[Jesus] 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.”
Zacchaeus. We probably all remember him from the children’s song as the wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. It’s a great children’s story because Jesus calls out to a short person who climbed a tree because they couldn't see. Kids – and those of us who aren’t so very tall – can relate.
But the story of Zacchaeus has something to say to older people too. After all – besides being short – there were other reasons that Zacchaeus ended up climbing a tree. He was rich and he was a tax collector – a chief tax collector. No one liked him. They thought of him as a cheat – and a traitor. They called him a “sinner.” There was no way anyone was going to “make room” for him. So Zacchaeus knew he had to get creative if he wanted to see Jesus. And so – even though it was very unseemly for a grown man to show his ankles– he climbed a tree to see Jesus.
The surprising thing – for Zacchaeus and the townspeople– is that Jesus saw him. And then, Jesus called him and invited him, “Come on down – I’m going to your house.”
This was a huge surprise because when Jesus called Zacchaeus out of that tree, suddenly Zacchaeus wasn’t an outsider anymore. Instead, he was being welcomed back into community – despite the objections of others. As Jesus explained, “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” The lost means people like Zacchaeus, people who find themselves as outsiders, who worry that they don’t “fit in” or who don’t dare hope that they are included,
You see… when Jesus said he wanted to go to Zacchaeus’ table, it was because Jesus wanted Zacchaeus’ heart.
And he got it. Hearing that Jesus wanted to come to HIS house, Zacchaeus’ heart melted. And that is why Zacchaeus responded by giving half of his possessions away to the poor – and promising to repay 4x the amount to anyone that he had cheated. That’s far more than the law required. But Zacchaeus wasn’t interested in doing the law – Zacchaeus had just received the best gift ever – being generously welcomed into Jesus presence. And Zacchaeus responded with JOY – Joy that overflowed into joyful generosity.
Just as Jesus called Zacchaeus, Jesus has called us each by name. Zacchaeus responded with joy and generosity.
What about us? We want to be generous. We want to be joyful. Now, some people have an experience, like Zacchaeus in which their life is transformed by Jesus’ call. Other people seem naturally generous – almost as if it was part of their DNA. But for others of us, it takes practice.
A musician once asked a taxi driver “How do I get to Carnegie Hall. He replied: Practice, practice practice!
In the same way, joyful generosity doesn’t come automatically.
It isn’t always easy. We can get caught up in the demands and challenges of our daily lives. Sometimes with good reason.
For example, Cami Walker at age 33 found herself diagnosed with a debilitating disease. She could barely get out of bed each morning. She was in pain – and depressed every day. A friend visited her and said, you are feeding this disease with your self-pity. “I have a prescription for you. Give away 29 gifts in 29 days. You will feel better. “ At first Cami resented the idea – what kind of a friend would talk to her like that when she was in such pain? What kind of “prescription” was giving things away? But nothing seemed to take away her pain. So one day she said to herself, what have I to lose? She began giving away something – not necessarily something big – but something every day. It was transformative. The act of giving something away – even something simple like sending a card to a friend or giving food to the food shelf made a difference – for HER.
She found it so life-changing that she wrote the book, 29 Gifts: How a month of Giving Can Change Your Life.
Jennifer read the book and decided to try it. She was in a bad place herself. She lost her job. Finances were tight. She didn’t have money for a fitness center so every day she would go to the park. One day while she was at the park she got a phone call from a friend who needed to talk. She sat down on a park bench. It was colder than she thought - but with nowhere else to go, she ended up just sitting there, shivering for an hour.
When she got off the phone, she said to herself, “Hot chocolate!” That’s what I need to warm me up inside and out. So she headed to the nearest coffee shop. It was a bit of a splurge for her but when it came she just held onto it, savoring the smell and the warmth of the cup in her hands. It was perfect. She headed back outside – but as she did, she noticed a homeless woman sitting with a too-light weight sweater tucked around her, trying to stay warm.
Jennifer writes, “Without thinking, I immediately walked over to her. “Would you like some hot chocolate?” and held out the cup. Her eyes got big with surprise, “Oh yes! Thank you!”
Jennifer said, “I handed her the cup and then, as I walked down the street, suddenly, I wasn’t so cold anymore. It was as if the giving of something so small and simple, yet completely delightfully received, had literally warmed my soul. And to top it off, I couldn’t stop smiling…the giving had just felt so good.” “Then it hit me. I hadn’t thought twice about giving her that hot chocolate, even though I had been craving it for myself for about an hour…I realized that as I had been giving each day in the spirit of the 29 Gifts, it had become second nature. I am so grateful.
Jennifer had developed a habit of giving – and it filled her with joy!
God has blessed us with so many gifts – and we have the opportunity to share those gifts, to “give back.”
This past week at the Ronald McDonald house, some people were able to give of their time and talents, making, preparing and serving the meal, and some people were able to provide the funds for the meal and the program. That makes us feel good too!
Not all of our opportunities to give back are “hands on.” But because people like you have a habit of giving your time and talent and financial donations, our choir is able to sing praises to God, the order of service is printed on your bulletin, there is heat in the building and an elevator so that all can come. It is because of your giving that we are able to host and train an intern pastor. It is because of your giving that we are able to take part in the ministry of the ELCA giving 10% of our budget to the ministries of the Synod and the ELCA. This month you’ll find a different insert each week with stories from the ELCA entitled “where does our money go.” But that’s just a piece of it. Together, we are able to make a difference by putting our contributions together.
Joyful Generosity. It’s good for our soul. It’s living our life in response to the love of Jesus. And… for most of us, it takes practice. But the good news is that God is not only patient, but continues to bless us and lead us, walking beside us every day. Thanks be to God!
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
October 16, 2016