Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking Towards Sunday; 5 October 2014

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 4:14-22

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010/CEB

Hymns:

UMH 695 – O Lord, May Church and Home Combine

UMH 657 – This Is the Day

UMH 261 – Lord of the Dance

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message;28 September 2014; John 15:1-11

Scriptures for this Sunday: John 15:1-11

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 & CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 108 – God Hath Spoken by the Prophets (Use melody UMH 707)

UMH 314 – In the Garden  (verse 1)

UMH 452 – My Faith Looks Up to Thee

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“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Actually this is incorrect. When life gives you lemons, all you can make is lemon juice, some pulp, and maybe some lemon zest. To make lemonade you will also need sugar or honey, clean water, a pot to mix everything in, a stirring spoon and a source of heat (electric, natural gas, propane, firewood, stove).

Last week I shared with you a couple of my personal experiences of God. An obvious question to ask was, “How did you know that what you experienced was from God and not something that you wished for and your mind was playing tricks on you? How did you discern that it was from God?”

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Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Our personal commitment to God is what keeps us connected to each other. God is the common denominator in our relationship to each other. Our commitment to God is what translates into action: our common Christian mission, evangelism and outreach. Our commitment to God is what translates into what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. Our commitment to God translates into how we work together with our neighbors. Our commitment to God translates into our willingness to step out and try something that we’ve never done before. Our understanding of and our commitment to God translates into our interactions with the world around us, i.e. making disciples, volunteering, voting, recycling, what we do and do not do.

Before we work together, before we step out on faith, before we make disciples, volunteer, vote, recycle and do whatever it is we do based on our commitment to God, there is a period of time when we are purposeful in our prayer and listening to God. We call it a period of discernment.

That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will continue making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, I would like to take time today to talk about what discernment is and what it is not. Today I want to talk about times when we feel a nudge in a certain direction, and the process of figuring out whether this nudge comes from God or from our own egos and desires. Today I want to talk about the process of discernment that all of us go through at one time or another.

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1 Corinthians 12:9-10 New Living Translation

9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.

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{Illustration: Brimstone Hill}

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The obvious question is, how did I know that what I felt was from God and not something that I subconsciously decided would be a cool thing to do?

In my experience, when God communicates with me, it is like getting a bunch of lemons.

  • Using God’s instructions I can make lemon juice, some pulp and some lemon zest.

  • I can also get some sugar, some water, a big pot, some sweeteners, a heat source and a stirring spoon and make lemonade.

  • I can make lemon squares or lemon cake.

  • Or I can get some paprika, ground pepper, rock salt, and Old Bay, mix it with yellow mustard, lemon juice, lemon pulp, lemon zest and make a marinade for roasted chicken or baked ham.

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In my experience, I never received instructions that told me specifics like, “Here is a lemon. Make juice, make pulp and make zest.” In other words, when I feel the Holy Spirit nudging me, what I am being nudged towards is usually a bit more challenging. It takes a period of trial and error and CONFIRMATION from the Holy Spirit to discern exactly what I am being nudged towards.

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That period of discernment is a period of prayer, listening to God and figuring out what it is exactly that the Holy Spirit wants me to do. {Example: Some people also add fasting to this list, I have never felt a call to fast.}

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To discern exactly what the Holy Spirit was telling me to do on Brimstone Hill, I started with the Thanksgiving service. Bishop Tilghman and I had planned this service earlier, and the message was to be about what Thanksgiving means to me as a first generation immigrant to the United States. As I was writing this sermon AFTER my Brimstone Hill experience, it touched some of my personal and emotional wounds, and until the last moment that I stepped to the pulpit of The Potter’s House Ministries I was not sure that I had the courage or stamina to preach that sermon; it was too close to my soul. That message took a lot to write and even more to deliver.

Confirmation from the Holy Spirit came in the response from the congregation. {Illustration}

When we receive instructions from the Holy Spirit, here is what I think are some of the common aspects of communication from God.

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1) When we follow the Holy Spirit’s instructions, our resulting actions always glorify God (not elevate our status or boost our egos).

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2) When we follow the Holy Spirit’s instructions, we are always challenged to step out on faith.

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3) When we follow the Holy Spirit’s instructions, we receive confirmation from others. Those confirmations [in my experience] are “ah-ha” moments, or “I did not think about it from that point of view” moments.

