Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Power of Peace

 

Text: Romans 15:4-13

Focus: Peace

Function: To see the importance of peacemaking during this time of advent

4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the ancestors 9and that the gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

Therefore I will confess you among the gentiles

    and sing praises to your name”;
10and again he says,“Rejoice, O gentiles, with his people”;

11and again,
“Praise the Lord, all you gentiles,
    and let all the peoples praise him”;
12and again Isaiah says,

The root of Jesse shall come,
    the one who rises to rule the gentiles;
in him the gentiles shall hope.”
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Welcome to the second week of Advent. Last week we focused on the power of Hope as it helps us to prepare for the changes that God is bringing on society through the teachings of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Remember, the 4 themes of Advent are Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. So, I choose our text because of that last verse, “May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you might abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

He mentions three of the four themes, Hope (he mentions twice) and peace and joy.

The implication about the power of the Holy Spirit in this passage is that the Spirit of God fills us with joy and peace. Remember, hope is a conscious decision to have faith and it is the emotional acceptance of what faith can do.

Hope, in spiritual terms is a mystery to me, still.

But, that was last week. This week, we are looking at peace and the passage tells us that through the power of the Holy Spirit we get peace.

I also believe that peace, in the spiritual sense, is mysterious.

Well, I suppose everything that is associated with the power of the Holy Spirit is mysterious since it is God at work and not us.

Peace, to me, is the calm that comes from resting in the trust that God is in control and we are living according to God’s will for us in our lives.

That does not mean that all that God wants for humanity is accomplished already, God left the church on planet earth to transform it into a place where everyone has a chance to receive justice and mercy from God and others. And Jesus told us that we are to take up our own crosses and follow in His footsteps. Jesus died to change the course of humanity from one of empire to one of mutual love and respect for each other. A peaceful existence between us all. And this passage is about the Jewish people giving up their own racial pride and accepting non Jews into the family of God because God has called us to break down barriers between people. God has called us to be peacemakers.

I can look at the angst in this world and all the violence and mistrust and greed and selfishness and as we know, when we let that overwhelm us, we can lose hope. But, we respond to the condition that the world has become with the Hope that Jesus’ power to change humanity has not wavered and the mission of the Church, to bring the family of God and God’s new way of doing things, loving others as much as we love ourselves.

The response in faith, to the evil of this world, with the hope of faith leads me to a sense of peace.

I love the beatitudes, the blessings, given to us in Matthew 6:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

They are the blessings of what Don Kraybill, the author of Amish Grace, the book the Lifetime movie Amish Grace was made of documenting the forgiveness of the Amish after the Nickle Mines School Massacre. It was right in our neighborhood and one of my parishioners was the first EMS on the scene. We lived the horror of that massacre.

Don Kraybill calls it the Upside Down Kingdom. The blessings are different from what the world around us values. It has nothing to do with riches or worldly success, but attributes of the way the Holy Spirit works in our lives.

I think my favorite, or the one that hits me the most from the list is “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

I think the most important part of our worship is our prayer time and every week you hear me pray that God would fill us with God’s Holy Spirit so that we can become the peacemakers that God has called us to be.

I know that I titled the sermon, The Power of Peace in a way to help you understand the power we have as Christians when we follow the teachings of Jesus. And I want us to finish with that.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace and Jesus made peace between God and man and Jesus made peace between man and fellow man.

Jesus is the prince of Peace.

And yet, the Prince of Peace took extreme action with both His words and deeds when He confronted the injustices that surrounded Him.

His message was powerful and it changed the course of history.

And they killed Him for that message.

And He calls us to follow His example, to take up our crosses and follow Him.

I hope that doesn’t mean that we have to be martyrs for our faith. But we do need to put to practice what Jesus taught us and Jesus warned us that if they treated Him so, they might also treat us badly.

That is part of what it means for us to live by faith. We are trusting in our heavenly reward and laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven instead of earth.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but it came to Him at a terrible price.

It makes us willing to give ourselves in our testimony so that we too can be witnesses to the peace that Jesus has called us to make.

