Friday, 28 October 2016

Longer sermon on Zacchaeus

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12        Luke 19:1-10     

We live in a world which wants to polarise – right or wrong, left or right, In or out.
I can’t be the only one who watches ‘Strictly Come Dancing’: it’s great to watch the celebrities improving their dancing skills, the costumes are amazing, the musicians so wonderful – but the real drama comes when it’s time for one of the couples to leave the show each week. Will they stay or go?
This tendency to polarise has serious implications too – I have been watching some of the footage of people discussing whether we should welcome refugees in this country – is it yes or no – are they in or out?

We live, also, in a world of rapid change – new gadgets, new occupations, even new countries.
And so as Christians living in a rapidly changing, ever more polarised world we might want to claim that we are people of stability.

Our God never changes: our faith is stable and we sing, with Anna Letitia Waring:

In heavenly love abiding      
no change my heart will fear
And safe is such confiding   
for nothing changes here.

And yes, it is true that God is outside as well as inside time and space and so is eternal and ever reliable – but I don’t think the Bible points us to holding onto a faith that should never change and to living lives that should cling to the past and fear the future.

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians praises, even boasts of, their steadfastness and faith – but he also describes how their “faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing”.

Following Jesus is a dynamic thing, it involves change, travel, journey, so that, like the Thessalonians, we can be ever more worthy of God’s call on our lives and fulfil “every good resolve and work of faith”.

Many Christian denominations are asking how we can respond to the challenge to present the truths of the Gospel to the changing world around us. How can we follow Jesus ever more deeply and point to Jesus ever more effectively?
At this year’s Methodist Conference people were given these wrist-bands ‘Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly’.

In the United Reformed Church as the next year or so unfolds we will hear more and more about the URC’s new emphasis on discipleship “Walking the way – living the life of Jesus today”. Walking the way – not standing still or even, God forbid, digging in our heels against the march of time.

I wonder what Zacchaeus was expecting that day he shinned up a tree to see Jesus pass by? It was not so much an act of steadfastness and faith, but more a desire to be a spectator or a by-stander as the famous rabbi passed by.
He ran ahead – to find a good tree and get settled in it to watch… and suddenly found himself the centre of attention as Jesus says "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."

Jesus isn’t prepared to leave Zacchaeus where is – safe and passive and quietly observing. The kingdom of God has come close – and it’s not a spectator event.

I’m sure I remember as a child being told this story and it being said that Jesus went to Zacchaeus’s house and that afterwards Zaccaheaus promised to give his ill-gotten wealth away.
But the way Luke tells the story is much more immediate.

Zacchaeus climbs the tree. Jesus sees him in the tree and tells him to hurry down ‘I must stay in your house today’. Zacchaeus hurries down, and the crowd grumbles about what’s going to happen. Zacchaeus stops dead in his tracks and says “I give half of my possessions ot the poor and if I have cheated anyone I pay back fourfold”.
Meeting with Jesus like this has an immediate effect on Zacchaeus. When he opens his house and his life to Jesus, he opens his heart to change. It’s time for Zacchaeus to get off the fence as surely as he gets down from the tree and get moving straight away in answer to Jesus’ call.

Jesus himself sums up
"Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.".

Wrong becomes right; the lost become found; tax-collector becomes benefactor, as Jesus changes Zacchaeus for good, for the good.

I can’t imagine Zacchaeus singing ‘nothing changes here’, but he certainly learnt what it was to abide in heavenly love.

I’m sure you are facing many changes in this part of Somerset. I’m sure you’re facing change because we all are. There are too few people in our churches; too many expenses of keeping our buildings in good repair; too many hours spent wondering how to speak the truth of God’s love in a language people around us will understand.
Too many questions and not enough answers!

We might be facing changes we have not sought, and we do not welcome.
We might be longing for more and faster changes so that this world becomes more like the kingdom of God for which we long.

So what can we do? Be a tree. Well, not literally, but metaphorically. The tree was what it took to help Zacchaeus see and encounter Jesus.
That’s what our churches should be – places where people see and hear and experience Jesus and his healing, transforming love. That might feel challenging.
And even more challenging is that each one of us has to be the tree for a Zacchaeus we meet: our lives have to help people see and hear and experience Jesus.

The good news is we don’t have to do it alone. Whatever the change, whatever the future, God the Father goes before us, Jesus the Son walks beside us, and the Spirit drives us on.

May God be with you all to hold you in his love and change you into the person he has made you to be, so that the world may see Jesus.
For the sake of the Kingdom. Amen.

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