Sermon for October 30th

First Reading Psalm 32:1-7

Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Gospel Reading: Luke 19:1-10

Sermon “Two Fold Witness

According to the term witness is used as follows:

A witness is someone who was present at or perceives an incident, event, or occurrence – as in “Jamal was a witness to the fact that I completed all my homework.” People who witness something typically do so through seeing, although they can also witness a smell or sound. In order to witness an event, one must simply be present at the time the event happened, even if the witness was not directly involved. To witness something is to see, hear, sense, or know something, as in “I witnessed our dog running out the door, but I didn’t see where she went.” To witness is also to testify or give evidence, especially in a court of law.

As we meet Zacchaeus this morning. He is desperate to be a witness to Jesus coming into Jericho on his way to Jerusalem and the Cross. But Zacchaeus has a problem, He was short and he couldn’t see over the crowd. So as the old Sunday school song says:

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in the Sycamore Tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.

And as our Savior passed that way, he looked up in the tree,

And he said: “Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today…

For I’m going to your house today!”

Zacchaeus soon gives evidence of a transformed life. He welcomed Jesus gladly and declares his new outlook on living a Godly life by this amazing declaration:“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount .” The first part was amazing for we are told that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, but the second was even more amazing and speaks of true confession and repentance – when he offers a 4 fold restoration to any he had cheated, he is following the law requirements for a thief laid out in Exodus by Moses.

You see, Zacchaeus wasn’t just a tax collector, he was a CHIEF tax collector. If tax collectors were nearly universally despised, you can imagine how it would have been for one of their bosses! The crowd deemed him worthless and offensive, yet Jesus affirms this fellow upon sight by accepting (maybe even demanding) hospitality from him. Jesus further affirms him by publicly saying that salvation had come to his house that day and that he too was a son of Abraham. No wonder the crowd grumbled and muttered!

So here we have a two fold witness: the first from Zacchaeus: the longing to see Jesus and the promise of restitution and generosity born from the desire to respond to the gracious greeting of his Lord. The expression “actions speak loader than words” is very true here. Zacchaeus demonstrates his commitment to Jesus in very public and visible ways. Not the least of which was giving up all thoughts of propriety and dignity by climbing up a tree like a kid. But he didn’t care! He wanted to see Jesus, and the crowd wasn’t going to prevent him. Note that he didn’t push, he didn’t pull rank, he didn’t yell out. He simply took another route that was available to him (even if a bit unconventional) and up the tree he went.

So what are we to learn from this man? He breaks so many conventions. He was apparently, something that most folks thought impossible, a tax collector with a commitment to God and to justice! John the Baptist had previously hinted that such was possible in the days of his preaching down by the Jordan’s as Luke tells us in Luke 3:7-8,12-13 NIV [7] John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? [8] Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. [12] Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” [13] “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Isn’t it interesting to note that when we claim to be somebody, its pretty worthless, but when we come to God, God declares that we are somebody to him and that makes all the difference there is both in the world here and now and in eternity to come. That is a story worth telling. For we all have our own very individual stories of what God has done for us. This is our witness, our testimony of what we have experienced and what GOd has done for us.

No one else can tell that story but us because now one else has experienced what we have. God meets each of us in a different way, for Zacchaeus, it was up in a tree, for the Samaritan woman it was by a well, for James, Peter and John it was in a fishing boat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Where have you met God and experienced his call on your life? Only you can tell that story and in the telling, encourage and invite others to meet the same Lord that you have.

Earlier this week, the Session heard some amazing testimony from two families. They came to our attention in a rather round about way. As many of you know, we have been looking for a good, faithful use for this building after our congregation closes. At first, we thought a neighboring congregation might benefit from the larger space, but they were not interested. Then we thought of the very successful ministry being done nearby in Ponca by the Life Church folks and we contacted them. Again, no direct interest, but God was ahead of us as it turns out.

A group of Newkirk families who have been involved at the Ponca Life Center, including one of their staff had been praying for an opportunity to start a independent church in Newkirk based on the Life church approach. One of them had been praying for 3 years in fact. So we invited them, to hear about the mission they felt called to here in this community. They spoke powerfully about the working of God in their sometimes very messy lives, and of the passion they could not escape to reach the unchurched and the youth of Newkirk. Let me tell you, when they were done, there was not a dry eye in the place. It takes a lot to move a rather grizzled bunch of Presbyterian elders to tears, but it was so obviously the plan of God that both our Session and the Presbytery commission working with us, recommend that this facility become the home for their new church.

We will have a congregational meeting on November 13th to ratify this recommendation. I hope that you too will catch the vision of new life and new hope beyond what this present group could dream of. How does this enthusiasm spread? By people telling their story. Not because they are especially Holy, but because God is. Not because they are worthy, but because God is worthy of our trust and worship. One door is closing but another is opening, one chapter is ending but another is beginning. God is very good that way! It is the witness of God that we are his children that makes the difference.

One last thing: our stories are not ending just because this fellowship is closing. Each of you is called by God to continue to love and serve as God gives you the opportunity – new each day. It is my prayer that everyone of you will find a new community to plug into and to employ your considerable God given gifts and resources in continuing service to the Kingdom of God. If that should involve a little effort and climbing – well, we would not be the first to be called to do it! I pray that your witness may continue and blossom and flourish wherever God may plant you.