PASTOR KEITH’S SERMON ON GENEROSITYLuke 19:1-10 “Zachaeus”
NOV 17, 2013
What is the greatest commandment?Well Jesus answered that question this way:
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
And we know that we best embody our love for God by living out our love for neighbor. For just as God’s love for us is best embodied in Jesus, so, too, is our Love for God best embodied in our following of Jesus, by away ourselves in the manner of Christ.
We best love God in and through our love for others.
And Paul writes that the love that God gives to us in Christ Jesus, that God pours out for us and pour out into us, should not and cannot be kept within us, locked away, stored in a closet with stickers plastered all over it declaring “use only in case of emergency.” No. God’s love bursts forth from us in and through the power of the Holy Spirit as what the apostle Paul calls “Fruits of the Spirit.” And what exactly are those fruits? Not apples or oranges or mangoes or papayas or even carambola or breadfruit or pomegranate. No. Paul says, rather, that the Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.You and I as disciples of Jesus are called to lives of love; lives of peace; lives of joy and kindness; lives of faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; and we are called to lives of generosity.
Now we spoke last week about a couple of key points: First, that everything we have comes from a good and generous God; That God entrusts us with this outpouring of generosity, calling us to steward, to manage with care and fidelity, on God’s behalf - not some of what we have been given - but all. We wrestled with the idea that with God as the Lord of our finances we should acquire and spend in God-pleasing ways. But today we go further: We declare and affirm that one of the hallmarks of our stewardship, of allowing God to manage our acquiring and spending, is how deeply we embody the biblical principle of generosity. And to see this in action we turn to one of the most unlikely of people: Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector as all tax collectors in Jesus’ day were – seen as betrayers of the Jewish people, as collaborators with the hated Romans, shaking down their neighbors and countrymen, notorious for charging them more and pocketing the difference.But betrayer of his own people and collaborator with the enemy though he was, still, we find Zacchaeus seeking after the Lord. Spending his afternoon running ahead of the crowd, climbing a tree just to get a glance – a glance mind you, of Jesus.
Now as a kid I loved to climb trees. Oaks that towered majestically and maples, some of which kissed the sky. I’d even climb pine trees suffering the sap that ruined pair after pair of toughskin jeans and stained hands and elbows and knees without mercy. Sap stains that defied soap and repeated washings and occasionally, I am sure, sandpaper.
Sap, apparently, is not an issue for Zacchaaeus. He does not appear to encounter it – but what he does encounter - who he encounters - moves Zacchaeus from a tree climbing faith – seeking from a distance – a safe and comfortable distance - to a relationship, to a meal, and to transformation into a life of generosity.
Jesus doesn’t leave Zacchaeus in the tree – he says “Let’s have lunch!” and then what happens when Zacchaeus spends time in the presence of Christ?All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." 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.
Mercifully, Jesus enters into the life of Zacchaeus, and generosity not only takes hold – it cascades like a waterfall, soaking his life and the lives of the poor and nearly every other relationship, it seems, in Zacchaeus’ life. When Jesus takes up residence in our hearts, that indwelling love of God in and through Christ, cannot be, will not be, contained.But we struggle with opening up our hearts to the holy presence of God in Christ Jesus. We like to take a part of our lives and give God free reign – here – take our Sunday mornings. Take our mealtime prayers, our morning devotions, while we keep other parts of our days, other days of our week, other work and relationships of ours and jealously keep them for ourselves, shutting God out. It is as if our lives are a house full of rooms and we love having God join us in the living room, the special one, the one with clear vinyl covered couches that one sticks to in humid weather and perfect shag carpet still pristine since we installed it back in the 1970’s, still raked carefully all in the same direction, and, of course, cheap reproduction chandeliers - but the rest of the house is strictly off limits. And the more we fail to let the presence of God in and through Christ Jesus that joyfully dwells in our hearts practice generosity, the more we will struggle to become more generous people: Generosity leads to more generosity – it is contagious and the only cure is hypocrisy and that, my friends, as disciples of Jesus, is just too expensive for any of us to afford.
Generosity leads to more generosity: It leads to a deeper and more faithful life.And in our struggle to seek to be generous and not self-serving, to pour ourselves out and not seek in return to put others in our debt, in our struggle against the desire for others to give back as we have given them, Jesus teaches us to give to those least likely to give back, least likely to even love us for what we have done. Jesus challenges us to break the cycle that confuses generosity with indebtedness: “I did this for you – so you owe me!” In the calculus of the Kingdom we are generous because God is generous. If there is a debt owed –we owe it to God by whose generous grace we live and love and have our being.
Generosity leads to more generosity: It leads to a deeper and more faithful life. Is that the life we live – young and old, rich and poor – is that the life we want?Amen.