PENTECOST 24, C – Reformation (October 30, 2016)

SCRIPTURES – Is. 1:10-18; 2 Thess. 1:1-12; Luke 19:1-10

There was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And 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.” Luke 19

 

Just imagine if the things that Jesus said and did, such as His interaction with Zacchaeus, had only been passed on by mouth and had never been written down. You know how stories change over time. That big fish you caught gets a lot bigger! If Jesus’ life and words hadn’t been written down for us, who knows what we’d be saying and believing about Jesus today?!

 Thanks be to God for His Scriptures: for the faithfulness of His prophets and apostles in writing down what God and His people said and did, and for the faithful scribes and monks who carefully copied them and passed them down to us! It was God’s Scriptures that brought about the Reformation of a Church that had fallen into many false teachings and practices, as the German monk and priest Martin Luther read and studied the Bible and again brought its truths to light. We continue to remember and celebrate that Reformation today, nearly 500 years later, because we continue to proclaim the same words of God.

 What do we learn from God’s Word on this day? We learn much from Zacchaeus, and from Jesus’ response to him. Zacchaeus was a little man. His shortness kept him from seeing over the crowds surrounding Jesus, and so he ran ahead and climbed up a tree. That position – up above, where Jesus would perhaps not be looking – was a perfect spot for him. For, you see, Zacchaeus wasn’t just small in stature. He was small inside; shamed, and ashamed. Seeing Jesus from a tree was perfect, for from there he could see and yet not be seen.

 Oh, what sin and shame do to us! They cause us to stay in the shadows and at a distance; from one another, and what is worse, even from God. They keep us from worship, or from praying, or from talking about our God. That’s how it was for Zacchaeus. His position as a chief tax collector caused his fellow Jews to look down upon him and turn their backs on him, for he took their money and gave it to the unbelieving, pagan Romans who ruled Israel. Zacchaeus lived in shame. And then, the great rabbi Jesus, who received and forgave all kinds of sinners, came to his town. Perhaps he could see him! But, to stay hidden in the branches of a tree, where he could safely see but not be seen, seemed best. It’s tempting to want your sins to stay hidden, unknown and unseen and unspoken. Sometimes it’s more comfortable and safer to keep God, and others, at a distance!

 Well, you might be able to keep others at a distance and unaware of your sins (although, they usually don’t remain hidden), but you can’t do so with God. He is always present. He sees and knows everything! For instance, He saw the frequent worship of the people in Isaiah’s day, their Sabbath worship and new moon celebrations and other appointed feasts. They were in His house often and were praying regularly; and He hated it! “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression.” (Is. 1) God knew what was in their minds and hearts, and He saw their sinful actions after their worship. He also knows you. Nothing can be hidden from Him. We see this with Jesus: when He came to the tree where Zacchaeus was safely hidden, He looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. There’s no hiding and no anonymity with Him! He sees you and knows you, and every one of your sins.

 But, in His Son, God comes to you in mercy. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” How incredible! To go to Zacchaeus’ house, to eat with him and stay with him, was to say to him and to everyone, “I am one with this man. I am at peace with him.” For this great representative of God to stay with him meant a new life for Zacchaeus. “So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.” For Jesus, however, it meant shame. “And when [the people] saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”” Jesus comes to stand with us in our shame and bear it for us, while sharing with us God’s honor, mercy, forgiveness and love! This story from Jesus’ life sums it up His life and ministry, and is the message of the entire Bible.

 In Christ you need not be ashamed. You don’t need to hide in the shadows. He from whom you cannot hide doesn’t come to shame you. He comes to you in love and forgives you! This is the God we have. This is the message He proclaims throughout His Bible. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord in His Word. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Is. 1:18) Their stain shall be seen no more by God. He will only look upon the purity of Christ and His forgiveness working in you.

 Come forth from the shadows and bring your sins to Jesus! You don’t need to hide. Instead, you can live boldly and joyously as a child of God. After Jesus stayed with him Zacchaeus used the wealth he had gained as a chief tax-collector, and would continue to gain, to help those who were in need. He promised to serve honestly and not secretly steal from others, as so many tax collectors did. God will be pleased with you when you also do your work honestly and faithfully, for the good and blessing of others and not just yourself. Loving and worshiping God, rejoicing in Him for the forgiveness of your sins fully and freely in Christ; and then, living an honest and faithful and joyful life in obedience to His commandments – these are the works He has given us to do and with which He is pleased. With such a life you can stand even before kings, as did Martin Luther, and not be put to shame.

 Rejoice and be glad, for today salvation has come to this house, this church! Jesus has come, and with His forgiveness makes us children of Abraham, children of God! All thanks and praise to our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.