We sometimes mistakenly think that before Jesus no one in Israel saw God as merciful and forgiving. No-even Jonah had a surface awareness of that. Jonah ran away from God’s command, not because he feared the Ninevites, but because he feared God’s mercy. This Sunday we will hear again about our merciful and compassionate God and celebrate Communion together.
The people mutter, “Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” And they were right. Zacchaeus was a sinner of the worst kind. He had gotten rich from collaborating with invaders and by fleecing his neighbors. So, his neighbors regarded him as human filth. His name became a sneer on the lips of fellow Jews. He was a standing joke. But for some reason, Jesus chooses to dine with the most hated man in town.
Every parent knows the frustration of buying Christmas gifts that sit unused while the empty boxes become the child’s source of joy. That expensive gift you put a lot of thought into for your loved one is now set aside and forgotten. The toy that your child yearned for over the months is suddenly left sitting in the corner unused. What is the most incredible thank you the giver can receive? It is seeing the gift becomes a regular part of the recipient’s life. As Christians, during Christmas, we know we celebrate the gift of Jesus coming into the world. And we realize that the most significant way we can show our thanks is by availing ourselves of that gift. How might God’s gift to us affect our daily lives?
What are your Christmas traditions? Do you put up a Christmas tree? Do you give gifts? Do you have a gathering of family and friends on Christmas day? Have you ever noticed what we leave out of our Christmas traditions? For example, we generally leave King Herod out of our nativity set because we see him as the story’s villain. Yet as the villain, he helps us understand who we should be in contrast.
Three times the Disciples of Jesus argue about who is the greatest. Can you imagine that? These disciples watch Jesus minister to the least, the last and the lost but they still are concerned with their pecking order in the followers of Jesus. Jesus overhears their arguments and gives them some advice.
When Jesus was healing people he made a lengthy journey to help a man who people felt was possessed by demons. The man’s story is still common today. Many among us hide struggles with brain issues because they are worried about being stigmatized. In this Gospel story Jesus’ reaction to the man gives us guidance on how we can help.
We may experience frustration when we ask God to do something but God doesn’t do it. We may wonder why didn’t God do something to help my family member? Why didn’t God help me land that job? Why didn’t God help me get that date? Why didn’t God keep me from getting sick? What do we do if our request isn’t answered?
If you’re feeling soul-less and wrapped up in things that won’t let you go, Jesus offers you new life.
We know the scriptures say, “God loves a cheerful giver.” A cheerful giver doesn’t give reluctantly or out of compulsion. A cheerful giver gives out of thanks for all that God does for him or her. Maybe that was Cain’s problem.
Sermon preached at Gold Canyon United Methodist Church in Gold Canyon, Arizona on March 4, 2018 by Katharine Keller