My Work, Christ’s Home - Jesus Applies for a Job, Luke 19 (Sermon Notes)
Text: Luke 19:1-9
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” 8 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.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Theological Point: Jesus is the incarnate God who comes to earth as one of us to pursue us with the invitation to redeemed life. Jesus described the summons to new life with God using similes such as an invitation to a wedding feast or to a celebration for a returning prodigal. After spending time in prayer, Jesus issued invitations to twelve to follow him as his closest disciples. John portrays Jesus standing at a door and knocking, “if anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in, and sup with him and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Ours is an invitational God who initiates a relationship with us by being present to us and inviting a response to the Lord’s marvelous grace.
Hermeneutical Connection: Jesus is present and invites us to new life that involves all of ourselves, including our work. We are encouraged to invite Jesus into our workplace and make him part of what we do at work.
Introduction: The preacher may want to introduce the sermon series either here or before the reading of Scripture. These three sermons on work and faith hinge on each other, resembling the theme of Dr. Munger’s book My Heart—Christ’s Home. The first is about Jesus as job applicant—Jesus gives us the opportunity to include him in our work. The second is about Jesus as work colleague—Jesus is not only present with us at work, but serves as a guide to us in the workplace. The third is about Jesus as Lord of our work who not only guides and instructs us in our work relationships and activities, but becomes Lord of them.
Illustration: (It is always best for preachers to use illustrations from their own lives and experience. Here, I suggest one that shows the common separation between work and faith. I offer one of my own experiences as an example). For several years, I led a Bible study in the old Pan American building (today called the MetLife building) that overshadows Grand Central Station in mid-town Manhattan—once the largest commercial structure in the world. On one particular day, I was riding up the elevator with a young investment banker who was part of the group. “I am really getting a lot out of this Bible study,” he exclaimed. “I’m glad,” I responded. He brightened up and added, “I just never thought that my Sunday religion had much to do with what I do Monday through Friday here in the city. I love the connections we’re making! But it’s frankly hard to do.”
“I just never thought that my Sunday religion had much to do with what I do Monday through Friday.” Whether we are at work in a business or a factory or in a trade or at home: is there a way to bring our faith and work together? Can we view our work as an extension of what we believe? Today we start a three-part sermon series on work and faith and how they are intimately interconnected. We do not have to check our faith at the door when we leave home for work.
A. The Zacchaeus Narrative
I suggest that the preacher have some fun with this passage. Describe it: the dust, the pushing, gawking, and overall noise. Jesus, stopping at the tree, looking up—the eye contact, the recognition (of a lost humanity), the hush of the crowd, the sense of risk (even danger)—a pregnant pause. Then, the invitation, the meal, the gossip and the glad response of Zacchaeus showing early fruit of a transformed life. Work the passage and let your people feel and experience it! Make it visual. Consider throwing a free lunch for your congregation afterward with an invitation to the meal from God in the bulletin or distributed during the sermon. Have children create sycamore trees out of cardboard or colored paper and position them in the hall where the meal will be served.
B. The Meaning of the Narrative
Now is the time for the preacher to switch from a colorful description of the biblical scene to application. Suggest that four key points can be drawn out of this Scripture:
1) Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a better look at Jesus. In this one picture, we have summed up the spiritual hunger of the human population for God. Even, or perhaps especially, those most aware of their faults seek a view of the One who can renew and restore. Consider including a brief quote or film sequence that describes this hunger. Have you noticed all the films about God (e.g. “Evan Almighty”)? Films about angels? There is a spiritual hunger and yearning for God! Even “The Matrix” has a close resemblance to the Gospel story (he lives among us, dies, resurrects, ascends).
2) Jesus did not wait for people to find him: he went out into the highways and byways, seeking the lost, the outcast, the downtrodden—any who would respond to the message of grace and new life. In the same way, Jesus is not locked up in a church somewhere waiting to be brought out on display on Sunday mornings: he seeks to be a part of all we do and go wherever we go. His love flows through us wherever we go. Imagine if God wanted to reach biker gangs: how might Jesus have come to redeem them? What would Jesus have looked like? Use your imagination and own experiences to illustrate.
3) While the Zacchaeus narrative has been somewhat “tamed” by its use as a children’s story—Jesus befriending a short man and inviting himself to a meal—it is actually full of danger and intrigue. Here the preacher has an opportunity to describe the role of a Jewish tax collector taking money for the Roman army. Jesus not only goes out in pursuit of the lost, he even reaches out to those most hated among his own people. This is not a Lord enclosed in stained glass but one who walks the streets and seeks entry to even the most desperate and dangerous of places. Some do not think of church as extending to such urban settings; some do not think of church extending to the workplace as well.
4) Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal. Note, however, that nothing in this passage feels forced or coercive. On the contrary, Jesus’ own self-invitation was responded to with gladness and enthusiasm, as if it were, in fact, the invitation for God to be with even a hated sinner at supper. The preacher will want to note the scandal and risk of Jesus eating with a known sinner. In a sense, we have sanitized communion. It was originally the family meal of the church hosted by God, followers of Jesus sitting around the table, eating symbols of grace and redemption, and displaying a wonderful diversity and unity to a fragmented world.
C. Jesus: Job Applicant
Now, in the vein of Robert Munger’s creative book, the preacher has the opportunity to describe a contemporary scene: Jesus applying for a job where congregants work. The preacher may want to begin this section by applying what has been learned to a simple picture of God wanting to be a part of the workplace. For example, you could develop it along these lines. God does not manipulate you or coerce you to faith. The Lord invites you to Life Abundant. Similarly, the Lord does not force into the rooms and closets of your life. Rather, we willingly open them up to God as we grow deeper in faith, wanting God to fill more and more of who we are. It is as if God applies for a job where you work and, in this analogy, you get to decide whether or not to hire God!
Later you might ask the Lord: “Why did you apply for a job at my company?” And, in the vein of Munger’s book, the Lord might respond, “Because I want to be with you wherever you go, but I do not want to force myself on you. I want to be present with you. Whenever you are stressed and worn out and under pressure, I want to appear at your desk to give you peace and vision and energy.” The preacher can elaborate further along these lines. I suggest you keep it simple in this sermon, emphasizing the calming, restorative presence of Jesus. Later, in sermons 2 and 3, as you will see, Jesus takes on a greater role in the workplace.
Conclusion: The preacher sums up the theme and issues a challenge. It might go something like this: Some of you remember the movie scene depicting African Americans walking past a whites-only church in a southern state. One of them said, “Did I tell you about the time I accidentally wandered into that white church? I was lucky to get out alive! But then, when I thanked Jesus for my escape, he said, ‘You’re one up on me. I’ve been trying to get into that church for two hundred years!’ ” Jesus is trying to get into your workplace. He won’t force himself in. He won’t break the door down. The Lord only has you to invite him in and make a difference where you work. Have you let the Lord in? It is as if Jesus is applying for a job where you work and you are the hiring manager. Are you going to let him in? Zacchaeus threw open his doors and gladly, enthusiastically welcomed Jesus into his home. Have you done the same at work?
These sermons are by Dr. George Cladis. He is Executive Pastor of Liberty Churches in the western suburbs of Boston. He also serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the New England Dream Center, a faith-based social service agency created by Liberty Churches in Worcester, Massachusetts. Cladis authored Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 1999), and he is adjunct Assistant Professor in the Fuller Theological Seminary Doctor of Ministry program teaching church leadership and team-based management. George and his wife Martie live in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, with their rescue dog, Emily.
Other sermons in this series on My Work, Christ's Home: