Transformed to Live Generously | Luke 19:1-10
Today is Reformation Sunday. It’s the day we Lutherans remember specifically how Martin Luther reminded the world of the good news of Jesus Christ. The good news that it is not our works that save us but God’s grace and love. And this grace and love of God inevitably transform us and lead us into doing good works as our natural way of life. Today is also Stewardship Commitment Sunday. The day we pause to prayerfully consider our call to give of our financial resources to the life of this congregation and make a commitment for the coming year. Not because we have to in order to earn God’s favor, but because living generously is our natural way of life.
In the Gospel reading we heard this morning Jesus is teaching in the town of Jericho. In that town there’s a tax collector named Zacchaeus. We’ve been talking a lot about tax collectors lately, it’s stewardship season after all and the lectionary was developed with that in mind. Tax collectors were often criticized in first century Judah as people who were siding with Imperial Rome and taking advantage of their fellow Judeans. At this point in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has shown he has a soft spot for some tax collectors, but Luke gives us an important detail about Zacchaeus: he was rich. This is important because if a tax collector was rich, it was likely because he was taking for himself a larger than fair share of what he collected. And thus far in Luke, Jesus has had some pretty harsh things to say about the rich. He says “Woe to you who are rich” in Luke 8. He tells the parable of the Rich Fool, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and in the chapter just before this he tells a rich young ruler to give away everything if he wants to follow him and the man turns away unable to do it.
Now Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. He’s short so he climbs up a tree. Then Jesus singles him out. But instead of reprimanding Zacchaeus for exploiting the poor or telling him to give everything away if he wants to follow him, Jesus seems to take it easy on Zacchaeus. Maybe he saw something in him. Maybe he recognized it as an opportunity for Zacchaeus to change and learn and transform his life.
Jesus invites himself over Zacchaeus’ house. Others grumble about it. But apparently this meal with Jesus changes Zacchaeus immensely. Whether he said it on the spot or after dinner doesn’t really matter. The fact is that this encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus. The gift of Jesus’ presence transforms him. He now says he will give away half his possessions to the poor and anybody he’s defrauded he will now pay back four times as much. Now that’s a change of heart!
So now it seems to make sense why Jesus chose to visit Zacchaeus’ house. Jesus knew the gift of his presence was what Zacchaeus needed to change. Jesus says, “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.” Jesus seeing Zacchaeus and giving him the honor of hosting him, has transformed this rich tax collector into a generous and caring individual. That’s what an encounter with Jesus can do!
Martin Luther knew how much an encounter with Jesus can transform people. He had a powerful encounter himself that led him to dedicate his life to correcting the misunderstandings and corruption of the church. Among those misunderstandings was the bad theological idea that good works are what save a person. But Luther recognized that it is God’s grace and love that save a person. Not our good works. Not anything we do.
But then, once we have been touched by God’s love and grace, we are transformed so much that we do in fact do good works. Lots of them! God doesn’t require us to do good works, but God’s love and grace transform us into people who naturally want to do good works wherever we can. God doesn’t require us to give to the poor in order to earn salvation, but God’s love and grace transform us into people who naturally want to give to the poor and help wherever we can. God doesn’t require us to donate to church, but God’s love and grace transform us into people who naturally want to support the ministry of God’s people. God doesn’t require us to turn in a pledge card, but God’s love and grace transform us to naturally want to make a financial commitment to our household of faith. Because just as an encounter with Jesus transformed Zacchaeus to live generously, so likewise do our encounters with Jesus transform us to be people dedicated to living generously.
In a few moments, following the Prayers of Intercession we will do something we haven’t done since before the pandemic—we’re going to pass the offering plates around. And we invite you, if you haven’t already done so, to put an estimate of giving card into the plate. Financial stewardship is an important spiritual practice. Money is the second most common topic Jesus taught about, second only the Kingdom of God. Whether we like it or not, money is an important part of our world, and how we relate to it is reflective of our spiritual journey. And it’s important also to make it a commitment rather than just an any-given-Sunday decision. I’ve heard it said: “God wants our commitments, more than just our contributions.” Making a prayerful, intentional decision to give our financial resources to the ministry of Jesus is itself a spiritual practice. And so I hope you will respond to the Spirit’s inspiration in you and take a moment to record your estimate of giving for 2023.
We do this, we share out of our gifts, because God so gifted us. Not because we have to in order to earn God’s favor—but because we have been so touched by
God’s love and grace that we naturally want to financially support the ministry of this church. And our work together of digging deep, reaching out, and changing lives in Christ’s name.
And on your way out today, I hope you’ll grab a Thrivent “Live Generously” shirt! To remind yourself and others of how God’s generosity toward us inspires us to be generous with our gifts as well.
And so, on this Reformation Sunday and Stewardship Commitment Sunday, we respond to the grace and love of God by committing ourselves, our time, and our possessions to God. Like Zacchaeus, we are inspired by the Holy Spirit to seek out Jesus. We are invited to share an encounter with the living Christ. And we are transformed by that divine encounter to change our lives, to be generous with our resources, and to commit ourselves to the work of God in the world. We are grateful and grace-filled people, seeking to do God’s work in the world, committed to support this congregation and the ministry we do together in God’s name. Thank you for your commitment to making ministry here possible and for your response to God’s love and grace. Thanks be to God for being generous to us and empowering us to live generously. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 10/30/22