Archive for October, 2010

When Jesus Shows Up

Posted: October 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

Text: Luke 19:1-10
Bottom Line: When we encounter Jesus, something changes.

Jesus and his cohorts are heading toward Jerusalem and that’s where the ultimate in Kingdom business – we know it as the cross – is going to go down.  Google maps takes the Jesus convoy through the town of Jericho.

Jericho, yeah that same Jericho where another person with the same name as Jesus (that’s Joshua) marched the Israelites around the walls and shouted and God knocked them down.  It’s the same city where the only people spared happened to be the family of a prostitute who helped the Israelites spy on the city.

It was a city that was cursed by God.  The person who rebuilt the city’s walls paid for it with the life of his children.

That Jericho!

And it was just another day in this city until this group of dusty travelers surrounding Jesus walks onto the dusty main street.
When Jesus shows up –something changes.

Obviously, the news about the young teacher from Nazareth and the miracles he’s been performing made the grape vine in Jericho.  People start to crowd around this man, Jesus, to get a glimpse of what he’s like. The people in Jericho pour out into the street to see his entourage.

He’s an ancient world rock star and the crowd has to get close, to touch him, to hear him share a word. Maybe he’ll do something here that we’ve never seen before.  Maybe this Jesus can live up to the hype!


Because when Jesus shows up –something changes.

And it’s enough to bring out the shadiest character in town.  For most people of Jesus’ day, tax collectors rank right up there with lawyers and prostitutes in the list of sinful occupations.

But Zacchaeus is more than that – he’s the chief tax collector.  In other words, he’s the chief of sinners.  Even more than that, Zacchaeus is quite wealthy – and there’s really one way  a tax collector gets wealthy. He’s very passionate about his job and he hasn’t accumulated his wealth through honest means.

But something is happening in Jericho and he has to see it for himself.  He goes out seeking Jesus.

Why?  Because when Jesus shows up, something changes.

Now sometimes people come seeking Jesus.  They show up in churches, they come in contact with Christians, and they walk away without resolution.  Our actions, our failings at hospitality can leave a bad taste in their mouth.

But Zacchaeus is different.  He might be the town crook, but he’s definitely determined.

Just a brief aside for a moment.  For decades, Sunday School classes have had this little song that throws Zacchaeus under the bus. It describes him as a “wee little man.”  I had to break something to you about the passage.  “The short of stature” reference in verse 3 in the original Greek could apply to either Zacchaeus or to Jesus.  But for centuries, Christians had a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus might NOT have been tall.

After all, we want our messiahs tall, good looking and larger than life.  How could we possibly be saved by someone who is short and looks a lot more like us?

And since I’m the one telling it today, I get to choose.  Jesus was short, he looked just as ordinary as the rest of us, and Zacchaeus couldn’t see this short Jesus for the crowd that was pressing around. What a better message to send about grace being for all than a savior looked a lot like the people he was here to reach.

So Zacchaeus finds a tree and climbs up it – he simply has to catch a glimpse of this short Jesus!

Why? Because, when Jesus shows up, something changes.

So we have this Zacchaeus hanging out in a tree, trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passes by.  He’s actively looking for Jesus.

Then Jesus passes by – and I love the reaction of Christ. He looks up at the biggest crook in town, Jesus calls him by name, and then Jesus invites himself over for dinner.  There’s always a personal touch with Jesus – he comes for all, but we hear his voice, calling our name and responding to us as his individual children.

I’m here for you.

It’s a beautiful moment – the savior of us all calling out the worst sinner in town and saying, “I’m heading over to your house!”

Zacchaeus hears, he responds to this invitation, he gets out of that tree and he encounters Jesus right there in the middle of the street in a cursed city.

Now, how cool is that?

When Jesus shows up, something changes.

But oh the murmurs, the grumbling and the gossip starts.

Jesus can’t possibly go to the house of a sinner! There are far more holy people in Jericho.  Why can’t he come to my house? I go to church every week, pray every day, give my tithe, vote for all the good Christian candidates.

Shouldn’t Jesus come to my house for dinner?

Why Zacchaeus?
·    Why this lowly sinner that no one likes?
·    Why this despicable man who is nothing more than an agent for the Roman Empire?
·    Why this lowlife who has swindled and cheated me and my family out of money?

Why Zacchaeus?

Because, when Jesus shows up, something changes.

And not everyone – often it’s those who should be insiders – is particularly happy when the change happens.

But something is different in Zacchaeus.  The heart of the biggest sinner in town is now open wide and being drawn to the heart of Christ.

And when a change like that occurs, things are never going to be the same again.

When the murmurs start, Zacchaeus speaks in defense of Jesus. He declares that he’s going to give half of his fortune to the poor.  That’s a serious tithe!   And then he says he wants to addresses those people he might have cheated.  He’s a taxcollector – he’s cheated some people!  But he wants to give them back four times what he’s cheated them out of and that goes well beyond the requirements of the law.

