When I lived in North Platte, I was a Lutheran-in-training. My maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were both Lutheran pastors, and my dad was a mostly unchurched sociable tenor, so attending First Evangelical Lutheran Church on the corner of 5th Street and Sycamore was not exactly a huge decision. Dad sang in the choir -- he sang "O Holy Night" at the Christmas Eve services, and I would give anything to have a recording of his beautiful voice. Mom's circle of friends was drawn from the church, and until I started school, so was mine. Church picnics in Cody Park, Vacation Bible School, covered dish suppers in the fellowship hall, Cherub Choir -- First Lutheran was a huge part of my life in North Platte. It was absolutely amazing to me that the building had hardly changed in nearly sixty years.
My initial plan was to go there just once, on the first Sunday, and then visit other churches in town. Instead, I ended up going there a total of five times. The first time I met the office, took pictures, and ended up buying a ticket to the upcoming Harvest Dinner. A gal's gotta eat, after all. That put me in touch with some helpful local connections.Then I attended the Reformation Sunday service, which started me thinking about Martin Luther, me, and ongoing revelation. The next Sunday was All Souls -- something that was not observed back in my day (maybe too Catholic?). Since my home church was observing Samhain that very day, how could I not go back to First Lutheran for comparison?
So for my last Sunday in North Platte, the only possible place for me was First Evangelical Lutheran. and what a perfect choice it was for me, right at that moment. The regular Pastor was in Minnesota for the christening of a new grandchild, and in his place was Rev. Rachel Ziese Hacker, campus pastor at University of Nebraska, Kearney. According to her UNK profile, Pastor Rachel is "a former magician, passionate sci-fi fanatic, and book nerd. She attended Texas Lutheran University (‘04) and Yale Divinity School (’07). She is an early church history geek who voluntarily took seven years of ancient Greek, instead of the two required. She is the Lutheran version of Rev. Elizabeth Lerner Maclay, my own early church history geek minister, with her Harvard Divinity School education. She is also in the latest generation of young women to follow in the footsteps of Elizabeth Platz, the first woman ordained in what is now the ELCA, and recently retired Lutheran chaplain at the University of Maryland. What a convergence!
Pastor Rachel did not follow the common lectionary used by the major Christian denominations, because, as a campus pastor, the academic calendar and the liturgical calendar don't jibe. (No Christmas on campus, for one thing.) So her first reading was Isaiah 1:10-18, which closes with the "correct the oppressor" verses.
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
She followed up with a very scholarly reading of the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19. And then she dove into the original vernacular Greek and a little Roman history that made the story much more complicated. Zacchaeus was not a corrupt man; he did not repent and change his ways. The verb tenses used in the original, and the context of the Roman occupation suggest he was trying to do his best to avoid the notice of the Romans while not screwing his neighbors. He was not "short", he was "diminished". Zacchaeus was between a rock and a hard place: his Roman overlords who could replace him with someone worse, and his distrustful neighbors who had ostracized him. He was, as Jesus said, "A son of Abraham" -- a child of God. "And that", Pastor Rachel concluded, "trumps everything". Boom. The only reference she made to the election.