by Dale D. Meredith
University Baptist Church, Amherst, NY
November 5, 2017
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
1 Jesus went on into Jericho and was passing through. 2 There was a chief tax collector there named Zacchaeus, who was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was a little man and could not see Jesus because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to Zaccheaus, "Hurry down, Zaccheaus, because I must stay in your house today."
6 Zaccheaus hurried down and welcomed him with great joy. 7 All the people who saw it started grumbling, "This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner!"
8 Zaccheaus stood up and said to the Lord, "Listen, sir! I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much."
9 Jesus said to him, "Salvation has come to this house today, for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham. 10 The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:1-10)
INTRODUCTION: Last week we saw that money can’t buy happiness. John D. Rockefeller had enough money to buy anything he wanted, and he was miserable, sick and had no friends. At 53 years old he was almost dead when he realized that money, things, and circumstances do not guarantee happiness or contentment. He then began to give his money away and lived to be 97.
We also remember that the apostle Paul said “I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little” (Philippians 4:11b-12). Here, the word content means that Paul was satisfied or happy whether he had too much or too little. We often think that if a person accepts Jesus as Savior and becomes a Christian then that person will be happy. We know that is not true. We are sometimes unhappy, and we know Christians who are unhappy and complain all the time. Paul said he had to learn how to be happy or content.
In his second letter to the church at Corinth he said he had learned to be happy with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake because he realized that God’s grace and power was all he needed to strong and protected (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Being a Christian did not make him happy. What made him happy was knowing that in all things God was with him to give him strength and protection. He further said in Galatians 5:22 that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is joy. Joy is a happiness that lasts. However, we can’t just sit on the couch and receive joy. We have to practice certain activities to maintain that joy. We should practice living genereously.
GIVING: In our reading this morning we saw how Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus with joy and was changed when Jesus came to his house. He pledged to give half of his belongings to the poor and pay back anyone he had cheated four times as much as he had taken. Zacchaeus had joyfully made this commitment. No one had asked him, shamed him, or threatened him. He no longer lived to accumulate as much as he could after Jesus came into his life. He became a generous man and had found happiness. He was willingly and joyfully doing what brought happiness into his life.
We can review some of the teachings about giving.
Proverbs 14:21 says, “If you want to be happy, be kind to the poor; it is a sin to despise anyone.”
Deuteronomy 24:5 says, “When a man is newly married, he is not to be drafted into military service or any other public duty; he is to be excused from duty for one year, so that he can stay at home and make his wife happy.”
Deuteronomy 26:12 says, “Every third year give the tithe – a tenth of your crops – to the Levites, the foreigners, the orphans, and the widows so that in every community they will have all they need to eat.”
Song of Songs 8:10b says, “My lover knows that with him I find contentment and peace.”
Isaiah 58:9b-11 says, “If you put an end to oppression, to every gesture of contempt, and to every evil work; 10 if you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon. 11 And I [God] will always guide you and satisfy you with good things. I will keep you strong and well. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water, like a spring of water that never goes dry.” The interesting thing is the promise of water. Water was something they could not store. It appeared as rain or as water flowing in a stream. They could only use it if it was there when they needed it. This is a promise that they will have enough but none to hoard and keep for themselves, only what they needed a the time of their need.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus said if you give a meal, a drink, a night’s lodging, some clothes, or a visit, we are ministering to him.
In Acts 3:6 Peter said to the beggar, “I have no money at all, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk!”
2 Corinthians 8:2-4 says, “They have been severely tested by the troubles they went through; but their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they are very poor. 3 I can assure you that they gave as much as they could, and even more than they could. Of their own free will 4 they begged us and pleaded for the privilege of having a part in helping God’s people in Judea.”
2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one should give, then, as he has decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves the one who gives gladly.”
1 Timothy 6:18 says, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share with others.”
We have just begun to list the verses on giving from the Bible. They build a very convincing case that giving generously is one discipline that we should practice.
WHAT SHOULD WE GIVE? We should give what we have. Peter said he had no money, so he brought healing to the beggar. Jesus said we could give a drink, a meal, a shirt, or a visit. It doesn’t matter what we give as long as we give generously and cheerfully. When we give generously we find that we are happier.
