Archive for the ‘Pentecost 24C’ Category

It’s God’s Way or the Highway!

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 24-C, November 3rd, 2013

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“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” [Isaiah 1:18]

This morning, God wants to have a discussion with you; don’t worry about anyone else, this is between you and Him.  He speaks to you now through His Word.  You have heard it read.  Those Words were powerful, because they are full of the Spirit of God.  They are spoken for one reason: So that you would see your sin and turn to God who alone is able to restore you and give your life meaning and purpose.  Are you ready to listen?  Is that what your heart desires?  Good, then God is doing something powerful in you this morning.  What you are about to hear is the only message that can save you; it is God’s only source of salvation open to you. In essence it is either God’s way or the highway.  Are you ready to listen?

Hear the Word of the Lord you who rule your own lives; you who say that you are your own man or woman.  Listen to God’s truth and learn.

Do you really think that coming to church makes you right with God?  Do you really think that the money that you place in the offering plate, no matter the amount is what God wants?  If you’re comfortable in these things, then God has a Word for you today, and it is this: “Who has told you that coming before me in worship without faith—real faith is acceptable?  You must stop thinking that your attendance at church gains you something in my eyes.  Your surface-only religion is something that I can no longer endure.  When you lift your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you.  No matter how loud or how often you call out to me, I will not listen!  I can not listen, because your hands are stained with sin.”

Those are strong Words and hard for us to hear; they are strong because they are the Law of God, which thunders against the sin of all mankind.  They are a mirror that shows us the truth about who we really are, and they are a hammer that pulverizes any self-justification we may have brought in with us this morning.  They are harsh words because they are meant to destroy and kill.  The law of God is never meant to bring comfort to a sinner, instead it brings truth!  But that is not the end of our message.  No, God also speaks Words of hope; Words that bring peace, and those Words are called the gospel.  Listen now and let God reason with you.

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your sinful deeds before my eyes; cease to do evil, and learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”  [Isaiah 1:16, 17]  And to this some of you may be wondering how you go about washing yourselves before God.  Is it a change of life style?  You already know that simply going to church is not sufficient in God’s eyes.  You may even be considering becoming more active in your community by doing the things God spoke of.  Being an activist who seeks justice, corrects oppression, brings justice to the fatherless children in our community, and helping out the single mothers who have such a hard time raising children in today’s society, are all good an noble acts that each of us should endeavor to do.  Maybe you are already doing those things?  Do they bring you any real assurance that God is pleased with you; do you know for certain that He has a place for you in His kingdom when your life here is complete?

By now, I trust that you see the futility of self-reliance and a “do it yourself” style of religion?  Isn’t it obvious that this washing that will make you truly clean in God’s eyes is something more; something beyond your ability?  Isn’t it apparent that this cleansing must come from God Himself? This feeling of being lost and hopeless in a sinful world is exactly what led our friend Zacchaeus in our gospel reading (Luke 19:1–10), to find Jesus as His last and only best hope to be right with God.  We can say that he had a broken spirit and a contrite heart.  He was ready to confess his sinfulness to God!

Zacchaeus was a Jew. He was most likely a religious Jew.  He practiced his religion as prescribed by the law.  He paid his tithes and offerings, attended synagogue and probably followed all of the outward traditions.  Yes, Zacchaeus was a Jew, but he was the kind of Jew who was despised by his own people.  Why?  Because he was a rich, political, self-serving Jew who made a living collecting the Roman tax from the Jewish people in Judea.

Everywhere Zacchaeus went people acknowledge his authority; they acknowledged his power to influence their lives; when he passed by people got out of his way and bowed out of respect, but when he was out of ear shot, how they really felt about him was declared loud and clear.  Words like tyrant, traitor, and hypocrite must have flowed freely from the lips of common folk.  Zacchaeus knew about his reputation, and so he turned to his religion to bring him some peace of mind.  He trusted in his circumcision; the sign of God that was instituted to set the Hebrews apart from the other people.  A sign that signified that they were God’s children of Abraham, who by faith were waiting for the promised Savior to come and set the world free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  And while he waited with the rest of the Jews, he continued to hope not in God’s deliverance but in his own ingenuity and financial security.  He continued to collect more than the allotted tax.  He continued to live his extravagant life style.  While the poor got poorer, he became richer and more secure in this world.

Do you think that Zacchaeus cared what the people spoke about him behind his back?  Maybe, maybe not, but he did care what God thought of him.  He did care that to His God, the true and living God, all of this offerings, all of his works of charity were like filthy rags before God.  He cared that God knew that he had exchanged the promise of forgiveness and peace, with the promise of the world; the promise of pleasure and wealth.

That is why, when he heard that Jesus was coming to his city of Jericho, he had to find Him; he had to see Him, even if it was just a glance.  You see this Jesus was preaching that the kingdom of God was with them in the here and now.  Jesus was preaching that there was a way to be born again, cleansed of all sins, and ensured of an eternity in paradise right now.

What Zacchaeus did not understand then was that the Word of God found in Isaiah was beginning to work within his heart; the Word found Zacchaeus! A Word that spoke a promised hope: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Zacchaeus must have wondered if there was still hope for him.  He must have wondered if he could still turn to God’s mercy.  And right there before his eyes came his last and best hope… Jesus the Christ!  “So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.”

“And 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.” [Luke 19:5] Notice, Jesus did not ask to spend the night at his home.  It was a statement of divine appointment.  “God has determined that I must stay with you this day!”

Don’t ask how Jesus knew which person was Zacchaeus.  Don’t ask how he knew which tree to look up into.  This is Jesus the Son of God.  When He required knowledge it was His at just the right moment.  And for Zacchaeus, now was that moment.  Jesus said, “I must stay at your house today!” Right now, today, if you hear his voice do not turn your heart away.

So he hurried and came down and together they went joyfully to the home of the hated traitor, the Chief Tax Collector, Zacchaeus.  “And when (the people) saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Is there a place for sinners, real sinners in Christ’s church today, or has it become a clubhouse for the redeemed?  Are we willing to concede that even the Zacchaeuses of today can find forgiveness?  Or have we, the church too, simply become a group of redeemed grumblers?

Something wonderful happened in the home of Zacchaeus.  Because of Jesus’ Word, that mansion of the rich and infamous became a temple of the most high.  The humble seat of Jesus became a pulpit, and Zacchaeus’ family table became the Lord’s table where He served His meal of mercy and forgiveness.  As Jesus spoke the Word of God, both the law and the gospel, just as you have heard today, Zacchaeus and his household received the gift of faith… the desire to confess their sins to God so that he could receive the forgiveness of sins.  “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  They were washed clean.  Though there hands were red with sin they were cleansed through the washing of the water and the Word.

Zacchaeus was a child of Abraham, saved by the shedding of blood through circumcision.  He was saved to be part of a people who were waiting for the coming of the Savior, who would then be a light unto the unsaved so that they too would know the Savior of the world.  But somewhere along the way, like many other Hebrews, Zacchaeus became lost.  He no longer waited for the promise to be fulfilled, instead he sought security through the ways of the world. But Jesus found him, and Zacchaeus was saved from his sin.  His eyes that were once blinded by the light of wealth were now opened by the light of God so that he could turn to and trust in Jesus alone.

We know this is true by what he spoke next: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” [Luke 19:8]  No one required this statement of repentance from Zacchaeus; the money that was offered was not the evidence of a new man, but the desire to do new and marvelous things.  His statement was spontaneous; it leapt from his heart through the work of the Holy Spirit.  It was the declaration of a new man; a man who no longer lived to please himself or build a kingdom in this world, but a man who had been redeemed by God to work for the kingdom of God that was now standing right in front of Him in the person of Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, the life of Zacchaeus is the life of each of you who have heard God speak to your hearts this morning.  You too have heard God reason with you.  You too have seen your sins and heard the offer of God to wash them clean; white as snow.  You have heard the Word that brings eternal life.  You have been shown the powerful work of Holy Baptism that now saves you by bringing you into the church.  The church!  No longer a place where you come to practice your religion and fulfill the requirements of God, but a place where God actually gives you His gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life and the ability and desire to give abundantly out of your time, talent, and treasure.  The church is a place where Jesus actually comes to you at your own table here, and makes it His own; a place where he feeds you His very self for the strengthening of your faith and the forgiveness of sins.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since (you) also (are sons and daughters) of Abraham (by faith).  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” [Luke 19:9, 10] He came to seek and save you!  Zacchaeus received the gift of God, Jesus Christ, with an unfulfilled vision of who Jesus was.  He did not yet see the passion that was to come in one short week upon a cross planted on a stony hill called Golgotha.  He did not yet see the Savior of the World dying for the sins of the world, including all of Zacchaeus’ sins.  But you have been blessed to hear of this cross.  And by the power of God’s Spirit, you have been told that all of the sins of the world were put to death on that cross, including your own.

Unlike Zacchaeus, you see that the waters of your baptism are eternally linked to the cross and the lifeblood of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  It is from within this completed gospel, that you have been shown God’s only way of salvation.  Will you follow it or will you go your own way? “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  AMEN!