It’s graduation season and as we celebrate the accomplishments of those hard-working students, we know they’re going to hear a ton of things from graduation speakers. Some good, some bad, and some ridiculously worthless tripe. It’s just the way it is- but just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter! One of the huge truths about faith in Jesus, is that everything matters. There’s not an area of life that doesn’t matter when we understand faith in Jesus! His goal isn’t incremental behavior modification (changing you to become more like an ideal person) or even adherence to a strict holiness code (meaning your life is all about what you can- and can’t- do). Jesus’ goal is to literally turn your world upside down and transform you into a completely different person.
In one of the more familiar stories from the New Testament (at least if you were ever involved in a Sunday School or kids type program at a church!) is that of Zaccheus in Luke 19 (I mean, he’s got his own catchy kids song- “Zaccheus was a wee little man and a…” And sorry if it’s stuck in your head now too!). Zaccheus is a tax collector (a Jewish traitor who stole from his neighbors legally as a tax collector for the subjugating Roman empire) in Jericho when this famous (or is it infamous?) rabbi named Jesus shows up. There are huge crowds everywhere and Zaccheus is a wee little short man- but he wants to see this Jesus guy. If he weren’t the most hated man in Jericho, he might be able to ask someone to let him through to the front, but he is who he is and there’s no way anyone is going to accommodate him! So being the resourceful little man, Zaccheus climbs a nearby tree that should give him an overlook of the road. That means he’s disregarding any kind of self dignity, because back in the day they wore man dresses. Not a kilt mind you, but a full-scale, muumuu type of garment- that meant when he climbed the tree there were undoubtedly people laughing at him and mocking him further than even normal! But he gets to his vantage point and then has the shock of his life. Jesus, the respected rabbi, stops and invites himself to dinner at Zaccheus’ house. The self invite might be what catches out attention most, but to a 1st century Jew a rabbi talking to a tax collector was unheard of and a huge no no but for that same rabbi to go to dinner with that kind of notorious sinner was a faux pas of the highest order! No one in their right mind in decent society would ever willingly associate with that kind of person. But Jesus does- and Zacchues doesn’t even fall out of the tree in shock!- but runs to get the dinner party started with “great joy and excitement”. This all sounds so strange to us- but it gets worse! During the dinner party, this notorious thief/traitor does something even more outrageous than the prior scene. He tells Jesus that, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Timeout, y’all. This is unheard of. Zaccheus was so fond of his wealth he worked as a traitor and made his living taking in extra taxes off of his neighbors. But here he is saying that he’ll give back four times as much as he’s taken? Is he sick or has he had a mental breakdown devolving into madness? The simple answer is, neither. He’s had an encounter with the Son of God and it’s left a profound mark on him. We might not see the change in heart coming, but it shows up and is such a marked change that no one could ignore it. This doesn’t sound like the same man who climbed the tree to see a rabbi earlier in the day who was quite fond of his wealth, but like a completely different person. And the amazing thing is, Zaccheus was literally a completely different person.
You see, changing behaviors is great. Me starting to exercise, eat better, and demonstrate a more loving attitude are all behavioral modifications I should make for the betterment of me, but running a marathon tomorrow isn’t in my capability! It’d take time for me to get ready for that kind of run- Couch to 5k isn’t even going to touch it- it’s going to take radical, but incremental, changed to get to that point. However, when God is involved things change from our understanding. From a money-grubbing, thieving tax collector Zaccheus changes into a generous (to a fault) giver. There’s no explanation for that other than God! But notice from the story- Jesus didn’t prompt this in Zaccheus or ask for it. Unlike the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10- whom Jesus did tell to give up all his possessions- Zaccheus tumbles to this response on his own. Why would he get there? What prompts this change of heart and mind? To begin to understand that, we have to understand the gravity of what Jesus did in going to eat with Zaccheus. It shouldn’t have ever been possible, but Jesus went. Not only did Jesus go, but he went in spite of the grumbling of the huge crowd that followed Him! He ignored the angst of the many in favor of the lone man who desperately needed Him. In fact, the end of the story tells us that, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.” Zaccheus’ short encounter with the God of the universe had changed him in myriad ways, from instilling a heart of generosity all the way to his salvation. So when you’re tempted to think that something little doesn’t matter- you can’t get to it, you couldn’t see even if you could get there, your dignity says you can’t do something foolish to make it possible, no one would even care if you could- remember Zaccheus and know that everything matters. Each little choice leads to something bigger than we can imagine. If we could see where the chain of little choices leads to in the future- would it influence our “little” choice now? Because I promise you, if Zaccheus knew that his “little” choice to climb the tree to see Jesus would matter this much in his life, he’d do it again in a heartbeat. How can I say that? Because I know that the little choices that have led me to this place are absolutely worth it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
