Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Why We Give
Why, a four week stewardship sermon series on WHY we worship, gather, serve, and give, preached Oct 30, 2022 at the 9:30am Worship
We are in the fourth week of a sermon series called “WHY?” We are talking about WHY we, as a community of faith, do the things we do. Brobbey helped us remember WHY we Worship. Caitlan helped us remember WHY we gather together in groups. Last week, I reminded us why we serve. Today, we remember why we GIVE.
Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord.
Scripture Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Sermon Why we Give?
Some years ago, I went to the Holy Lands with a group of pastors. We rode in a bus through the town that was Jericho. It was a pitiful place. Many of the homes or buildings were in terrible disrepair, some abandoned or neglected, others bombed, destroyed in the constant fighting between Israel and Palestine.
There was a sycamore tree in the village though. I realize its been a few thousand years, but one thing I noticed about sycamore trees in general was how hard they would be to climb for a short person. There are no small, easy to grab limbs near the ground. The lowest limbs are at about head height, and huge, too large to get fingers around. I began wondering… maybe Zaccheus had some help from someone, or a nearby crate or animal, something he could climb up onto first, and then climb into the tree. That’s one interesting little question to ask of this scripture passage.
Another interesting question might be something Jill wondered. Pronouns can point to different people than we first think. In this scripture passage, all we have is pronouns, so we have to make assumptions. She wondered who the “he” in “because he was short in stature” pointed to. Was it Zacchaeus, as we’ve always assumed? “Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd, he Zacchaeus could not, because he Zacchaeus was short in stature.” Or was it Jesus? “Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd, he Zacchaeus could not, because he Jesus was short in stature.” The text does not clearly answer this question for us. That’s another interesting question to ask of this passage.
But there’s a third question, that is more awkward than the difficulty of climbing a sycamore, or the possibility Jesus was shorter than average.
The most awkward and unbelievable question in this text is why did Zacchaeus give half of his possessions to the poor, and pay back anyone he had cheated four-fold. Now that’s just crazy talk. My guess is we’d rather find out Zacchaeus climbed an olive tree, or we’d rather find out Jesus was only 5’ 3”, then to believe a person truly interested in Jesus gives away so much of his money. Imagine if we really believed that?! Imagine if every churchgoer started acting like that, letting Zacchaeus be our example of what it looks like to follow Jesus.
In the previous chapter of Luke, right before this story, there’s a dedicated religious person with more than enough who still looks to have a full, abundant, good life, and asks Jesus how to inherit it. Jesus quizzes him on the commandments, which he recites and says he’s kept all his life, but he is still seeking the big, full, abundant, joyful, eternal life. Then Jesus tells him to go home, sell the stuff, give the proceeds to those in need, then come follow me. And when he heard that, he went home sad. He said he wanted full, abundant, joyuful, eternal life, and Jesus told him how to get it. Let go of many of your possessions, and follow me. But he went home sad.
Now that’s believable. There are people, religious people with plenty, more than enough, and most really are trying to be good people. Most of them, most of us, are trying to do what is right, what is true. We want to be faithful, obedient to God’s word, to some moral conscience of what is right and wrong. Most Christians or non-Christians alike, if questioned as to whether they are good people, would answer much like that rich young ruler did… we haven’t killed anyone, we haven’t stolen anything, we have tried to honor our parents, we have not cheated, and we try not to lie, at least at about anything important.
The modern image of Christian is now being a good person. We’ve distorted Jesus’ command to sacrifice and follow him into something we can stomach, one that doesn’t cause too much discomfort. The rich young ruler was a good person, obedient and faithful to the important laws of God. But in the end, he wasn’t satisfied. He knew he wanted a bigger better life than just being good, so Jesus advised him to lay down his extra possessions or his comforts or his favorite pass-times and give that away, then come follow Jesus. But the “good” person who had always obeyed the law, went home sad, and we get no confirmation that he ever did what Jesus asked, give up some of the stuff and monies and really follow Jesus.
It was the bad-person, the tax collector, who finds fullness of life. It was the lost one, the one others judged and condemned, the one the community did not consider good enough. To him, and to his house, salvation came near? The tax collector welcomed Jesus into his home, sat down with him, spent time with him, got to know him, and then, unbelievably, let Jesus’ charge to give away and give back soak in, so much so, he did it.
It’s so awkward and unbelievable to us. I’m not rich or young, we might say to ourselves. And I’m in church, following Jesus. I put something in the plate, most of the time. Or I worked hard for my monies, and earned them honestly, so I’m not the tax-collector. I didn’t cheat or steal from anybody, and I don’t owe anybody. So, the model of Zaccheus isn’t for me, for us.
Hear how hard it is for us to believe this part of the story? It’s so hard for us to believe someone would be that generous, that committed to Jesus they would give back, change their budget and spending habits, change their whole way of being just because of their dedication to really follow Jesus. We’d rather Jesus be following us, providing for us, giving us what we need, then than to hear the truth of this story where salvation and wholeness of life comes from giving back, giving away, and following him.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, and climbed a tree. Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home. Zacchaeus opened his home and his heart to Jesus. Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ heart, over a meal and a prayer. Zacchaeus was not the same after that. He was always a child of Abraham, one of God’s own children. But his big full abundant joyful life began when he stopped gathering to himself, started giving back to others, and followed.
What will we climb to see Jesus better? When Jesus see us, and invites himself into our life, will we listen and trust what he tells us? Will we change what we keep, what we have, give back, give away, as a sign of love for others, and as a commitment to follow Jesus’ way. And when Jesus brings up money, will we go home sad, or will we be generous and find fullness?
Jesus is sitting across from us at this table today. Jesus invited himself into this house, and is feeding us, and inviting us to be generous. May God’s great gift of full, abundant, joyful, eternal life come to this church, and all our houses today as we give back.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.