Luke 19:1-10, November 3rd, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now this story about a tax collector whom want to see Jesus, found in the gospel of Luke, chapter nineteen, verses one thru ten.”
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When 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.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
8 Zacchaeus 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
“Having heard these words with our ears let us now open our hearts to see how we also may need to consider making changes in our lives today.”
Have you ever been driving down the highway when you suddenly realize you may have missed the turn? I have. When I first moved to this area thirteen plus years ago, I needed to go to a meeting in Orlando. The issue arose on my way home. I was on route 528, the Beeline expressway as many locals call it, when I observed something strange. I was heading east, which was correct, but it seemed strange. There was water on both sides of the road; the ocean to the left and a waterway to the right of me. I didn’t remember that being the case earlier in the day. I called my wife on my hands-free device and she asked what else I could see. I told her there were several large docked cruise ships to my left. She started to laugh and then went on to inform me I had missed the turn onto I-95 South. She said I was in Cape Canaveral. Needless to say: I was embarrassed as there were no easy turn arounds, so I took the scenic route home. My wife brings it up, now and then, occasionally to this day (sigh). Thankfully, I got off easy that day. Yet, most of us realize that, changing directions – to get on the right route – is not always easy.
Our scripture this morning is about an unscrupulous tax collector, who was betraying and cheating his own people, just to fill his pockets with gold. The oddity, the twist, is he was curious to see who Jesus was and he was trying to sneak a peek at him by climbing up a tree. But, Jesus, being Jesus, saw him and called for him to come down as he wanted to stay at his house that day. Through this encounter, the man committed to turn his life around, making amends to all whom he had cheated, paying it back with interest! The closing verse tells us that this was why Jesus came to live amongst us. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” /Luke 19:10/ The struggle is when someone does not know they are lost. Or perhaps, they don’t want to be found. Sadly, it is true: many of us don’t even know we are lost, because we are enjoying the ride. I didn’t know I had missed the turn that day on the highway. Not until things stopped looking like they ought to have looked. Nor do we all turn around or change when we have missed an opportunity to go another way. Life isn’t always that simple or that easy to discern. Before anyone can change directions that person must become aware that they are headed in the wrong direction or realizing that they – are clearly not going the way they had imagined.
Here in Florida, and throughout the United States, there are patrol cars, highway Patrol Officers, State Troopers, cruising our highways and byways, checking to be sure drivers are using the highways correctly. Checking our speed, checking to see if we are wearing our seatbelts and making sure we are not driving erratic or dangerously. Now and then, we do hear stories of someone getting on the highway headed the wrong way, against the flow of traffic. Which can be a fatal mistake to that driver, and anyone caught in the horrific accident that could occur. The police issue tickets, citations that carry fines for wrong behavior on the highways. Your insurance bills may go higher due to this. You may even loose your license to drive for a time. All this is done to cause drivers to drive safely while going in the right direction. In our scripture Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus was to cause him to turn his life around, changing how he treated others!
As we strive to bring this lesson into our own lives, we must be willing to consider what directions we are heading – in all areas of our lives! If we do not take a moment to examine ourselves, looking to where we are headed in the many varied avenues, pathways and even the potential alleys that lead nowhere – we cannot seek out the help we may need to change course! One way to start such an examination would be to look to the relationships you have with others. Start with those closest to you, the ones you live with, eat with, and share common things together with. Then consider those whom you work with, those you serve with on a committee, or those you supervisor or the ones you report to at work, or at home. Not sure if things are going correctly? Then ask anyone of these folks you interact with. They will tell you!
There are many avenues to consider as you go through your life activities to see if things are moving in the right directions. Ask yourself this: “is anyone mad at me or upset with the way I am handling something?” If yes, then review the elements of the disagreement. Examine your side of the street, then look at how they see it. Consider being in their position. Step out of your comfort zone and look at the bigger picture. What is the purpose of that relationship? What is the scope of your interaction with that person? Is there a way you might need to re-adjust how you are approaching things? Consider our tax collector in today’s reading. It was only when in the presence of Jesus that he was able to see his life from a different view. Only then did he capitulate, yielding to the influence of a different approach to his life. He saw more clearly, that he had been wrong, and made a commitment to do it different. He was willing to change and correct his transgressions and move forward treating others differently.
In my journey through life, I have found that when something seems off or not quite what it ought to be, it probably isn’t. I also have learned, the hard way, that it is not always the other person causing the situation. Sometimes it is me! And yes, other times it is my need to deal with another’s issues or shortcomings. Either way, a clear look both ways is always prudent! Once you have clarified, with God’s help, you can work on the solution. The day I spoke of, when I got lost on the highway, I had to make a commitment to move ever onward, recognizing the consequences of my missing the exit. Turn around or continue onto another route. In that ‘particular’ case I choice to continue home on a different route than I had planned. It cost me a bit of gas and more time; a small price. The implications of making a change in a relationship, in a business deal or how we continue in a relationship or end it, will frequently take more effort, and often, the needed change is not clearly defined or refined at first. The commitment to do the ‘next right thing’ is the crucial point to focus on as we enter into the next step.
In our lesson, it is the appearance of Jesus into the picture which changes everything. It is Jesus, in some mystical way, which causes Zacchaeus to commit to change. What is not written down for us is whether, or not, he follows through. Yet, it is reasonable to assume he did. Why? Well, we know that this event was written after the fact. After Jesus was arrested and executed by the authorities at the time. It was after the stories and the accountings of his mystical resurrection and the many narratives of those that believe they encountered him thereafter. We also believe that the reports and descriptions of such events were told verbally for a few years. This gospel account wasn’t written earlier then thirty or forty years after Jesus’ execution. If Zacchaeus hadn’t followed through, someone would have known this, and the story would have lost its focus and would not have been recorded at all. Either way, the point we must hold onto is that the follow-up, the follow-through of a commitment to do something differently is the key which shall unlock the door to a more righteous life, a more fulfilling and useful future.
As a church, we are about helping people find God and to continue that relationship, strengthening it – as together – we mature in faith. An old retired pastor once told me quite emphatically that the purpose of ministry is: “to transform lives and save souls!” Well, I did appreciate his enthusiasm, I tend to believe neither you nor I can do either for others; it is only through God, through Christ… can we be transformed and saved. Yet, we can live by example the life we have come to believe God wants us to live. We can continue to provide a place of worship where we celebrate Christ in our lives. Offering comfort and support to those who seek it and share the stories of how God has entered our lives, and the lives of those whom came before us. The follow-through is this: our stories need to match our actions! The fact is – most folks would rather see one good sermon, rather then hear, me or any other pastor preach, ten!