Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
The 1980’s were a time in American history when there was an increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. Members Only jackets were in style. The clothes made the man and the person with the most toys in the end wins. The early 1990’s was a time when Pop music began to show the signs of rejecting the 1980’s Material World. The band Tesla dusted off an old protest song by the Five Man Electric Band from back in 1972. I was in middle school in 1991 when the song “Signs” was popular on the air waves again. I don’t remember a lot about that song, but I remember the third verse really stuck with me. As I remember the song the third verse sounded something like this.
“And the sign said, ‘Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray’
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and paper and I made my own little sign
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ‘bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine”
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
And the sign says you’ve got to have a membership card to get inside. ”
What separates the Church from a civic organization like the Rotary Club, or the Lions Club or even Sam’s Club with its membership card is the message from God that, “Everybody’s welcome to come in and kneel down and pray.” Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and that makes us all special. This morning we are going to look at the man Zacchaeus who had worked very hard to become something he thought was special only to discover someone who gave him good reason to change his mind.
Zacchaeus started out a detestable man – the lowest of the low – a turn coat; a traitor – a tax collector for the Romans. Can you imagine living with the people who collect your taxes? Can you imagine knowing every time there was a tax hike the tax collector was paying for a nicer TV; a better car; nicer clothes; better schools for their kids, or a bigger house? What made Zacchaeus lower still was Zacchaeus’s position as a chief tax collector. Wherever money changed hands in Jericho Zacchaeus was there to collect his cut. Working for the Romans made Zacchaeus the lowest of the low among his own people – a reputation not helped by Zacchaeus’s small stature. On any other day Zacchaeus might have easily strolled through the streets and back allies of Jericho collecting his spoils, but today was different.
Zacchaeus began hearing the whispers and the rumors about this wandering rabbi passing through town. And then it happened. A strange desire awoke within Zacchaeus to see this wandering rabbi for himself. Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd. Now you have to understand in Jewish culture it was unheard of for an adult male to run. Running was fine for children, but for an adult male to run was considered silly, or undignified. But on that day – on that day; Zacchaeus sprinted. Zacchaeus raced ahead of the crowed to a sycamore tree. This small man Zacchaeus wanted to see over the crowd that he might catch a glimpse of the rabbi’s face. That’s all Zacchaeus wanted – just a look at the wandering rabbi. Now if running made a man look silly, climbing a tree made Zacchaeus look downright crazy or stupid. While Zacchaeus’s fellow Jews looked down on Zacchaeus for being a tax collector who had clearly lost his mind and started running down the street and climbing trees, it was this wandering rabbi who looked up to see Zacchaeus in a tree.
And who was this wandering rabbi? The rabbi in this story is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God who humbled Himself by making Himself nothing, and taking the form of a servant in order to better seek and to save the lost. Jesus does not consider equality with God something to be grasped or attained the way this chief tax collector, Zacchaeus had done. Zacchaeus had spent all of his life reaching for that Members Only Jacket, and was now a chief member (pause) of the tax collectors. However, Jesus Christ is so much greater than any chief so if anyone has the right to look down on Zacchaeus it is King Jesus. However, Jesus did not look down on Zacchaeus. Instead, Jesus looked up at this undignified, silly little man whom others had likely thought was either, silly, crazy or stupid. Jesus looked up at this man and saw something. I like to think Jesus looked at this man and saw the Holy Spirit already at work within Zacchaeus. A tiny seed of faith had taken root. This greedy tax collector who had made himself the lowest of the low for personal gain had just completely embarrassed himself for nothing better than to see Jesus’ face. How many people here can say we are willing to be embarrassed for the opportunity to see Jesus face to face? How many of us are willing to be humiliated for just the opportunity to come to worship on Sunday morning, and to sing God’s praises…? It’s something to think about.
Here’s something else to think about. God’s grace moved this outcast Jew passed the embarrassments of Jewish culture to encounter the Word of God – Jesus Christ. The message seems clear. It does not matter what you have done. It does not matter how far we have strayed. It does not matter how much we mess up. None of us – None of us is ever too far from God to come home. Amen? Amen! None of us is ever too far from God to come home. Amen?! Amen!! The Holy Spirit is seeking us out, and calling us home. Zacchaeus was truly lost. We have already talked about how Zacchaeus was a disgrace to his own people. But there was something else. Zacchaeus had run away from God. Here’s the thing. Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector. Zacchaeus was a rich, chief tax collector. Zacchaeus’s greed had motivated him to move toward things which took Zacchaeus further and further away from God. Zacchaeus had moved so far from God Zacchaeus did not even know what God looked like. However, because the Holy Spirit was at work in Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus sought out a glimpse of the King. If the Holy Spirit had not been at work, Zacchaeus would not have even noticed the wandering rabbi. Praise be to God the Holy Spirit was at work in Zacchaeus. Amen? Amen! And praise be to God the Holy Spirit is at work in us today. Amen? Amen! The Spirit says, “Everybody’s welcome. Come in, and kneel down and pray.” Zacchaeus responded to the Holy Spirit. Zacchaeus threw caution to the wind and dishonored himself in the eyes of the crowd for nothing more than a glimpse – just a glimpse of this wandering rabbi. Praise be to God Jesus Christ never stops with just a glimpse of Himself. Our King is always offering much much more. Amen? Amen!
