Sermons by Hansel Chen

  Sunday, October 31, 2010

Accept or Deny
Scripture Reading: Luke 19:1-10

Peace be with you Brothers and Sisters. It is an honour and privilege to be able to serve in Iona and this is my first sermon here. As you all know, I am Hansel, a seminary student currently under the tutelage of Reverend Biggs and this congregation. My life has been an interesting one. I was born in Taiwan, lived in Australia for 6 years and eventually ended here in Canada. It has been difficult writing this sermon, since it was tough to have a sermon for a congregation who has more experience, wisdom and knowledge than me. It would be an understatement to say that I am not nervous. I hope this sermon is of help. And any feedback and pointers would be grateful, thank you.

There once was a bar tender who thought he was the strongest man around and he offered others a $1000 standing bet. The bartender would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and hand the lemon to a patron. Anyone who could squeeze one more drop of juice would win the money. Many people had tried over time (weight-lifters, longshoremen, etc.) but nobody could do it.

One day this scrawny little man came into the bar, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit, and said in a tiny squeaky voice " I'd like to try the bet" After the laughter had died down, the bartender said OK, grabbed a lemon, and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little man.

But the crowd's laughter turned to total silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid the $1000, and asked the little man "what do you do for a living? Are you a lumberjack, a weight-lifter, or what?" The man replied "I am a tax collector."

This would parallel with the situation during the time of Jesus as described in Luke. Under Roman rule, the governor would be determined by how much resources he can tax out of the people. So, whoever promised the most funds for the government will get the job. Unfortunately for the people, the governor would skim a high amount of money from his province. But, in addition to the corruption of the governor, the tax collectors under him would have a cut for themselves. It is considered their right. So, life was really difficult for the people. There was a low yield in crops and with the heavy taxation, there were little left for them. Sometimes, even more were taken away if they couldn't pay. This shows why tax collectors were so commonly despised by the population and would be considered a sinner because they are not righteous by "participating in and profiting from a program that robs and crushes other persons." (1)

If you're regarded as a sinner or unclean, then you became the outcast of society and of low social status (2), underserving of care, love or salvation. The tax collector is someone who is hated and ignored. If it weren't for the protection of the Roman Legions, their physical persons would be under threat. We see something really significant here. Jesus continued his ministry of love, acceptance and salvation by actively requesting to be a guest of Zacchaeus. This shows that redemption also work in individuals, not just in the community (3). God is genuinely interested in our personal beings and salvation (4). Why would Jesus' action be so surprising?

From this passage, we can see three different views about salvation and could identify two. The first one we could identify would be Jesus' view. He directly invited Zacchaeus to accept the all-embracing love and forgiveness of salvation. The second would reflect the views of the multitudes (especially the religious leaders). Their belief was betrayed by their grumbling "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner". They believed that since Zacchaeus is a sinner, then he is of no value, like the widows, toll collectors, children, blind beggars and the praying tax collector in the parable from the sermon 2 weeks ago. In case of not compromising their own purity, they would set him aside. The only view that we won't know for sure would be Zacchaeus'. But we know the end result of his acceptance of God's gracious salvation; he started to view others, like him, also as children of the kingdom of God, people who are of closeness to him. By also describing Zacchaeus as the child of Abraham, it shows that the others who are around also "need the grace of God as much as Zacchaeus does"(5).

What is central here is the message, that no one is excluded in this gospel and no one is excluded from the invitation to the kingdom of God (6). How does it relate to us?

