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Jesus Welcomes the Oppressor, Part 3 [Taste & See #6]

Taste & See - Sermon #6 - Jesus Welcomes the Oppressor, Part 3

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • June 12, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.

Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

 

Some Words on the Orlando Massacre

I know that some parents may have their kids in the celebration right now and I want to acknowledge as I begin that this sermon includes a discussion about sex, sexual violence, and mass violence, so I want to give you a heads up in case you want to remove yourself or your children from the celebration.

 

For many of us the massacre in Orlando may be pressing on our minds. Many of us are struggling and feel overwhelmed by fear because of this hideous and reprehensible act of evil. Being targeted with violence because of your sexuality is wrong. While I don’t have simple answers, or for that matter, any bold statements, what I have is a simple belief that the love of God is able to overcome hatred and bigotry in all of its forms. I have a belief that God’s love can break down the dividing walls that hatred and fear want to separate us. The Empire wants to convince us to let fear rule us with its the false promises of safety and security by protecting us from them. But let’s remember that the Kingdom of God is often in conflict with the Empire because the word of God says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” We have solidarity with our brothers and sister regardless of creed, belief, sex, gender, or sexuality because each of us is formed and shaped in the image of God. At the beginning of this year, I preached a four-part sermon series on “Following God in an Unstable World” and that sermon series may be helpful as you are trying to make you way over the next several days and weeks. Lets be sure we reach out to each other, especially to any of us who are LGBTQIA, with comfort, solidarity, and lament. As we listen and create space, let’s pay close attention to the stories, fears and concerns that those of us who are LGBTQIA have to offer. I know that when the Charleston massacre happened at Mother Emmanuel last summer, I felt so alone in my fear that what unfolded in that church could have easily happened to me. As I reflect, I realize it would have been helpful to have heard from friends offering their comfort, their support, and their listening ear. Friends, it’s important for us to be the people of God and to offer what we have, which is hope in the midst of despair.

Zacchaeus & the Sycamore Tree

Last week, we entered the story of Zacchaeus and his interaction with Jesus found in Luke 19, this is a continuation of the story of the blind beggar Bartimaeus that starts in Luke 18:35, as we make our way this morning, let’s start in Luke 19 by reading the first 7 verses to remind us of the scene as Jesus continues on his way after healing blind Bartimaeus:

 

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 because he was short he could not see over 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.” (Luke 19:1-7)

 

Did you notice that the crowd turns on Jesus? This is the same crowd who just before this interaction with Zacchaeus was worshipping and praising God because Jesus healed Bartimaeus. What causes the crowd to turn so quickly? It’s the unmet expectations they have. They wanted Jesus to condemn Zacchaeus, the oppressor, but Jesus doesn’t side with the crowd, instead he invites himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. And in that welcome and acceptance of Zacchaeus, Jesus takes onto himself the hatred that the crowd has for Zacchaeus. Jesus doesn’t side with the crowd, nor does he approve of Zacchaeus’ oppression of the people. I believe that the purpose of the acceptance of Zacchaeus is for his transformation. The transformation that will happen in Zacchaeus story, happens in the here and now. It’s not a transformation to get Zacchaeus into heaven. It’s almost as if Jesus is trying to get the kingdom of heaven into Zacchaeus by transforming the way he sees himself, which allows him to first accept that he is loved as he is, which paradoxically unlocks his willingness to be transformed. Zacchaeus’ transformation starts with his repentance. It starts with his recognition that he has sinned.

 

At Dinner

Luke skips the details of the transition from the road to Zacchaeus house. He picks up midway through the dinner after they have eaten and reclined at table. Luke jumps right to the part where the host stands to make a speech to honor his guest.

 

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.” (Luke 19:8-10)

 

We don’t get the details of the conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus on the way to his house, or the idle chit-chat that may have taken place as the meal was being prepared or served. Last week, we decided that Jesus didn’t have to activate his “Son of God” magic powers in order to know what was going on with Zacchaeus and in the same way, I think we can imagine that at some point in the evening Jesus and Zacchaeus had a significant heart to heart. Maybe the conversation allowed Zacchaeus to plum the depths of Jesus’ love and acceptance, which allowed Zacchaeus to lower his defenses, opening the door to his repentance.

