Sermon on November 28, 2021
KaB FKB (Andreas Latossek)
“I want to give you a present. God –
With forgiveness and a new beginning”
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
I want to give you a present. God – With forgiveness and a new beginning.
There’s the story of a junior manager at IBM, a computer company. Unfortunately, I don’t know if this story is true. But this junior manager got involved in a risky business for the company and ended up wasting $ 10 million. He was summoned to the CEO’s office. The junior manager was so overwhelmed by guilt and fear that he immediately blurted out: I take it you asked me to fire me. Please. I am resigning from my post. The boss replied: You are probably kidding. I just put ten million dollars into your education. I can’t afford to kick her out.
That sounds too good to be true.
How nice it would be if we dealt with mistakes, failures, and guilt that we have put on ourselves in this way. And how much do we sometimes wish we could just turn the clock back again? How do you just start over in a game?
In our lives, it is more like the social point system that China is trying to implement in its whole country. Everyone gets 1000 points at the beginning.
Those who behave well will be rewarded.
Those who are socially committed, look after people in need or donate money receive bonus points.
Anyone who harms the community will be punished.
Anyone who drinks too much alcohol, crosses the street when red or even commits a criminal offense, gets point deductions.
People who achieve a high number of points get apartments, cars, study places, travel tickets and the like more quickly.
People with low scores, on the other hand, have to accept disadvantages.
This is intended to limit corruption, crime and, in general, anti-social behavior. Respectively, positive behavior that serves the community should be encouraged. The problem with this system is: the state defines what is good and what is not good, and this system is merciless.
That doesn’t correspond to our value system, does it? Interestingly, that is exactly what many people think of God. If there is God, then He registers and evaluates my every action and thought, and rewards the good and punishes the bad. Most people’s religion, when they believe in a god, looks the same whether it’s called Animism, New Age, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, or Christianity. And even those who do not really believe grumble at God when bad things happen to them. It’s just interesting that they usually never ask about him and don’t associate good with him. It’s like trying to climb an imaginary ladder to heaven.
But at Christmas, the unbelievable happens:
God comes to stay in the picture, descended the ladder to us humans, becomes human. Lives among the poor and outcasts and shows that he doesn’t just want to be there for a moral or religious elite, i.e. for people who have at least 2000 points in their account. Jesus clashed with no one as strongly as with people who had an astonishingly high “score” in their social ranking. On the other hand, Jesus shows that you can come into contact with God even if you have a very low score. When you realize that you are not enough, you have failed, you are full of guilt and mistakes. In Luke 19 we read of an encounter that makes this very clear:
1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, for so much as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Luke 19, 1-10
Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Rich but hated. Because the toll collectors made common cause with the occupying power of the Romans and also enriched themselves with their fellow men by demanding excessive tariffs. And then it says that Jesus came to the city. And a lot of people ran together. You have to imagine it like the Pentecost parade here. Jesus walks through the city, many go with him, some stand and look. And Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus.
Why does this guy really want to see Jesus?
Is not written here. But I notice that it is still the same today. Why do people really want to see Jesus? Why do people seek God?
There has to be some longing, something that makes us humans go looking.
And I assume that we as human beings have an inkling that there is God, combined with the desire to get to know him. Many religions express exactly that. A longing, like a child who grows up without a father, at some point asks about his father. Who am I. Where i come from Where am i going And why am I even here? These are the questions that each of us has at some point. Perhaps also a longing that we feel when we have tried a lot and yet it does not fulfill us. So it was with Zacchaeus: his wealth did not fill him. The Church Father Augustine once put it this way:
Our hearts are restless until they find rest, God, in you.
And if you are here today or watching the livestream, and you are looking, then I invite you to take a closer look at Jesus and find out what he is all about.
Zacchaeus was dying to see Jesus.
And that’s why he went where Jesus was. He wanted to see: what is he saying, what is he doing. But now there was a problem: Unfortunately, this Zacchaeus was very small. And nobody let him through. I think that was the residents’ vengeance, which he always exempted from moving even closer together. And so Zacchaeus ran up on the way and climbed a mulberry tree. Here is a picture, so that was a tree in which you could hide well without anyone seeing you. So up there, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus when he passed and hear what he was saying. But what happened next turned Zacchaeus’ life inside out. Jesus stopped, looked up, and spoke to Zacchaeus.
What, thinks Zacchaeus, has seen me now, and everyone else too.
And how does he even know my name? Is not there either. But: Jesus sees people. He’s not far away, no, he’s interested in you and me. For my life. He sees you no matter where you are. No matter how you are, with what you enjoy and also with your worries and fears. No matter how small or insignificant you are. And no matter what you’ve done, maybe like Zacchaeus. That doesn’t stop Jesus. He says: Zacchaeus, come down. Get out of your observation post. I want to be your guest today.
Of all things, thought all the others. With this puke who had so much dirt on his hands.
Jesus could have done: Zacchaeus I’ll come to your house, but first
Or: but only…
if You are changing …
You fix it all with the money …
But Jesus doesn’t make any conditions at all, and he doesn’t put Zacchaeus before anyone else either. He does not set any conditions, not even on us, although he knows exactly with us that everything is not in order with us either. Jesus loves us unconditionally.
And with that we are in the middle of the mystery of Christmas.
Jesus came into this world, took up residence with us in spite of all the darkness and everything that was in trouble, because he loves us and because he sees our longing. He took on our guilt, everything that separated us from God, and died for it on the cross to enable forgiveness and reconciliation with God and to offer us a new beginning. He has come to seek and to save what is lost. Lost with our unfulfilled longings. Lost with our wandering in life Lost with our guilt and forever separated from God. Jesus says that Zacchaeus and all his house were saved that day. Heil, that means healing of the relationship with others, with oneself, but first with God.
But one thing Zacchaeus has to do, he has to get down from the tree and open his house to Jesus.
For some, this path may be more difficult, namely for those who feel they are pretty high on the ladder of their lives and think they have it out. We experience that again and again. But we cannot bridge the path to Jesus on our own and we cannot finally satisfy the longings of our life on our own.
Zacchaeus joyfully welcomed Jesus into his home.
And that’s what I experienced when I invited Jesus into my life, there was such a great joy in me that I can’t even describe. With Jesus, forgiveness and a new beginning are possible – this morning too.
He invites you to open the door of your life for him.
However, you should know that this has an impact.
Whoever really longs for it, who longs for a fulfilled life and friendship with God, will be happy about it. But there are also people who don’t want that. Who just want to go on like this and would like to have Jesus as a little add-on in their life. But that won’t work. Because Jesus is interested in a real friendship with us.
The fact that he stops at Zacchaeus changes his life.
I don’t know what they were talking about. Isn’t there either. But afterwards Zacchaeus says: I give everything back fourfold and donate half of my wealth to the poor.
Now, of course, it may be that Zacchaeus and Jesus talked about this exactly.
That Jesus told him: Zacchaeus, what you did to people is not okay. God knows exactly what is good for our life. He doesn’t do it because he wants to choke us down, but because he knows how to be happy and what is good for us and others. And I understood that God doesn’t want to make cosmetic repairs on me, but that God wants to live in me as a person and change me from within. Zacchaeus can be told that. He wasn’t angry about it like we are sometimes when someone speaks to us about the sore points in our lives. Zacchaeus reacts immediately, and not because he has to but voluntarily.
But it might as well be that they didn’t talk about it and that Zacchaeus just does it.
Maybe that’s because he’s experiencing unconditional acceptance for the first time in his life. That for the first time, as far as he can remember, he got the impression: Jesus is not pushing me away, on the contrary: he wants to have fellowship with me. I’m okay with him the way I am and I can trust him. This is an important step, because God does not give us his word to dictate rules, but because he wants to give us a gift of a fulfilled life, with healing and freedom, with peace and joy, with forgiveness and a new beginning. We are invited to believe him, to follow him, to take what he says seriously and to let him change us.
And so we saw it in the story before the sermon. How Alex is addressed by Jesus, loved and understood unconditionally. And how that leads to a rethink in Alex, a regret for what he’s done and a desire to make amends. And how good that Jesus takes care of it too.
The story of Zacchaeus does not say what happened next.
I imagine it like this: But when Jericho woke up the next morning, nothing was as before. A family man finds money in the mailbox Tears well up in his eyes. Now he can pay for the operation for his wife. A small master craftsman finds a check in front of his door, money that he had stuffed into Zacchaeus’ throat. He doesn’t know how he’s going. Now he can buy material, produce, sell his goods. A single mother comes to the market, hopeless, because it won’t be enough again, but then she sees the price tag at the vegetable stall and her heart leaps: Today her children will be full. Because others are also starting to lower their excessive profit margins. The local police are surprised: On this day there is no brawl at the city gate and no break-in: Crime born of poverty is falling rapidly. The city council convenes a special session: With the surprising additional income, it will be possible to finally clean up the stinking sewer that ran through the city. At the end of the day, the little inn is overcrowded. People don’t yet know if they can trust the peace, but they need to talk about it. Suddenly this Zacchaeus turns everything upside down, her whole world. Hey Zacchaeus, what’s the matter with you, why have you changed so much.
And all of a sudden there is communication, forgiveness is also possible among each other and the way we work together changes. And then Zacchaeus begins to tell: I met someone there who made my life really rich.
A friendship with Jesus always has an impact on our togetherness.
It may not be possible for everyone, but Jesus wants us to forgive one another. Do not leave us in drawers, add old things for a lifetime, but also enable each other to start new. Because he gave us so rich gifts Where do you hear his quiet voice this morning like Alex and Zacchaeus, where you should ask or forgive someone for forgiveness?
And a third thought:
Even as people who are on the road with Jesus, we are not free from mistakes and guilt. Some people struggle with a favorite sin, others depress their conscience so that they no longer dare to come into God’s presence. Sometimes we have such a mechanism as if we had to let time pass on the matter so that we trust ourselves to God again, or as if we had to perform particularly piously beforehand. Maybe you feel the same way this morning. And how is it after this initial forgiveness and the new beginning?
I would like to remind you of the story of a disciple who felt the same way. You can read it in John 21 and it’s about Peter again:
Peter, the hero of faith who had seen so much with Jesus, had failed. He had mouthed too full, he would never betray Jesus. But that was exactly what he had done, 3 times. Jesus was crucified. Then he rose from the dead, but he, Peter, had failed and that was it for Jesus and him. Do you know such thoughts? Well, maybe there is still a place for you with Jesus somewhere on the edge? But close to him?
Simon Petrus said, “I’m going fishing.” – “We too,” said the others, “we’ll come with you.” They went out to the boat and cast off, but that night they caught nothing. When day came, Jesus was standing on the bank, but the disciples did not recognize him.
Typically, they were so caught up in what they were doing that they didn’t even see Jesus. • Do we sometimes feel the same way?
“Children,” he called to them, “don’t you have a few fish for breakfast?” – “No,” they called back, “not a single one!” – “Throw the net on the right side of the boat!” he asked. “You will see that you catch something.” They cast the net, but then they could not haul it in, they had caught such a large amount of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter: “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard him say: “It is the Lord”, he threw on the upper garment that he had taken off while working and tied it it stuck and jumped into the water ´to be faster on the bank`. The other disciples followed by boat, the net with the fish in tow. It wasn’t far to the shore – only about a hundred yards. As they got out of the boat and went ashore, they saw a coal fire on which fish were roasting; bread was also included.
A coal fire, how strange.
Wouldn’t it be more natural to make a fire out of wood on the beach? The coal fire appears only once in the Bible. In the high priest’s courtyard when Peter betrayed Jesus. Not only that Jesus is now standing in front of Peter and the others, now Jesus is also making hints and Peter is afraid that it will go to his collar in a moment. I imagine Peter sitting there distant the whole time, while all the disciples crowd around Jesus full of enthusiasm and curiosity. “Bring some of the fish you just caught,” Jesus told them. Simon Peter got into the boat and pulled the net ashore. It was full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all. And despite this amount, the network did not tear. “Come here and eat,” said Jesus. The disciples wanted to ask him: “Who are you?” But none of them dared; they knew it was the Lord. Jesus went ‘to the fire’, took the bread and gave it to them, and also the fish. This was the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was resurrected from the dead.
All along it stood unspoken between Peter and Jesus.
But now it was time to talk. How would Jesus react? Would he reproach him Would there still be room for him somewhere on the edge, or would Jesus exclude him from the crowd of disciples, punish him or simply react with silence and disappointment? What do you expect from Jesus, how he treats you? Don’t we sometimes withdraw from him for fear of this reaction?
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than anyone else here?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him: “Take care of my lambs!” Jesus asked him a second time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him: “Tend my sheep!” Jesus asked him a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was sad because Jesus asked him for the third time: “Do you love me ? “-” Lord, you know everything, “he replied. “You know that I love you.” Thereupon Jesus said to him: “Take care of my sheep! John 21: 2-17
Not a single word of reproach.
Just this one question, the all-important one, three times as in the betrayal of Peter: Peter, do you love me? Broken it comes out of Peter: Lord, you can look inside me. You know everything. You know how weak I am, that I failed, but yeah, I love you. Will that be enough? Yes, with Jesus it is enough. And then he reinstates Peter. You belong again. You get another job. You did not fail once and for all, and you will not have that stain with Jesus all your life. It’s like the story of the junior manager at the very beginning of this sermon.
Jesus loves us.
He gives us a 2nd and 3rd and 4th chance. He knows us and he even says once that it is normal for us to get dirty feet again and again in everyday life. But that is precisely why he died on the cross, to take our mistakes, our guilt, our failure, our shame, everything on himself so that it does not separate us from him. And this is what I want to say to you this morning, wherever you are in your relationship with Jesus: You can come to him. Fall down, stand up, straighten the crown, because Jesus wants to give us forgiveness and a new beginning too. The biggest problem in these situations is not God, but mostly it is us who cannot forgive ourselves or who let us be persuaded that God does not forgive us.
The Bible says otherwise, namely that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus. (Romans 8.1)
So you too can stop condemning yourself and you can believe that Jesus will give you forgiveness and a new beginning also this morning.
And so Jesus invites us this morning.
Whether you are like Zacchaeus and are offered the gift of forgiveness and a new beginning with God for the very first time, whether Jesus spoke to you this morning and would like to facilitate interpersonal forgiveness and a new beginning, or you have lived with him for a long time and can claim forgiveness and a new beginning. He invites you like Zacchaeus: Come down, I want to come to your home, I want to be part of your life, I want broken things to be whole again and for salvation to come to you too. You make everything new. We want to sing that together now. And it is an invitation to let Jesus come to your heart and talk to him about it now.
Would you like to get to know Jesus Christ too?