Service for 31 October 2010
Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Call to Worship
Let us give thanks to God
who notices those who are left out
who loves those who are unlovely
who cares about those who are needy
who accepts those who are different
Psalm 119:137-144 responsive,
from Uniting in Worship people's book
Hymn Together in Song 52 Let us Sing to the God of Salvation
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
we thank you that
you love and accept us
as we are
who we are.
We thank you that
we don't have to change
for you to love us -
although our lives may well
be changed by knowing
your love for us.
We thank you that
your love for us
stays the same
no matter how strong or weak we are
no matter what we can or can't do
no matter how many mistakes we've made
no matter what other people think.
We confess that our behaviour
doesn't always show that we are glad of your love.
Help us, we pray, to show
in loving you and
in loving others as Jesus has loved us.
Declaration of Forgiveness
….our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Hymn Together in Song 748 There once was a man as mean as could be
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!
When you were a child did you ever think it would be great to be rich and famous when you grew up?
Do you ever think now that if you only had money, your problems would be solved?
Of course not. None of us believes that, right? We all know that money doesn't buy happiness. But we'd all like the opportunity to prove it for ourselves.
And fame is over-rated. If you look at any number of popular magazines, famous people have the most wonderful lifestyle, we should all aspire to share – and they're just as miserable, and have just the same problems as anyone else – they just have their problems more publicly.
Let's meet Zack. Not Zack Efron, the actor, but Zack up the sycamore tree. If the printing press had been invented in his day, Zack would have made it into all the trashy magazines. This guy was rich – he'd bought himself a business in the most lucrative franchise available in the first century – collecting taxes for the Romans. This really was like a modern franchise, the Romans sold the right to collect tax to chief tax collectors, like Zack, who then hired tax collectors to actually go and collect the money from the citizenry. So Zack had money before he took on the job – he was able to pay the taxes of his community up front to the Romans before collecting it all back. He was in a field that was open to abuse – lots of tax collectors and chief tax collectors overcharged the public, and increased their profit margin significantly as a result. Even though not all tax collectors and chief tax collectors were corrupt, enough were that the stigma was attached to all of them.
So this was Zack – he was rich. He was filthy rich. He was famous! (Or at least infamous.) Everybody knew who he was. Everybody talked about him. He had a reputation – whether or not he'd personally earned it. Zack had it made. He could afford anything he wanted. He was the first century version of the corporate high flyer, with the big house, trophy wife, and spoilt rich kids who looked down on all the kids who weren't as well off. He wasn't popular, but there was no reason that should be a problem – he had every material thing he could want.
Yet, there must have been something more he wanted – something his money couldn't buy for him. Zack was desperate to see Jesus when he came to town. So desperate, he would do what no dignified adult would, that he'd hold himself up to ridicule in an honour/shame – based social system. He shamed himself – he ran and climbed a tree in public – OK for a kid to do, but not for an adult, and especially not for an adult with any degree of wealth or social standing.
But, suffering from the problem of all short people in a crowd – he chose to make a fool of himself and climb the tree, rather than miss out on seeing what was going on. Maybe he hoped the crowd was all too busy trying to see Jesus to notice him. If Zack hoped not to be seen, that hope was pretty much dashed, when Jesus, the centre of all the fuss, stopped and drew attention to him.
What would Jesus make of Zack? Jesus had preached, “Happy are the poor” and “it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” One might suspect that Jesus wouldn't have much sympathy for the man who had everything money could buy. On the other hand, Jesus had also told the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee – where the tax collector was the one justified, because he was the one who recognised he was a sinner. So would Zack be another rich person who left Jesus unhappily because he was too attached to his wealth? Or would he be the justified sinner? Or something else?
Jesus looked up into the tree and invited himself to Zack's place for dinner. That's considered rude in our society. If I stood up here in church, pointed to someone randomly in the congregation and said “I'm stopping at your place for dinner tonight, and by the way, I'm bringing a dozen or so disciples, some other followers and a few odd hangers-on,” it wouldn't be received at all well. In their society, it was a great honour. Hosts received honour from the status of their guests – with everyone in town turned out to see Jesus, the person who actually got to have him eat at their house was automatically given extra status points. That's the main reason the “good” people were so shocked at Jesus eating with a “sinner” - it actually meant they missed out. It was a competition, with Jesus as judge. Zack won. They lost. (Although it does seem they turned up at dinner to witness what was happening next - after all it wasn't going to be reported in “Who Magazine” or “Women's Weekly”.) It's probably good that Zack could afford to feed so many people.
