or the computer when we get to the news headlines that read of global violence, disaster, and humanitarian needs. How many of us would rather just let the world go by, as long as we can keep leading the life we want to live?
And how many of us take up this approach in our relationship with God? How many of us love to read the Bible…as long as we are reading the stories that agree with our theology and view of the world? We’ll seek out those parts of scripture! How many of us seek out God when times get tough, but on most days we, like those toddlers I mentioned before, are distracted by whatever else may be grabbing our attention at the time. How many of us worship God on Sundays, but when life continues Monday thru Saturday we find ourselves distracted from God in our jobs, family obligations, our finances, or vacations?
We learn to hide from God and the church quite well also. Rachel Held Evans wrote about her hiding tactics in her book called ‘Searching for Sunday’:
At first, in an effort to keep our truancy out of the prayer chain, I’d throw on a skirt and heels before heading to the grocery store on Sunday, just in case I bumped into someone from Grace Bible Church and needed to appear like I’d come from some other imaginary church we were attending…Eventually, I learned to do my shopping between ten and eleven a.m., right in the middle of church hour, when spotting a familiar face in the checkout line is like catching someone with their eyes open during prayer. You’re both busted (p. 81).
Perhaps our hiding is even more dangerous and severe as some of us hide from God in our excessive drinking, drug use, pornography, or violence. Like many of the hiders in this game of life, we find ourselves moving amongst the shadows at times, keeping a safe distance from God in our lives. How often we find ourselves in our own games of hide and seek with our Creator!
Today I’d like for us to dig a little deeper into this story of Zacchaeus that many of us have grown up with as children as we meditate on these times of hiding and seeking. Many of us can identify with Zacchaeus when he heard the murmur of the crowd fast approaching that day. We can identify with the excitement, and perhaps the fear when word gets out of Jesus approaching. This morning let’s take a look to the scripture to see where we can experience the living Christ in our lives today.
The scene is set as Jesus enters Jericho and was passing through. We don’t often read about Jesus just hanging out in towns; do we. The author is directing us, along with Jesus, to Jerusalem, as the story leads us to Good Friday, and ultimately Easter Sunday. But these stops along the way are very important; just as our personal stops and experiences along the way in our lives are important in our spiritual lives.
We meet a man named Zacchaeus; the meaning of his name oddly enough means ‘clean or pure’, though he worked in one of the most despised professions as a tax collector. Worse yet, Zacchaeus was economically well off; much better than many in the crowd, most of his income coming from those very people he found himself surrounded by. So what should we think of Zacchaeus? Was he pure and clean as the name communicates? Or was he a crooked tax man, benefiting from the hardships of others? Or perhaps he was a bit more complicated and complex than we are led to believe; much like any of us.
Now, Zacchaeus was a short man (a wee little man), this is something that I can identify with! I have been in crowds where I can’t see past the taller heads and shoulders around me. I know what it’s like to be playing basketball amongst giants, feeling like a child amongst grown adults. And I will let you all in on a little insight into the inner workings of a ‘vertically challenged’ person. Some of you already know this: short people develop daily strategies to interact with the world around us; let’s call these ‘short people life hacks.’ And so we can identify with Zacchaeus. The crowds are not a surprise. Being able to not see very well is not really a surprise. And instinctually, as many of us short people can testify to, Zacchaeus observed the world around him and found the most immediate way to remedy the situation.
‘There is a tree! I can climb that tree!’
And let’s be honest; Zacchaeus probably felt a little safer hanging out in that tree away from the crowds who didn’t think of him as the greatest guy in town, and at a safe distance from this Jesus guy as well, who, well…who knows what he would do if he knew who Zacchaeus was, and the life he led.
And then it happened.
5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
Jesus found Zacchaeus hiding in the tree. Worse yet, he called him out; he knew his name. Zacchaeus, the smart and resourceful guy that he was, immediately and proactively responded to Jesus’ directive trying to clear himself of any guilt that might be cast upon him.
“Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
But then Jesus surprises everyone by what he says next:
“Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Jesus found Zacchaeus hiding in the tree, and instead of convicting him to punishment as I’m sure many in the crowd would have loved, Jesus proclaims salvation for Zacchaeus… and all who ever have found themselves hiding from God.
Many of us are hiding from God in our daily lives at one point or another; believe me, I’m one of them. How easy it is to show up on Sundays with a nice outfit and a smile on our faces, and when someone asks how we are doing we reply ‘Great’. Little do they know just how broken and disoriented our real lives may be. Our relationship with God is the same way. Many of us are quick to talk to God for the reputable parts of our lives, yet we yearn not to disclose our ‘dirty laundry’ to our neighbors, and certainly not to our Creator. There are days when we rather avoid that challenging conversation with our loved one, that convicting voice in our hearts, or that confrontational part of our life that would only bring up past hurts, resentments, shame and sadness.
Friends, we need to know this: Jesus is the hide-and-seek champion of all time! The Good News is this: God seeks each of us out, calls us by name, and proclaims salvation to all. How is God seeking you out today?
Here’s the easy…and the hard part: we need to accept and receive this Good News first before we can authentically share it with the world. This message of God’s preemptive grace and love offers us relief, rest, and ultimately freedom in Christ. And it is our joy and our mission in this world to announce God’s grace to all no matter where we are in life; whether we are seeking, or hiding, or still trying to figure out the ‘rules’ of this game called life.
Could you imagine a church that authentically accepts and lives out this message of God who first seeks out the lost to offer such grace and love? What would worship be like for a church that openly confesses its darkest sins to God, and to one another with the assuredness of God’s forgiveness? What would committee meetings discuss if our number one priority was proclaiming God’s salvation to all people? What lives would be intimately touched if we took seriously serving as the hands and feet of Christ who seeks out those hiding in the shadows of our neighborhoods and communities? Can we see it? God sees it.
In fact, God is already at work in bringing light to the darkness, bringing hope to despair, bringing salvation to the broken. Christ Jesus shares this news with Zacchaeus on that day in Jericho, and Christ Jesus shares this news with us today.
In keeping with our hide-and-seek theme: ‘Olly Olly Oxen Free!’ Today salvation has come to us in Christ Jesus! Let us share this good news as we are called out of the trees, out of the shadows, to the light of Christ, and we celebrate the all embracing love of our Creator.