This week, we celebrated the life and death of Rosa Parks who simply refused to allow the system of oppression to continue and instead of giving up her seat to a white man, she was arrested and started a movement.

She was a peacemaker. The Civil rights marches followed the non-violent teachings of Jesus.

Her protest was a peaceful silence in the face of oppression and the power of that peace changed a culture. Jesus was a work in her.

Jesus has called us to non-violent responses to the situations that we face. We Brethren practice the principle of turning the other cheek when we are offended because we have hope in the ultimate power of peace to either shame or expose the systems used to perpetuate violence against peoples.

It isn’t a call necessarily to silence, but a call to trust in God to take care of us when we are oppressed.

I hope the severity of the price that the Prince of Peace paid to get His message out doesn’t discourage us from practicing the peace that Christ has given us.

To me, it came first when I asked Jesus to forgive me and live inside of me. I remember that day, a peace from God came over me and I knew that I was forgiven. Jesus came into my heart and I felt His presence there, as a four year old little boy.

It is inspiring and it leads us to live our lives in service to God by serving others and trying to bring the peace that Jesus offers.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Power of Hope

 

Text: Matthew 24:36-44

Focus: Hope

Function: First Sunday of Advent, Hope


36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so, too, will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Good morning and welcome to Advent as we spend the next 4-5 Sunday’s celebrating and understanding the meaning of Christmas and the belief that God saw the struggling of humanity, clothed Himself in an human body, walked among us and showed to us, a different and a better way of living.

As we focus on advent, we focus on 4 constant themes to remind us of different parts of our spirituality that keeps us centered in the purposes to which God has called us.

Those themes are Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.

Today, the first Sunday in Advent, we focus on hope.

Our text to illustrate the need and power of hope comes from the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus where He predicts the destruction of Jerusalem.

It is a passage about being watchful and waiting. I guess one of the sins that we have to overcome is dissipation. Or specifically to this sermon, dissipation as Spiritual Laziness.

And to me, that is why the constant, year after year reminder of the same themes are important. They keep us focused on the most important things. Advent helps us focus on the love Jesus wants us to express for others.

We speak of the Christmas Spirit and celebrate a time when people stop the business of life to examine the importance of relationship and community as they give gifts and celebrate together.

We light lights to give to us a sense that the darkness can be overcome by light. It is a beautiful metaphor against the dark cold of winter. It gives to us a sense of security and warmth as we take time for the extravagance of decorating, meals, cards, gifts and worship services.

Without hope, it seems to me, that none of this is possible.

I suppose, in the context of Advent, that hope relates to us as faith. The passage that we looked at reminded us to have faith even when it seems like nothing spectacular is happening.

We have faith that the King of peace, who will bring justice to the oppressed, is indeed coming. And we don’t give up that hope.

To have hope in the coming of Jesus, to me, is to have hope in power of the Holy Spirit to transform me into someone who does not feel the need to pay back evil with evil, but like, Jesus can forgive those who have harmed me.

To have hope in the coming of Jesus, to me, is to have hope in humanity and Jesus’ purpose to transform society into a caring and nurturing environment instead of a dog eat dog environment where only the toughest thrive.

Jesus came that we might thrive. In another passage where Jesus speaks of the thief who tries to rob us from God’s blessings in our lives, He said, I come that they might have abundant life.

But hope and faith are different. Faith is trust. Hope is believing in the possibilities and searching for them in the way that we live our lives before God.

Believe in the possibilities. That is a powerful statement. When we look at the world as it actually is, we can lose hope.

It is a violent place. It is a jungle out there. It is an every person for themselves environment and Christ Jesus came along to help us see that there is a better way of comporting ourselves.

Our business practices, for example, I don’t believe, should be dog eat dog, but win win so that everyone prospers.

Hope leads us to being the kind of people who aid and and assist others because Jesus lived His life in a sacrificial way on behalf of others.

Hope helps us to overcome the despair that we can sometimes feel when the darkness seems to be closing in.

Hope is us lighting a candle in the darkness instead of cursing it. Hope is us not giving up despite what we see.

