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November 3, 2013 - Luke 19.1-10

“Reckless Eating and Drinking”

Luke 19.1-10

November 3, 2013

 

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.”[1]

 

Remember last week’s scripture, where we had a Pharisee and a tax collector praying? I wonder if the tax collector from Luke 18.9-14 had a name.  Do you think his name might have been Zacchaeus?

The story of Zacchaeus brings to mind several other texts from Luke.  Here is a tax collector, a rich man, an obvious sinner.  “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven…” the rich young ruler, the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, as we saw this morning, all the things Jesus said about money.  It seems that Jesus says a lot about money and how hard it is for a rich person to see past it.

This story should give all rich people hope.  It is the story of a rich, rich man and how he is saved.

You probably know this beloved story of Jesus and the little man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was hated by everybody in town. He had defrauded and jilted just about everybody at one time or another. And, when Jesus came through Jericho that day, everyone was scandalized that Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner, had the nerve to climb up a tree to get a look at Jesus.

He got boxed out.  It wasn’t just that he was short, it was also that there was no way the crowd was going to let him up front.  He was scum.

But their scandal intensified when Jesus stopped, called Zacchaeus down out of the tree and, rather than give the little sinner the tongue-lashing he deserved, invited himself to Zacchaeus' house. The crowd (that's us) were shocked. "He's gone to be a guest at the house of a sinner!"  What a shock that Jesus would be so careless – so reckless – about who he ate and drank with.  You just DON’T sit down and eat with the likes of a tax collector.

During the meal Jesus makes a startling declaration: "This day salvation has come to this house." Jesus, the Savior, the salvation of the world, has come to Zacchaeus' house.

And during the course of the meal at his home, Zacchaeus puts his money where his heart is. He does not simply give what the law requires, but goes far beyond that. The response is overflowing, large and generous.

And Jesus has the last word in the drama, "Today salvation has come to this house." Earlier in Luke's Gospel, the angel announced that a savior had been born "this day" (Luke 2:11). And when Jesus preached in Nazareth he said, "Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). This is one of those days when salvation comes close. And when Jesus speaks, he is not speaking to Zacchaeus, but to the bystanders, to the sniveling, judging crowd, to us, instructing us that, "He too is a child of Abraham."

And the great verdict on the story is that, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost."

Now, this story could be preached from the point of view of Zacchaeus. Here is a man who is so far down, there is no way for him to get up. He has defrauded so many, has committed such deep sins against his own people, how on earth will he be saved? Yet the good thing is he is a seeker, he is at least curious, he is at least there, straining to look over the crowd, to look toward Jesus. And that is a wonderful place for Jesus to see you.

For some time now it has been fashionable for many churches to have what they call "seeker services." I confess that I have some questions about most of these services that I have seen - the exclusively contemporary music, the minimalist theology, the upbeat, cheerful sermon, the coffee in the narthex. The good thing is at least there is sensitivity toward those seeking, a determination to get them in the right place where they can get a good look at Jesus.

But that is not really where I am, and I think most of you are probably unlike Zacchaeus. So I think it best to tell this story from the point view of the crowd. Here, in a Gospel that is almost uniformly critical in its treatment of the rich, is salvation coming to a very rich man, a very bad rich man.

But the qualification to be embraced by Jesus is not that one be good or poor. The one qualification to be found by Jesus is to be lost. Both rich and poor can receive that grace. And the crowd (us) is just shocked that Jesus could dare to embrace the bad, rich person as much as he has embraced us.

It's at that point that little Zacchaeus begins to show us a thing or two about Jesus. There are consequences to Jesus' intrusion into his heart, and a price on this grace, specific monetary, financial consequences. This grace isn't cheap. He comes to us just as we are, but he does not leave us just as we are. Zacchaeus is transformed from a taker to a giver, a most generous, gracious giver.

It is a real challenge to all church folks to remember that Jesus really does change people’s lives.  That’s what church should be about.  We have to guard against the tremendous temptation to think to highly of ourselves. William Willimon once wrote this prayer:

Lord, help us not to turn your church into our club. Help us to keep going out, to keep reaching out, and to keep expecting you to lead us into places outside the church. Lord, when you seek and find some of the lost, help us to be a church with a big enough heart to open wide our door and to welcome them as your cherished children and our sisters and brothers. Help us not to turn your church into our club. Amen. [2]

Perhaps a few of us find ourselves in this story in the person of little Zacchaeus. Maybe you are a seeker. You may not have climbed up a tree to see Jesus, but you have come to church to see Jesus and that's good. This story says that if you will just take one little step toward Jesus, he'll take a great big step toward you. Jesus will come in and be with you, eat with you, no matter what the world thinks about you or his coming close to you.

Others of us (and I count myself in this group) are part of the crowd. We've been tight with Jesus for a long time, for maybe as long as we can remember. If Jesus is going to have dinner with anyone, it ought to be with us, at our house.

How does it feel to see Jesus reach out into the crowd, reaching beyond us, reaching as far as a notorious sinner whom we think is beneath us?

"I can't believe that Jesus has shown grace to somebody like him!" we complain.

We have to look at how Jesus evangelizes.  Evangelism is about sharing the gospel with people.  Now how did God do that?  God sent Jesus.  God’s version of evangelism is INCARNATIONAL.  God sent His Message in the flesh.  If we are going to evangelize, we have to do it that way too.  We have to be able to go to people and say, “We believe that, and so we live that.”  How in the world could we ever go to people and say “We believe that, but instead we live like this.”[3]  So many churches struggle to live out their beliefs in regard to accepting people into their church family.  I am so happy that I am a part of a diverse church – and that people can see that in us.

I think this story leaves us with an assignment. If we are going to stay close to Jesus, share bread and wine at his table, then we better be willing to be close to sinners - sinners on the inside of the church and sinners on the outside. He has come to seek and to save the lost so, if we want to be close to him, we'll have to be willing to share him with the lost. By such sharing, such scandalous grace, such reckless eating and drinking, salvation comes to my house and your house this day and always. Amen.

 

 

[1]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[2] William Willimon; Pulpit Resource, November 4, 2007.

[3] Clarence Jordan, The Substance of Faith and Other Cotton Patch Sermons, Harper, 1972, pp. 32-34.