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4) When we follow the Holy Spirit’s instructions, we are rarely given everything that we need. Some of the stuff is provided along the way. {We get lemons, and then we get some sugar, some H2O, etc.} Those additional items that we need are not necessarily provided on our timing, but are provided when we ready to effectively use them to the glory of God.

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5) When we follow the Holy Spirit’s instructions we are challenged to become the best version of what God created us to be. It is always easy to fall back to something that we know and to find an easy way out. The challenge is to allow the example of Jesus, the guiding of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God into our hearts and souls, and put our egos aside.

{Illustration: We see example of that in Acts 10 – the story where Peter is sent to Cornelius.}

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As a church, God gave us to each other. As a church we are challenged to make disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world; we are challenged to till the soil and to tend to this corner of the Garden of God’s Creation; we are challenged to make this world a better place.

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In today’s metaphor, we are a bunch of lemons. As the world turns and as time flows, the Church of Jesus is constantly discerning how to reach beyond its walls. We are given ingredients that make the “lemonade” that God needs at the time and at the place. We are challenged to reach beyond the walls of this building, to be instruments in God’s hands and help each other and our neighbors to become the best of what God created us to be.

That is one of the reasons for why we take care of our physical facilities. {Illustration}

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What is the difference between God calling us to action and wishful thinking on our part? Thinking Towards Sunday; 28 September 2014

NIV2010 John 15: 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

~~ Jesus

How do we discern the difference between God communicating with us and wishful thinking on our part? Countless generations of Christians have struggled with this question.

All of us have a tendency to justify our wishes. Simply speaking, a wish is a combination of hope and an intent. We wish for something when there is a problem or a situation that we want to resolve. A wish seeks guidance, direction, knowledge, and assistance. Wishes are like requests. Very often we direct our wishes to God because we tend to think of God as a vending machine that grants wishes when we press just the “right” buttons or say the “right” words.

There is a difference between God calling us to action and our wishful thinking. If and when we want something, it is tempting to think that God wishes the same thing for us. That is a process of justifying our thinking.

The litmus test that differentiates between wishful thinking and the Holy Spirit challenging us to be the best version of what God created us to be is the answer to a simple question: who will our actions glorify? When the actions we want to take will result in elevation of our status, that it is probably wishful thinking on our part. On the other hand, God’s communication shines the light on God’s Creation and results in us being a blessing to others.

Prayer:

Loving and gracious God!

I pray that the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5) be in me, guide me daily, and help me to discern wishful thinking on my part from your guidance on my life.

Amen.

Thinking Towards Sunday; 28 September 2014

Scriptures for this Sunday: John 15:1-11

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 & CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 108 – God Hath Spoken by the Prophets

            (Use melody UMH 707)

UMH 314 – In the Garden  (verse 1)

UMH 452 – My Faith Looks Up to Thee

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; Exodus 3:1-6; 21 September 2014

Scriptures for this week: Exodus 3:1-6

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 577 – God of Grace and God of Glory

TFWS 2071 – Jesus, Name Above All Names

UMH 436  -The Voice of God is Calling

                      (Use melody UMH 303)

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Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Our personal commitment to God is what keeps us connected to each other. God is the common denominator in our relationship to each other. Our commitment to God is what translates into action: our common Christian mission, evangelism and outreach. Our commitment to God is what translates into what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. Our commitment to God translates into how we work together with our neighbors. Our commitment to God translates into our willingness to step out and try something that we’ve never done before. Our understanding of and our commitment to God translates into our interactions with the world around us, i.e. making disciples, volunteering, voting, recycling, what we do and do not do. That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will continue making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, I would like to take time today to talk about the physical space that we worship in.

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Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). The way I understand this verse is, “Moses, you are standing on holy ground; something special is happening; humble yourself and prepare to receive a message from the Lord your God…”

We tend to use certain words and phrases without thinking. These words and phrases roll off our tongues with ease and their sounds reverberate in the space around us. They become platitudes and lose their meaning.

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I think that the phrase “holy ground” is one such phrase. You have heard me use it in sermons and in conversations many times. The phrase “holy ground” is found twice in the Bible:  

  1. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 3:5) when God commanded Moses to remove his shoes.

  2. In the Early Christian Writings (Acts 7:33) in the testimony that Stephen gave before being stoned to death by the Sanhedrin.

