6 Pentecost, Proper 7a
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 19:1-9 Sermon
June 22, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
437 "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones"
537 "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee"
551 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"
550 "Lead On, O King Eternal"
"SOMETHING MIGHTY THROUGH SOMETHING SMALL"
TEXT: "Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. l must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner." But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that what was lost."
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he; he climbed up in a sycamore tree, for he wanted the Lord to see; and as the Saviour passed his way, he looked up in the tree, and said, "Zacchaeus, you come down, for I'm going to your house today, for I'm going to your house today."
This is a song that I learned as a little boy in Sunday School, and I would guess that many of you also learned this same song. Now for those of you who may have never learned that song, I should explain that the rest of us who did learn it, are more or less permanently afflicted with both its words and its melody. It's infectious. You learn it, and then you go for a long time without ever thinking of it. Suddenly one day something triggers your memory, and the song comes back to haunt you. Just one utterance of the name Zacchaeus and you find yourself humming the tune the rest of the day. I would imagine that many of you were thinking about this song as I was reading today's text. And I'd also be willing to bet that some of you will probably lie in bed tonight wide awake, because all you'll be able to think of is "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he..." ...and you probably won't be too happy with me either.
So who was this man? Zacchaeus was indeed a wee little man. But his slightness of physical stature was not the only thing about him. He was a tax collector, the Bible says. He was wealthy. And he was resented by his fellow Jews because they suspected that he got his wealth by collaborating with the Roman government and collecting taxes for Rome from his own people. He would have collected more than people owed, and then kept the extra for himself. That is how tax collectors in those days were paid; they received no salary from the government.
From the text, therefore, we know that Zacchaeus was short, wealthy, and despised. Do we know anything else about him? As a matter of fact, we do. We know that he was so eager to see Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree. Think about that for a moment. How many people of wealth and means do you know who are willing to shinny up a tree for a better view of a visiting dignitary?
When Jesus saw him perched precariously in the tree, he announced that he would be staying at Zacchaeus' house that day. Now if Zacchaeus seemed assertive for climbing the tree, then Jesus was really assertive for inviting himself to be Zacchaeus' guest. But that demand of Jesus turned Zacchaeus around. Zacchaeus was prepared to be an observer of Jesus, when suddenly he found himself challenged to become a participant. That brief, unexpected encounter transformed Zacchaeus from thievery to honesty. He became a devout follower of Jesus. He saw Jesus for what he was, his Saviour from sin. He repented; he believed, and he was saved.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man. And he remained a wee little man in physical stature. But in relation to the Kingdom of God he became a giant. He was loved, received, accepted, and empowered by the sheer grace of God in Jesus Christ. Zacchaeus was indeed a true son of Abraham and inherited all of Christ's blessings. He can indeed be counted as one of the great men of faith in the Bible, and serves as a shining example for us today.
If we look at ourselves, perhaps we see ourselves as a wee little congregation. If we do some comparison, we are a wee little church in our community; we are surrounded by much larger congregations. In the AFLC, we are nowhere as big as places like Abiding Saviour in Sioux Falls, or First Lutheran in Oklahoma City, or even Faith Lutheran in Fairbury. Yes we can see ourselves as a wee little church.
I have been occupying this pulpit for over four years now. And it isn't too difficult for me to remember our congregation's history and why we are here today.
I don't think I need to get specific with all of the nasty details regarding the formation of the nucleus that started this congregation. But what existed was a small group of people who desired to be faithful to God and his Word, a group that wanted to worship God in Spirit and truth, and a group that wanted to be fed and nourished spiritually. Here was a group of God's faithful people who wanted to remain faithful and gather around the Word and Sacraments.
As for me, I had never intended to be occupying this pulpit on a permanent basis. When I was contacted back in 2004, it was my intention to meet with you and assist you in getting things started. I had resigned from the congregations I was serving in Georgia in October of 1998, and I really had no thought or intention of accepting another pastoral call.