I remember the Sunday sermon that I preached 24 years ago after the Columbine massacre.

I stood up and assured the people that in the end, good will triumph and that we should not lose hope.

This has been another particularly shocking week. I am so tired of the mass shootings that we are experiencing. I don’t have anything to preach anymore about it. Back then, 24 years ago, I was an angry preacher and I vented the communities anger and outrage against the senseless loss of life. And now, it is commonplace. I need hope to overcome the despair that it causes. The passage reminds us to keep focusing on the coming of Christ no matter what we see in the world around us.

We, as people, need to find someone to blame. We blame mental illness. I lay partial blame on the NRA’s marketing campaign of fear and freedom that has kept us from limiting access to weapons from people who are not fit to carry them. We can blame the politicians for their gridlock on the situation when 80% of us want some sanity in our gun laws. And then there is the frustration with access to mental health for these people. The list of blame can go on and on.

But the problem with blame is that it merely leads us to anger and frustration. For me, it leads me away from hope.

Let me beg a line from my favorite Christmas hymn, O Holy Night. “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new an glorious morn…”

I love the imagery, the thrill of hope. Beyond faith, or trust, there is an emotion aspect to hope.

Hope is less of a cognitive decision as it is a feeling. So, the author uses the term, the thrill of hope.

But it is also a cognitive decision. I believe that it is something that we allow to happen.

I have been taking the time to speak with the homeless on the street corners when the traffic lights are long enough.

I make sure I look them in the eye, ask them how their day is going and try to give them the dignity of being human. Instead of a condescending look of derision as I give them a dollar, it is important to lift up their spirits and give to them a sense a worth.

That is another line from the hymn, O Holy Night.
“And the soul felt its worth.”

Sometimes you can see a spark of hope in their eyes as someone else treats them like they have worth. We, brothers and sisters, are Jesus in this world today and it is up to us to share the good news with everyone we meet. I don’t mean preach at them, but I do mean love them as much as you love yourself. Even the homeless.

Our text today leads us to ponder the meaning of the coming of Jesus. It very much leads us to allow ourselves to have hope for the future and spread that hope in any way we can.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Loving Mercy

Text: Luke 23:33-43

Focus: Mercy

Function: to help people be happy about undeserved grace.

33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by watching, but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

One of the hot political topics of the day is the idea of forgiving people of massive college debt.

I promise that I am not getting political. As a Christian, I find the discourse fascinating.

Those who have known me a while know that one of my life verses in scripture is Micah 6:8. He has shown you, mortal man, what the Lord requires of you. Three things: the first is an action verb of doing. Do justice. Be active participants in joining Jesus and standing against the systems that perpetuate poverty and oppression. The second is not so much an action verb as it is a passion. Love Mercy. Be happy about mercy, in other words. Seek mercy for yourself and for others as part of your religious expression. And the third command is a principle to walk by, walk in humility before God. In other words. Acknowledge that God exists and will lovingly judge God’s children fairly. So, lovingly care for your neighbor and put aside the pride that keeps us from loving each other.

We see a lot of pride in this passage when we look at the people who were mocking Jesus.

Today, my objective is to help us celebrate the mercy shown to this condemned man.

I suppose that I would be remiss if I didn’t pause for the first paragraph of our text. You could title the whole passage, “Jesus on the cross” but it is actually two stories.

The first, again, the pride of those who murdered Jesus and the way that they were insulting a man who was enduring probably the worse kind of torture that humanity has ever fomented against people.

The Romans had a terrible way of enforcing their justice. If you didn’t follow, not only did you lose your life, but you lost it in an incredibly painful way.

The other two men who were crucified with Jesus were not particularly evil men. They were thieves, not murderers or terrorists or something profoundly evil in the way it treated others.

As a matter of fact, thievery, to provide for a starving family, is the only forgivable transgression of the OT law.

But not according to the Romans. Their rule was an iron fist and they tolerated no division.

And the Jewish rulers sold their souls when they allowed the transcription, “The King of the Jews” to be placed upon His cross. It was proof of their domination over the people.

