Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the mystic presence of the Holy One. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Our prayers reveal to God the inner workings of our hearts. In Luke 19, we read about Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector who was a very wealthy man. And right away, we see that Zacchaeus, although he was a very significant and even hated man in Jericho, put things of the spirit ahead of all the material wealth he had. He was a seeker, willing to climb a tree in order to be a witness to Jesus, as Jesus passed by him. Zacchaeus is a despised tax collector working for the Romans; he had probably defrauded many, and committed such heinous sins against his own people; how on earth could he be saved? He, a Jew, was using the Roman system of taxation to build his fortune. Yet, the good thing about him is that he is a seeker, a man like King David, seeking after God own heart, and willing to humble himself by climbing a tree, to be a witness to Jesus Christ; so he finds himself in a tree looking down toward Jesus. It’s a good place to be, isn't it (?); seeking truth, and being in a place where salvation is walking right toward you. Jesus comes to the tree and calls Zacchaeus down and into the presence of the Son of God. This calling out by Jesus, tells us that Jesus is willing to reach out and offer salvation to every type of person: Gentile or Jew, strong or weak, rich or poor, good or bad, even you and I!
At this point in Luke’s gospel, we see that Jesus is on a journey, a journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. It’s a journey that is often referred to by biblical scholars as His "departure." On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus passes through Jericho, and if you look at a map of the Holy Land, you'll see that going through Jericho to get to Jerusalem from Galilee is a very round about way to get there. In other words, Jesus has gone out of His way to go through Jericho, where He finds Zacchaeus up a tree. Jesus then invites Himself to dinner at Zacchaeus' house. So far, then, we see Jesus going out of His way to have dinner at the house of a chief tax collector, a Jew, who is probably hated by just about everybody in and around Jericho.
There are some parallels, here, to the sermon we heard two weeks ago about the Pharisee and the other tax collector, the good bad guy and the bad good guy. Both of these tax collectors were hated within their communities, and although they’re both wealthy, they are also open to hearing the message of Jesus. And like Zacchaeus, Jesus hasn't become very popular with the powers that be; the Pharisees, the Sadducees or even the local puppet
emperors who were propped up by the Roman Army. They all hate Jesus and would like nothing better than to see Jesus killed, murdered, executed, or otherwise done away with. So, between the two tax collectors and Jesus, there’s certainly no amount of love lost on them. But this is not why we're here today, is it?
We're not here to mourn the lack of love for Jesus and the two tax collectors; because if that was all we were here for, we could spend our time instead, mourning the lack of love that we share with ourselves and our neighbors, because even among ourselves sometimes, there can be a lack of love between even we members of this church and community. In fact, we can give ourselves a part in today's scripture and scripture lesson, and that would be the voice of the crowd, where we read, "All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" We, as a collective society, are the crowd, those who would direct judgment on Jesus, Zacchaeus, or anyone else who doesn't fit the mold that we want to put them in. So---we must look beyond the obvious, and seek to find in our scriptural lesson for today, the reasons why Jesus and Zacchaeus the tax collector came under the same roof, and what that says to each of us. "When Jesus reached the spot where Zacchaeus was, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So, he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the
people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" "All" of those people had set themselves up to judge Jesus, and they had made an assumption that because he chose to dine with a sinner, that Jesus was also a sinner. Does this remind you of when you invited Jesus into your life and heart? In the background, you may have heard the voice of the Dark Side, saying, "He’s gone to be the guest of a 'sinner." The Dark Side of our inner selves tries to guilt trip us into thinking that we "sinners" are not worthy enough to allow the Creator of the universe into our hearts. We think that, in our thoughts, our feelings, our actions and whatever else we have done in our past could not possibly allow us to let the God of the universe into the rusty, dirty, dark empty part of us known as our hearts! Our hearts are too cluttered with all the mistakes, the evil and sins of the lives that we have not only led but are still leading. Our hearts are rusted out; too messed up, too bungled up and ruined by the mess that we have spent a lifetime creating for ourselves! But we’re not reaching into our hearts; GOD IS!
You know, Zacchaeus could represent all of us in our human-ness, with our need for love, acceptance and inclusion. Zacchaeus represents all of us who are lost and waiting to be found: waiting to be loved and accepted. Up to this point, Luke has written about seeking a lost inheritance, a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost (prodigal) son. Zacchaeus had lost his place within acceptable society, and in his greed, he had lost sight of his inner self, his own self-worth and his place within the faith community, just as we often lose track of our inner selves.
Yet we cannot miss what we read in today's scripture: "When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." Jesus was there to extend SALVATION to Zacchaeus, and to us too, in Luke’s telling of this story. Jesus Christ invites Himself into the house of Zacchaeus, and into our house, as well! Jesus crashes the party of the life of Zacchaeus! God shows up in surprise with Jesus and Zacchaeus! And when Zacchaeus finds himself face to face with the Savior, how does he respond, and how do we respond?
"Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, Zacchaeus experiences a "God moment," and undergoes a inner spiritual awakening as he stands in the presence of Jesus, and responds by repenting of the sins for which he knows he is guilty. When Zacchaeus comes face to face with Jesus, he undergoes spiritual transformation and enlightenment! We can do no less. Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
As we get closer to Thanksgiving, we have this wonderful story of Thanksgiving, the story of how Jesus Christ brings salvation to not only Zacchaeus, but to every person who ever lived or will live! It is a story of God's presence in every life. It is Not a story of God standing with His back to us, waiting for us to come groveling up to Him, begging for Him to just acknowledge us, begging God to recognize and accept us. It is a story shared with us about the worst of the worst being given salvation and inner spiritual freedom by a God who invites Himself into the presence, the house and the heart of a man who knows that there is no spiritual way out for him. It is the story about a man who is saved by the grace of God, the God who will not take "No" (!), for an answer. This is the kind of God that we all crave for: the God who longs to be with us, forever!
Zacchaeus’ soul required more, and longed for salvation, such as only Jesus Christ could give. The Lord knew this, and therefore halted beneath the tree and invited Himself as a guest to the publican’s home. The one man in all Jericho who most needed the Savior was sought out by Jesus and saved. The grace of God is ever in search of those who have gone as far as their light will carry them. What a blessing it is that our Lord is willing to be our guest! When He shows up in your life, see that He is welcomed to the guestroom of your heart, because He brings salvation for you and others. With God, all things are possible. Does that sound like something you want to be a part of? Today, Jesus shows up in your life, and invites Himself into your home and your heart, too. Jesus crashes the party that you have thrown for yourself and offers to take you to a new and higher level of life itself. Jesus offers to you the only way out of the dead-end existence that your life would inevitably lead to without Him! When we come face to face with the Savior of the world, and we place in his hands all the failures, all the mistakes and blunders, all the wrongs and hurts and abuses, all the sins of our lives, then, through the Son of the Living God, Jesus Christ, the Creator God of the universe says to us; I love you, I love you, I love you, and here and now is the new life that I have promised you. In the book, "If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person," Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland state; "By salvation, I mean being freed of every obstacle to intimacy with God. We will know as we are known and love as we are loved." God loves you, here, right now, forever and ever! Amen? Amen.
Jan Ekstedt MDiv