A Change of Life

April 24, 2005

Arlene Bougher, Lay Speaker

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Luke 19: 1-10

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

    1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

    5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

    7All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "

    8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

    9Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

 

 

While preparing for this morning’s sermon, I was reading a commentary on the Gospel of Luke by the world-renowned Scottish New testament interpreter William Barclay and this paragraph jumped out at me.

 

“A (Christian) testimony is utterly worthless unless it is backed by deeds which guarantee its sincerity. It is not a mere change of words which Jesus Christ demands but a change of life.” 

 

 John Wesley, the 18th-century founder of Methodism, is an example of one whose thinking took him away from the cultural norm of preaching only to the polite English society in churches, and led him to saving souls on the streets and in the jails.

 

His courage to go against the Anglican Church’s narrow vision of soul saving began in 1729, when, at the age of 26, he visited a man in jail, an inmate searching for forgiveness for the sins he had committed. Wesley continued to visit the jailed, the sick, the poor, and the widowed, and to raise money to release debtors from prison, despite the opposition.

 

Wesley’s passion for “preaching salvation from all sin and loving God with an undivided heart” changed the nature of Christianity in England and brought that same passion to America. It wasn’t just a change of environment for John Wesley, but a change of life.

 

A similar theme runs through a small book I’ve just finished, titled The Traveler’s Gift, Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success, by Andy Andrews. Have any of you read it?

 

The first few pages tell about the so-called bad luck of David Ponder, the main character. I wanted to put the book down because of Ponder’s negative attitude and the sad events that caused him to loose everything. He was driven to take his own life. But as I kept reading, I experienced a twilight zone series of episodes that were designed by God, in the story, to teach Mr. Ponder those seven decisions to success. David wakes to what he feels is a dream state. One at a time he comes face to face with historical figures that prepare to teach him how to make good decisions. There is no magic here. It’s all common sense. But when linked together in surprising happenings, each decision tugs at your thought processes and mentally raises you up. For me, the main theme of the book rings loud and clear; there are only two ways to live your life- in FEAR or in FAITH.”

 

Fear puts up roadblocks and keeps you from being all that God wants you to be. Fear blinds you from God’s blessings.

 

 Faith enhances your vision, opens your mind, your heart, and your soul to new possibilities-all that you have at your fingertips- the love of God, the love of your family, talents, and your drive to succeed.

 

I won’t ruin the ending of the book for you, but suffice it to say: David Ponder chose the higher path and experienced not just a change of thought, but like John Wesley, a change of life. 

 

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19, we read an historical account about a man who seems to have it all, but is willing to give it away to change his life.

 

Jesus is passing through the very wealthy and important town of Jericho. It had all the riches of trade, the beauty of palm forests, and balsam groves, and wonderful rose gardens. It was also, as you might guess, a major taxation center in Palestine.

 

Zacchaeus had reached his financial ceiling. He was making tons of money collecting taxes in Jericho, but the path he chose didn’t make him happy. His own people, the Hebrews, everyone he knew, hated him. He heard about this man, Jesus, coming to town, a man of God who welcomed sinners. Would Jesus talk- to him?

 

As he approached the crowds waiting to see Jesus, Zacchaeus knew he had to avoid the throngs of people who hated him, so, being a small man, he ran ahead and climbed a large fig mulberry tree so he could get a good look at this man, Jesus.

 

Jesus knew Zacchaeus was one of the most unpopular people in Israel and was touted as a sinner by his own people-for collecting hefty taxes from the Jews, money given to support the pagan Roman government. But despite the fact that Zacchaeus was a cheater and a traitor, Jesus loved him.

 

 Jesus came and stood below that tree and called out to Zacchaeus, “Come down immediately. I’m coming to your house for dinner.”

 

People saw them together and began to talk. What is Jesus doing sitting down with that sinner? But Zacchaeus stood his ground.

 

He said to Jesus, “Look Lord. Right now, I’m going to give half my possessions to the poor, and if I’ve cheated any one, I will pay back four times the amount.” To show his whole community that he meant business, he would pay far beyond what the Hebrew law demanded.

 

Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is the son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

 

In William Barclay’s commentary, he says, “We must always be careful how we take the meaning of the word lost. In the New Testament, it does not mean damned or doomed. It simply means in the wrong place.”

 

When Zacchaeus saw the kindness of a friend in Jesus, this lonely, hated man proved by his actions that he had turned around and come back to God.

 

Most of us are not John Wesley swimming against the cultural current to save lost souls, or the character David Ponder seeking to save his own.

 

But I invite you now to close your eyes and mentally climb that tree alongside Zacchaeus. It’s not hard to do. The trunk of that large fig tree is short; we can easily clamber up the trunk and across its stout branches that spread out like spokes on a wagon wheel. There’s plenty of room for all of us. We can get comfortable and relax. While we are sitting here, with our eyes closed, we can open our hearts.

 

No, we are not like Zacchaeus, but we realize we have been, at times, lonely, worried, overworked or sidetracked by all that’s been going on in our lives.

 

As our eyes remain closed, in the quiet, there is a voice. Is it coming from below the tree where we sit, or from within? We hear Jesus say, “Come down immediately; I am coming to your house today.”  

 

 Our fears fall away. Faith opens our eyes.

 

We are no longer satisfied with just a change of place, or a change of empty testimonial words. We hunger for the very thing that Christ demands of all of us as Christians… a change of life.

 

God bless you all. Have a good week.

 

© 2005 Arlene Bougher