 

When we’ve sinned, we may be unable to take away what we’ve done, how we have hurt or wounded others, but our repentance must speak to our willingness to admit our wrongs (put plainly: our guilt), seek forgiveness, and where possible make restitution to those we have harmed, that’s the biblical call to repentance. To do anything less means that we haven’t owned our sin and therefore we haven’t actually accepted our forgiveness. This is a dangerous place to reside, yet this is where most of us probably are.

 

Let me continue push in here for a moment...

I’m grateful to Miroslav Volf and his book, Free of Charge for insight here, often we aren’t always aware of all our sins, so that’s why we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive me as I have sinned...” This is a way of us acknowledging both our known and unknown sins. But when we are aware of our sin, like I think Zacchaeus was, we should confess it. This is what Martin Luther instructs us to do in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. See, without a frank and honest confession, we remain unforgiven. Now, hold on... This doesn’t happen because God doesn’t forgive us, no, it happens because “a refusal to confess is a rejection of forgiveness.” When we refuse to own up to what we have done, we simultaneously refuse to make forgiveness our own. Simply put, we cannot accept, what we refuse to receive.

Zacchaeus was Guilty, We are Too!

I’ve been following the sentencing of the Stanford swimmer who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. As I read the victim’s statement in the case, I was struck by what she wanted, more than the rapist’s punishment or imprisonment for his crimes against her, what she wanted was his admission of guilt. She wanted him to admit that what he did was wrong. She wanted him to express his remorse. She wanted him to confess his sins against her. She wanted him to apologize.

 

That’s the interesting thing about our justice system, it’s a system of retribution, it’s not a system that offers restoration. I’ve been grieving for the victim, the violation she experienced, and the painful journey she has been on to restore her human dignity.

 

As I continued to follow the case and even read the rapist’s statement there was something clearly missing, it was exactly what the victim wanted: an admission of guilt. One reading of his statement would have you believe he was the victim–a victim of the party culture on college campuses; a victim of excessive drinking; a victim of idol worship–he was just trying to be like his friends on the swim team; a victim because he wanted to belong.

 

I’m going to make an observation, this is what sin does, it blinds us to our guilt and willing participation in our active rebellion against God and others.

 

This is the fruit that sin produces: brokenness.

 

Sin breaks our relationships with God, ourselves, and each other. It blinds us to our willing and active participation in the rebellion and sin puts us in a defensive posture placing the blame on others. It’s God’s fault. It’s the devil’s fault. It’s your fault. When in fact, it was and is, just my fault.

 

I broke relationship.

I took what didn’t belong to me.

I sinned.

 

Before I return Zacchaeus’ story, let me be clear, there is never a justification for rape. I don’t care what someone was wearing, saying, doing, or drinking, there is never a justification for raping a woman. “Only yes, means yes.” And I think it’s important that this message is shared here in this pulpit, we are the people of God and we called to follow Jesus through the narrow gate and that includes us respecting the God-given dignity found in every human being. And let me continue, there is never a justification for any kind of sexual violence against another person. Period. In my sermon handout, I have a link to the victim’s statement to her rapist and I think it’s worth reading. It’s worth our sons and daughters reading it. It’s raw, emotional, and difficult to read, but it’s important for us to understand our obligation to recognize and respect the image of God that’s found in each other.

 

Finally, it’s Father’s Day, today, and fathers, I think it’s important for us to commit ourselves to teaching our sons not to rape women. We do this by not assuming this isn’t a conversation that we need to have with our sons. We must break the silence and assumptions we make and explicitly teach our sons how to honor and respect women. “Only Yes, means Yes.” We serve our sons and ourselves when we teach our sons how to conduct themselves and this starts by teaching them to honor and respect the image of God found reflected in every human face.

