30 October 2016
“Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak with them, take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Do you ever feel as though you’re juggling to much? That’s me this morning. It’s the first Sunday of our Stewardship campaign. And we have a great Gospel story. Stewardship is important. There are things I want to say about it. I want to talk about how churches that are thriving tend to have givers who are strongly motivated by a spiritual awareness and a practice of gratitude. Those givers have felt God’s love active in their lives. They feel privileged to give of their financial resources knowing that in giving to the church they help share that love with others and that’s critically important to them. It is their grateful response to the love of God active in their lives. Those points actually tie in pretty well with the point of today’s Gospel lesson. Did you hear it at the end of the reading? “The Son of man has come to seek out and to save the lost.” I have to say it clearly. We are all, every one of us, lost. And we, each and every one of us, saved by grace alone. God comes to us without reservation to love us back from our lost-ness into found-ness in God’s kingdom. Back in Jesus’ day it would be hard to imagine anyone more lost than Zacchaeus. Oh sure, he was a man of substance. You see Zacchaeus was rich. Probably the richest man is Jericho. For the most part he would have been seen as especially favored by God. Except for this. He was the chief tax collector. He was no doubt a good businessman. He successfully bid for a contract with the Romans and held onto it year after year. Did you know? His name means “pure”. I’m sure the people of Jericho saw his motives as anything but. I expect his neighbors saw him as a traitor, one who collaborated with the hated Roman government. Zacchaeus does in truth represent the very worst case scenario about just how low a person can sink. And yet we’re told that Zacchaeus wanted to know who Jesus was. Have you ever wondered about that? Who was (or is) Jesus really? All we have is stories from the scriptures. Zacchaeus got a very personal answer to his question. Jesus was the one who reached out to Zacchaeus even if he had been written off by everyone else as irredeemably beyond the boundaries of God’s love. What did you think about Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus? Remember these details. At that time the law required that Zacchaeus give back what he had taken from others plus an additional 20%. He offered to give back four times that. In a time when the tithe, 10% of ones income, was usual and the ordinary limit of charitable giving was around 20% of one’s possessions we hear that Zacchaeus vowed 50%. One half of everything he owned. It sounds suspiciously like gratitude to me. Having experienced God’s love though Jesus’ open acceptance Zacchaeus found himself in a new kind of relationship with God. Zacchaeus was transformed. Did you hear it? He was happy to welcome Jesus. One of my preaching resources points out that a literal translation would say that Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully. Isn’t that wonderful? He received him joyfully. I can just hear Zacchaeus thinking what a privilege it is to give generously so others can feel God’s love too. There might be more here though. To me Zacchaeus’ extreme generosity reflects a truth about the abundance of God’s grace in all our lives. The thing is, we are saved by grace alone. All we need to do is respond to God’s generous love. What Jesus showed to that sinner in Jericho is that God loves the un-loveable, forgives the un-forgivable, and transforms the unacceptable. God has already, through Jesus’ death on that cross in Jerusalem, taken on the very worst of our human nature and transformed us so that we can respond to God’s love abundantly and in freedom. For me the story of Zacchaeus acts like a window onto God’s world, it lets me see what happens when God invites our repentance and allows us to respond with gratitude and generosity so that we can show forth God’s love “not only with our lips but in our lives” as one of our prayers says. I wonder. Will you receive Jesus joyfully as Zacchaeus did? Will you respond generously, living and giving so that others can also experience that love reflected in this church and in all our lives? Amen.