(shared with the people of Friendship Church, October 31, 2004)
I was at a party a few years ago and ended up at a table under an umbrella with a successful man who, from all external indicators, had his life together. We talked about this and that, as happens in informal settings where people don’t know one another very well. Then, he surprised me. He looked around to make sure that nobody was listening and said, “Mark, I’ve got to ask you something. I’ve been wondering about this a lot lately and just would like your input. What exactly is the purpose for my life? I don’t get it.”
The evening took a serious turn and we spent about twenty minutes talking about his question. I don’t know if what I had to say helped this man at all. But his question reminded me of a very important fact: Each of us seem to have this inborn desire for more than this world is able to offer us.
In our Bible lesson for today, we’re told about a man named Zacchaeus. Luke, the writer of the lesson, tells us that Zacchaeus was rich. That was because he was a tax collector. (Luke, in fact, says he was a chief tax collector.) As such, he practiced a kind of legalized extortion, after the customs of the times. Zacchaeus would have had all the best things this world has to offer.
And yet, like the guy who spoke to me at that party, as we meet him today, Zacchaeus is obviously looking for something more. That’s why he throws dignity and personal safety aside in order to climb up into a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus.
Zacchaeus must have heard about Jesus, heard that Jesus was a miracle-worker Who gave forgiveness and hope to the worst of sinners imaginable, even to prostitutes and extortionist tax collectors like Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus climbed that tree because he was searching for a better life, a different life. He hoped that somehow by seeing Jesus, he would get a vision for what that life might look like.
Do you know what I think? I think that we’re all like Zacchaeus. We know the limits of what this world has to offer. We know that even if our candidates win this coming Tuesday...even if we rocket to the top of our career food chain...even if all our investments pay off to the max, we will still be looking for more. We are all seekers.
Fortunately, we can find what we are looking for. My Mom and Dad met on a blind date on August 1, 1950. On December 2, 1950, four months and one day later, my Dad--just 21--and my Mom--aged 19--were married. Eighteen days after that, Dad shipped off, stationed at Furstenfeldbruck Airfield near Munich, Germany. Mom and Dad scrimped and saved every penny, Mom accumulated vacation days, and Dad piled up leave time so that they could have a honeymoon in Europe the following summer.
But Mom has told me that she was afraid in the months before their reunion. She kept wondering, “What if I don’t recognize my husband? What if I don’t pick Jim out from among the people who’ll be there on the docks at Southampton?” She needn’t have worried. From the ship, as it landed in England, Mom frantically scanned the people waiting on the docks. From the shore, Dad just as eagerly looked for Mom among the people waving from the ship. Their eyes locked. Mom realized that just as she was looking for my Dad, he was looking for her.
Zachhaeus learned a similar lesson that day in Jericho. He was looking for something more than this world can offer and God, the One Who can give us those things, was looking for him. Zacchaeus learned that God seeks us. Jesus, God in the flesh. looked up and saw Zacchaeus perched in that tree and calling him by name, said, “Zacchaeus, climb down here. I want to spend some time with you at your place!”
The good religious people in Jericho were scandalized! How could Jesus spend time with this notorious sinner? Zacchaeus knew he’d found what he’d been looking for: The everlasting friendship of God, offered through Jesus Christ.
I came to follow Jesus more slowly than Zacchaeus. After all, God had a thicker skull to penetrate when it came to me. But I remember how I felt when I realized that God, the One Who made me in the first place, accepted and loved me and had better plans for my life than I could ever make myself. I remember how I felt when I realized that the missing hole in my soul was filled by Jesus.
A few years after I had my “Zacchaeus moment,” I ran into an old high school friend of mine. “You’re different, Mark. I can see that. Before, you were like a crazy man. There was an instability at your core. But now I can see that you’re at home with yourself.” He was right. Through Jesus Christ, I came to feel at home with myself because I was at home with God.
That old Mark sometimes rears his ugly head, usually at least once a day. But like Zacchaeus, I’ve found what I was looking for in the God Who came looking for me!
So, we’re all looking for more than this world has to offer and through Jesus God is looking for us to give it to us.
Now, there’s just one more point I want to share with you this morning. It’s this: When Jesus finds us, we experience what our Bible lesson calls salvation.
Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “Today [because I’m here, Zacchaeus], salvation has come to your house.” In part, that means that because Zacchaeus has trusted Jesus to change his life--to change him from a money-grubbing, thieving enemy of God to a forgiven friend of God--Zacchaeus has been saved from sin and death.
But soteria, the New Testament Greek word that we translate as salvation, means much more than that. It also has the idea of our being made whole or complete. In a way, you and I are these crazed, fragmented Humpty Dumpties and Jesus puts all the pieces back together again, only better than before.
One of my favorite passages of the Bible tells us that “if anyone is in Christ Jesus, there is a new creation.” We’re bionic people! Even when life gets crazy, we know that we belong to God and that God will help us face whatever life brings, good or bad.
And there’s even more to salvation. (In saying that, I feel like an announcer in one of those TV commercials: “But wait: there’s more!” But there really is more!) It’s this: When God’s salvation comes to one life, it has an impact on countless other lives as well.
Jesus declares that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ whole house. Zacchaeus’ family and employees would have likely felt an immediate difference in how they were treated once Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ life.
People in Jericho would have noticed the difference, too. Grateful for the salvation that Jesus has given to him, Zacchaeus makes a vow: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
Can you imagine the difference it would make in our worlds if each of us, every politician and businessperson, and every person of influence made a similar vow? Can you imagine the impact it would have if every person who says they follow Jesus Christ vowed to love God and neighbor completely?
A person to whom the salvation of Jesus has come is, in God's hands, a weapon of mass instruction, an object lesson for all the world to see how Jesus goes to work on people to help them become their best selves!
We seek God;
God seeks and finds us;
and when we let Jesus into our lives, salvation---freedom from sin and death, wholeness, and a commitment to the good of others comes into our lives and the lives of all we know.
My prayer is that just like Zacchaeus, we will let Jesus’ free gift of salvation into our lives and begin to experience the better lives God has in mind for all of us.