How do we explain what “holy ground” is? What makes a place “holy ground?” How do we know when we are on “holy ground?”

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{Illustration from personal practice of ministry: Hospital Room / Brimstone Hill}

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In both cases I knew that I was standing on holy ground and something meaningful and important was happening. It was not the physical location or place; what made it meaningful and important was the presence of God at that time and in that place.

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What makes our physical churches holy ground TO US:

  1. At some point of time in the past this space was consecrated to God’s service,

  2. As we worshipped in this space we felt God’s touch and presence.

  3. That presence of God inspired us and challenged us to do something that we ordinarily would not do. Jesus’ life gave us an example of what it means to live abundant lives and we espoused that understanding as our own. The Holy Spirit challenges us to become the best versions of what God created us to be, and we strive to do that.

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I am talking about our relationships, shared memories, traditions, common values, shared ministry and understanding of what is right, true and beautiful.

That is what makes this space “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). That is what makes this space special, that is why we come together for worship, that is why we roll up our sleeves in mission and outreach, that is why we continue our legacy of Christian presence in this corner of God’s Creation.

Notice, I did not say anything about the physical facilities. I did not say anything about our stained glass windows (which are magnificent by any stretch of imagination), or our carpet, or our fellowship hall, or our sound system, or our organ. All of these things are important, but they are not what make this place holy ground.

These physical objects are important because they help us to remember our immediate history. These objects are sacramental in their nature because they remind us how God moved among Christians who worshipped here in the past and we are here today because of how God was active among them yesterday. These objects also challenge us to think about the future of this church. They are given to us in trust and with a lot of prayer by Christians who worshipped here before us.

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In Hebrew 12:1-3 Paul writes:

12: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Our building, our carpet, our fellowship hall, our stained glass windows are outward, visible and tangible signs of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) that worshiped in this space before us.

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God’s presence is among us wherever we are. As a community we worship God within these walls. How our building looks sends a message. When our building is taken care of, when it is neat and in good repair, the message is, “God is with us and we care and we are active service God by serving the world around us.” Part of our commitment to God’s mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world is to take care of our physical facilities, to create an inviting and welcoming space where God’s presence is self-evident.

{Illustration from the personal practice of ministry/Conclusion}

What makes a ground “holy?”; Thinking Towards Sunday – Exodus 3:1-6

“Moses, Moses! … Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

~~ God addressing Moses (Exodus 3:4-5)

We tend to use certain words and phrases without thinking. These words and phrases roll off our tongues with ease and their sounds reverberate in the space around us. They become platitudes and lose their meaning.

I think that the phrase “holy ground” is one such phrase. It is used quite often in churches and it is found twice in the Bible:

  1. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 3:5) when God commanded Moses to remove his shoes.

  2. In the Early Christian Writings (Acts 7:33) in the testimony that Stephen gave before being stoned to death by the Sanhedrin.

So what makes ground “holy” and how would we explain what “the holy ground” means to a five year old?

When God told Moses that Moses was standing on “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5) it was not that the ground on which Moses stood that was different from any other ground around it. Today if we were to go to Mount Sinai, find the place where the Burning Bush was and to collect a sample of the soil from there, that soil sample would not be different from any other soil around it. It was the presence of the Holy God at that time and in that space that made that ground “holy.”

Today I want to leave you with a couple of questions:

When was the last time that you stood on holy ground?

What made the ground holy for you?

How were you changed by that experience of the Holy at that time and place?

Open letter from Tom B. to all members and constituents of Christ United Methodist Church, Chestertown, MD.

Please plan to attend a congregational meeting in the church hall following worship service on Sunday, October 5, 2014. At this time members of the Joint Church Steering Committee will present a summary of information discussed during our first two meetings. To date the committee has functioned solely in a fact finding capacity. What ever initiatives evolve from this effort must be the result of consensus of the church body. All members are asked to attend the October 5th meeting and need to understand it is both their right and obligation to speak freely and frankly concerning the future of our church. Decisions made at the meeting will determine guidelines for future committee actions.

Sincerely,

Tom B.

Co-chair, Joint Church Steering Committee

Thinking Towards Sunday; 21 September 2014

Scriptures for this week: Exodus 3:1-6

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 577 – God of Grace and God of Glory

TFWS 2071 – Jesus, Name Above All Names

UMH 436  -The Voice of God is Calling

                      (Use melody UMH 303)

Liturgy of Dedication and Commissioning of the New Carpet; Liturgy of Dedication and Commissioning of an object to God’s Service

Loving and Gracious God!

With gratitude and joy we remember the men and women who served you and gathered for worship in this church in the past. They prayed, studied Scriptures, worshiped, worked, laughed, grieved and fellowshipped together. They walked on this floor covered by the old carpet, and they grew in grace and wisdom. Many of them are a part of the Church Triumphant, some of them are still on this side of eternity. For all of their efforts and for everything that they mean to us we give you glory and honor.

Today we pray for ourselves and for those Christians who will follow us and gather to pray, to study Scriptures, to worship, to work, to laugh, to grieve and to fellowship together in the future. We pray that the use of this carpet will help them to serve you, to further your kingdom, to make disciples and be your church in the world that you created and gifted to humankind.

We thank you for the men and women who worked tirelessly to raise money to pay for this carpet, who worked tirelessly and diligently to make decisions and work out the logistics of installation, and who installed this carpet.

May all their efforts be pleasing in your eyes and like a pleasant aroma in your nostrils.

In the name of the Father who understood and forgave us, in the name of the Son who redeemed us on the Cross and in the name of the Holy Spirit who molds and guides our lives we dedicate this carpet to God’s service and glory.

The community of Christ United Methodist Church accepts this carpet as a sacred trust and will care for it, guard und use it reverently to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and further God’s Kingdom.

ALL: AMEN

Liturgy of re-commissioning of the Fellowship Hall Bell; liturgy or re-commissioning of an object after repair or restoration to God’s service

Loving and Gracious God!

With gratitude and joy we remember men and women who served you and gathered for worship in this church in the past. They prayed, studied Scriptures, worshiped, worked and fellowshipped together. They heard the sounds of this bell.

Today we pray for ourselves and for those Christians who will gather to pray, to study Scriptures, to worship, to work and to fellowship together in the future. We pray that the sounds of this bell will be a blessing to them as it is for us.

In the name of the Father who understood and forgave us, in the name of the Son who redeemed us on the Cross and in the name of the Holy Spirit who molds and guides our lives, we re-commission this bell to God’s service and glory.

The community of Christ United Methodist Church will continue to hold this bell as a sacred trust and will guard and use it to God’s service.

AMEN

Approximate Notes for Sunday Sermon; 14 September 2014; Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16

This Sunday (9/14/2014) we will continue with the series about commitment. We will talk about what it means to be an integral part of something that is inherently bigger then the sum of all of us. The local church is bigger then the sum of its members and constituents because of the synergy that builds up when we roll up our sleeves and join each other in mission.

Scriptures for this Sunday are:  Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16,

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 699  –  Come, and Let us Sweetly Join

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built verses 1 & 4

UMH 555 – Forward Through the Ages

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Today we will continue with the sermon series about commitment. Our personal commitment to God is what keeps us connected to each other. God is the common denominator in this relationship. Our commitment to God is what translates into action: our common Christian mission, evangelism and outreach. Our commitment to God is what translates into what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. Our understanding of and our commitment to God translates into our interactions with the world around us, i.e making disciples, volunteering, voting, recycling, what we do and do not do. That is why, as we try to figure out what our church will become in the future and how we will continue making disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world, I would like to take time today to talk about membership.

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The word “membership” most often refers to a group of people. We could say that “the membership of a church was invited to vote on something.” Membership is a group of individuals associated by some common bond and regarded as one entity: “the student body” or “administrative body” or “People of Kent County,” or “Worton United Methodist Church.”

The word “membership” also refers to the relationship that individual members have to a larger group of people. We could say that some of us have a membership in Worton United Methodist Church, some of us are graduates from the Kent County High School, and some of us have a membership in a gym.

Having a membership implies having a mutual connection and a relationship between individual members. That being understood, not every membership is created equal. For me personally my emotional investment into my membership in a gym is much-much less than my emotional investment into my membership in the United Methodist Church.

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That being understood, membership implies commitment of some sort. All of you can pinpoint the day when you made a commitment to be a part of this church. It may have been a decision that you made during confirmation, or it may have been a day when you walked into this building and experienced the presence and healing touch of the Holy Spirit.

