Sunday, July 22, 2012

Following Jesus: We Hope

(A sermon based on Luke 19:1-10 for Sunday, July 22, 2012)

This saying has been going around on Facebook lately: “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”

Zacchaeus was one of those people. He was one of those people who had everything and nothing, all at the same time. He had more money than anyone else in Jericho, he had more power than anyone else in town, and he had more enemies than anyone else in town. But he had no friends, no respect, no honor, and certainly no love.

He likely had no hope that it was going to get any better for him. He had dug his hole and now it was just a matter of hanging around until he was completely covered up with dirt.

Then along came Jesus.

Evidently Jesus’ reputation had arrived in Jericho before Jesus did because a big crowd gathered to see him. Zacchaeus was among them.

Look at him, jumping up and down trying to see over the crowd; look at the people, laughing at the little big man in town making a fool of himself. Look at him, running down the path to get ahead of the procession; look at him climbing up as high as he can into a sycamore tree so he can get a good view when Jesus comes by. (I wish it had happened in South Georgia; I’d have loved to see him try to shimmy up a pine tree.)

Now—and this is what made all the difference—look at Jesus looking at Zacchaeus.

Don’t you wish you could see what that look looked like? Imagine Jesus, gazing up into that tree at that short fellow perched on a limb. Do you think his expression was amused? Bemused? I know this: it was open and welcoming and inviting and gracious and loving.

I wonder what Zacchaeus saw when he looked in those eyes. Recently I read words of tribute to someone that went something like this: “When I looked in her eyes I saw the me I could be.” Perhaps that’s something of what Zacchaeus saw when he looked into Jesus’ eyes. He saw acceptance and grace and love and so he saw possibility.

And when he saw possibility, he saw hope.

Then Jesus put some words behind that look: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Luke tells us that Zacchaeus “hurried down”; I’ll bet he did since he didn’t get too many invitations, if any. Luke also tells us that Zacchaeus “was happy to welcome” Jesus; I’ll bet he was since he didn’t get welcomed very often, if ever.

What had happened got to Zacchaeus so much that he started throwing repentance and generosity all over the place; he exclaimed to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, O Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” His pledge went well beyond what would have been required of him by the law. “I will give and I will give generously,” Zacchaeus said; “I will make it right and I will more than make it right.”

Because he had been given much he too must give; because he had taken much he also must give.

Clearly Zacchaeus’ actions amounted to his reception of radically generous grace leading to his distribution of radically generous grace. They also amounted, though, to his reception of radically generous hope leading to his distribution of radically generous hope.

After Zacchaeus made his pledge, Jesus, who no doubt had insight to know that Zacchaeus would follow through, said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” Notice, please, that salvation was not just an individual thing for Zacchaeus; Zacchaeus experienced salvation as part of the community of God (he was a member of the family of Abraham) and he experience of salvation led him to try to right the wrongs and to undo the damage that he had done to his community.

Salvation is a community thing for us, too. When we receive the grace and hope of God we do so as part of God’s community; when we receive the grace and hope of God we respond, not legalistically but gratefully, by sharing grace and hope with those around us.

Salvation is not only about our experience of grace and hope; it is also about our sharing of our experience of grace and hope.

So for Zacchaeus, salvation made a difference in the ways he lived; it made a difference in the ways he did business. It will make the same kind of difference to us.

We’ve been looking at the book of the prophet Amos in our Deacon Bible Study on Thursdays. That eighth century BCE prophet said to the well-off people of his day,

Hear this, you who trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat. (Amos 8:4-6)

From God’s perspective—which is the only perspective that really matters—to take advantage of the poor and to cheat or abuse the needy is a gross sin for God’s people to commit. We who have experienced the undeserved and extravagant grace and love of God want that grace and love to flow through us to others. Such an experience of grace and love will necessarily and inevitably affect the ways we think about, talk about, and treat other people.

Zacchaeus had through his business dealings contributed to the hopelessness of the people in his community. When he experienced hope, he then through his business dealings contributed to the restoration of hope for the people in his community.

Zacchaeus had, because of his hopeless life, spread hopelessness all around. When he experienced hope, he then through his life spread hope all around.

You have experienced the hope that comes from knowing Jesus Christ and being known by Jesus Christ. Is your business model built on hopelessness or on hope? Does it contribute to hopelessness or to hope in the lives of the people with whom you conduct business?

Does the way you live spread the hope you have received?

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