Life in Christ starts with a leap of action, not of faith. It is the doing that will lead to the believing and the living and the joy and the delight.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Reformation Sunday, Lect. 31 C
Text: Luke 19:1-10
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Zacchaeus has so much joy. It’s beautiful.
Whatever he expected when he climbed that tree, when Jesus invited himself over for a night’s stay, Zacchaeus exploded in joy.
Or: maybe the joy really came when he chose his new life. A chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was the top of the pyramid scheme. Whatever the others he managed stole, Zacchaeus stole more, accumulated more. Now he decides to divest himself of half of his wealth. The Torah demanded that if you defraud another, you owe them the amount you stole, plus 20%. Zacchaeus in his joy decides to give back 400% instead of 120%. And he couldn’t be happier.
We’ve seen this joy before. Levi, also known as Matthew, in chapter 5 is called from his tax booth to be one of Jesus’ inner circle. Imagine the disbelieving delight he felt as he followed. In Jesus’ parable of the two lost sons, the younger son had the joy of being embraced by the father he wronged, welcomed home in honor. Wouldn’t it be amazing to know such joy?
Because not everyone found it.
When Matthew leapt from his tax booth, the good and righteous people of the town complained Jesus was choosing the wrong kind of people. When the younger of the two lost brothers celebrated with his father at that party, the elder lost son refused to go in, refused to be happy. And the good people of Jericho, the the privileged and faithful ones, were not at all pleased Jesus chose to honor the traitor, the thief, the despicable Zacchaeus.
What makes the difference?
When he was criticized about Matthew, Jesus said only the sick need a doctor. He came to call sinners, not righteous people. When the good people complained that he welcomed sinners and ate with them, Jesus told stories of the lost being found. Talking to people who, Luke says last week, had persuaded themselves they were righteous, Jesus told of a good, righteous person praying thanks for that life alongside a traitor tax collector begging mercy. And Jesus declared the wretched one righteous. Today, after complaints about Zacchaeus, Jesus again says he’s only come to seek and to heal the lost.
Do you see? If you think you’re fine, you won’t want Jesus. If you think your heart and spirit and life are in the right place and you don’t need God’s healing, you won’t want Jesus. If you think that you’re doing pretty well, are godly and righteous, and have a life you want to keep and protect, you won’t want Jesus. It’s the privileged, wealthy, good people who don’t know what to do with Jesus.
Their problem is Jesus’ Good News involves a complete transformation.
A reformation of the heart and soul and mind and strength. Those who followed Jesus were changed. Zacchaeus utterly dismantled his wealth and made reparations to those whose backs he stepped on to have his life. Matthew abandoned his oppressive occupation. Most disciples left their lives behind and gave up everything. Joanna and Susanna brought their wealth and followed Jesus, supporting his ministry financially, whatever their families thought.
People who think they’re fine, good, righteous, don’t see a need to be changed, and often are scared to imagine change. You and I come here and actually do admit we need God’s grace, want God’s healing. But we don’t easily seek to be changed, either.
So, do we avoid the change, the reformation God seeks in us, because we’re afraid?
Or are we waiting for the conviction and joy of Zacchaeus? Matthew’s boldness in following? Waiting for some magic feeling from Jesus that will give us the clarity of all these who were drawn to Jesus and changed? Was that what the righteous people were missing?
The truth is, you’ll find Zacchaeus’ joy and transformation when you act like Zacchaeus. If you want to live in loving relationships, act in loving ways. If you want to live in a just society, act in justice. Do what God’s reign looks like and you’ll know it, live in it. And be changed.
None of those who were transformed, re-formed, by Jesus waited for absolute certainty. They dropped their nets and followed. They gave away their wealth. They left their tax booth. And they lived new lives.
Zacchaeus saw that in the reign of God Christ came to bring people weren’t cheated and defrauded by others. So he gave back what he’d stolen. That’s when salvation came to his house, Jesus said. Healing came to him. When he took a leap of action. It is the leap of action that leads to faith and trust, and to reformation, not the other way around.
We know what God needs us to do.
Far too much of what we own and cherish came on the backs of our neighbors. When we each individually consider the wealth we hold in property and pensions and IRAs and actually let some of it go we would see what the reign of God really is. Sure, it’s a frightening step. But Zacchaeus must have also taken a deep breath before his decision.
We know that community reparations are also a huge subject these days. This beautiful place is on Native land, stolen from those who lived here. Some of our sibling congregations in this synod in this city already have a budget line item paying reparations to peoples who lived on their land. They’re living in God’s reign already in that, are being changed.
We can’t wait, individually or as a community, for the bolt of lightning to hit and all our confidence to come before we decide to do something like that. It is the leap of action into the reign of God that leads to the faith we seek. To the reformation we need. And to the joy we so deeply desire.
We can stand outside the party and mope, or take the risk and go in.
We can ponder what a good response could be until we’re dead and gone, or we can act, in our own lives and as a community, as if the reign of God Christ is making in this world actually exists.
Get out of your tree, go into the party, step away from your tax booth. You’ll find the joy. And the love of God will give a true re-formation of healing for you in your life, and me in mine, and ours together as God’s people in this place.
And then we will be able to say with Jesus, today salvation has come, healing has come to this house.
In the name of Jesus. Amen