 

Jesus Accepts Zacchaeus, and He Accepts Us Too!

Zacchaeus is an oppressor, so why does Jesus accept him? Because just like Bartimaeus, he’s made in the image of the divine and he is worthy of love, so that’s what Jesus offers him, love, costly love. It’s costly because Jesus takes on the derision of the crowd on Zacchaeus’ behalf therefore creating space for transformation in Zacchaeus. Jesus loves Zacchaeus and that love is powerful. It’s so powerful that it convicts Zacchaeus of his oppression and sets him on a course pay back what he stole, to offer restitution.

 

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.” (Luke 19:8-10)

 

There’s a profound implication in the phrase, “salvation has come to this house.”

 

It’s hard for us as modern readers to enter this story and identify with Zacchaeus, at best, I assume that most of us just identify with Bartimaeus, while not physically blind, we might see ourselves as needing healing from Jesus.

 

STORY: I have friend who was recently selling a boat whose motor had died. He figured he could get $1000 for it, but the buyer, he found, talked him down to $600. Now, he could have held his ground and demanded the $1000, but he’s the sort of person who would feel bad later if he found out later that the motor was not in as good shape as he thought it was. He would feel awful if he thought that he cheated someone even if it was  unintentionally. Recognizing the wrong, he would write the person a check to make up for them being cheated. Now, me, I might just accept the extra money as a win-fall, so I’m glad this friend is in my life to help keep me honest. And that’s where we can enter the story of Zacchaeus. This story is about being honest about (or with) ourselves.

 

Imagine you are in the grocery store and notice that the clerk has bagged something from your shopping cart without charging you for it. It’s not oppression, it’s not rape, but someone is being cheated. You didn’t ask the clerk to steal for you, it was their mistake, but now that you’re aware of the mistake, are you willing to correct the wrong? I use this simple story because I think it’s helpful for us l you’re getting a benefit that you aren’t entitled to. Here we go back to Luther and Volf because they warn us that when we don’t confess when we sin, we actually reject our forgiveness. And this is the freedom that being accepted provides, it creates space for us to trust God, to trust that God loves us and we are free to accept our sinfulness and repent of it.

 

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.” (Luke 19:8-10)

 

There’s a profound implication in the phrase, “salvation has come to this house.” In Zacchaeus’ story, Jesus doesn’t say that salvation has come until Zacchaeus acknowledges that he needs saving. Being accepted by God is important and should be a shield against fears that God doesn't love us and has given up on us. This is the power of these two stories in Luke 18-19. We are accepted as we are and we are called to radical transformation.

 

Jesus declares that "salvation has come" when restitution has been promised but not yet enacted. This initiates a process of salvation, and Zacchaeus will spend the remainder of his life living out that process. Friends, salvation is more than a moment of decision, it’s an enactment of that salvation. We may find ourselves loved and accepted by Jesus, but we will find ourselves saved when we live out the salvation that is offered to us. Salvation includes a radical transformation and reformation of life as it is lived out day by day in the present. This dynamic is clearly demonstrated in this story.

 

This is the gift of Luke’s inclusion of this story, we get a rare insight into the life of a person who has acknowledged and received costly love from Jesus. There are three observations, I want to close with:

  1. Jesus freely offers costly love to Zacchaeus without regard for how that love will be received. The love is offered freely.
  2. Zacchaeus accepts that love and in so doing accepts himself being found. That acceptance gives way to his repentance, which starts when he descends from the tree to welcome Jesus into his home and continues with his promise of restitution to those he has wronged.
  3. Zacchaeus responds to Jesus' gift out of the deepest level of who he (Zacchaeus) is, and the model of his response is what Jesus has done for him. Zacchaeus receives costly love and is thereby empowered and motivated to offer costly love to others. His engagement in mission has already begun.

 

Practical Tip:

Let’s follow Zacchaeus’ example and be willing to both receive the love and acceptance that God has for us and be willing to confront the ways in which we miss the mark.

 

Use the blue prayer cards to capture your confession and to ask for your forgiveness.

 
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