A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on the 3rd Sunday of Easter Worship, April 10, 2016. Principal reading Luke 19:1-10
As the song of my childhood says, Zacchaeus was a wee little man, but there is much more to it than that. Yes, he was short, so short that he had to climb a tree to see Jesus as he walked by, but he was also a tax collector. We also hear that he was rich. By definition, a tax collector in the days of first century Israel was wealthy. They purchased the right to collect taxes on Rome’s behalf. They are told how much to collect and then they pocket whatever they collect over that amount. Rome didn’t care how much more the tax collectors asked for, just that they received what they expected. So a tax collector could collect double what Rome asked for and keep half for himself.
Jericho was a big city – Herod had a large palace there – so Zacchaeus probably has numerous underlings working for him also collecting taxes giving him a cut while keeping some for themselves – sort of a first century pyramid scheme – Zacchaeus was indeed a wealthy person. And he was hated by his fellow Jews. He got rich by making them poorer than they already were. He stole from them so that he could enjoy a luxurious life with all the trimmings.
Then Jesus calls him out and invites himself to dinner at his house. Like they have in so many other stories of Jesus reaching out to sinners, his followers are not at all happy with this invitation. Jesus should not be going to the house of a sinner let alone dine with one! It wasn’t done. But Jesus was demonstrating a new way of life, wasn’t he?
On hearing his fellow Jews grumbling about this, Zacchaeus suddenly repents of his sin. He could have said, ‘I’m sorry, I was just doing my job – I won’t do it anymore’ and we would have felt that he had changed. In Exodus of the Hebrew Bible, biblical law required very specific reparations for theft and fraud and by giving half of what he owns to the poor and paying back four times more than what he has taken, he is saying, ‘this was more than taxation, it was more than just doing my job, it was theft’, and he pays back what is required under Hebrew law for theft. In this he repents and he is no longer a wealthy man – he has changed his whole life because Jesus called him out of a tree.
Zacchaeus was a wee, little man
And a wee, little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And as the Savior came that way
He looked up in the tree
And he said,
“Zacchaeus, you come down from there”
For I’m going to your house today
For I’m going to your house today
The song of my childhood doesn’t give you much depth. Zacchaeus was short and so he climbed up into a tree and Jesus saw him and called to him inviting himself to his house. So in my childhood memory, it was a story of someone making an effort, perhaps even an extraordinary effort, to see Jesus and because of that effort, Jesus acknowledges him.
But now I am no longer a child and I realize there is more to the story. Jesus calls us from wherever we are. We may be sinning in a big way like Zacchaeus or we may be leading a quiet life with no one taking any notice of us. How do we hear Jesus’ voice? Is it a still small voice, one we hear in the quiet moments? Or is it a loud big voice which we hear over the noise of the crowd? Yes and yes.
An alcoholic had had an ongoing battle between her addiction and her desire to have a better relationship with God. After many attempts at sobriety, she was ready to give up and let the addiction win. One day while alone in her home, she heard a distinct and very clear voice say, ‘Choose this day who you are going to serve, me or alcohol.” She never drank again. She heard the still small voice and knew it was God. From that day on her life was transformed.
A business woman was dissatisfied with her job but had no idea where her career path should go next. Many people in her church told her they thought ministry was what God intended for her. An Interim Minister asked her if she had considered going to seminary and she answered NO! Out of the blue, members of her family told her they always thought she was gifted for the ministry. In these people, this woman heard God’s voice over the din of the business world and the comfort of a well-paying job and she entered seminary and was transformed.
Where do we hear God’s voice? In the voice of a child? In the voice of a well meaning friend saying you would do well to let go of something that is holding you back? Do you hear it in scripture? Or poetry or literature? Do you hear God’s voice in the voices of friends and family? Do you hear it in music? Do you hear/see it in art? Do you hear it as a voice in your head?
We need to listen to God’s voice whether it is loud and clear or whether it is soft and small.
Because of the great love God has for each and every one of us, Jesus wants to change and transform us but we have to be willing to allow that to happen. We need to listen and then just like Zacchaeus, we need to allow God to change us, to transform us in to new people full of God’s love. So ask yourself, Are you willing to listen for God’s voice? Are you willing to follow Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to change you? That’s a decision that you and you only can make. Amen.