notre dame montreal


Sermon preached by
Revd Charles Royden
4th November 2001

Bible Passage Luke Chapter 19:1

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" 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." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."


Family services are such a very hard context in which to preach. I think they must take so much longer than just ordinary sermons. I am always trying to find an idea which makes them work, which will interest the children and still provide something for the adults. I was struggling with the story of Zacchaeus and then I realised that there is a way to visually present what happened to Zacchaeus this chief tax-collector. That is what this 'talk seeks to achieve'

The cards are stacked against Zacchaeus, him but his response to Jesus is met by a request, not merely to eat with him, but actually to stay with him. Those who observed what happened to Zacchaeus were heard to grumble. They disliked the fact that Jesus was so soft on sinners. Jesus proclaims that Zacchaeus is a true son of Abraham and means that he is included within God's saving act which fulfils his promises to the patriarch. We do well to make sure that we are pleased as Jesus over the sinner who repents and as willing to give them a chance.


When we think of this story it is apparent that the letters of Zacchaeus' name spell out for us what took place in the story (with a bit of persuasion!)

I would like some of the congregation to come forward today and hold up the letters of Zacchaeus name as we think of what each letter might mean.

Let's start with: Z

I wonder if anybody can think of how Zacchaeus would have felt on that day when Jesus was coming to town. He had money, he had power but none of it was making him feel any better. We know that it is contentment which brings happiness, not the accumulation of 'things' which only leads to dissatisfaction. How did he feel?

I thought that the word to describe Zacchaeus could be ZERO. There was an emptiness in his life, an awareness that no matter what he had something was missing.


And so we could say that Zacchaeus was asking questions. He was searching to try and find what was missing. This must be a description of so many people who are dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the way things are in their life. Not in the sense of wondering whether to change job or buy an new house, but rather realising that the thrust of their life was going up a cul de sac, a dead end. So Zacchaeus was ASKING QUESTIONS


What did Zacchaeus do? He decided he would CLIMB a tree. He made a conscious effort to find out more. He was a small man and so he made a physical change which made a difference to enable him to find out more about Jesus.


Up until now it has been Zacchaeus making all the human effort. Now with this next letter we can perhaps try and make the Calvinists feel happier. Zacchaeus has done his part in searching and yet there was Jesus seeking him out. Is this predestination, pre-venient grace or what? People will sometimes say that God called them when they were not looking very hard, others speak about trying to find God. No matter, Jesus CALLED out to him and said (next letter)


HEY (Ok so this one doesn’t fit as well as the others!


It was then when Zacchaeus met with Jesus that he found what had been missing. He realised that Jesus was the ANSWER to his needs. No many people through the ages have used the same word to describe Jesus in their lives. In many different ways Jesus has been found to be the ANSWER. To all human need we believe that Jesus is the ANSWER which God gives to us to meet us with his power and love. OK so we know that religions across the world provide answers to people and their spiritual needs. The difference which we hold to be true as Christians is that Jesus is not an answer, he is the real presence of God meeting humanity in all of its need. Jesus is not just one of many answers he is the authentic presence of God. Of course Jesus still is and that is why we worship him today.


So Zacchaeus met the ANSWER and what happened next. He did not continue to live the way that he had, he recognised that there was something wrong in his life the way it was - he recognised the ERROR OF HIS WAYS. Zacchaeus was a wealthy man who had obviously cared little for anybody other than himself. He committed sins of omission, sin is not always about what we have done wrong, more often it is about what we have failed to do. Now he recognised that we should not live for ourselves, we are part of a family of God’s children and we are called to help others, not just look after ourselves. Zacchaeus recognised his ERROR.


Of course he did not just recognise the error he did something remarkable as a result of his encounter with Jesus. Zacchaeus realised his mistake and turned away from his old ways he did a U-TURN. He gave away money and he offered to pay back four time the amount if he had cheated anybody. He wanted to do his beat to make good the wrongs of the past and to live a new life. This is what being a Christian is all about. Zacchaeus is a great example of faith and good works. He met Jesus and was welcomed by him, then he went and changed the way he behaved and lived a Christian lifestyle. The two went hand in hand.


What can we finish with for ‘S!’ I struggled over this because I wanted to say that he found Salvation. Yes, he really did, but we preachers are told that we must not use these big theological words which we learn in theological college and nobody really understands. So what other word could we use for what happened to Zacchaeus. Of course, he was SORTED. Zacchaeus met Jesus and was sorted out. That is what Jesus does and that is what salvation is all about. Jesus comes into our lives and the rubbish gets thrown away and everything is made well again, more like the way God intended it to be.


Zacchaeus made a radical change in his life which altered everything which he did. He found that Jesus answered the problems in his life and gave him new meaning to live. Zacchaeus found that Jesus offered him a new and alternative way to live. The message for us today is that Jesus still offers us that opportunity. Each of us can climb that tree and seek out Jesus, then we will find that he is there calling us and welcoming us to be with him.