At dinner Zack stood up and made an announcement: he was giving half his wealth to the poor, and if he'd defrauded anyone he'd pay back several times over. Some people have taken this to mean he'd defrauded people and was promising to pay – others that he was defending himself against public opinion, that he'd never been corrupt and if he had accidentally over-charged anyone he'd compensate them. In either case – giving up half his wealth was a significant decision.
We're not told what Jesus said to him before this decision, if anything – only that Jesus announced his support of it afterwards.
Something had changed for Zack in that encounter with Jesus. It was something huge. Zack had been accepted. He'd been treated as important. Jesus had selected him for honour, without asking him to change first. Jesus had told another rich man to give away his wealth – we have no indication he said any such thing to Zack.
This change of heart – giving away half his wealth – was Zack's response to meeting Jesus. He had been accepted exactly as he was. Jesus didn't join the townspeople in judging him. In being accepted by Jesus, and in coming to know him, Zack found something more valuable than his money. Remember – he clearly went into his business for the money – there was no popularity or anything else that came with it. Money had been very important to him. Suddenly, it's not so important. What's more important is Jesus sitting at his table, sharing a part of his life with him. Meeting Jesus, being accepted by Jesus, has been enough that he's re-examined his priorities, worked out what's really important.
So is Zack's story just some piece of historical curiosity, or is there something of value in it for us?
Let's start with what prompted the change in Zack. At times, the church, and by that I mean just the general attitude of people in churches – not any specific denomination or congregation, can act as though people have to be “good” enough to join us. The truth of the church's life is that we're a collective of forgiven sinners. None of us is “good” enough to be here. We're here because when Jesus sought us out and invited himself into our lives, we accepted. That's pretty much the opposite of that old idea that you have to pray for forgiveness and invite Jesus into your life to become a Christian. But it's how Jesus actually works – he comes looking for us long before we go looking for him – and he accepts and forgives us – whatever we do then is a response to him. That's who we are – like Zack up the tree – we are people who need Jesus. That being the case, we must also accept the person who is different, who doesn't seem, for whatever reason, to be “good” enough. The person who is different, is really just the same as we are.
At times we are tempted to put our faith in money, in relationships, in our professions, in anything else that makes us feel safe. We can dedicate ourselves to any number of causes, ideals, or schemes. An encounter with Jesus inspires us to sacrifice everything else – to rearrange our priorities, so that loving God and our neighbour comes first, and everything else falls into place beyond that.
The appropriate response to Jesus, to a shift in priorities, is just as Zack did, find a way to show care to others just as he had been cared for. In his case it was to share his money – but it could be in sharing our time, our skills, whatever resources God has given us are for the benefit of others, not just ourselves.
And sometimes, the person who seems to have everything, is actually the poorest of all. Zack had all the money he could want. But it wasn't what he needed – once he had met Jesus, he was no longer poor in what he really needed and could give away the wealth he had counted on. We can never look at another person and assume they have all that they need – that they are fine. Everyone has needs, not all of them are met. Just because someone seems to have it all, doesn't mean they aren't vulnerable or hurting or lonely. The person who seems to have the most, may be the one who needs the most from us. Just as Jesus drew the crowd's attention to the person who was alone, whose needs were hidden, we need to be looking out for the person who is overlooked and has the greatest needs.
Hymn Together in Song 147 To God be the glory
Including “Christmas Child” DVD
Prayers of the People
this world, like Zacchaeus,
needs to know your love,
your care and attention.
We try to use war to solve
the differences between nations.
We us violence, rather than
seek out the cause of our problems.
Help this world of yours,
Guide our leaders -
teach us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Like the people around Zacchaeus,
we use labels, instead of trying
to know real people.
We pray for this world,
that we might learn the lessons of Zacchaeus -
that we might learn not to judge others
that we may learn justice
that we may discover your love and
respond with love.
We pray for this world
that we might learn the lesson of Zacchaeus -
that out of our gratitude to you
we would be generous to the poor,
to those in need.
And we pray today for the people in
special need because of the earthquake and tsumani in Indonesia.
We pray for our own community here,
and for the special needs we are aware of ….
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 687 God gives us a future