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The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, October 31, 2010.  The text for this week’s message is Luke 19:1-10.

Today is a very special day in the life of the church.  Not because Halloween happened to fall on a Sunday this year, but because we have the opportunity today to remember those who have gone on to the promises that we have in Christ Jesus.  It’s not as commonly celebrated in contemporary American culture, but November 1st is known as All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.  It stands in stark contrast to Halloween, which we usually associate with goblins and candy and hayrides and bonfires.  All Saints Day is a day to remember why it is that we do what we do as a congregation.  It’s a day to remember and celebrate the saints who have moved on to glory.
Perhaps the story of Zacchaeus is an odd story for us to examine on All Saints Day, but I can guarantee you that it’s not going to be the only Scripture passage over the next several weeks that may seem out of place at first.  The story of Zacchaeus doesn’t have anything to do with the saints who have left us to meet the Lord.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Zacchaeus is not a saint in this story.  He is a tax collector, which, according to Jewish thought in the first century, was even worse that being a sinner.
Tax collectors were so despised by the Jewish people that when we read through the gospels, they are often given their own category.  Many times you’ll read about the tax collectors and the sinners.  They were so despised that to lump them together with sinners was not good enough.  Even sinners deserved more consideration than the tax collectors.  Why is that?  Why is it that tax collectors were so despised by the Jewish people in the first century?  We may grumble about the IRS today, but we don’t go out of our way to identify them as worse than any other group of people.  A lot of the hatred towards tax collectors had to do with the way they went about their business.
On the most basic level, a tax collector was an agent of the Roman Empire.  A tax collector was given a particular area, and a particular amount of money that they had to raise for taxes.  Anything above that amount would be their pay.  As you can imagine, corruption is built into this tax system.  Let’s say that Zacchaeus had to raise $100 for taxes this month.  He could go around to every person in his district and demand payment for taxes with the full backing of the Roman Empire meaning, in this case, the Roman military.  If Zacchaeus shows up at your door with a handful of soldiers and demands payment for taxes, the chances of you fighting him on his demand are pretty slim, unless you happened to like fighting professional soldiers.
Tax collectors often abused their power for the sake of their own gain.  If Zacchaeus went out and collected $200 dollars in this scenario, then he just made $100.  Put this on a much grander scale, and you can see how tax collectors were often wealthy, but at the expense of the people with whom they lived.  It had to be hard living in the same town as Zacchaeus knowing that the reason why he has a 63” flat screen and a Cadillac was because he cheated you out of your hard-earned money.  Suddenly it makes sense that the people hated tax collectors so much.
Notice what Luke tells us in verse 2.  Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector.  He was a supervisor.  He had responsibility over a larger area and had people working for him to collect taxes.  He’s the guy in charge in this area as far as collecting taxes was concerned.  This is the background as Jesus enters the city of Jericho at the beginning of today’s reading.
When we get to Luke 19, we are at the tail end of Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel.  Shortly after this encounter with Zacchaeus, Jesus enters into Jerusalem in what we have come to call the Triumphal Entry, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday every year.  In Luke’s narrative, we are coming down to the end.  We are almost at Jesus’ ultimate purpose here on earth.
As so often happens in the gospel stories, there is a crowd.  We are told that when Jesus enters Jericho, a crowd comes to see him.  Stories of Jesus had spread all over the territory.  People knew his name, they knew the things that he had done, and they wanted to catch a glimpse of this person who some were calling the Messiah.  But in the midst of this crowd was Zacchaeus, the despised chief tax collector.  Even Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.
And perhaps this is the first lesson that we can learn from today’s Scripture: people need to see Jesus.  It’s so simple, but I don’t want you to miss it.  People need to see Jesus, especially those who have not seen him before, especially those are despised because their sins, especially those who are despised because of their betrayals.  Zacchaeus was despised because he was a tax collector.  He was hated because he betrayed his people in order to profit alongside the enemy.  On the outside, it may have looked like Zacchaeus had everything, but in fact, he was missing something.
We know that he was missing something because he went out of his way to see Jesus.  This man of high position risked embarrassment and ridicule because he was too short to see Jesus with the crowd standing in the way, so he climbed a tree.  He climbed a sycamore tree so he could get a better look at the man they called Jesus.
