“Someone once asked Daniel Boone, ‘Were you ever lost?’ Dan thought it over for a while, then replied, ‘No, I was never lost. But once I was a mite bewildered for five days.” Growing up I would ask my Dad as we drove around searching for a certain location. “Dad, are you lost?” “Jimmie, I’m never lost, it just may take me a while to find out where I am.” Sure enough we would eventually find out where we were or where the place was we were looking for. Some of us are born with that inner compass within us. Let’s test it right quick. Everyone stand up and close your eyes. Now, without looking or cheating from your neighbor, I want you to point North. Now open your eyes. North is actually in this direction. See some of us are born with that inner compass and some aren’t.
As we go through life we will get lost at times. We will venture off and head in one direction and before we know it we be lost. Now according to my Boy Scout Handbook, I dusted off from my bookshelf, there are proper ways to handle getting lost. Actually it say, “The best way not to get lost is to know at all times where you are.” It goes on to say that as we travel we should always be alert and looking around. We should notice where the trail is going and what landmarks we see on a map and in our area. But there are times when you do get lost and in those cases there actually is a right way to be found and a wrong way to be found. The wrong thing to do is to start running around like a crazy person. If you panic and run, you will never be found. The Boy Scout Handbook says that if you get lost, “Stay calm. Sit down and have a sip of water and a bite of food…Quietly review how you got where you are.” If you don’t calm down and review you will not be able to judge what to do. Most of the time if you know people are looking for you the best way to get found is to stay still and let them come to you.
Many of us are familiar with this story in Luke’s text. We know the children’s song that I sang during the children’s time. Zacchaeus was the local tax collector in Jericho. This means he was the Jew in charge of collecting taxes for the Romans. He was basically the Biblical IRS agent, except their taxes were even worse back then. Zacchaeus was in charge of collecting these taxes but if he wanted to make any money all he had to do was take a little more and then keep the overage for himself. Apparently that is exactly what he was doing because the scripture describes him as ‘wealthy.’
Zacchaeus apparently had heard about Jesus and heard the buzz in the community that he was heading his way. He really wanted to see this guy so he headed out to the main road to take a look. Now the scripture tells us that he was also a short man and he could not over the crowd. Either that or the crowds pushed him to the back of the line because they hated this Chief Tax Collector. Zacchaeus had to find another way to see Jesus so “he climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way he looked up in the tree.”
You do not have to be a scholar of Luke, you only would have had to read through it once, to know that in this Gospel rich people don’t do well when Jesus comes to meet them. In Chapter 6 Jesus gives a section of scripture called the Blessings and Woes. It is like Luke’s Beatitudes. In the Woe section, the not so good ones, Jesus says, “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” Not a good impression of the rich. Then in chapter 12 Jesus tells a story of a Rich Fool. In this parable a farmer attempts to build bigger barns to store even more of his crops. He places his own stuff in front of God and is called out for it. Then in Chapter 16 Jesus tells another parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. They both die and the rich man is on the wrong side of the afterlife and things are so bad in hell that he requests that Lazarus, the beggar he ignored in life, could come over and dip his finger in water to cool off his tongue. In Chapter 18 we get Luke’s version of the Rich Ruler story. Here a rich man comes up to Jesus and asks how to receive eternal life. When Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor the rich ruler just leaves.
I mention all this to point out that now Jesus is in the presence of another rich man, Zacchaeus. I bet as Jesus eyes him in the tree and starts to head in that direction his disciples already knew what Jesus was going to do. This was the moment Jesus was going to read him the riot act. It was in this moment that the people of Jericho were going to see this Savior, this Messiah show no mercy to the man they all hated. Yet, Jesus goes against his previous persistence. He doesn’t do what he did in all those other stories and meetings with other rich people. Instead he tells his wealthy scum that tonight he is going to eat at his house. The people’s mouths all drop open and they are shocked, “He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.’” But this is so Jesus, always keeping us on our toes.
But what made Zacchaeus different than all the other rich people in the Gospel of Luke? The truth is Zacchaeus was willing to be found. He could have simply went home after he realized he wasn’t able to see Jesus on the road. But instead he climbed up in a tree to get a look and the meeting that took place while he was up in that tree changed his life.
What continually shocks me about this story is the awesome presence Jesus had. When he met people who were really seeking him, not just in person but also in their heart, all Jesus had to do was meet them, come face to face with them, and their lives changed. Every time I come to this story I think that Zacchaeus changes his mind at dinner with Jesus. It is after opening his house to the Savior of the world and sharing a meal with him that he then says, “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.” But it isn’t. The scripture says it is when he jumps down out of the tree and stands up that he says this. It is the first meeting, the greeting, that Zacchaeus’ life is transformed. Why? Because he was willing to be found and transformed.
For any real change to happen in your life you have to make the conscious decision to do it and be in the place mentally to be willing to be transformed. If you want to quit smoking, lose weight, get out of debt or whatever it is you are seeking to do; the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is simple. Those who truly want to be transformed mentally know that where they want to be is worth the sacrifice it will take to get there. The moment a person realizes that the feeling of losing 10 pounds is far better than the taste of that bowl of ice cream, he will start to lose weight. Once a person is mentally in that place where the rush from saying no to that next cigarette is better than the rush of smoking it, she will stop. But until then, until that mental moment, true transformation will not come.
When Jesus meets the Rich Ruler in chapter 18 Jesus knows he is not ready to be transformed. Jesus shows him the way, points him in the direction he has to go to get to where he wants but the Rich Ruler is unwilling to go through that type of sacrifice. In the next chapter Jesus meets another rich person, Zacchaeus, but this meeting is different. Zacchaeus was already willing to be transformed. He was willing to take what little pride he had left and hang it on a tree. The fact that from that moment on he will always be remembered as the ‘wee little man in the tree’ didn’t matter because he was meeting Jesus.
After Zacchaeus profess to Jesus the changes he is willing to make we get this tag line at the end that doesn’t make much sense. Jesus says, as the New Revised Standard Translation puts it “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.” What does seeking and saving the lost have to do with this story? That just seems to be out there and something that Luke added to make this scripture sound more Luken. But it has a lot to do with the story. Jesus is telling those standing there watching this interaction take place that he came to seek out and to save the lost. He is there to find those who are lost. Zacchaeus was lost. He was consumed by his position of power and his greed. He knew on some level that there was a better way of living and he knew that Jesus could point him in that direction. He was willing to put himself in a tree in order to see Jesus and in order to be found.
In our own sinful nature we cannot be transformed. I don’t care what the newest and trendy self help books tell you. We cannot do it on our own. We can only go so far before we need help. We might be able to do a lot on our own but if we want true transformation we will need Jesus. We may have the ability to lose weight or get out of debt on our own but if we don’t invite Jesus in and ask him to transform our whole being we are only sin swapping. If we think we can do those things on our own then we are swapping the sin of gluttony, or greed, for the sin of pride. If we want a whole body, whole being transformation into the person God is calling us to be then we need to get to the place where we realize we are lost and we want to be found.
I know you all know people in this community that are lost, you may be one of them. There are people that can see their lives unraveling right in front of them. They are trying to hold it together but the tighter the hold on the messier and scarier it gets. They are starting to panic and do what our guide book tells us not to do when we find ourselves lost. We aren’t suppose to start running around and trying to get found on our own. The lost can’t do the finding. The lost can only be found.
So if you are lost this morning, may you be willing to do what is necessary to be found. May you climb a tree and be still. May you be so ready to be completely transformed that you are even willing to put your pride behind you and be still. May you be still as the Lord, the Savior of the world, walks by and looks up.
And all God’s people said…Amen.