CALL TO WORSHIP
L: Are any among you suffering.
P: Then let us pray
L: Are any of you cheerful?
P: Then let us sing songs of praise. L: Are you sick?
P: Then let us turn to each other for God's healing touch.
L.: The prayer of faith will save us ...
All: And God will lift us up.
New International Version (NIV)
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “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.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
New International Version (NIV)
Praise to the God of All Comfort
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Pay It Forward
How many of you have seen the movie "Pay It Forward?" It may sound corny, but the movie woke me up to the world around me and the people with whom I encounter. The film is basically about living generously. A boy in 7th Grade responds to the call of his Social Studies teacher to come up with a plan to change the world and act on it. Turning 'pay backs' upside down, the boy comes up with 'pay it forward.' His idea was to find three people who need some help in a really big way, and needing some sacrifice, help the three people. But this act comes with a condition. Each of the three people who are helped must 'pay it forward' to three more people.
The 'pay it forward' plan is set in motion and works in wonderful ways. Now, if you haven't seen the movie, I'm afraid I'm going to spoil it for you by giving away the ending. Unfortunately, the boy, in his selflessness, sacrifices his life for one of his people. His compassionate heart is memorialized at the end of the film as we see a long line of cars .... people who never knew him and who have been touched by his sacrifice and have experienced his compassion in their lives through someone else.
I decided I'd like to speak on this particular topic a couple of weeks before Christmas, when I heard several different interest stories on the news about random acts of kindness. One was of a man who went through the Drive-thru of a Starbucks and paid for the coffee of the car behind him. The person in the car behind was astonished at the act and he decided to pay for the car behind him. A total of 87 cars passed through, each paying for the car behind, until the trend was finally broken.
There was another story of someone giving a newlywed couple, who didn't have a lot of money, and were celebrating their first Christmas together, a free Christmas tree and stand. There. are people who secretly pay for camp tuition or youth groups retreats so that scholarships can be offered to kids who otherwise wouldn't get to go. There are people who open their homes to the lonely for holiday meals. And there are so many other stories. The 'pay it forward' idea is a legacy of creative generosity to be carried on.
People who try it find the 'pay it forward' concept is a fun thing to do once in a while. Sure, it might cost you a few dollars, but the thrill of doing something nice and completely unexpected for an unsuspecting perfect stranger, who will never know who was ahead of him in line and therefore will never know who to thank or give credit to, is a great way to remind others that there is still a world full of kindness and generosity out there.
The concept of 'paying it forward' is wonderful for a couple of reasons.
The grace that God has given to us is not just for our own benefit. Although we need to make sure we don't carry the analogy too far, there is certainly a sense in which God bestows His grace on us so that we can 'pay it forward.'
Many of us know the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. The events of that story took place near the end of Jesus' ministry. Jesus entered the Judean town of Jericho and a man named Zacchaeus climbed up a tree so he could see Jesus as He passed by. Zacchaeus was a short man, so he needed to climb the tree in order to see over the crowds. But Zacchaeus was also the chief tax collector in Jericho and an extremely wealthy man. One does not expect such a person to climb a tree to see anyone. His willingness to do so indicates the degree of desire which he had to see Jesus.
So there he was, perched in a sycamore tree, when Jesus walked right to that very tree, looked up at Zacchaeus, called him by name and said, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today."
I remember one of the songs we learned in Explorers, our church youth group:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, And a wee little man was he, He climbed up in a sycamore tree, For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Saviour passed that way, He looked up in that tree,
And he said, "Zacchaeus, you come down! For I'm going to your house today."
Zacchaeus and Jesus walk together towards Zacchaeus' house and the crowd starts to grumble and complain. They complain loudly enough that Zacchaeus hears it and he stops and responds by turning to Jesus and saying, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
In the days of Zacchaeus, all of us gathered here this morning would be considered wealthy. And more than likely the religious establishment of the day would have doubted our religious purity as a direct result of that wealth and the kind of jobs we have to get that wealth. Today, people like Zacchaeus, who are lost and don't really know Jesus, have their lives changed when they hear a sermon, hear a gospel song, or some event takes place in their lives and they are reunited with Jesus. The spirit of God begins to point them in His direction. Jesus told Zacchaeus and anyone else who was listening that this man was a saved man, that he was a new man in the Lord. Jesus closes His remarks with a clear mission statement. He says, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Zacchaeus, giving away half his goods to the poor, and giving back fourfold to those from whom he took more than he should have was a gesture of 'pay it forward.' It would be a better world if we all followed Zacchaeus' model. We should be generous in the way we use our wealth. But I don't mean wealth in just terms of money, but with our talents and acts of kindness. This is a congregation of people who already do acts of kindness for others. We all have lots of stuff, but the people who 'pay it forward' realize that it is not their stuff at all. It is all from God, and God really owns it. The people who 'pay it forward' use it in ways that show forth the heart of God, the giver of all that we have.
I read a story about a school teacher who knew all her students and the parents very well, and she was well liked by them all. One day, a new student arrived at the school. His name was Danny, and his parents weren't well off. He wasn't very good in most subjects, but he was a remarkable artist. The teacher showed him special attention, and included extra art projects in the curriculum to be able to give him positive feedback.
December arrived, and the teacher's aide organized the kids in order to buy the teacher a Christmas present. Each child was to give a dollar toward the teacher's gift. It was supposed to be a surprise, but the teacher could easily tell what was happening. She knew that Danny would not be able to contribute a dollar.
The day of the Christmas party arrived. Danny asked for some red construction paper and a marker. The teacher was surprised, but didn't hesitate to give him what he wanted. Later Danny asked for a piece of tape. She gladly gave it to him. After the party was over and everyone had gone, the teacher found a folded piece of red construction paper on her desk. She opened and read with tears streaming down her face the following message; "To my teacher. You have always been there for me, and I really appreciate it. I couldn't afford to get you anything so I'm giving you everything I have. Merry Christmas, love Danny." Inside that piece of construction paper Danny had taped a dime - everything he had!
We Canadians have a lot of stuff and what will we do with all that stuff? Let's follow the example ofDanny. Let us communicate love. By doing so we will spread peace and the righteousness of God.
I think we all could use a little unexpected act of kindness once in a while. I certainly welcome it. It not only restores my faith in humanity, but also leads me to believe that, with the right amount of effort and willingness, we can achieve harmony. For those who are skeptical, I pose these two questions for you to think about. Do we not all want the same things -clean water, a bright future for our children and grandchildren, a little piece of mind for everyone, a healthy planet for all of us to thrive in? Which is better, for everyone to have a piece of something, or for a small handful to have everything? I think most of us would say yes to the first question and pick the first option to the second question. Unless I'm completely off the mark, that is what I hope we all would choose.
O Lord, help us to 'pay it forward' by remembering the debt we owe to Christ that is to be repaid in service to others. Amen.