Sunday's sermon on Luke 19:1-10
Second part of sermon series on repentance
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Continuing the topic of the concept of repentance we began exploring last Sunday, let me just clarify some things before we dig deeper into the subject.
Repentance is not confession. It is not limited to confession. The sacrament of confession is part of the process of repentance. Confession helps us to do an internal self-examination in order keep working on aligning our life with the will of God. Repentance is much more than confession, it’s a whole process, a way of life even. That’s why Christ began His entire earthly ministry and preaching with, “Repent.”
As I said last week, a simple definition of repentance is – realize that we are doing something wrong, that we have problems, and don’t do it anymore. To go from realizing to not doing is a process.
And we all have issues, problems, destructive behaviors, it’s a matter of seeing and acknowledging them. Observing children, we can see that we are predisposed towards bad, even evil, behavior, that’s why we spend the whole life putting in effort to be good, to be decent, to be not evil.
Therefore, we constantly learn to be good. We are taught what is right, what the proper behavior should be all our life. On the other hand, we do not need anyone’s help or example to do the wrong thing. We can do that very well on our own, most of the time.
Doing the wrong thing came naturally to a man who was in position of serious authority. He was the chief tax-collector by the name of Zacchaeus. He was a Jew, but he was an employee of the Roman government. Working for the hated Gentiles, who conquered and occupied Israel, was seen as a complete betrayal of their faith and their country in the eyes Zacchaeus’ countrymen.
As his title implies, his job was to collect tax and hand it over to the Romans. But, tax-collectors were notorious was ripping off people, their own people. Romans did not care how much tax you collected, as long as the government got its share and there were no riots.
So, not only was Zacchaeus a traitor to his own nation, he also made a living off of his own people. As you can imagine, he did not have many friends because of this. In the eyes of the Jewish society, he was written off along with other great sinners such as murderers and prostitutes. But hey, at least was rich, right?
Well, not really. Turns out Zacchaeus was pretty disgusted with his life also. As the saying goes, all the money in the world won’t buy you happiness. Like anyone of us, Zacchaeus loved money, but somewhere along the line he came to a realization that having money won’t buy him friends, or at least good friends, it won’t buy him acceptance, and it won’t buy him love.
He realized this, but he had no idea how to fix it.
The story of Zacchaeus illustrates what we innately know, but don’t always think about, namely: we all have problems – ranging from small to destructive; and, we are unable to fix and change ourselves on our own, especially if we are refusing to see our problems.
This is another concept of the 12-Step recovery programs, which I mentioned last week, and why 12-Steps have been so effective over the decades. Step Two says, “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
For an alcoholic or any other addict, their addiction is not the problem. Addiction is a symptom of the problem. Recognizing and acknowledging the symptom can be very hard. Getting to the problem itself requires serious work, self-examination, and help. Help from the Power greater than ourselves.
For Christians, this greater Power is God, Who is present everywhere, all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving, greatly merciful, and able to heal our wounds.
We often question the need of God’s help in improving our behavior, well-being, and attitude. After all, we are living in the most technologically advanced time ever. If we put our mind to it, we should be able to achieve almost anything we want, especially here, in the United States.
…Yet, it’s not true. As advanced a humanity as we are today, as the 12-Step recovery program has been saying for the last 80 years and as Christians have known for at least the last 2000 years – we are still powerless to change ourselves on our own.
There is an industry out there that is making $10 billion annually. The whole point of this industry is to help people become better (because they figured out that we can’t do it on our own). We are living today in an age of self-help gurus and personal coaches. Self-help industry has always existed, but it has never been this wide-spread because in the past a self-help personal coach either had to write and publish a book, or have a radio or TV show, both of which are not easy to accomplish, and require an actual talent.
Today, however, with the ubiquity of the social media, literally anyone can become a self-help guru and make money. (That’s why I will be retiring tomorrow with aspirations of becoming a personal coach. You’ll be able to catch me on my new youtube channel – Father Guru…I am joking. It’s hard to be a personal coach when nobody cares when you talk, just ask my children).
The advice these self-help and self-improvement coaches give can range from “let yourself go, explore yourself, by experimenting with drugs (such as psychedelics), and all forms of sex,” to “restrict and restrain yourself to develop discipline.” There is basically everything in the self-help industry to satisfy our desires and our wildest fantasies, if not necessarily actually help us.
What’s really interesting and to the point here, is that people are actually buying into this stuff. They are following these gurus, shelling out loads of cash, like I said, close to $10 billion a year, but don’t get me wrong here, not every self-help personal coach is a scam artist. Some of them are very talented and know what they are talking about.
The point of all of this is that we, the society in general, whether knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or subconsciously, admit that we need help in order to improve, get better, grow up, or kick the destructive habit. We can’t do it on our own. And the rise of self-help industry is the prime example of it.
But self-improvement coaches, as good as they may be, will not get us over the hill. They are still just like us – fallen, broken human beings. They may excel at some things, but they do fail and struggle at other aspects of their life.
We need a Power greater than ourselves. If the goal of our life is to enjoy this time we have on earth, then self-help gurus might do the trick. If we desire something a little bit more, if we believe that there is more to life than this existence, then we look beyond the self-help stuff to God.
Last week Christ proclaimed, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance gets us beyond this existence into the “something more,” into that Kingdom. And the beautiful thing is, we can partly experience God’s Kingdom here and now…when we repent.
We’ve been working on unpacking the meaning of repentance, and as I said, it’ll take us at least five Sundays, and this is only the second one.
So, in order to repent, we first realize that we have problems. We don’t have to be addicts to have problems. Are we struggling with anger issues, spending our days in grumpy mood? That’s a problem. Are we aggressive or even abusive to our loved ones? That’s a problem. Are we indifferent, lazy, or despondent? That’s a problem. Are we in depression? That’s a problem.
Zacchaeus knew he had problems, he did not like his life, he was tired of his life, otherwise he would’ve stayed home when Jesus was walking through his town. Tax-collectors were so disliked that it would’ve been dangerous for him to be in the crowd that followed Christ, someone inevitably would’ve taken a shot or two at Zacchaeus.
But, realizing his problems, Zacchaeus did not know how to change his life, he was powerless over it, he was seeking that Power that is greater than himself. So, he took a huge risk – he went outside, he went outside his comfort zone. To do what? All he wanted was just a glimpse at Jesus. But he went further outside his comfort zone by running and climbing a tree. Two things that were considered to be embarrassing for a grown man to do in those days.
And he was able not only to see Jesus, but the Lord requested to be a guest at his house. The Lord came inside because Zacchaeus was seeking and ready to go outside himself to Someone greater than himself.
Yes, we do trust and hope that God helps us with our inefficiencies and issues, but there is also a self-help aspect in Christianity – God helps those who desire to change, who are ready to put in the effort.
In unpacking the process of repentance on the way to the Kingdom of Heaven and becoming better human beings, we have so far realization that we are not perfect, that we have things that need fixing. And, that we are powerless to restore ourselves to sanity on our own, otherwise self-help industry wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t be seeking the help from other people. Therefore, we need a Power greater than ourselves, we need the all-powerful and all-merciful Lord to help us.
Next Sunday we will hear a story about another tax-collector and a Pharisee, as they came to the Temple to pray, and we will look at what they teach us about ourselves and repentance.
But for now, we give glory and honor and worship to the only One Who is great than us and Who is able to help us, to heal us, and to save us: One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.