A sermon on Luke 19:1-10
“Lessons from Kindergarten”
Perhaps you’ve seen them in a book store or on a poster somewhere: “Everything I ever needed to know I learned in, or from, ‘you-can-fill-in-the-blank.’”
There’s one for you cat lovers out there:
- Life is hard, then you nap.
- Curiosity never killed anything except maybe a few hours.
- When in doubt, cop an attitude.
- Variety is the spice of life: one day ignore people, the next day annoy them.
- Find your place in the sun–especially if it happens to be on that nice pile of warm, clean laundry.
- If you’re not receiving enough attention, try knocking over several expensive antique lamps.
- Always give generously–a small bird or rodent left on the bed tells them, “I care.”
I’m getting the feeling that whoever wrote these doesn’t like cats. Actually, I’m allergic to them. How about dogs? What can we learn from a dog?
- Naps are essential and should be taken daily(Something dogs and cats seem to agree on)
- Too much of anything will make you sick.
- Once something goes in the garbage it should stay there.
- Drink lots of water. (That is a good one for this time of year)
- A shady area makes a good resting place.
- Long daily walks are good exercise.
- Accidents happen.
My uncle would have appreciated the one for Star Trek:
- Keep your phaser set on stun
- Humans are highly illogical
- Live long and prosper
- If it can’t be fixed, just ask Scotty
For those of you who might enjoy a good western, I came up with these:
- Bad guys always wear black
- The good guys always win.
Each of these lists were first inspired by a poem by Robert Fulghum. He writes:
Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School.
These are the things I learned:
- share everything
- play fair
- don’t hit people
- put things back where you found them
- clean up your own mess
- don’t take things that aren’t yours
- say you’re sorry when you hurt someone
- wash your hands before you eat
- take a nap every afternoon (That nap stuff seems to be popular)
- when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together
Some of my fondest and best memories are from my early childhood. Those lessons learned in kindergarten have stayed with me. But there were other important things I learned as a young child. It was, after all, as a child that I first heard the great stories of the Bible. Do you remember the first time your teacher brought out the old flannelboard and told you the story of…
David and Goliath?
Or the fall of the walls of Jericho?
Do you remember the first time you heard the good news? The Lord is risen!
I remember the posters. I remember the flannelboard. But what I remember the best, what sticks to my memory the most, what still puts a spring in my step and brings a smile to my face are those great songs of the Bible Stories:
Father Abraham had many sons and many sons had father Abraham…
God told Noah to build him an arky arky.
Deep and wide. Deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
These songs we learned as children stay with us and help us to remember those Bible stories.
Zaccheus was a wee little man. A wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the savior passed his way he looked up in the tree and he said, “Zaccheus, you come down. For I’m going to your house today. I’m going to your house today.”
It’s amazing how long ago it was that I first learned that song. And yet I did not need any help in remembering it. That song has long been my favorite Bible song. The song tells us only part of the story, but it doesn’t tell us the whole story…
Let’s listen in as Luke tells us the story: Chapter 19, beginning in verse one:
He (that is, 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.”
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
Jesus is on his final journey to Jerusalem and to the cross of good Friday. Two people had already encountered Jesus on the way: the first, a rich ruler. Matthew calls him a rich young man, while Mark simply says he is rich. Luke wants us to know that his wealth was a stumbling block and at the end was unable to let it go. As Jesus nears Jericho, he meets a blind beggar. The man calls out to Jesus and because of his faith Jesus heals him.
And entering the city of Jericho, Jesus has an encounter with Zaccheus.
The song tells us that Zaccheus was a “wee little man.” What the song doesn’t say is that his name means “the pure one.” Hmmm. The song also leaves out a little something about Zachaeus’ occupation.:Tax Collector.
(Though I cannot imagine a nice Children’s Sunday School song about the IRS).
