Transformed for Generosity

Dear Friends,
 
My family and I had a nice visit to Northwest Wisconsin this past weekend. In the midst of visiting Northland College in Ashland, we also visited the Washburn, Bayfield, and Madeline Island area along the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. The fall colors were in stunning and Lake Superior was as magnificent as ever. We have a wonderful recommendation of an Airbnb if you’d like one. Again, I want to thank Tom, Tom and Terry for filling in for me on Sunday – Laity Sunday in the UMC.
 
I now look forward to this coming Sunday, which we know each year to be Stewardship Sunday – the day we commit – or recommit – an amount of our financial gifts towards God’s work through First United Methodist Church of Lindstrom. We’ll be reminded of the importance of such a commitment when hearing again the spiritual transformation of Zachaeaus and his call to generous giving and living. (Luke 19:1-10) You’ll perhaps recall from this familiar story that Zacchaeus, short in stature, couldn’t see past all the people in the crowds. He climbed up a tree in order to see Jesus. Jesus noticed Zachaeus, called him down from the tree, and invited himself to Zachaeaus’ home for supper. We learn quickly that the crowds weren’t too pleased with Jesus because of this. Zacchaeus was the most despised man in Jericho. Not only was he a tax collector; he was the chief tax collector – the richest man in town – considered a thief, but untouchable because he was protected by the Roman government. The crowd could not figure out why Jesus would associate with Zachaeaus. What was Jesus thinking? What was Jesus always thinking?
 
The story continues when the two of them went into Zacchaeus’ home. The dinner conversation is not recorded. We don’t know what Jesus said to Zacchaeus while in the house together, but within only a few minutes Zacchaeus comes out of that house a changed man. If we knew what Jesus said, then churches would finally know the answer to inspiring faithful financial stewardship within their communities. To paraphrase, Zacchaeus came out of the front door by himself and addressed the large crowd saying, “I am sorry. I have been cheating you for years now. I have been dishonest. You know it and so do I. I have been taking advantage of my position. I’ve gotten richer at your expense. To make it right, I will pay back each one of you from whom I have stolen. I will repay you back four times the amount I cheated you. Yes, each and every one of you. Also, I am giving half of my goods to the poor of our city.” The crowd was shocked. Their cynical selves couldn’t believe it, likely saying or thinking to themselves, “We’ll believe it when we see it, Zacchaeus.” About that time, Jesus walked out, put his arm around Zacchaeus, and quieted the crowds. “Today, salvation has come to Zacchaeus’s house. He has become a true son of Abraham. I have come to seek and save the lost. Zacchaeus has been found.”
 
It’s one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible, about a short little man who climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, a story about a man who was transformed from greedy to generous, from selfish to selfless, from a thieving heart to a thankful heart. We still ask ourselves: “What did Jesus say to him in that house?” If only we knew what Jesus said, then perhaps we could say similar things to each other, and we too would be changed and become equally generous. However, what we do know, is that Jesus loved Zacchaeus, the biggest sinner in town. Jesus loved him, and in that love, Zacchaeus was transformed. That perhaps, is all we need to know.
 
Now, just for fun, let’s imagine what happens next in the story. What happens the following Sunday (Sabbath) when Zachaeaus shows up for worship and the church is packed with curious onlookers wondering what Zachaeaus will do. Will they see and believe? They did. People notice his new found generosity and they ask him, “What has happened to you? Why the change?” Zacchaeus responds with a glow on his face, with a big smile, “I’m in love. I’m in love with Jesus! He has become my Lord and I am His steward! The things that I have, I give to my Lord to use as He desires. And I have seen that He loves the poor, so I choose to give my possessions to the poor.” A fellow worshipper responds with joy, “If that is what Jesus can do for you, Zacchaeus, then He can do it for me, too!”
 
Soon Jericho witnesses the testimony of him who once was a sinner but is now one of the greatest givers in recorded Scripture. Zacchaeus is no longer synonymous with sinner. Zacchaeus is now a reflection of the generosity of God. Zacchaeus is now living proof of the power of the Holy Spirit! Zachaeaus had been transformed for generosity. It has become clear to all that Jesus didn’t just invite himself into Zachaeaus’ home that evening; Jesus invited himself into Zachaeaus’ heart, as well. “For I’m coming to your heart to stay!”
 
When Jesus comes into our lives, we can no longer be the same. Are we in love with Jesus? If we are, do our words and our works and our behavior speak of our love for Jesus? Do we love Jesus with our lips and with our lives? This Sunday we will consider that question as we prayerfully determine the level of our own generosity as we make our financial commitments to God for the work of mission and ministry at First UMC, Lindstrom.
 
Remember to bring your completed pledge card with you to worship. They will be offered during a processional offering in worship as we offer a special blessing on them and on our congregation.
 
See you in Church!
 
Pr. Dale.