Sermon: Turn Left
Text: Luke 19.1-10
Preacher: R.J. Chapman, Elder
Location: First Pres DeLand, FL
Date: April 23, 2017, Youth Sunday
*This sermon is written by one of First Pres’ Elders who prepared this for delivery on Youth Sunday at the church. Mr. Chapman is 17 years old and is a senior at University High School.
So this summer I had the pleasure of going to Presbyterian Youth Triennium in Indiana. It was a wonderful experience and besides growing me in my faith, I reflected on everything I had learned at our church over my 12 years of attending.
First Pres is accepting of all who walk through our doors and we would like to send them on their way having shown them the love and hospitality of God, and whereby they carry that message out into the world. At the end of the week this idea was highlighted when the speaker Tony De la Rosa gave a speech saying all that he had done to set up the event, everything the PCUSA is doing in the world, and all the help he had along the way. But he also shared his own personal story, when his own faith and character were doubted by those in the church.
As I listened to this kind, caring, faithful, and biblically knowledgeable man, I could not understand why he would be treated with doubt. He then shared why… He is gay. Which takes us to our scripture for today. Turn in your bibles to Luke 19 4-10 of Zacchaeus. Jesus on his journey through Jericho did a lot, made the blind see, healed the sick, cast out demons which is all well and good no one would get mad at you for that but then there’s Zacchaeus. He was short, the highest paid person in the area thanks to taxing trade on spice and perfume, mind you that’s without cheating people out of their money. Zacchaeus tried to see Jesus as he passed by. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
“So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Now, something I learned while preparing this sermon is the name “Zacchaeus” is Hebrew word for pure or innocent. We know the man Zacchaeus was far from that as he was a terribly selfish person. So then why call him Zacchaeus? Well, he was pure, he had been made new by the Lord, all his past transgressions and mistakes were washed away by Jesus. He was no longer the selfish narcissistic man he was before, God opened his eyes and he devoted himself to the Lord.
Now when I was getting ready to get on the plane to go to Indiana I felt like I knew what I was doing, I’m going to be cool up there I’ve got all these new friends it’ll probably just be a church service and then I’ll go hang out with the guys. That’s pretty selfish, right? Granted I didn’t know what to expect but thinking I’d just hang out all day and not do anything is pretty self-centered. When I got there after going through the endless fields of corn and soybeans the first day I was struck with the power of God in that place. Just the amount of people there, then seeing them fill a whole auditorium to praise the Lord together, having my soul renewed with beautiful music and impactful sermons from preachers I had never seen before… and then that first night, I got lost… very, very lost.
I was trying to go back to my dorm after meeting with our small groups I was out for about 2 hours by myself in a foreign place with no one to help me. Now you’re probably thinking how could you possibly get lost, just follow the flow of people, well that’s exactly what I did. I turned left trying to avoid the kids who had climbed a tree to look for their friends and ended up missing my friends who were waiting for me a short distance away. I chatted with some nice guys from New Jersey on my walk and as we were about to part ways one guy asked me “what floor are you on” I respond “the 7th”. He replied “Are you messing with me right now? There are only 3 floors”.
After getting over the initial panic and frantic phone calls to try and get back to my room before curfew I realized very quickly, I had everything wrong. We all must make that realization at some point and I feel like God has a pretty good formula on when to give us a little shove when we need it. A while ago I was driving home from a tuba lesson and I took the front entrance to my neighborhood. This entrance just so happens to have a mosque off to the left of it, now normally I would’ve driven right by but something in my head just said: “turn left”. Now, this isn’t some glorious temple structure with a gold dome for a roof, it’s a three-story office building they bought out, none the less I was terrified. I had never been to a mosque before didn’t know barely anything about the religion didn’t know what to do. I left my shoes at the door and walked up the stairwell to what kind of welcome I didn’t know. As soon as I walked in I was met by a man named ray, he invited me to pray with him for his brother I law who was in a terrible car accident. Ray showed me his faith, offered me a warm meal and met all my ignorance with love and compassion, making the experience that much more humbling and humiliating.
Zacchaeus’s magical shove was climbing the fig tree and getting called out by Jesus. But you want to know the funny part about when stuff like that happens, God always shows us some love and hopes we do the same. Jesus sat down with Zacchaeus after that huge public embarrassment and told him he still loved him and wanted him to follow him.
Thanks to a staff member named Diane, who coincidentally lived in the same dorm as me and was also lost, I’m not still wandering aimlessly in Indiana.
Thanks to Ray I made some new friends learned a little bit and gained some humility.
And thanks to Mr. De La Rosa of the PCUSA Mission Board who is doing the Lord’s work all around the world.
God always needs to take us out of our comfort zone, he calls us to love everyone because it’s not easy, it’s hard, but he never leaves our side, he will always be there to help us in the end and show us his love and strength. It’s about us learning to meet people where they are just as God does, not involving our personal belief except for our faith in God, just going into a situation like a scared short tax collector or a frantic teenager calling his momma. If Ray or any number of people were to stroll through those doors right now, could you talk to them, not even about faith but make him feel welcome in our church, have a simple conversation, could you do it like ray did for me.
Go make that left turn, climb the fig tree, have your Dian show you the way back home and do Gods work in the world. So I invite you this week to do exactly that, get out of your comfort zone with Christ, don’t climb a fig tree necessarily or fly to Indiana and get lost, but it could be something as simple as making a left turn, getting out of your car to give a homeless person a manna bag instead of just looking the other way. Be safe, but do something that will put you in a situation where you will have no other option but to throw yourself at the Lord and listen. Make good on that promise you make to every child Baptized in the church and extend it to everyone in the world, Christian or not. If you think someone could use the love of God in their life, don’t force it down their throat but make it known through your actions. You could be the hands and feet of the Lord in someone’s life, carrying the good news of the gospel and the love of God to them in what could be their darkest hour. All it could take is just a simple left turn. I am grateful to have a church that taught and modeled for me acceptance, and I think others are, too.
Mr. R.J. Chapman, Elder
First Pres DeLand
725 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, FL 32720