Jesus was judiciously murdered to silence His message of universal love, sharing and brotherhood. The idea of the rich giving up their wealth in order to live this new Kingdom flew in the face of the established system. And they killed Jesus because of that message.

They set Him up, had Him murdered by the Romans. It was evil. He was innocent of any wrongdoing. He brought hope to thousands and healed them.

And Jesus forgives these killers with unconditional love.

Jesus calls us to the same level of forgiveness. It isn’t easy. It takes faith. Jesus had faith, being God and all, He knew He would reappear, risen with victory over death. So, He died in faith, forgiving those who treated Him so badly.

I find that to be an incredible example of love.

And that kind of love is extended to the thief on the cross.

Initially, they were both mocking Jesus.

And we do not know what happened. I imagine it this way. Jesus, praying out loud forgives His oppressors and the thief sees it and realizes that this is certainly someone special.

I can picture Jesus, right after the prayer, right after forgiving the people who are mocking Him looking over at the other thief with that look of love and invitation in His eyes that conveys to him, the thief, who is dying on the cross, that he too, has value and his soul is worth saving. Jesus’ forgiveness, without anyone asking for it, because Jesus’ love and forgiveness are unconditional, is given freely to this thief and he, by pausing for a moment and looking at Jesus for who Jesus is, realizes that his soul too has found its worth, if I may beg a line from the Christmas hymn, O Holy Night.

Jesus gives several parables about loving mercy and being happy about mercy extended to others.

We looked a few weeks ago at the salvation of Zacchaeus, who by virtue of Jesus’ request to dine with him, man to man, human to human, person of worth to the God who redeems, is saved by the mercy and kindness of Jesus.

And yet, people complained about it.

I want to be careful to be a person who, regardless of the hardship that I have experienced, am happy about the mercy given to others.

There is the parable of the prodigal son. It really was given to help people understand the mercy given to us by God. The story is about how the elder brother resents the forgiveness given to his younger brother who didn’t deserve it and had proven so by the way he squandered his inheritance.

Then there is Matthew 20 and the story of the 11th hour. It is a parable about workers hired the first hour of the day were paid the same as workers who were hired the 11th hour of the day. They resented the master’s generosity because they didn’t get it for themselves.

It doesn’t seem fair. For the workers who bore the brunt of the days sun, heat and exhaustion to be paid the same as those who barely contributed seems out of balance to us.

And that is one of the “problems” with mercy.

And yet, the command from God is for us to love mercy.

The command from God is for us to be happy, not envious when others get undeserved favors.

Matthew 20 tells us that they were jealous of the generosity given to others.

He reminds them that they were paid a fair day’s wage and it wasn’t that they were cheated, it just so happens that the master was generous.

But we get jealous because it doesn’t seem fair.

And that is why God asks us to live by faith and rest in God’s provision for us. And don;t compare ourselves with others.

I suppose that is part of what is meant for us to be humble in our relationship with God and others.

Is it pride that makes us think that we deserve more than others? Can we be happy about their success? What if they get their success by less than honorable means?

Living by faith is an attitude that gets hard at times because it calls us to be content in God and with what God has provided for us.

And, let us be part of God’s kingdom by loving the mercy that God freely gives.


Sunday, November 6, 2022

Resurrection!

 

Text: Luke 20:27-38

Focus: Resurrection

Function: To comfort us in the hope of eternal life



27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead but of the living, for to him all of them are alive.”

I love that line, God is the God of the living. I love it that it speaks of those whose spirits have left this world and have joined the family of God in heaven.

It gives to us the hope of resurrection.

Remember, hell is not mentioned in the Old Testament and many NT scholars believe that the references to hell in the NT are references to the current apocalyptic literature of the time when Jesus was walking around on planet earth.

Hell is not mentioned, but heaven is.

Now the text mentions that there was a sect of the Jewish religious leaders who denied the hope of the resurrection. In another gospel it also mentions that they denied pretty much everything that was supernatural. They were religious, but they were practical materialists. I mean, they essentially believed the same thing that atheists believe, that matter is eternal and the concept of God is there to explain away what we do not understand.

There have always been rational skeptics to religion and the existence of God.

I had several Jewish friends growing up. And Rabbi Gebhart’s daughter was a friend of mine. I was talking with her mother one day about life after the birth of a baby and she said spoke of the circle of life. We live, we have children, we pass on our genes and in our children we live again.

She was one of those without the hope of the resurrection.

I mention the resurrection this morning because we celebrated Halloween last Monday and then on the 1st, All Saints Day.

All Saints Day is a day when we remember those who have gone before us who have set the example for us so that we too can be found faithful when Jesus gives us our reward.

And all of that is based on the hope that we have of the resurrection.

It was proven to us by the resurrection of Jesus.

He died in faith, trusting God to give Him justice and God did in a miraculous way, according to the sacred text.

In 1 Corinthians 15, brother Paul speaks of the resurrection. He mentions that many, many people saw Jesus alive after His death. Including himself in a vision given to him by God.

He staked his faith on what he believed to be the historical fact of the resurrection.

And apparently there was also those at the time who were skeptics. And Paul addresses that quandary with them. Look at verses 12-15: 12-15Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.

He pleads with them to remember why they came to faith in the first place. He is troubled by the fact that there are skeptics.

In our text this morning, Jesus faces some skeptics and gives them a comforting answer to help them see the fact of the resurrection.

He tells them the story of Moses at the burning bush and how God was speaking to Moses about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the present tense, as if they were still alive. And they are in the presence of God.

Paul believed it because he saw it.

I too, have seen, briefly for a moment, in a vision that came to me from God, the glory of heaven and the hope that we have in eternal life.

Apparently it is important to witness to this hope because it gives to us the power to live sacrificial lives in obedience to the command of Christ to be His witnesses to His peace in the hearts of all of humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit that comes when we trust in Christ.

I love the hope of the resurrection.

Look at this scripture from Hebrews 12. It is a passage about mercy and God’s grace, but it gives us a glimpse into heaven. First, he speaks of the terror of God the Israelites faced when God spoke to them from the mountain and then he speaks of the invitation of God in the New Covenant:

23-24You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.

We are referred to as the citizens of heaven having a party with the angels.

Last year I lost my mom, and I think of my mom and my dad reunited because she pined away for him so strongly. They are reunited in a different way because there is no marriage in heaven according to our text for today.

So, I think of them rejoicing together and hoping and praying for us, their children, so that we too can enjoy the rewards of eternal life.

And that last phrase might be the salient phrase for us to focus on as we end the sermon.

The rewards of eternal life. Many have said, and I believe it, that eternal life is a reward in itself.

And I am convinced that eventually, all will obtain it since Jesus died for the sins of the world entire.

But then, what is the advantage of living a sacrificial Christian life if we all are going to make it anyway?

Jesus Himself answers that question in the Sermon on the Mount. Look at Matthew 6 19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The promise that we have of eternal life in the presence of God, knowing pure love in an unveiled format, again, will be treasure enough. But Jesus tells us that living by faith, as difficult as it is to live sacrificially for others instead of merely for ourselves is worth it since in heaven, God will certainly reward us.

We live in such an affluent land that it is hard for us to live for the eternal reward. But treasure in heaven is eternal, treasure on this earth is merely temporary.

Let us live by faith.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Repentance or Salvation?

 

Text: Luke 19:1-10

Focus: Repentance

Function: to help us see the nature of repentance and salvation.

19:1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “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.”

My mom and grandmothers were big on Child Evangelism. Mom ran a good news club after school on Wednesday and it was there that I got exposed to a lot more of my Christian heritage.

I loved singing the songs used to teach us bible stories. And I vividly remember the son attached to this story. Zacchaeus, was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…. It included all kinds of body actions, the song could not be sung sitting down and it was a good way for us to burn off some of out childish energy while we were learning.

And the song taught a valuable lesson to us, Jesus loves short people!

I am being silly when I say that. But the story is packed with a whole lot more than a person who was so anxious to see Jesus that he climbed a tree.