Last week I was at the doctor’s office for a blood-draw for my visit this week. When I was leaving, the elevator got to the first floor; the passengers all scrambled to get to their cars and their next appointments. There in front of the elevator was an elderly woman in a wheel chair and her husband ready to push her. I saw him look around helplessly as the elevator door began to close. I stopped and said, “I’ve got it” as I held the door from closing until the couple could get on the elevator. As he pushed his wife onto the elevator, he said, “I was wondering how I going to make it.” The little time and effort I gave made me feel better the rest of the morning. I remember how hard it was getting into and out of the doctor’s office when Jean was in a wheel chair. I was able to give back some of what I had received.
We are busy preparing the shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. It appears that we will have a record number of shoeboxes this year. Each shoebox of little toys, caps, combs, toothbrushes, pencils and such don’t cost much, but they are all some children will get for Christmas this year. I notice that those who bring stuff for the boxes and those who give time to fill the boxes seem to enjoy what they do. It gives them a sense of happiness to be able to bring and help fill the boxes.
In addition to the shoeboxes for distribution to children in other nations, we will have a collection of rice, toys, and other items for refugees in our own city and region for Christmas. Remember we should help the foreigner who lives among us as well as orphans, widows, and other poor.
The average American Christian only gives two percent of his salary for charity each year. The minimum that belongs to the Lord is ten percent (Leviticus 27:30-33; Luke 11:42). Who wants to be average when the average is below the minimum. No wonder we have so many unhappy Christians. They do not practice generous giving. They are holding on to what God has given them to help others. We should give the tenth, tithe, at church, but we should give to other causes also.
Recently my daughter came in and asked how much I gave each year to the City Mission which is a mission to the homeless in Buffalo. I said, “I don’t have a set amount that I give. They say it costs them about two dollars for each meal served. Therefore, I try to provide meals for a100 persons at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter when they will feed hundreds of people: both at the mission house and many who are homebound. I certainly want people to have a meal on those days. Why are you interested?” She answered, “They want the company I work for to prepare a grant application for them and one of the statistics we use in our justification is to list other major contributors to show community support. The City Mission listed you as a major contributor.” I was shocked. I am happy to be able to give the little I do. I certainly didn’t consider I was a major donor. But then I remembered Jesus said he considered one meal significant when given in his name. Most people could give one meal.
When we don’t have much money, we can do as Peter did. We can give what we have. We can volunteer to help others. They are many places to help. You can volunteer to help at church. You can help serve meals at the City Mission. This week I got a note from Hospice Buffalo requesting help: either money or volunteers to help provide care, support, and education to people impacted by serious illness and loss. I remember how helpful Hospice Buffalo was for Jean and me during the last few days of her life. Children’s Hospital needs volunteers to hold and rock babies born pre-maturely or with long term care needs. Many are born due to drug addiction and need someone to hold and love them as they mature before being released from the hospital. I know some who enjoy helping raise funds for charity by participating in walks and runs. It Matthew 10:8b, Jesus sent the twelve out to minister with the instructions, “You have received without paying, so give without being paid.”
One way of giving is to make time for family. We are busy and often forget those at our house. One of the verses we read this morning said that a husband should make his wife happy. The verse from Song of Songs said that the woman was content, happy, to be with her lover, her husband. I once heard a pastor say he had to take a couple days off and get away with his son so they could reconnect. Sometimes we need to give time to those closest to us. If we make them happy, we will be happy.
CONCLUDING STATEMENTS: We don’t become Christians to become happy. We become Christians because we respond to God’s love for us. We receive forgiveness, strength, protection, and the assurance of just enough. As Christians we are supposed to follow Jesus. That is, we are to do what he did. We are to have the same attitude he had. When we follow him, we enjoy God’s presence and we find happiness in the practice of giving generously.
There are many ways to give. A part of a prayer associated with Francis of Assisi goes like this:
“O Divine Master, grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying, that we are awake to eternal life.”
In giving generously we find happiness, contentment, a sense of well-being. We are becoming like Jesus who generously gave his life for us who didn’t do anything to deserve it.