Reformation Sunday Traditional Sermon
OK, so we get off easy today. As we kick off our Fall Stewardship Emphasis, we’re primarily asking you to consider being part of our “Tithe Your Tithe” challenge this year. (Give me just a moment here – TAKE OFF STOLE) Don’t think of me as your pastor at the moment – just think of me as one of your guy friends in a dress. SO … yes, we’re getting off easy. Tithing Your Tithe says simply if you normally give say $20 a week … consider adding 10% for next year … two bucks … you’re gonna spend that on that share sized Reese’s PB cups on your break at work tomorrow. Maybe you give $40 bucks a week … that’s four dollars … you’re gonna spend that at Starbucks on the way home today on that Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino Blended Beverage, with sprinkled ground cinnamon and extra whipped cream.
Need I go on? … I didn’t think so. Yes, we get off easy, because we’re not asking you to immediately become a tither who gives 10% of your income, right? That’s the biblical model, of course, but we’re gonna work with you on this, and start modestly with just 10% over what you’re now giving.
Easy peasy – I see your cars in the parking lot … I see where you are eating on your FB pages … I hear where you’re going on vacation … We’re getting off easy, right? Just read the Gospel Lesson …. No, don’t bother, I’ll read it for you. Just a couple of verses.
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.”
We’re not asking a four-fold restitution or a gift of half your wealth … just ten percent over your current giving. Yeah, we’re getting off easy. Now, you might ask, so what does this have to do with Reformation Sunday? In response, allow me to read to you from a delightful little book I picked up at seminary this past week which I was out for the Fall Assembly at Gettysburg Seminary. Written by our pre-eminent American Lutheran historian, Martin Marty, the book is titled, October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the day that Changed the World. It is a consideration of the impact of the 95 theses upon the world of Luther, and upon our world. Marty in his introduction, makes the claim that every book, at its heart and soul, is really about one thing … one thread … one premise … that runs throughout the book and holds it together. In that spirit, hear Marty’s claim about the “one thing” in this book about the 95 Theses.
This book is intended to be about just one thing. What that is should be made clear now, and then sustained along a thread of ideas that provide unity to the chapters that follow. The “one thing” that opens these pages relates to and, if fact, is the first of ninety-five theses that were proposed five hundred years ago by Martin Luther. That thesis prompted a collection of ideas, proposals, argument, songs, and actions with which people wrestled or which they enjoyed both then and now, half a millennium after 1517. Here is that first thesis, as it was voiced by that influential monk in Germany half a millennium ago: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he intended the entire life of believers to be repentance.”
Repentance … the connector today is repentance. It connects the 95 Theses of October 31, 1517 to our Reformation Sunday celebration today in 2016. Repentance connects our reformation Sunday celebration to our Fall Stewardship campaign. And it connects our stewardship emphasis to the rest of our lives.
Luther’s emphasis upon repentance in 1517 is as relevant now as it was then. It is the theme of our Gospel lesson today. Our case study is Zacchaeus, the tax-collector. Ol’ Zach was despised by his fellow Jews, not only because he imposed upon the Jews the tax of a foreign ruler, but because the tax itself implied adoration of Caesar, whom the Romans considered a god. Thus Roman taxes were sometimes seen as idolatry. On top of that, each tax collector levied an addition fee, call it a commission if you like, which was how he paid for his family. Zacchaeus is described by Luke as “rich,” so his commissions were no doubt steep. Also, Zacchaeus’s statement that he would pay back four-times to anyone for whom his taxes were fraudulent, suggests that he might have been somewhat dishonest at times.
Then Jesus steps into this man’s life … and Luke tells us that Zacchaeus promises the gift of half of his wealth to the poor, and fourfold repayments to those he has cheated. Jesus’ response … “Today salvation has come to this house.” But before we make of this the typical repentance story we usually hear … namely that someone turns over a new leaf and God rewards them with blessings … look a little more closely at Jesus’ words.
“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.” Why does Jesus announce salvation to Zacchaeus’s house? … not because of the wonderful thing Zacchaeus has done … but because he is someone “lost” who has been “found.” No matter how magnificent this good deed promised by Zacchaeus, it is the fact that he is a lost soul, that allows the salvation of Jesus to take hold in his life. Because Jesus is always about the whole person, and not just the collective actions of any individual. The way redemption works, is that Jesus seeks out the lost and offers salvation. And then from that offering of the grace of God’s Kingdom, a person can find the courage to change their perspective on life, from that of being lost, to that of being found. And when you have been found by God, great things can result.
This was Luther’s revelatory understanding in the 16th century. It was not our actions like penance and pilgrimages and indulgences and good works that brought the Kingdom of God into our lives. It was the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom of grace upon us, that freed up the child of God inside of us, and invited acts of charity, love, stewardship and service. The invitation of repentance, is not an invitation into a world of actions and deeds. It is an invitation into a life that recognizes who you are … a beloved child of God. Knowing that God redeems you … frees you to live your whole life in ways that serve the needy around you. Knowing that God redeems you … empowers you to be an evangelist for the Kingdom with your words, but especially with your deeds. Knowing that God redeems you … invites you to gladly “Tithe Your Tithe”, or to strive for the biblical model of tithing, or to exceed that 10% and move beyond it. In short, redemption, invites you to be a stewards in every way possible … through your wealth, through the time you are given in a typical day, and through the skills and talents with which you have been blessed.
Our Preaching Statement for today is this … it comes straight from our Gospel Lesson: “Salvation Has Come to This House.” As is the case with everything else that God does abundantly, there are a host of ways this statement comes alive today. It was true for good ol’ Zach in our Gospel Lesson today, as Jesus’ gift of salvation turns him from sinner to servant. It was true for a German monk, struggling to find grace in a church filled with laws, as Jesus’ gift of salvation turned him from a priest to a reformer. It is true for us here at St. Peter’s, as Jesus’ gift of salvation, turns us from selfish hoarders to generous givers. It is true for you and for me, as Jesus gift of salvation, turns us from a lost life we do not even know we are living, to a saved life beyond our imagining. Salvation has indeed come to all these houses and more, today.