One of the neat things about the Magic Kingdom at Disney World is that every night, twice a night, they have a parade.  People will line up along the route over an hour before it starts just so they can have a good seat to see the Parade of Lights.  And as I was thinking about the position that Zacchaeus found himself in today’s Scripture, I couldn’t help but think of all the little children who were sitting on their parents’ shoulders just so they could see some of their favorite Disney characters in this Parade of Lights.  Children, little people who were too short to see everything unfold had to be helped so they take in the wonder of this experience.  But there was nobody there to help Zacchaeus see Jesus.  So, he climbed a sycamore tree.
As I thought more and more about this story, I started to wonder: what are the things that we do that prevent people from seeing Jesus?  How are we like the crowd that gets in Zacchaeus’ way so that he cannot see the Savior?  What are the things that we hold onto, the rituals that we take for granted, the traditions that we place above allowing people like Zacchaeus to see Jesus for the first time? 
There are things that we place above allowing others to see Jesus.  Whether we know it or not, and whether we do it intentionally or not, it doesn’t really matter.  Some people insist on a particular type of worship.  Others may insist on a particular translation of Scripture.  Still others may have their personal list of theological or political opinions with which you must agree or you risk being on the outside.  What are the ways that we are just like the crowd? 
Take a moment to think about your life and about the things that we do as a congregation that may seem perfectly normal to us, but in reality, to somebody who has not seen Jesus, these things would simply be a crowd that stands in the way of seeing the Savior.  It is a fairly difficult task for us to examine everything that we take for granted, but that is exactly what Jesus has us do in this passage.
After Zacchaeus climbs the tree, Jesus walks by that spot, stops, looks up at him and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and get down here.  I must stay at your place today.”  What is amazing here is that Zacchaeus doesn’t start waving his arms and crying out for Jesus to pay attention to him.  Zacchaeus doesn’t yell down, “Hey Jesus, I’m grilling out tonight, do you want to come by for a while?”  He just wanted to see Jesus, and next thing you know, Jesus calls him out of the crowd and says, “I must stay with you today.”
Jesus takes the initiative here.  Jesus calls upon Zacchaeus.  Jesus invites himself over for dinner.  Jesus chooses somebody who the rest of the crowd thinks is unworthy of such an honor.  It’s all Jesus.  The reason why you are probably here this morning is because at some point in your life, Jesus looked to you and said, “Get down here; let’s go have dinner.”  God’s grace works in our lives and brings us closer to him before we ever decide to follow Jesus.  He may have used all sorts of people and events to bring you to that point, but don’t doubt for a second that Jesus was the person bringing it all together in the first place.
Zacchaeus immediately responds in a radical way to Jesus’ call.  He doesn’t just say, “Okay, fire up the grill!  Let’s go!”  He says, “Lord, I’m going to give half of all that I have to the poor.”  I imagine the people weren’t all that impressed because they know how he got his money.  He is a tax collector after all.  But then Zacchaeus says, “If I’ve defrauded anybody, I’m going to give them back four times what I took from them.”  Suddenly, this isn’t just a rich man offering to give away half of what he had so he can look good but still be rich.  It is a man who so believes in the message of Jesus that he is willing to give up everything.  I imagine a few people probably took Zacchaeus up on his offer, and he ended up worse off than anybody.  That is what the grace of God will do to a person.
The grace of God will make a person realize the selfish, hurtful ways that he or she has lived life, and suddenly, everything comes into perspective.  What we have in this world doesn’t matter if it comes at the expense of other people.  God gives so freely that when we are faced with it, we cannot help but give freely as well.  Now, inevitably, the question of worth comes up.  Am I really worthy of the redemption that is possible through Jesus?  Well, no.  We’re not worthy.  But neither was Zacchaeus and Jesus still called him.  That is the beauty of grace – we aren’t called because of our worth, we are called because of our lack of worth.
What we see in the story of Zacchaeus is the making of a saint.  We see the awesome grace of God at work.  We see salvation as it happens, in spite of what the crowd may have wanted.  Jesus picks the worst of the worst in Zacchaeus, and salvation is still waiting for him.
On All Saints Sunday, we remember the saints who have gone before.  We remember and we celebrate their witness in our lives.  But let us also remember – they weren’t always saints.  At some point in their life, Jesus looked to them and said, “Hurry up and get down here.  I must be with you today.”  If we remember their flawed roots, we begin to remember ours.  And in doing so, we remember that we need to stop being the crowd in this story.  We need to stop preventing others from seeing Jesus, and we need to start making a way for those who are small of stature, those like Zacchaeus, to see the Savior.
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