This week I was sitting at home one evening watching the Nationals play the Braves in game 6 of the World Series, and I was playing around with a Facebook quiz. The quiz said they could determine my generation based on my pet peeves and then proceeded to ask me a series of questions. One the first question was how irritated I get when someone leaves a voicemail on my phone. I personally don’t find that irritating at all. I prefer if people leave me a message if I can’t get to the phone otherwise I am not likely to return the call especially if it is from a number that I am not overly familiar with.
But what I find completely irritating is when I leave a message and people do not call me back. Sometimes when we talk to God, it can feel very much like leaving a message on his voicemail that you never get a response to. It can be frustrating to continue praying when you feel like God is not listening or responding. This is why I like the combination of scripture passages for this morning because it deals directly with this issue. It is not that God is not getting the message, or is not hearing the prayers, or is ignoring us. But rather we have not positioned ourselves in such a way to hear the answers to those prayers and we are not always open for the reality of those answers.
Sometimes the answers to our prayers are not what we want because God has something else in mind. That does not mean he is not answering our prayers. In Habakkuk he positions himself to watch for the answer to his prayer from the watchtower. He is using not only his ears but more importantly his heart and all of his senses to tune into God. We are encouraged to do the same thing. When we talk to God, we need to take the time to position ourselves in such a way that we are awaking all of our senses to the presence, word, and will of God. So we can hear and feel his answers.
Sometimes the best way to do that is very similar to what Zacchaeus does in our Gospel Lesson. He is so desirous, in such need of a word from God, of a word of comfort, that he climbs a tree to better position himself to hear from Christ. Zacchaeus was a not an evil man, though others termed him a sinner. He believed in God enough to seek God out even though he was not perfect in life. He sought out God and knew of no other way to better life especially because he had a history of poor decisions.
Zacchaeus was a man of small stature who worked for the Roman Empire as a tax collector. Roman Tax Collectors often made themselves rich by over charging their neighbors and the people they were in charge of to the detriment of those around them. Zacchaeus was no different. In so doing, tax collectors often found themselves ostracized from their communities, not invited to community events, not welcome in temple worship, not welcome in Synagogue lessons, and never looked in the eye. Zacchaeus suffered the results of his chosen actions and chosen career.
Yet he believed enough in God to seek forgiveness, to seek new beginnings, to try to make things right, and to work to change his perspective enough so he could hear God’s message for himself and make the necessary changes to his life to bring happiness and fulfillment back. Hearing God, communicating with God, does not just happen, we have to make the necessary changes to our lives to open ourselves to the often subtle ways that God answers prayers.
I am not saying we should all leave this place of worship this morning and find a tree to climb: many of us may never have climbed a tree or haven’t done so since we were children. But we need to find a way to awaken our senses to God at work in us, in one another, and all around us. As a child, I loved the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, she wrote this powerful message, “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden”.
God is all around us, alive and well, speaking to us and reaching out to us. The problem is we are not always looking for the answers in the right way. We don’t always allow God the freedom to answer our prayers as he sees fit. We don’t always spend the time on the other end of the conversation listening for the ways that God may be speaking. Sometimes, it all comes down to our perspective. We need to find our watchtower, climb our metaphorical tree, or change our position in church to see that the whole world is a garden. Remember, we are all like Zaccheaus in our own way. We all have those troubles and poor decision in life that plague our conscious. We all pray to God for changes that will make our lives better, just like Zacchaeus did, but do you notice what else he did? He climbed a tree to get a better view and Christ said to him “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today”. Christ is calling us to take a new position, to seek out his love and kindness and he calls to us saying he must stay with us today. Do you hear him calling to you? Change your perspective and feel his call pulling more intensely than ever before.
 Frances Hodgson Burnett, 19th century.
 Luke 19: 5, NRSV.
(based on Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Luke 19: 1-10)