Sermon, October 27, 2019
Ezekiel 37:1-14, Luke 19:1-10
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TREE?”
Zacchaeus was living in absolute misery.
That is what today’s Gospel lesson says.
The name Zacchaeus literally translated means “innocent and honorable” but by his own admission he knew that he was not living up to his name and was living unrighteously. Zacchaeus was in the wilderness searching for mercy and looking at the dry bones in his life. It was a disparate desert of scattered bones. It was desolate with empty feelings and was extremely lonely.
People in Jericho were very condemning and unjust to Zacchaeus but he saw that he too was no different and he wanted to restore and make amends for his transgressions through the law. This is why he literally wanted to see Jesus that day. Zacchaeus had already observed that the law condemns us but does not save us. But he faced challenges and obstacles.
Zacchaeus already had three strikes against him:
1. He was a tax collector. Who likes the tax collector anyway? The Romans like Zacchaeus since he was doing their dirty work. But Zacchaeus wasn’t trying to be popular or even employee of the month. He was hated and shunned by his own people. Being just a devout Hebrew wasn’t helping either.
2. He was rich. This caused a great jealousy from his neighbors. Everyone covets a rich man.
3. He was physically short. He was a target and was bullied. On the other hand he would just be lost in the crowd and be neglected and forgotten. Zacchaeus was a small man with a large faith.
But Zacchaeus had two places he had to be. He climbed the sycamore tree to see Jesus from his own personal perch. He had his own view and perspective when Jesus travelled through the street. This was the first place Zacchaeus and we, too must be. We must seek a place higher than ourselves.
Zacchaeus had climbed the tree for his own viewing. He knew he was a good target for abuse and a few rocks from his neighbors. But he was willing to take the risk. What was Zacchaeus looking for from his perch in the sycamore tree? The same things you and I seek everyday: peace, mercy, justice, forgiveness.
It was easy for Jesus to spot Zacchaeus sitting in the tree and being very noticeable from the crowd. Jesus acknowledged the ingenuity of Zacchaeus and invited him down so they could fellowship at his house.
Zacchaeus noticed that the crowd disapproved of Jesus associating with him. They believed Jesus spent too much time with sinners anyway. But Jesus took on the scorn and displeasure of the crowd. Zacchaeus knew Jesus had taken his burdens and sins.
Zacchaeus was familiar with today’s Old Testament selection from the Prophet Ezekiel. He was ready to leave the valley of bones – the graveyard of dead things. Zacchaeus and we, too can see the dead dreams and relationships. Zacchaeus knew that when he encountered Jesus he would see that even dead dry bones could be brought back to life. He saw that we will eventually also see as the Resurrection.
Zacchaeus confessed his sins as his formal introduction to the Lord. This is the second place where Zacchaeus and we, too need to be. Zacchaeus stood publicly both in the street and in the privacy of his home with Jesus. The house of Zacchaeus that day experienced the joy and salvation of the Lord.
One endeavor in the ministry of Jesus was to “find that which was lost,” which is quoted at the end of this scripture.
The word “lost” in the familiar evangelical definition means someone who is an unbeliever, they are UNSAVED or having no salvation.
But Jesus defines “lost” in another context best explained by William Barcley, a Scottish theologian, “It means simply in the wrong place. A person is no longer lost when they are restored to the rightful place.”
PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (Luke 15:11-32)
The youngest son was living and enjoying the benefits of his father’s house when he demanded his portion and left for the far country. After becoming poor and starving this son returned to his father in full repentance. His father exclaimed “My son was lost and now is found.” The Prodigal Son had been in the wrong place but now he was restored to the rightful place.
THE LOST SHEEP (Luke 15:1-7)
This parable tells of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in search of the one who is lost. When the shepherd returns with the one lost sheep he proclaims, “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost.” That one sheep had been in the wrong place.
There are many examples Jesus used in his ministry of finding the lost and restoring them to the rightful place. Sometimes being in one place will lead us to the right place.
The Reformationists are an important part of our church history. These reformers were assured by God that they were in the right place even though they suffered in prisons, were persecuted and tortured and many were killed. Their lives and faith enriches today’s Church.
Martin Luther King Jr. spent time in jail in Birmingham, Alabama. We rightfully believe that jail in a terrible place. But Dr. King was reassured that he was in the right place.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
This was the assurance Jesus gave to Zacchaeus on that day when he was restored to the right place.
The scripture passage from the book of Joshua defines this blessing for Zacchaeus and for us too:
“Choose whom you will serve this day but as for me and my house we choose to serve the Lord.”
We need to choose – do we spend our lives carrying around a bag of dry bones or do we see the Resurrection – the restoring of life.
Are you still watching the action from your porch and sitting with the birds?
You may be comfortable for the moment but you are also out on a limb.
The burdens you accumulate will eventually break your limb. Christ is looking up and down for us. He has beckoned us out of our trees.
We cannot let Him pass us by.