On his own, without prompting from Jesus, Zacchaeus responds with radical repentance and radical giving.

Why? Because Jesus showed up, and something has changed, even in the life of the worst person in all of Jericho.

Jesus doesn’t pat Zacchaeus on the back and say good job.  He doesn’t left up what Zacchaeus does as the example for what all of us should do.  He doesn’t drop names and tell us that Zacchaeus has experienced the greatest turn around since the demoniac he healed a few months ago.

Jesus instead makes a statement that we might miss.

Salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus.  And that sounds awesome.  But you have to keep going to get what’s happening here.

There’s a “Because.”
·    Jesus doesn’t say that salvation comes to the house of Zacchaeus because he decided to donate half of his fortune.
·    Jesus doesn’t say that Zacchaeus is saved because of anything that he does.

Zacchaeus, Jesus says, is saved because he’s a son of Abraham.  Zacchaeus is saved, not because of anything he has done, but because of who Jesus is.  And Zacchaeus, the chief of all sinners, the one we wouldn’t want to share a meal with – this man is a child of God.

Jesus came, in his own words, to “seek and save what was lost.”

Why? Because Jesus shows up, especially in the lives of those who are lost – and something changes.

Do you notice that there is a connection here?
·    We seek Jesus.
·    Jesus invites us by name into his love and grace.
·    We respond to what Jesus does and has done.

On any given Sunday, people walk up to church buildings looking for Jesus.  Sometimes, they walk in the door and they encounter Jesus in warm greetings and handshakes and welcomes.  They experience Jesus’ presence in a service of worship and they are drawn to return.  Sometimes they receive a cold shoulder, the treatment reserved for outsiders and they walk away never having experienced Jesus.

And that’s the easiest thing for us to do.  There’s a longing in our DNA to be a part of something bigger than we are.  We’re born to seek God.

And some of those who walk into services today will become parts of communities of faith and they’ll hear that invitation of Jesus to come and be a part of the journey.  They’ll spend the rest of their lives trying to walk closer and closer to Christ.  And that’s amazing.  Many of us can claim that in our own lives.

But I’m going to suggest to you that those first two things don’t make us the disciples that Jesus wants us to be.  There’s something more that needs to happen – we have to respond!

When Zacchaeus hears the murmuring of the crowd.  When he hears the questions about Jesus, he responds.  He lets go of the things, the money, in which he has previously placed his faith.  His repentance is to take his hands off them and to cling on to Jesus.

Why? Because when Jesus shows up, something changes and we simply have to respond.

Most pastors I know would say they love it when someone comes to seek Jesus in our church.  What a blessing to have visitors, what an amazing gift of growth to have a church where you don’t know everyone’s name!  Most pastors and Christians I know love this second part.  Oh, we celebrate baptisms and those who want to give their lives to Jesus.  We love it when people want to become members.  We love to hear stories of how someone was on a road to nowhere and the Jesus miracle hits them to turn their lives around.

But it’s this third thing – the response to this love of Jesus that turns pastors’ hair gray – or makes it fall out.  Why would it do that?

Because churches are plagued with 2/3 Christianity.  We’ll follow Jesus up to a point.  As long as Jesus doesn’t interfere with everything else going on in my life, then I’m cool with following him.

We see it in attendance at churches that can go all over the place during sports seasons or the busy travel months of summer.  We see it in the numbers of people who actually volunteer to do things.  We see it in the number of people who show up for committee meetings.

And we see it in our giving.

Zacchaeus response to Jesus was a realization that everything in his life had changed.  He gave away half he owned.  He took that part of Jesus’ commands about loving neighbor as much as yourself seriously and he demonstrated by living out the response.  Jesus didn’t have to tell him to do that. Zack responded to Jesus’ love of complete sacrifice by making a sacrifice of his own.

Why? Because when Jesus shows up, something changes.

As Methodists, we are called to respond to God’s love in our lives through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness.  Jesus is waiting for your response. How will you respond to his amazing love and incredible grace?

Do we respond as Zacchaeus responds? Do we give of ourselves? Do we give sacrificially? Do we make a statement about the love that Christ has given us?

Or do we let our response indicate to the world what we truly think about how Christ’s love?

Jesus has shown up here today.  Now, how will you respond?


Time for some holy pruning

Posted: October 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.” — John 15:1-3

There’s a Butterfly Bush at the back of our house that just can’t seem to grow.  I’ve had some before and they grow into absolute monsters of bushes.  But this one just doesn’t seem to get enough light, or maybe it doesn’t have enough space.  I don’t know the issue.  It just doesn’t grow like it should.