When we combine all of our stories – the stories of God’s presence in our lives – we weave a beautiful tapestry of our shared Christian experience. This tapestry tells the story of hope, resilience, love, compassion, emotional growth, and community that is bigger than the sum of us. This tapestry tells the story of staying in love with God and living our lives in such a way that our love and commitment to God is self-evident. I do not know how it happened, but somehow our story of God’s love and grace has become the story of “we do not have enough money to meet our expenses.”

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Our neighbors are hungry for meaningful relationships; people satisfy this hunger by having virtual friends on facebook™. On the other hand, when we talk about the necessity of raising money to meet our bills, we do not offer them meaningful relationships. Our task is to recover our stories of God’s grace and presence, our task is to find a way to tell our stories so that our neighbors can imagine themselves among us, and they will find it compelling to turn off their TVs and put down their facebook™, and start discovering and sharing the stories of God in their own lives with people whose presence they can feel.

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Two weeks ago we talked about vision and what our vision for this church is. Vision and commitment go hand in hand because commitment manifests itself in what we do and what we need to do to make sure that our church will continue to be the salt of the earth and the city on a hill that we are called to be.

Journeyman: CUMC and WORTON UMC newsletter

The latest edition of Wesleyan Journeyman is posted on http://wesleyanjourneyman.wordpress.com/.

Reflection for the Back of the Bulletin; September 14, 2014

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I love the Church.

In our popular culture its become commonplace to point a finger of righteous indignation at everything that is wrong with the church. Every organization has problems and the Church Universal (as well as individual church communities) is not an exception. That being understood, there is also much that is right with the Church because the Church is chosen by God to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I love the people of the Church and the mission of the Church. I cannot imagine my life without Church.

Being a church community is about serving God by serving the world in which we live. Being a church community is about serving God by demonstrating our faith through our actions, and being a family of God and friends to each other. Being a church means being a community that helps us to stay in love with God and be the best version of what God created us to be.

Being a church is about sharing our lives’ journeys with compassion, in a context of a community while bringing hope to those around us. Being a church community means being consciously aware of how our lives are different because our individual identities are rooted in the relationship with Jesus. Being a church is about recovering our stories and sharing our stories and experiences of God’s grace and love.

Questions to ponder:

  • What is different in your life because you are a Christian?

  • What are the holy moments in your life? What are the times when God touched your soul? How have these holy moments changed the trajectory and direction of your life?

Thinking Towards Sunday; 14 September 2014

This coming Sunday we will continue with the series about commitment. We will talk about what it means to be an integral part of something that is inherently bigger then the sum of all of us. The local church is bigger then the sum of its members and constituents because of the synergy that builds up when we roll up our sleeves and join each other in mission.

Scriptures for this Sunday are:  Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16, 17-32

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 and CEB

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 699  –  Come, and Let us Sweetly Join

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built verses 1 & 4

UMH 555 – Forward Through the Ages

Zacchaeus: the repentant “everyman”

In 1st century Palestine, Romans recruited locals to be tax collectors and gave them a percentage of what was collected. The more money tax collectors extorted from their neighbors, the more they could keep. The tax collectors profited from their neighbors’ misfortune. In so doing, they also helped to raise the funds necessary to finance the brutal repression of the Jews by the Romans. What I am trying to say is that in 1st century Palestine, tax collectors were about as popular as occupying Nazis were in Russia in WWII.

Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector” and a “wealthy man” (Luke 19:1). When Jesus came to Jericho, Zacchaeus felt a tug to go see Jesus. Chances are that God tugged on others to come out and see Jesus as well. But many probably were just too busy. For them it was a “business as usual” day.

Zacchaeus, on the other hand, not only dropped what he was doing, but went to great lengths to respond to this inner prompting of God’s grace. Ultimately he climbed a sycamore tree to get a good view of Jesus.

Because of his political and economic role as a chief tax Collector, Zacchaeus was considered to be a pariah among the people of God. In fact, some would say that his profession has made him the equivalent of a Gentile. When he sought Jesus, Zacchaeus’ standing and membership among the Jews was reinstated. It was reinstated not because he gave alms and righted the wrongs. His reinstatement was a pure act of God’s Grace. Zacchaeus’ response (to give half of his fortune away and to right all the wrongs[Luke19:8]) was the outward and visible sign of the inward transformation and grace after meeting Jesus.

Questions to ponder:

  • When was the last time that you went out of your way to see Jesus?

  • How were you blessed by that experience?

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