But God had different ideas than what I had. This is where the Lord called me. He knew that this congregation was in need of the ministry I had to offer. He saw something in the future in our relationship together, something which would ultimately glorify Him and be for the good of His kingdom. When God is in charge, and everything is placed in his hands, then we have to obediently go where he leads us.
And so we've been growing together, and yes we certainly have grown. God knows that his name has been glorified and his kingdom has been furthered during this time.
Most certainly in every congregation that strives to remain true to the Gospel, there are times of joy and laughter, achievement and success. But there are also times of sadness and despair, discouragement and failure. That's the way things happen in the church here on earth.
Certainly we can become discouraged. We see other churches with large memberships, and wonder why we haven't become a mega-church. Visitors come, and don't return, and we wonder why that happens. Is it something we've said or done, or is it because we are a small group? And it seems like our tasks are overwhelming, especially when there is so much to do and so few to do the work. And when we look around us and see the world with so much violence and hatred, it makes us wonder whether our efforts in ministry are of any benefit at all.
But even though we exist and work in a world filled with sin, we are always here with the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We can see that it is God who inspires this congregation to rejoice with those who rejoice and to bind up the broken-hearted. It is God who receives people into the church on earth through baptism, and receives them into the church in heaven when their life on earth is complete. It is God who has taken this wee little church and has given it evangelical stature, commensurate with the name it bears.
Listen to the words recorded by Peter in I Peter 2 verses 9-10: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Yes, we are indeed God's own people, who have been called out of the darkness of sin and have received mercy through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can see ourselves as detestable sinners, people who should according to human logic, be cast away from God forever into the darkness of eternal death.
It is at this point though that we can see the grace of God through Jesus our Saviour. Through faith in him, we are brought out of the darkness, one by one, and brought into the light of truth. Regardless of our sin, through Christ we have become part of that chosen race and royal priesthood. This is all God's grace, his undeserved love for us.
If we consider Zacchaeus, he was certainly a sinful individual. But it wasn't his physical stature that saved him, nor was it his goodness, his popularity, or anything else about him. He was a small man, made all the smaller by his immorality and his bad reputation. But this wee little man was given new stature by the sheer grace of God in Jesus Christ. And that stature came when God the Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart. Zacchaeus came to Jesus, not out of curiosity about some strange visitor, but because he knew that through him he would find new life. The Holy Spirit brought Zacchaeus to Jesus, and Jesus came into his home and into his life.
So also our congregation is comprised of members who are not saved because of their goodness or their wealth or anything else about them. We are saved by the grace of God alone. Once we were no people, but now we are God's people. Once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.
The occasion for our salvation is the Holy Spirit coming into our hearts and bringing us to Jesus, and Jesus coming into our lives. And so, we welcome him into our home, and we pray that he will abide with us this day and every day of our lives. We are saved by grace through faith, and thereby brought into a royal priesthood that declares to the entire world the wonderful deeds of the One who calls people out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Kingdom of God.
This is our picture as a congregation. We are a group of people, a group of believers, a chosen nation and a royal priesthood whom God has called out of darkness. We are a group of people who come together as children of the light. We gather together around God's Word and Sacrament according to His command. We are here because it is God's will.
We might be tempted to see ourselves as Zacchaeus saw himself, small in stature and not capable of much. But it's not our size that makes us great; it's the Gospel of Jesus Christ that gives us the stature of being a Christian church. Indeed it is by God's grace we are made great.
As we look to the future, things may seem uncertain to us. Things might get discouraging along the way. The future may have us going in directions we never before dreamed about. Things might not happen according to our plan or will.
Above everything else, we must remember that we are building Christ's church and not our own; we build the church to His glory and not ours. Even though we might see ourselves as Zacchaeus, a wee little church, yet God has great work for us to do. Our future depends entirely upon the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, who exalts the lowly and gives new stature to all who believe in him.
Therefore let us face the future with confidence, building God's kingdom on earth as he would have us do it, praying always that his will be done among us as we work together in the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.