This is seen from Jesus' reaction. Jesus refused to see how the world sees Zacchaeus, a sinner who does not deserved to be noticed. But instead, Jesus views Zacchaeus, as what he views everyone else, the lost children of God whom he loves and as people worthy and deserving of salvation. The worldly view of worthiness of salvation by the sole virtue of status was turned upside down by the acceptance of Zacchaeus the sinner. It doesn't mean that we should accept, encourage or agree with things that are wrong, but to understand their views and their lives. It is not easy to refuse to act how the world acts. In life, there's always some kind of people who will rub me in the wrong way and sometimes it is difficult to value them, despite their and our imperfections. Either their actions or attitude makes me want to ignore or dismiss them, just like what the crowd is doing and thinking to Zacchaeus. In my childhood, since I was different than others due to being a minority, I would be deliberately picked on and pushed aside by others. Unfortunately, I would respond in kind, doing the same things to them as they had done to me. But, as I grew older and in my early teens, I realized and understood the scripture from John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God love us all, instead of a select few. It also reminds me that we need God to love others, we simply couldn't do it ourselves. Our sins would just make us continue on a downward spiral which we will pass down the hurt, rejections and sins onto others and they, in kind pass it onto another. This hate will just continue on and get worse. With that revelation, instead of viewing others as enemies and continuing on and passing down the rejections, I view others as children of God. The first thing I had to do in repentance would be to stop the things that I was doing; rejecting others, putting down others and laughing at others, actions which was done unto me. The interesting thing is, many of these actions, either of ill intent or good will could be considered "little things". One such example of "little" acts of unintentional hurt on others would be the response "oh, your experience is not so bad, I've seen worse". That hurts, to be dismissive in that way. We all have experienced it and sometimes we would be dismissive like this by accident. It wasn't easy to stop doing the things I had done, I have acted like that for years; so if I had done anything wrong, please forgive me, it is not deliberate and please let me know. Salvation was possible through the sole purpose of Jesus, whom we share and proclaimed in our Gospel, who is "The Son of man (Jesus) came to seek and to save the lost" as said by Jesus in the ending of this passage. Jesus' hand is always outstretched for us, welcoming us.

Zacchaeus' repentance and his acknowledgement of his sins shows the reversal of a value judgment on others and himself, as well as a change in the concept on the requirements of salvation. Repentance is not just by faith, but also of action. As it was mentioned in James 2:17 "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." Instead of the past attitude of taking advantage of others, he embraced them instead. His repentance and salvation bore fruit (7). He was healed by God and he now willingly accepts and treat others as fellow brothers and sisters. The pain of rejection has been healed by the love of acceptance. He no longer pushes people away but embraced them. This was shown in his going beyond the law's requirement of restitution by repaying four times the value to the people whom he has cheated. Paying four times the amount means that he is willing to repay others beyond what is required and treating every case to as if he has done deliberate destructive robberies on them; he doesn't have to, but he did. He is treating them as he would treat himself. How he viewed himself and others has changed for the better. He no longer views himself as a sinner who cannot be saved and he no longer views as himself as a person who has to oppress others; he now loved himself. Instead, he now views himself and others as the precious children of God in which God's kingdom is always open to them. He views everyone as someone of value and as people of value who claims their birthright as the children of God. He acted like a disciple in this "discipleship manual" (8) where he loved God with all his heart, soul and strength and loved his neighbour as himself as described in Luke 10:27.

We will end with a story.

Once, a seminary professor, by the name of Fred Craddock, was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning, while they were enjoying breakfast, an elderly man, approached them and started a conversation. "Where are you folks from?" the old man asked in a friendly voice. "We're from Oklahoma," they answered. "Great to have you here in Tennessee." the stranger said. "What do you do in Oklahoma?" asked the elderly man.
"I am a Christian minister" replied the professor.
The old man paused for a moment and said "I owe a great deal to a minister of the Christian church".

And the old man began his story.

Pointing out the restaurant window, he said "See that mountain over there. Not far from the base of that mountain, I was born there to an unwed mother. I had a hard time growing up, because every place I went, I was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, Who's your daddy?' "Whether I was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question. They would also say ugly things to me and I would stay and eat by myself alone during recess.

"When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to my church. Because I was afraid I was not welcomed since I'm illegitimate, I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast that I had to walk out with the crowd.

Before I could make it out, the new minister caught me and put his hand on my shoulder and our eyes met. I feel that he was going to say something bad about my heritage and that I am afraid that I would get hurt again and couldn't come back.

After a moment, the preacher said, "Well, boy, you're a child of…' and he paused. I knew it was coming. He then continued "Boy, you're a child of God. I see the family resemblance boy.". With that, he patted me on the bottom and said, 'Now, you go claim your inheritance.'

The old man continued, "I walked out the door a changed person. I was never the same again. In fact that was really the beginning of my life".

The preacher was so moved by the story and asked the elderly man's name. And the old man replied "Ben Hooper".

This is the Ben Hopper who was the governor of Tennessee twice.


1. Interpretation: Luke, p.218
2. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Stonehouse, p.666
3. Luke: an introduction and commentary By Leon Morris
4. Luke: an introduction and commentary By Leon Morris
5. Interpretation: Luke p.219
6. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Luke by Alfred Plummer
7. Interpretation: Luke p.219
8. Luke, John, and Acts: Background, Outline and Commentary By Willis C. Newman



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