Giving a sermon on Luke 19:1-10
Rev. Joe Cailles, pastor Trinity United Methodist Church
November 3, 2019 All Saints Sunday
 

Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

 
Over the past couple of years, this story of Zacchaeus has become one of my favorite Bible stories. I am seeing more and more of myself in him. Probably this started two years ago at the community VBS when I was cast as Zacchaeus in the musical we did. I’d like to think that I was cast because my audition brought depth and nuance to the character, but I have to be honest…there was no audition. I was drafted into the role because I was the shortest adult male at vacation bible school. Scriptures say that Zacchaeus was short in stature. The old Sunday school song lyrics say, Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. That’s why I really got the part. I’ve been the same height since I was 15 or so, now most 15-year olds are taller than me.
 
Scripture says that Zacchaeus was also a wealthy man but had a disreputable profession. As the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was in the employ of the hated Roman Empire and his job consisted of collecting Roman taxes from his Jewish neighbors, which is not great, but the usual practices of all tax collectors was to collect more from the households than was strictly due. Zacchaeus was wealthy and disreputable because he was embezzling his wealth from his neighbors. I sometimes think my life would be more interesting if I were wealthy and disreputable, but I don’t really want to be like Zacchaeus in that way.
 
Where I do see myself more and more in Zacchaeus is in his enthusiastic response to being seen and recognized by Jesus. When Jesus comes to Zacchaeus’ hometown of Jericho, wee-little, wealthy, disreputable Zacchaeus scampers up a sycamore tree to see Jesus and to be seen by Jesus. I haven’t tried to scamper or climb a tree in years. I would have to be very eager to see someone to try that today.
 
Jesus sees Zacchaeus up in that Sycamore tree and he knows Zacchaeus: “Come down here, Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house,” Jesus says.  Isn’t that what so many of us want today? To be seen and to be known by someone, and then accepted as we are and as we might be. The best people in my life are these folks who are genuinely glad to see me when I come around. The best congregations I have been part of are those where folks are genuinely glad to see each other on Sunday and through the week and who are also welcoming of those new folks who show up at church.
 
Zacchaeus sees Jesus. Jesus sees Zacchaeus. They head off to his home, but the Jericho town folks are not feeling it, and they grumble at Jesus’ accepting hospitality from this traitorous sinner.  I’m thinking the town folks believe Jesus doesn’t really see Zacchaeus. Jesus must not know Zacchaeus like they know him. I’ve been on both sides of that. Most of us have. Like Zacchaeus, I’ve had times in my life when it felt like I was only known for my worst qualities and for the things I did wrong. There are times, I have felt like I was only my worst mistake. Aren’t there times when we all feel like we’re walking around with scarlet letters and shame and those around us are smirking and judging us all the time.
 
But then, let’s confess it! There are times when we’re like the Jericho town folks, and we look at one another and only see the worst things that person did. Did you hear what she did? We all know about those type of people, and he is definitely one of those types of people.
 
Jesus cuts through all of that noise when he sees Zacchaeus. “Come down here now! I must go to your house today!” The town folks don’t like that, but Jesus is doing what Jesus always does, reaching out to sinners and the disreputable and the outcast and those who are too short, too poor, and too much other to be seen. Jesus sees Zacchaeus and accepts him as he is and as he is about to become.
 
What happens next is that the tree climbing enthusiasm of Zacchaeus hits level 11. Just by being seen and accepted by Jesus, Zacchaeus responds with super extravagant generosity to everyone. “Half of my possessions I’ll give to the poor,” Zacchaeus says, “and if I defraud anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” And let us be clear, a wealthy chief tax collector most definitely defrauded everyone of everything.
 
Jesus did not ask Zacchaeus to give away his embezzled money. Jesus didn’t ask him to do anything other than climb down and let Jesus hang out and eat with him. Jesus has told lots of other folks to give what they have to the poor, and to leave their possessions and their lives behind to follow him, but here, Zacchaeus comes up with enthusiastic giving plan on his own. He decides then and there that his new life will be one of making amends for his crimes and he will lead a life of extravagant generosity.
 
As it happens, today is the final day of our small stewardship season here at Trinity, when we all prayerfully consider our financial support for the Trinity ministries next year. I’ve been using John Wesley’s sermon “The Use of Money” as a guide. Wesley says we United Methodists are to earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can. “Earn all we can” means looking at our professional lives and our lives as students and lives as retirees as areas of our Christian discipleship. We are followers of Christ on the job, at school, and in all areas of our life. “Save all we can” means that we neither hoard all of our time and money and talents for ourselves, nor do we squander our time and money and talents on that which demean and sicken our bodies and souls.
 
Earn all we can. Save all we can. Give all we can. Wesley wrote that without “give all we can,” then “earn all we can” and “save all we can” are worthless. Wesley himself lived on less than the modern equivalent of $10,000 a year for most of his adult life. He earn considerably more than that but chose to live such an austere life, that he was able to give away the majority of his income. I’m not able to live like that, and Wesley recognized that few could live like him. Give all you can, he wrote, after providing for your family first, then give all you can to your church. Ten percent, a tithe, has been the standard for most Christians. It’s the one I practice. My first check each time I get paid is to Trinity. Wesley wrote that after giving to our families and to our church families, we are to give our money and our time and our talents to making the world at large a more just place and more loving place and a more peaceful place.
 
Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. Today, I’m turning in both my giving to Trinity for our ministries now, and my pledge card fro financially supporting Trinity next year. And I’m doing that because my enthusiasm and my gratitude to God, for my life and my family and my church family is at Zacchaeus levels. I’m so happy I could climb a tree.
 
Courtney Diette shared two Sundays ago how she saw her vocation as a teacher as a way to share the blessings she’s been given.
 
Keri-Lyn Coleman spoke last week about balancing the need of sharing God’s blessings here and now with the need for saving for the future, which may or may not come as we hope.
 
Today I share with you how my gratitude to God that shapes my life.
 
I am grateful to God for my awesome family, those in my home and those extended family who live too far way for us to see as often as we’d like. I’m grateful to those dear friends who are like family to me, who are as glad to see me when I show up as I am glad to see them.
 
I am grateful to God for this congregation, for the people who really do enjoy seeing each other on Sunday and who welcome all those who turn up. I am grateful to God for the love and compassion and care that I see all around here. I am even grateful to God for the challenges our denomination and our church work through because I know God will lead us to become a stronger church, well-grounded in our faith in Jesus Christ. I am grateful to God for what Trinity is now and what Christ is leading us to be in the days and weeks and years to come.
 
Zacchaeus story ends when Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” I am grateful to God that Jesus says that to each and every one of us. Today salvation and new life have come to all of us. Jesus sees us and we see each other as we are and as we can become.
 
In a few moments we will name and remember those church members who have died in the past year. One day, many, many, many years from now, a United Methodist pastor will read my name on this day. I hope people will remember me as they will remember Zacchaeus: a wee little man who lived an enthusiastic and generous and generous life. Thanks be to God.