One of the greatest images of servanthood is contained in John 13 as we see Jesus washing His disciples feet. The God of the universe stripped down to the waist, took up a basin of water, and washed the dirt, grime, fecal matter, and disgusting off of each of the disciples feet. Now, I want you to understand something- in the culture of 1st century Palestine not even a Jewish slave would be expected to wash someone’s feet- it was relegated to the lowest gentile slave in a Jewish household. And Jesus took that place. No wonder Peter reacted the way he did- he saw Jesus taking a place Peter thought He shouldn’t go and labeling Himself as something less than the Christ, Son of the living God. But Jesus washed Peter’s feet- it took a bit of convincing- and then left us a charge: “Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master.” Now He’s not talking literal feet washing here, but telling us how to consider ourselves in light of others. We are to look to serve others first, placing ourselves second.
In the church we far too often leave work to those doing it and then expect them to do more while they’re at it! The old 90/10 rule (that 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people) plays out in most congregations. At Heartland we don’t want to settle for something less than what God intended! We believe that every person was uniquely made and equipped by God- given a SHAPE that makes them fit for a job like no one else. Their Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences add up into someone supernaturally equipped to fulfill the purpose God has placed in their lives! Knowing that, Paul’s admonitions make even more sense:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 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. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12.4-12, NLT)
We launched our Who Do We Think We Are? sermon series Sunday talking about our first value: found people find people.
I’d be willing to bet that all of us know this from experience- at some point (if not most points) in your life you’ve needed someone who had been there (or was there) to give you guidance. Maybe you were trying to get somewhere and needed more than GPS- so did you pull out your phone and make a call? People ask the right questions so that we can get to where we want to go! So instead of driving around in circles looking for something on our own and hoping we arrive, we can get there. Now, I’ve been on the phone with people and tried giving specific directions, but sometimes it takes more than that. It takes saying, “I’m walking out towards the street in a bright blue shirt- look for me.” When we want people to get to where we are we do whatever it takes- even if that’s standing around on a corner so that the person we’re talking to on the phone finds us!
Jesus’ ministry was marked by disciples who pulled in other disciples. In John 1 we see Peter and Nathaniel follow Jesus because Andrew and Philip went and pulled the two of them to Jesus! Fast forward to John 4 and we see the village pariah (we know because she’s going out to get water in the midday- if she was accepted by the other ladies of the village she would’ve gone in the cool of the morning when everyone was there) run back into the village to tell everyone about Jesus. She ran back to a place where she was infamous to tell people about the Jesus she had met who’d turned her world upside down! Or look at the Geresene demoniac in Luke 8. He’s been out of his mind possessed by demons for years- Jesus brings healing and he begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go home to his family. I think that’s what most of us would want, right? To go home to see the people we love most? But this man then goes all through the area telling everyone he possibly can about Jesus. Andrew, Philip, the woman at the well, the demoniac of the Geresenes- each examples of people whose passion for who Jesus was lead them to tell everyone they possibly could.
Which is why at Heartland Community Church we believe that found people find people. If we’ve met Jesus- we’ve been changed. We’ve been told, like Philip, that, “You’re one of the best of the best, I want you- come train to be me.” Because to a Jewish boy, that’s what they heard when Jesus, a rabbi, said, “Come follow me.” Most of His disciples didn’t make the cut to be religious leaders- either they couldn’t memorize the entire old testament or just weren’t good enough for a rabbi- and had washed out into hard labor jobs. The world had told then they weren’t enough, that they couldn’t be enough- but here’s Jesus telling them the opposite. He’s saying- come learn from me and literally become me, when He says, “Come follow me.” That’s why our mission is to find everyone we possibly can, by all possible means, so that they can meet the Jesus who came in and messed us up (in the best possible way!). So, who are you leading to Jesus?