Tuesday, December 25, 2012

MESSAGE Luke 19:1-9

Meet two old geezers - rich old goats who were tighter than tight.

"Eb was a tight-fisted, covetous old sinner; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.  The cold within him froze his old features.  No warmth could warm him, nor wintry weather chill him.  Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, 'how are you,' and no beggars implored him to drop a coin in their cup, no children asked him what time it was.  Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him, and would wag their tails as if to say, 'no eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'" (Charles Dickens)

You could find Eb each day, in his counting house.  He was so miserly that he only had one clerk to do the job of many, and one little stove to keep him warm and one little lamp to light his work.  Eb believed that the end of the year was the time for paying bills, a time when you found yourself one year older AND not one year richer, a time for balancing the books.  Eb was rich, and yet, according to him, not richer than last year, so what reason did he have to be happy.

Three visions in a wild dream cause Eb to take a look at his life.  through these visions he is reminded of his past and the people he had loved and known and who had been influenced by him and his actions.  It was only when he saw his own name on a headstone which is a foretaste of the future that he becomes aware of how his life really is now.  In his dream he calls out, "Hear me! I am not the man I was.  I will not be the man I must have been.  I will learn from the lessons of my life!"  He has a change of heart.  He is so thankful to have a second chance that he takes to the streets to meet everyone, especially those he has been stingy and unfair to.  One of those is an old gentleman whom he had recent dealings with.  He begs forgiveness immediately, and quickly makes arrangements to make back payments with interest in an effort to make things right.  He is eager for a life-changing experience.  This is NOT the Eb that everyone knows, yet he continues to greet all with a smile and cheer, warm and friendly.

Then there was Zach.  Zach too was wealthy.  Zach had reached the top of his profession, making his wealth through despicable practice of collecting taxes, and like Eb, was also one of the most hated men in his town.  Many a man would like to take the chance to nudge, kick or push him if seen in a crowd.  The opportunity would not be missed.  The town in which Zach lived was very wealthy.  It was an important commercial route with palm forests, balsam groves that were known world-wide, and gardens of roses which perfumed the air for miles around.  This hub of commerce as it was known was the center for taxation.  Zach may have been wealthy, but he was not a happy man.  He was lonely and had chosen a way that made him an outcast.

Zach or Zaccheus as we know him, did not have a wild dream with three visions that led him to have a change of heart like our first character Eb, whom you may know as Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Zaccheus did not look to the crowd to make amends and ask for forgiveness like Ebeneezer did.  Zaccheus was desperate in his hope for happiness, he was searching for the love of God.

Zaccheus hears of a special healer that is coming to town who was known for welcoming tax collectors and sinners.  He wonders if Jesus will have some advice for him.  Zaccheus is searching for a something to fill the void in his lonely dishonest life.  He is well aware of the feelings that the people have for him, but is determined to see this Jesus that he has heard about, and he thinks, "maybe this Jesus would accept me, maybe if I asked." But Zaccheus has another issue besides being in a crowd of people that hated him.  He was short, too short to see Jesus.  So he climbs into a sycamore tree.  The tree is like an English oak, and is very easy to climb, with a short trunk and wide branches forking out in all directions.  Much to the dismay of the crowd, Jesus sees Zaccheus and points him out.

Now think for a moment how Zaccheus must have felt when Jesus sees him and calls him by name!  Zaccheus had never met Jesus, yet Jesus is calling out to him by name!  He acknowledges him - the hated tax collector - out of all the people in the crowd.  Jesus tells him to "come out of the tree because I am going to have a meal with you today."  Zaccheus sees he has a new and wonderful friend.  He did not receive forgiveness from the crowd like Ebeneezer, but he received forgiveness from Jesus the minute Jesus spoke to him.

Zaccheus wanted the entire community to know that he had changed his ways.  Much like Ebeneezzer, he wanted his change to be a visible sign to those who knew him.  He decided to give half of his goods to the poor; the other half he did not intend to keep to himself but to use to make restitution for the frauds of which he had confessed to.

Exodus 22:1  describes the crime of ordinary robbery.  It states that if the original goods were not restorable, double the value had to be repaid.  Exodus 22: 4, 7 explain that if voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, the value of the original goods had to be paid, plus one fifth.  Only if robbery was a deliberate and violent act of destruction was a fourfold restitution necessary.  Zaccheus was determined to do far more than the law demanded. This was the way he showed the people by his deeds that he was a changed man.

Today, we are challenged to look beyond the story of the crowd and the tax collector.  We can identify with Zaccheus for there are times when we are lonely because of our selfishness.  We, too, are searching.  The story of Zaccheus is a favorite childhood Bible story.  Here was this man who climbed up into the tree to see Jesus, and He tells him to come down because he's going to his house today for his meal, not only to eat, but to give Zaccheus another chance.

Maybe you're not a tax collector.  Maybe you work hard in your community, home and family. But we all wander away  Jesus calls us out of our crowded life.  He will look to find us among many.  It is our sinfulness that separates us from God. But when we admit that we are sinners, Jesus tells us to come to him for he gives us another chance because of his great love for us. Our second chance comes with the gift of salvation and and grace (GRACE=God's Redemption at Christ's Expense) just like he gave to Zaccheus.

Our Savior has been born this day.  Won't you come to meet him?

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