From our Gospel reading, these words: Zacchaeus… 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."  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

It’s time to ask this every important question again: Why are you here?  Why did you judge it as being worth your while to spend an hour or two here this morning?  Depending on where you’re at on your life journey, your reasons for being here are probably either religious or relational. 

Many people go to church mostly out of habit.  That is certainly not a bad thing.  Others come because they feel kind of guilty if they don’t.  Somewhere along the line they were taught that Christians—at least good Christians—go to church.  For some, that’s at the heart of their religious conviction: go to church!  Do that, and you’re good, you’re fulfilling your religious duty.

Here is another question: did you bring an offering this morning?  Do you plan to drop some cash or a check in the offering plate?  If so, why?  Again, many Christians routinely give an offering for religious reasons… it’s just what you’re supposed to do.  You might even feel a bit guilty if you don’t.  After all, our church operates on a budget, and if people don’t give enough money, then salaries and bills aren’t paid, and the church’s ministries are undercut.  Can’t let that happen... or you might be left feeling kind of bad.

You know what?  I’ve seldom ever heard a stewardship sermon, or participated in a stewardship ‘program’, that didn’t make me feel unsettled.  You might very well feel the same way.  The weakness of such things is that they tend too often to focus on current needs and future goals, instead of following a very clear teaching of the Bible: our stewardship must always start, continue, and move forward by first looking backwards.  And it must flow from a relationship, not from a religious conviction.

We have a lot we can learn from the story of Zacchaeus.  By the end of the story, the good and faithful religious folks are all upset.  But the person who has a new and powerful relationship is about as happy as you can get.

In our Gospel story Zacchaeus is very excited, and has committed himself to some rather radical ‘giving.’ "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."  And given he was a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was undoubtedly very wealthy.  A lot of people would benefit from his generous response.

Please note the words I chose: generous response.  About the only stewardship program theme I have ever cared for was one that my home congregation, Emmaus Lutheran in Denver, used a long time ago: “His Love/Our Response.”  That sequence must be the foundation on which we build our understanding of stewardship… not only of money, but also of time and talent… it must always be done in response to God’s love and grace.  It must flow from our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

At first glance, our story might seem to contradict that perspective as it concludes with Jesus saying "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."  One might be inclined to conclude that Jesus is saying salvation has come as a result of Zacchaeus’ generosity.  No.  Zacchaeus’ generosity came as a result of salvation coming to his house. That must be the direction of things for our generosity as well.  And that must become our prime motivation for gathering here with our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Yes, we churches have to talk about things like budgets and goals, and I suppose they can factor in somewhat to our thinking.  But that needs to be a small factor, otherwise we are looking the wrong direction, and we move away from managing the time, talent, and treasure that God has given us responsibility for in response to what we have received.  Salvation has come to your house and to mine!  Just like Zacchaeus, we have much to be forgiven for.  And like Zacchaeus, Jesus calls us by name and invites us into his gracious presence.

If we do look forward at all in our stewardship, we do so in anticipation of experiencing the fulfilling joy of impacting the lives of others.  Christian scholar and author Elton Trueblood had this to say: “At the age of 93, I am well aware that I do not have many years to live.  Consequently, I try very hard to live my remaining years in such a manner that I really make a difference in as many lives as possible.  How do I want to be remembered?  Not primarily as a Christian scholar, but rather as a loving person.”  Now that is a worthy goal!

If you have time, take a few moments to read the notes and newsletters on the increasingly crowded bulletin boards in the middle room.  When you do, please say a prayer of thanks to God for the opportunity to impact the lives of His children all over the world!  Thanks to the generosity of our members, Zion is able to support all sorts of missions and benevolences in all sorts of places.  What a wonderful honor that is… to be used by God to bless others.

At the same time, if God continues to open doors, Zion may soon have an opportunity to impact a lot more lives locally through Grace Village Ministries.  While this mission will not involve a financial commitment from our members, it will call for growth in stewardship of things just as valuable… if not more: our time and our talents.  We will have opportunities to impact even more lives in very important ways, and that is something to get very excited about!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you to give prayerful consideration to all of this.  Pray the Holy Spirit of God empowers you to more fulyl and more powerfully understand you have a reconciled relationship with your heavenly Father… because of the grace that is yours through Jesus.  Jesus has called you by name, forgiven all of your sin, and now wants you to know and understand that He is with you now, and will never leave you or forsake you.  You and I have a reason to celebrate, and that is why we gather… to hear and respond to that greatest of news.

And, finally, before you decide whether or not to give an offering, or how much to give, count your blessings… especially the incredible gift of God’s love, which moved Him to send His Son to “seek out and to save the lost…” which includes you and me and all of God’s children, many of whom are not yet aware of that grace.  In gratitude, let us grow in generosity of time and talent and treasure, for the sake of the strengthening and extending of God’s Kingdom, always to His glory.  Amen. 

   April 2019   
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