The song did call us to a certain amount of zeal when it came to the way that we received Jesus. But it misses the entire point of the passage.

I titled the sermon “Salvation OR Repentance” but I hope that we understand at the end of the message that repentance is the key to salvation for this man.

In the first century, Common Era, there was a big class distinction in the Jewish culture. There were rich landowners who generally went along with the Romans and profited off the exploitive rents that they could charge the poor and there were the poor.

Most of the people were poor. The Tax collectors came from the elite class since it generally took a substantial bribe to gain the position.

The tax collector evaluated the property and charged accordingly. He could charge extra and pocket the graft since no one would stop him and he had an armed Roman soldier there collecting the tax with him.

Zacchaeus was already wealthy and now he was making tons of money off the backs of the poor.

But something drew him to Jesus. The text does not really tell us what the attraction is, except that he just wanted to see. He wasn’t ill and demanding a healing from some disease. And since he was wealthy, he really didn’t need anything. Simply speaking, he was curious.

And, something drew Jesus to him.

Jesus said that He came to seek and save the lost.

I don’t know if Zacchaeus knew it or not, but he was lost and Jesus loved him enough to call him out of his sin and set him free.

We do not know what kind of conversation takes place at his house that day. We don’t know if Jesus’ presence with the man is so overwhelming that the man repents in order to gain salvation, or if Jesus tells him that his riches are getting in the way of his salvation.

We can compare this story to the story of the rich young ruler. He was asked by Jesus to give away his riches and he refused, went away sad, because he was not willing to part with the physical things of this world in order to gain the hope of eternal life.

He decided to place his trust in his wealth instead of God.

But Zacchaeus has a completely different reaction to Jesus.

Let me throw out a very provocative statement: Zaccheaus repents from being rich.

He confesses that he has cheated people, as was the custom of tax collectors, but not enough to have made a fortune off of it since he has the means to pay back 4 times what he took.

I always wondered about this story, if he pays back the ones he cheated 4 times, where does he get the money? Then I realized like I introduced the story with, he was already rich when he became a tax collector.

He didn’t impoverish himself, by the way. He didn’t give it ALL away, but he gave away enough to prove that his confidence was truly in the salvation that Jesus has to offer compared with the false security that riches can make us feel.

Money is not the root of evil, the love of money is the root of evil. We have to remember the difference. We need money to survive, but if our confidence is in our wealth and we are stingy with it, if we hoard it, then it seems to me that we are not living by faith in our prayer that we only need to be concerned for today, God has tomorrow in God’s hand.

We live by faith and trust God to provide, that way, we can be generous with what God has given us.

Let me go back to that provocative statement, he repented from being rich.

I am guessing that his giving away half and then paying back 4 times what he cheated would have left him with enough money to survive, but no longer be considered rich.

I wonder also, if he, when the early church in Jerusalem began to put into practice these teachings of Jesus and started a commune, if he gave the rest of that money to the kitty.

We don’t know, except we know that that is what the church did. It seems that they all, in some way or another, repented of their confidence in their wealth and choose to live by faith.

Did you notice the subtle change. They repented their confidence in their wealth and choose to live by faith.

It is so difficult these days, living in a land of such affluence, to remember that God is our provider and that we live by faith in what God provides for us. We, as believers, are called to rest in God’s provision.

So, it isn’t money, it is the love of money, or the fear of not having enough, that causes us to walk in our own power instead of by faith in Jesus.

There is another lesson to be learned from this story. The people grumbled when Jesus choose “the sinner” over them.

In their opinion, of all the people worthy of Jesus’ presence that day, this man was the least worthy. And Jesus, the progenitor of an upside down kingdom by human standards, chooses to show them the nature and the power of God’s mercy.

Romans 2 tells us that it is the kindness of God that leads people to change.

I use the word change, rather than the word repent. They interchange with each other. Repentance means literally to turn around and go a different direction.

Lazarus repented of being rich and decided to live by the standards of the new kingdom.

A huge change came to this man that day, and it was proven by the fact that he didn’t just make promises, but he followed through.

So, let us be happy at the power of God to transform selfish people.