But the Tax collectors then were not the same as the tax collectors now. To get the idea of what it was like think IRS and then think WORSE. MUCH WORSE. Rome’s tax system was set up for theft and corruption. In fact,
“We need first to characterize Zacchaeus correctly. He was a “chief tax collector,” a word that Luke may have coined to describe the man in charge of the actual toll collectors like Levi.2 The Romans decided how much each district would pay in tribute annually. In districts ruled by a local king (like Galilee…), the king bore ultimate responsibility for seeing that it was done; in districts governed by a Roman prefect (like Judea …), he was ultimately responsible. Commonly, the big dogs outsourced the actual collection job to others. A wealthy person would pay the tribute amount (plus bribes and commissions) and then set out to collect it—plus more, in order to make a profit…If you were living in his territory, Zacchaeus was a man who could make things easier or worse for you… Zacchaeus was a sinner. In fact, we know what his sin was: he used his power to extort money. That’s how tax collectors got rich, and that would have been the path that Zacchaeus used to become a chief tax collector.1”
Yet this rich and powerful man climbed up in a tree to see Jesus. Why did he want to see Jesus?Those who are powerful and wealthy want to see and be seen. But there was something about Jesus. And I can imagine the shock of not only Zacchaeus but also the crowd, who knew and lived in the same community with and paid their taxes to, Zacchaeus, as Jesus walks by, looks up in the tree and calls Zacchaeus him by name. And when Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus follows. His life, and the life of the people around him, would never be the same again. He repented of his stealing and promised to pay back every defrauded penny and then some.
But, if, in order to even make any money, Zacchaeus had to over-charge the people, then to give the money back with interest would send him to the poorhouse.
His change of heart is nothing short of a miracle.
Nor is a change of our own hearts anything less than a miracle. We know this is not something we can accomplish, a measure we can live up to on our own. Luke knows we cannot do it alone. So he paints with words and stories a picture of what faithfulness, or a lack thereof, to Jesus might look like. The Ruler, Luke tells us, was a Godly man who kept the commandments, yet how difficult it was for him to follow Jesus. But what seems impossible to man is possible with Jesus. It takes a miracle, so Luke tells us a miracle story: the restoration of sight to the blind beggar. One had faith to follow Jesus. The other did not. And then there is the story of Zacchaeus, another miracle story. Yet which is the greater miracle, the healing of a beggar’s sight? Or the healing of Zaccheus’ heart?
The story of Zacchaeus is not necessarily about giving away your wealth. It is about letting go of whatever that stumbling block is in your life which prevents you from fully experiencing the love of God. For some it might indeed be money. For others, it might be a relationship or sex. It could be resentment or anger. Whatever it is that hardens your heart, Jesus can heal it.
We’ve heard stories of hearts healed by grace:
At the top of the list would be the dramatic conversion of the Apostle Paul.
John Newton was a slave trader who found Christ and, like Zacchaeus, gave up on a lucrative business. And he wrote about it in a song we call Amazing Grace.
By age 29, he was a self-made millionaire.From humble beginnings in Alabama, he graduated from Auburn and with a friend created a marketing firm. But as the business prospered, his health, integrity and marriage suffered. He was prompted to re-evaluate his values and direction. His soul-searching led to reconciliation with his wife and to a renewal of his Christian commitment. He took a drastic step: sell all of their possessions, give the money to the poor and begin searching for a new focus for their lives. This search led them to Koinonia Farm, a Christian community in Georgia, where people were looking for practical ways to apply Christ’s teachings. Millard Fuller went on to create Habitat for Humanity.
But for every story of someone famous, there are the no-less-significant stories of everyday people like you and like me.
I grew up in the church. Every week. All the time. My parents made sure of it. I learned those Bible songs and stories. I learned them at church and I sang them at home. Jesus was always a part of my home and my life. So when I “walked the aisle and was baptized” at the age of 9, it seemed only natural.
I was surrounded by people who followed Jesus. I was surrounded by people who loved Jesus.
It wasn’t until I got to college that it started to bother me. At campus events my friends would stand up and with great fire and enthusiasm praise God for delivering them from alcohol and drugs. They would talk about the forgiveness they finally felt after they confessed their great sins. I didn’t have that dramatic conversion. And I felt empty.
I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I hadn’t been bad enough.
But I’m not good enough not because I did not do “the big sins.” I’m not good enough because without Him I can do nothing.Without him I’d surely fail.Salvation not just for those who have the big sins, while those are covered, it is for all sinners, big and the small. Those who can see and those who cannot. Those in kindergarten and those in retirement. Everyone is included.
Perhaps we could write a second verse to the Zacchaeus song…Another verse for the rest of the story…
Zaccheus was a glad little man. A glad little man was he. He shared a meal with the Lord which the people were not pleased to see. But to their surprise Zaccheus went and paid back all he stole. Then Jesus said, “salvation comes to your house today, salvation comes to your house today.
I don’t think my verse will soon be sung in the Sunday School classrooms of the children and that’s ok.
As long as the children learn the stories. As long as we remember the stories. As long as we remember the good news Zacchaeus learned that day: Jesus knew his name. Jesus knows my name. And he knows yours, too.