In late January, or early February, I’ll take the clippers and cut back the branches.  Why?  My goal is to make the new growth on this bush better and stronger and to make it even thicker and bushier than before.

Sometimes that’s the work of pruning.  We take branches, flowers, etc., that are not productive and we cut them off.  The purpose is so that the plant will be more healthy and that it will produce more fruit.  Sometimes, pruning means taking perfectly good and growing branches and cutting them back to to lead to a more productive plant and more fruit.

And the more I’ve thought about this image, the more I’ve thought about church life in general. Sometimes churches just seem to be reluctant to prune.

  • We carry ineffective and sometimes even nonfunctional ministries, programs and missions simply because we don’t want to cut them away.
  • Some ministries and missions are so ineffective that they are actually sucking resources away from productive ones, but yet we still prop them up.
  • Some ministries and programs are no longer relevant in a modern context.  In other words, time has passed them by.  Yet, they are still the sacred cows of ministry that we don’t want to sacrifice. 

I’ve often wondered what it would look like in a church, district, even denominational setting if we had to bring all of the programs to the table and really answer the tough questions.  Does this still work?  Would it work if we poured everything we had into it?  Is this ministry just going to be a victim of time and changing culture?

If we would truly answer those questions, then maybe what we might, just thinking outloud here, what we might find is a tremendous opportunity to do something new that is vibrant and speaks in this generation.  One door might close, but so many others could be there, waiting to open to take its place and even exceed what the old program could have ever done.

As denominations look at declining numbers and a turn away from religion, maybe the answer isn’t a radical dumping of everything that defines us.  Maybe the answer is to look at what we do have, what we do offer and ask those hard questions.

In awe of God’s love

Posted: October 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s been another incredible Sunday and hard to believe it is just my third at St. Mark UMC in Greenwood.

It’s been an incredible journey for me  over these past few weeks. I’ve felt very welcomed and very loved at St. Mark and I’ve enjoyed being able to be a part of so many wonderful things that are going on at this church.

Today was another of those great days for me.  The worship service at 8:45 was a wonderful time for me to reflect.  It’s always good to hear Rev. Barrett Alewine’s sermons on the same passage that I’ll be doing later in the morning.  That’s the benefit of working from the lectionary and working together.

Today’s sermons, both Barrett’s and my own,  really hit home with me and, maybe, it was something that I need to hear again and again.  God is love — God is the source of love. God pursues, God makes a way, God gives us a choice and a chance to experience life in him.

I remember as a child being a part of church, growing up in Sunday School and learning those basic stories of faith, hope, love, grace and mercy.  The Bible is filled with dysfunctional people and messed up families.  We even call some of these broken people heroes of faith.

But there comes a point in God’s pursuit of us that the only option is for God to enter our realm.  In Jesus, we see God, but we also see what we could be.  Jesus loves us, Jesus teaches us and Jesus sacrifices himself on a cross. In God’s resurrection of Jesus, we receive the ultimate gift of love.

And if God is willing to do that, what lengths does He go to in his love for us?

The Bible is the greatest love story ever told and it is our love story, the story of how God loves us and pursues us.


Getting fired up!

Posted: October 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. — 2 Timothy 1:6

Last week’s lectionary passage is one that kind of sticks with me.  I love this image that Paul uses, just after talking about Timothy’s grandmother and mother and their faith example.  It’s the thought that Timothy has been given a spark of faith from the examples that he has seen in his own life of faith in action.

But that’s all that it is.  It’s just a spark.

Now, sparks can lead to fires.  But something has to happen to make that a reality. There has to be a dry spot to build it, fuel to burn, something to catch on fire when the spark hits and then we add in oxygen. It’s an essential in getting any fire going.

I don’t think that Paul uses this image of fire by accident.  The word for Spirit is pneuma (say it Noo-ma!) and it literally means air or breath.  When this spark of faith comes in contact with the breath, the air of God, something incredible is going to happen.  It’s going to be a fire that is all consuming and rages beyond our control.

The world is changed when Christians let that Spirit of God come in contact with their sparks of faith.  People’s lives are changed.  Justice comes to those in need. The poor are helped.  The homeless find advocates.  The widowed and the orphaned are loved and accepted.

When a spark of flame comes in contact with God’s breath, real transformation begins.

Are you burning for God? Are you on fire to do the mission of Christ?  If you don’t feel that, you need to check on two things.

First, how’s your spark? Are you in a place where you are coming in contact with believers? Are you placing yourself in places where you can come in contact with the sparks of faith?

Second, is the Holy Spirit breathing in you? Are you connected to a God of power, love and self-discipline?

The song says it only takes a spark to get a fire going, but it also takes the Spirit of God to get it blazing white hot. 

It’s time to turn up your heat. It’s time to get your fire going.