Doing something

Tuesday of Proper 28 – November 28, 2017 – Luke 19:1-10

Listen to me preach the sermon here.

I love the story of Zacchaeus. What’s not to like? It’s one of the first Bible stories children learn and remember. There’s a catchy song about it. A grown man climbs a tree.

But, above all, it is a story about repentance and salvation.

Zacchaeus is a sinner. He’s deeply implicated in the oppressive powers of the Roman government. He is complicit in a corrupt tax system. He is hated by people around him.

But this sinner does something incredible. he risks public humiliation to try and see Jesus. He offers hospitality to Jesus. He repents of his sins.

His repentance doesn’t take the form of a quiet prayer to God. It’s not an afterthought or a quick soundbite of an apology. His repentance is profound, public, and, most important of all, it bears fruit.

Repentance isn’t just a “transaction of the heart.” [1] True repentance also involves doing something.

John the Baptist is one of the first people to teach us about this. In Luke 3 John baptizes crowds of people. He exhorts them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance . . . every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Then they ask, “What should we do?”And does he ever have an answer! “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Tax collectors, “Do not to collet more than is due to you.” Soldiers, “Do not extort people for money or make false accusations about them. Be satisfied with you wages.”

John makes it pretty clear that repentance isn’t just something that happens in your heart or in your mind. It’s something you act out. Repentance is more than an idea or a prayer. It’s a lifestyle.

Luke’s account tells us this over and over again.

When a son asks for his share of the inheritance and then runs off and squanders it, he doesn’t just say, “OK, I made a mistake. Sorry, dad. Sorry, God.” No. He goes back home with rags on his body and shame in your heart and says, “Please, give me whatever job you have.”

When a notorious sinner sees that Jesus is in town, she doesn’t hide in her room saying, “I’m sorry, everybody. I’m sorry, God.” No. She takes an alabaster jar of ointment and she washes the feet of the Lord with her tears and dries them with her hair.

When one of the flock goes astray, the shepherd doesn’t look at the rest of the sheep and say, “Sorry guys, I let one slip past me.” No. He goes looking for it. And when he finds it he celebrates.

When a tax collector is reviled by his entire community, he doesn’t just stay at home and say, “I’ve sinned against my brothers and my sisters and against God, and I repent.” No. He goes out and does whatever he can to catch a glimpse of Jesus himself. And when Jesus asks to come to his house, he shows him great hospitality.  And when the crowd is closing in on you, de doesn’t just say, “My bad. I won’t do it again.” No. He offers to pay them back with even more than their fair share.

Repentance isn’t just something we say, it’s something we do. We act it out. We do something because the joy of our salvation isn’t just something in my heart or in your heart.

Salvation isn’t a private matter. It’s not about personal conversion. It’s not even about getting a personal ticket to heaven. It’s not something we keep to ourselves.

It’s something we share.

But let’s be clear. We don’t go back home because God requires it. We don’t break open our finest oil because God demands it. We don’t pay back more than we owe just to get the crowds off your back. And we don’t do these things to earn our salvation.

We do these things because we are grateful for the abundant grace that God has given us.

We do these things because when we realize that God is calling us to wholeness we are so overjoyed that words alone will not suffice.

[1] Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 219.

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