Now brothers and sisters look at this morning’s text. Zacchaeus was not the only one searching for someone on that day in Jericho. The Holy Spirit was not the only one working to bring Zacchaeus to Jesus Christ. Someone else was at work as well. Jesus looks up in the tree to see this little man Zacchaeus perched on a branch, and trying to get a look at this wandering rabbi. Jesus looks up at Zacchaeus and says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). Church, let me ask you something. Who in this room can make Jesus Christ do what we want him to do? Nobody. Who in all the world can make Jesus Christ do something Jesus does not want to do? Nobody. The only person who can cause Jesus to say, “I must stay at your house,” is the Lord God Almighty. Amen? Amen! When I read this verse from Luke 19:5 I wonder who was seeking whom? Was Zacchaeus looking for this wandering rabbi, or was Jesus Christ looking for this rich chief tax collector? I think the answer is in Zacchaeus’s reaction to being in the presence of Jesus.
The people are all standing around whispering, complaining and judging Jesus for being willing to have dinner in the home of a sinner (19:7). Then Zacchaeus speaks up saying, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (19:8). Do y’all realize what just happened? This greedy, silly, crazy little tax collector just put himself in the poor house. The crowd is there watching Jesus and Zacchaeus. They all know for a tax collector to make that kind of boast in public means everyone who hates him is going to make sure Zacchaeus gives them their money back. But there’s one other thing. This chief tax collector has done what the rich young ruler could not. This tax collector willingly; without being asked, gave up all of his possessions to the poor to be able to go and follow Jesus. We might ask, “How is that possible?” “How can a greedy little man like Zacchaeus make such a huge change? (pause) Zacchaeus was able to make this change because God was seeking Zacchaeus the same way God is seeking all of us. Amen? Amen! When God the Holy Spirit was prompting Zacchaeus to look for Jesus, Jesus had very likely been instructed by God the Father to look for Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus wasn’t just looking for Jesus . God was looking for Zacchaeus. Hear the good news sisters and brothers. God is looking for all of us too. When God finds us and if we will turn our eyes toward Jesus, something incredible happens.
Church, I’ve got a question for ya this morning. Are we ready to throw caution to the wind? Are we ready to climb the trees for a look over the crowd of life’s distractions to get a look at King Jesus? Are we willing to do things the world tells us are dishonorable, or silly for a chance to see Jesus face to face? How many of us are too ashamed to ask for help dealing with a personal issue? How many of us would rather justify anger or bitter remarks instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to move us toward reconciliation? How many of us are willing to climb the trees that we might see Jesus and give over our past and our past mistakes to the King? We all have our distractions. In spite of whatever is getting in our way the Holy Spirit is offering God’s grace as a tool for breaking that through the barriers. The Holy Spirit is reaching out for all of us. No one is excluded. No one is left out. Everyone is welcome in God’s house. No membership card is required.
At the start of this message I mentioned I was in middle school when the song “Signs” hit the air waves. At that time I was in middle school and I didn’t fit in very well. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. The only reason I went to church was because I had one or two friends who went. We’d sit on the back pew and pass notes and whisper too loudly. Then we had a grease fire in our home, and it was the people of the church coming out to visit with my family – to bring meals, to offer prayer, to check on us that made that the third verse from the song “Signs” stand out to me. The people of that little bitty United Methodist Church, Ford’s Chapel, made me feel and understand that in God’s house everybody really is welcome. Even the out of place middle school kid on the back row. Church, Jesus Christ really is seeking everyone, and Jesus does not have a membership requirement. As we read about Zacchaeus encountering Jesus Christ we need to not only ask what are we doing to reach out to Jesus, but what is Jesus doing to work through us so we can reach people for Jesus? What are we doing to share the message, “Everybody’s welcome in God’s house; Everybody’s wanted in God’s house”? What are we doing to make these statements the reality here at Central UMC? Are we really willing to make everyone who comes through these doors feel like family? It’s important we try to make everyone feel like this is there home because we never know who we might be reaching for Christ. You might even reach someone like me.
In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen.