Date: Nov. 3, 2019 All Saints Sunday
Scripture Lesson: Luke 19:1-10
Sermon: Leaving a Legacy
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
As the story of Zacchaeus begins, Zacchaeus is a hated man. He is leaving a
legacy as a cheat, a greedy scoundrel. He is considered an outcast by his religion.
He is not allowed to be part of the faith community. Why does he climb a tree?
People are not going to make way for him. They would be more likely to bully
him; maybe even spit as he comes by. That’s how hated he was.
Here’s how it worked for a chief tax collector. The Romans demanded that certain
taxes and fees be paid. Tariffs, customs fees, tolls, and the like. The Romans hired
locals, Jews, to do the collecting. A chief tax collector would pay the Romans a
lump sum in advance then proceed to actually collect the money from the people.
The chief tax collector would overcharge the people to make a profit. Zacchaeus
was rich, rich, rich from basically stealing money from his own oppressed people.
It was a dishonest system that was set up for abuse. The chief tax collectors were
hated for helping the Romans who were the bad guys. And they were hated for
stealing from their neighbors.
So, we are told that Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus as he comes by. No one is going
to make room for him at the front of the crowd. No one wants anything to do with
him, even though he is rich; because he is rich. People have no respect for him.
His legacy is as a traitor; a greedy, dishonest thief. So, he’s up a tree. A sycamore
tree. Which was a large evergreen that made an inferior type of fig eaten by the
poor. So he is up a low class tree! Amos 7:14 [NIB, p. 300]
But then Zacchaeus has a meeting with Jesus and his legacy completely changes.
He is transformed. Now we remember Zacchaeus for his welcoming Jesus into his
home. And for his generosity; giving half of what he has, and remember he is
very, very rich, to the poor. And then we are told Zacchaeus commits to paying
back anyone he has cheated what he took multiplied by 4. Four times what he
stole from people. That is above and beyond the requirements of the law. We aren’t told of the good that comes from his generosity, but certainly it must have
helped the people of the community. His legacy changes from being rich and
greedy to being rich and generous. And he is named a son of Abraham and Sarah,
who were also rich and generous. This label marks his acceptance back into the
community. He is restored to the joy of human community and restored to God’s
image within him.
Zacchaeus is remembered for joyfully giving away with his wealth. That is his
legacy in contrast to the rich young ruler from another story of Jesus who is not
able to give away with his wealth. Zacchaeus eagerly sheds his extensive wealth
and makes amends for his past wrong doing. He is freed from being bound to his
wealth and possessions. Earlier in the gospel Jesus is attributed with saying: “It is
easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to
enter the kingdom of God.” [Luke 18:25] Zacchaeus is that rich person! He is
changed and becomes part of the realm of God, the commonwealth of love, here on
Earth. We remember Zacchaeus for his willingness to be transformed and for his
eagerness, generosity, and joy. That is a very different legacy from the one he was
creating at the beginning of the story.
We also want to note Jesus’ legacy in this story. Jesus reached out to an outcast.
Someone who was hated. Jesus is remembered for seeking and saving the lost. He
shows no condemnation of Zacchaeus. He is not disgusted by Zacchaeus. Jesus
not only singles out Zacchaeus, he goes to his home and eats with him. Jesus
makes friends with Zacchaeus, this vile, greedy, hated man. So we want to
remember the comment about how the crowd responded to Jesus’ encounter with
Zacchaeus: “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the
guest of one who is a sinner.’” This meeting with Zacchaeus was not a crowd
pleaser. That, too, is part of Jesus’ legacy in this story. When you do the right
thing, you should not expect to receive praise. In fact, it may provoke anger,
resentment and hostility. Jesus plants a seed and with Zacchaeus it takes root and
thrives and bears much fruit creating a new legacy for Zacchaeus.
And so, in thinking about this, let’s turn to thinking about our legacy. What kind of
legacy are we creating? How will we be remembered? How do people think of
us? We want to think about our legacy and consider where we are. Do we need to
changing like Zacchaeus? Are we willing to let go and embrace a difference kind
of future? Are we willing to live from the image of God within us, like Zacchaeus,
not afraid to be generous, eager and filled with joy?
Sometimes we can get stuck thinking that people will never change. That player
on the team won’t get better. That student won’t improve. That employee will
never get it right. The economy is unjust and unfair. Racism isn’t going away.
The poor will always be with us. It’s just the way things are. We may think that
we really can’t change, or not much. And that nothing exciting or transforming is
likely to happen in our lives or our world. Except that it might get worse. But this
story reminds us that what we are made for is so much better than where we may
be stuck. Jesus calls us to our true selves as people of extravagant generosity,
capable of being freed from our attachment to money and possessions, people
meant to live with bubbling joy in loving community.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came for us. With our corrupt economic
system, our ingrained prejudices, our attachment to wealth and possessions, our
Earth- destroying lifestyle. He came for us, we who seek distraction and escape in
addictions – to shopping, gambling, sex, drugs, and all manner of things. We are
up a tree and Jesus is calling out to us. Seeking to save us and free us from a
legacy of apathy, abuse, and destruction. He is inviting us to create a new legacy.
To be remembered for generosity. For justice. For change. For compassion. He is
inviting us to lives of meaning and purpose and community. Jesus is seeking to
give us that which will not only satisfy but will bring us joy.
On this All Saints Sunday, as we prepare for The Big Event, our annual
stewardship Sunday next week, this is a time to think about the legacy we are
leaving: With our lives, our actions, our choices, our time, and yes, our money.
Remember, Zacchaeus was joy-filled as he gave his money away. Next Sunday we
are being asked to give our money away, to the church, as part of our legacy. This
is intended to be a joyful expression of generosity. It is to be our “yes” to Jesus
and his reaching out to us, to save us from being lost and going in the wrong
direction. This is an opportunity to be creating our legacy of generosity freed from
bondage to consumerism and money. This is a chance to plant seeds for the good
of the world and for our own good. With our giving of time, talent, and treasure to
the church we are creating our legacy. Maybe for some of us we are continuing a
legacy of being generous. Maybe for others we are trying to open ourselves to the
image of God within us by being more generous.
Here I want to share a story of someone who lived a joyful life of giving and
purpose from which we are all benefitting. I hesitate to single out one person from
Lakewood’s long legacy of faithful, generous members. Many of the members of
this congregation have left a legacy service, compassion, and money that is
inspiring. Well, Roger Goodson was one of those people. Roger spent his career
in education, as a teacher, a school administrator, and a professor of education.
This mission was so important to him that he had to hide the fact that he was a gay
man so that he could continue his ministry in education. He paid a great price
personally. Thankfully things have changed and gay people are accepted as
teachers now. When Roger retired, he and his partner, Tom, moved from San
Diego, California to St. Petersburg. Roger joined Lakewood Church. And he
continued to make a contribution here. He served on committees and attended
worship each week. He pledged his money as well as his time. Roger liked
gardening and here in St. Pete he lived in an apartment. So almost every morning
of the week, Roger came to church to work on the grounds. He spent many hours
weeding, raking, trimming and planting. And he loved it! He would tell people in
the church how much fun he was having working on the grounds each day. It
wasn’t because he wanted to brag. It wasn’t to get recognition and be thanked. It
was simply that Roger could not contain his joy in giving. He was having fun!
Roger was also very generous with his money. He eagerly told people that he had
left Lakewood Church in his will. He was so happy that he could continue to
support the church with his financial legacy.
Some years ago, Roger moved back to San Diego. But every year, he continued to
send a financial contribution to LUCC. And he let us know that he was keeping
LUCC in his will. In his note to the church last Christmas, Roger told us that he
was coming to the end of his life, and he made sure to let us know that LUCC was
still in his will. It brought him joy to know that he could offer support to a
congregation that he loved. Again, he didn’t want any thanks or special treatment.
He didn’t want to make others feel badly in any way. He simply wanted to share
the joy that he received from following Jesus and reflecting the generosity of God.
So, Roger left Lakewood UCC in his will. And here is the rest of the story. In
January of this year, our congregation passed a budget that was short $26,467.80.
This is about 22% of the funds needed for the daily operation and ministry of the
church. One fifth. One important factor contributing to this deficit is the many
people from the congregation who have died in recent years. And the church has
no money stashed away in reserve accounts to use. How were the staff going to be
paid for the year? How were the utility bills going to be paid? The church just put
on a new roof and put in new air conditioning last year. That was a big investment.
But with this large shortage of funds, the continued ministry of the church looked
Then the project with Neighborly Senior Services to provide adult daycare here at
the church emerged. With this program we could use our building to provide
services to the community and get needed funds for the church budget. But the
adult daycare program has been delayed. It will hopefully open by March of
So there is still this $26,467.80 deficit. We were up a tree. The church was
notified that Roger Goodson had died. We were grateful for his life and witness
and his peaceful passing. And then we heard about his bequest. $25,575.43. Just
about $900 short of amount of money the church needs to keep functioning.
We are here today as a church because of the faithfulness and generosity of
the saints in our midst and those who have gone before us. Roger Goodson is only
one example. There are many more, including the anonymous donor who inspired the generosity of the congregation to pay for the roof and the other needed building
maintenance. There are many, many generous people in this church who give not
to gain recognition but out of the joy of giving and hoping to inspire the generosity
of others so that they can know that joy as well.
In the Zacchaeus story, we see that Zacchaeus is joyous not because he gets an
award from the poor for his generosity. Nor because those he cheated are grateful
to him for his restitution. No, we are given the impression that Zacchaeus is
joyous because he has been found, he is reclaiming the image of God within him,
he is experiencing a new life. And his generosity is an expression of that. So he
creates an entirely new legacy for himself.
In this stewardship season, with The BIG Event next week and the opportunity
before us to make a pledge of time, talent, and treasure to the church, may we
consider our legacy. What will our giving say about us? Will we give, not until it
hurts, but until it feels good and we are filled with joy? Will our giving show our
legacy of freedom from the lure of wealth and possessions? Will our giving reveal
our acceptance of the transforming love of Jesus in our lives? What will our
legacy be? No matter what has come before, the story of Jesus reaching out to
Zacchaeus shows us it is never too late to change our legacy. As theologian C.S.
Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where
you are and change the ending.” Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.