Luke 5:27-32, 19:1-10
In this season of Epiphany we are looking at a few of the particular aspects of Jesus’ ministry: his miracles, his parables, next week we’ll talk about what he says about hell, which I know you’ll want to hear. Spoiler alert: it’s not what you usually hear about hell. But this morning, I want to read a couple of stories about individuals who meet Jesus and then tell you about something really great that happened yesterday. Let’s set the stage by reading two similar stories from the gospel of Luke. We begin in chapter 5 verses 27 through 32.
Let us listen now in the reading of scripture for the word and wisdom of God.
Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax-collection station, and Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Levi got up, left everything, and followed Jesus. Then Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house, <Levi’s house; Jesus doesn’t have a house> and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to Jesus’ disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
And now a similar story from the gospel of Luke, chapter 19, verses 1 through 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. (Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.) So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus. 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.”
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
One thing that is great about Jesus is that you can’t box him in. He is often found with the poor, but we also know he had followers among the rich. He is often found with “sinners,” but we also know he turned the hearts of some of the religious elite. Women and men, children and the elderly, the sick and the well, Jews and non-Jews: Jesus is all over the place. And this morning we have two stories of Jesus calling middle-class individuals. I want to point out a few things from these stories and use them as a springboard to tell you about something else.
Let me highlight the similarities: Jesus notices these two people and calls them deliberately. Turns out these are two people that other people don’t like. Other people get annoyed when Jesus spends time with these two folks and their friends. These are two people who seem to be outside the religious circle. Both of these men respond to Jesus immediately and personally and then also respond in generosity towards others. Jesus uses these encounters to make it clear that he has come for the sick, the lost, and the sinners, which includes these two middle-class businessmen.
Here’s the point I want to make: everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, health, or religious background, every single one of us needs to have an authentic and personal encounter with Jesus that leads us to move towards other people. In the gospels, Jesus calls people by name. Now today, since the Risen Christ is not limited by time and space and a physical body, Christ calls to each of us uniquely and meets each of us uniquely. I’m not talking about a one-size-fits-all conversion prayer. I’m saying that the Spirit of the Living God comes to each of us in the person of the Risen Christ, and invites us to be different than we were before. And the evidence of that encounter is that we move towards others in generosity and welcome. We meet Jesus and we make room.
With that in mind I want to tell you about some of what happened yesterday at a gathering of our Church Council, which is the leadership team for the congregation. The Council and I spent the day together and we talked mainly about three things. 1. What are some of the most significant things this congregation accomplished together last year in 2023? 2. What might this congregation look like in 2027? and 3. In light of those other two things, what are our top priorities this year? So let me share some of it with you.
First, what are some great things that happened here last year?
Next, what might this church look like in 2027? This list is neither comprehensive nor exclusive, so this is not everything.
Finally, with both of those last slides in mind, what do we need to focus on this year?
I expect that at the beginning of next year when we review the wins for this year, there will be a lot more on that slide than just these things. This isn’t all we are going to do, but at this point these are things our Council believes we really must do.
I want to close this morning by asking, “So what? What’s the point of all that stuff?” And you know, I think it goes right back to what I said about the stories we read this morning. Every single one of us needs to have an authentic and personal encounter with Jesus that leads to move towards other people. We need to meet Jesus and then make room. In the last several years especially this church has become a place with room for people who didn’t feel like they fit in other churches. This is a place to be yourself. This is ever more becoming a church of people who have met Jesus once again in a way that is leading us to want to make room for other people to meet Jesus. When we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we find lasting joy, and we help to heal the world. We meet Jesus and we make room. Amen.