On Sunday, October 20, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “I Like Giving: Change.” The Scripture for the week is Luke 19:1-10. She focused on acts of generosity while looking at the story of Zacchaeus, that wealthy tax collector who is radically changed, ready to put right the wrongs he had done, and eager to give half of his possessions to the poor.
Generosity is very complex. It comes easily in some ways but in other forms, not at all. People’s feelings, lessons learned, money, sadness, fairness, fear, and responsibility are all involved. But being generous to the point of extravagance is a crucial attribute of God, and thus of discipleship.
Indeed generosity is a significant theme in Luke’s Gospel, especially at a time when the rich keep their riches for themselves, believing they are given to them by God. Luke is concerned about wealth and what happens to the poor. He believes in distributive justice, and consequently, he is hard on the rich and how they use their money. Closely tied to the theme of welcoming outsiders, the poor and the marginalized, are money, and generosity of spirit. We could be generous with our money but also with our thoughts, words, time, energy, and love.
Zacchaeus’ story is straightforward but still challenging. Something is stirring in Zacchaeus’ conscience at this time of his life. A tax collector, wealthy, involved in exploitation, extortion, and taxing, who has this desire to come and see this one with the reputation of being a friend of tax collectors. Zacchaeus is so eager to catch a glimpse of Jesus despite the mumblings of the crowd, who, no doubt dislike him, that he climbs up a tree in an undignified manner. The people are shocked to see that Jesus sees him, calls him, names him, showers him with love, and then invites himself to his home.
God sees him, loves him, and claims him as his own – and this immediately transforms Zacchaeus. He receives the generosity of God’s presence and forgiveness – and it spurred him to action. He must, therefore, fulfill his obligation of theft and right the wrongs he has done. Reminded of God’s abundant gift of grace, he is moved to extravagance – giving away half of his wealth.
Salvation comes not only because he is repentant and changes his ways but also to heal his brokenness. Now, marginalization is a thing of the past. God has freed him. In God’s company, giving back after defrauding the poor, changes the relationship and brings joy, eagerness, humility, and reconnection. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “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 the lost.”
Lack of generosity lies with the self-righteous observers who are mumbling, judging Zacchaeus and Christ. It keeps people on margins – withholding grace, love, acceptance. They act superior as they desire to maintain their reputation. They deny that people change. But God’s grace brings healing and transformation. God’s grace transforms us into more generous people. Acting in generous ways also brings us closer to God. When God saves and heals us, we are no longer broken.
The story is asking us what lack of generosity, or attempt to stockpile wealth is keeping us apart from God and others, stifling our joy and leaving us broken? On the other hand, what longing for Christ is stirring in us? What joyful reactions to God’s grace are we experiencing? Eagerness, welcome, hearing our name called, looked upon with love? What change comes as we respond joyfully to Christ’s love, call, and presence? Let us now return God’s extravagant grace with our extravagance in giving.
This week, I invite you to try one big generous act in your own life. Also, pay attention to what you are worried about, like fear, excuse, debate, judgment, discomfort, violation of fairness, debt, time, need a reward, or what else is happening in your life. Jesus is saying, “I see your generosity. Give just 10% of your wealth.” Ask God to stir up your heart and make your spirit willing.
The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category worship. Here is the link
For the complete video of the October 20 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here.