When we lived in St. Paul, we had a backyard garden. Every day, after the daily children’s program ended, I would go out in my garden and water it, weed, and look for produce. Kids would naturally gather in my yard and I was amazed at how many of the kids had never experienced fresh produce. They would try onions from the garden and fresh herbs. They tried rhubarb for the first time.
It was a light bulb moment. The next year we created a small community garden on the empty lot that the church owned. The kids helped plant the garden, weed the garden, water the garden. And then we had a ‘camp’ where we taught kids how to cook with fresh produce. Many of them only really eating fast food or prepackaged foods.
It was so cool to see kids experience real food, that they grew for the first time. As the garden grew over the years it was kind of a “If you build it they will come,” experience. The kids loved it. It was kind of like fishing with produce.
Digging Deeper – Luke 19:1-10
We are in the middle of our sermon series, CATCH. Becoming fishers of people.
We talked about Embracing the Call, recognizing that the one of the last things Jesus said before the ascended was that his followers were to go out and invite to be disciples. “Go , make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey my commands, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Go make disciples, teach them, bring them into the church so they can go and make disciples. Who can then go and make more disciples…
Then we talked about the importance of Asking good questions. The questions we asked were; Why Jesus? Why church? And why this church? It’s pretty hard to invite others to be disciples if you haven’t answered these questions. So have you answered these questions? Why Jesus? Because Jesus is the answer to all of it. Jesus came to redeem all of us, all sin, all hurt, all pain, all suffering with freedom, grace and love. Why church? Church was created by Jesus, to be his body, his physical presence left for the world. If Jesus is the answer, we are to embody it. Why this church is a little more difficult… but I think it leads us to today’s topic. This church exists because we are called to invite others to be disciples of Jesus, to go out and make more disciples of Jesus.
I read recently that the average Methodist will invite someone to church every 38 years! Think on that for a moment… how many of you are here because you were invited? Not raised here, didn’t come because your spouse attends here, didn’t just ‘find’ us, but were actually invited to Little Prairie.
Now there is nothing wrong with any of the ways you found this church. I want to be clear, there is something incredibly beautiful about each of our journeys that brought us here. But we are called to go out and make disciples. That requires an invitation.
Today, we are looking at the invitation. The actual invitation. And then taking the time to connect.
This brings me to Zacchaeus. The story of Zacchaeus comes in the middle of several stories about riches, money, who is righteous, who is a sinner… Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Just in the chapter before this, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee who stands up and prays, thanking God for how good he has been… you know thank you God that I am not evil like everyone else, and that I can fast and pray and tithe. And the tax collector prayed and asked for mercy, he humbled himself.
So just a chapter over, Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, a Jew, but basically considered a traitor to the Jews. Tax collectors were Jews who were hired by Rome to collect from Jews. Tax collectors were not well liked. And Zacchaeus was, by his own admission, a corrupt tax collector. But Zacchaeus had power. He had wealth. And when he heard that Jesus was coming to town, he climbed a tree to see Jesus. This was not the move of a confident man. This was the move of a man who didn’t want to be seen, who was trying to remain anonymous. When Zacchaeus climbed this tree, he was putting his status aside.
Now this is significant, because the fig tree was a common metaphor to represent Israel. And here is Zacchaeus, at the top of the family tree, hanging from a limb.
Jesus sees Zacchaeus, hanging there, and invites him down. And then he does something interesting, he invites himself in. Jesus tells Zacchaeus, I see you, and I want to know you. This is huge. Jesus takes the time to sit and eat with Zacchaeus. This completely changed Zacchaeus’s life. This dinner. We don’t know that they talked about, except that it ended with a total transformation of Zacchaeus.
Jesus is accused of eating with a sinner, and Jesus says, “Yep. Yep, I did. But I came to seek and save the lost. This man is a child of Abraham; he is part of the blessing. And now, not only was Zacchaeus saved, but his family is, too. I came for the lost; he was one of the lost.” Jesus ate Zacchaeus’ bread so that Zacchaeus could connect with him.
Jesus sought out the lost. He invited Zacchaeus into his presence. He then invited himself in, he put his own needs, reputation aside. He invested in Zacchaeus. He invested his time. He invested himself and connected with Zacchaeus. As a result, Zacchaeus was forever changed.
So this is pretty simple. Jesus took the time, he then created an event, the meal at Zacchaeus’s house, and he connected with Zacchaeus.
All around us there are Zach’s. They look like they have it all together. They may even claim a religion, like Zach. But really, they are desperately trying to figure out a better view of Jesus. Why Jesus? Because Jesus is the answer to all of it. They are waiting for us, the embodiment of the Jesus, to take the time, make the time to connect.
Connect, here at Little Prairie. Connect in our homes. Connect in a coffee shop, in the community.
Everything this fall is about finding time to connect. Creating times to invite the Zach’s around us to Little Prairie. Through small groups- one that we will launch this fall is a Mom’s group. Jesus sat at Zacchaeus’s table; we will meet around these tables to encourage and disciple our moms. And at the same time, we will have children’s program for kids to connect with Jesus. If you haven’t been called yet about how you can be involved in this ministry, it’s coming. We will need volunteers for the children’s programs, and to help with meals, and we will be looking for ‘Mentor Moms.’
Cowboy church is an opportunity to invite people in.
Our fall sermon series is an opportunity to invite people in.
Sunday school, for kids, youth and this fall we will start a learning series for adults. Bible Study for Normal People. Grab your coffee and cake and then we will sit up here around a couple tables and do a Bible study that looks at the Story of the Bible. It’s a time to learn, refresh, relearn, remind us of how the Bible is actually a story, the story of God and people. It’s not a deep theological study, but a very easy way to ease into knowing the Bible.
The third week in September we will start an evening prayer group… a time to simply gather and pray.
Invite people to church to connect with Jesus.
Connect in your homes. You don’t have to wait for the pastor to start a small group. Gather your neighbors for regular meals, offer to pray for people in your community and send them a note, bring cookies to people on your block. Take the time to connect outside of the church.
And if it feels too awkward to have people in your home, invite someone to coffee. Take the time to connect. Make times for people to connect.
There was an unexpected side effect of this urban garden I planted in St. Paul. We planted it for the kids, and thinking about basic health and access to fresh foods. And we achieved that outcome. But there was another outcome. As we would tend the garden in the evenings, neighbors, all kinds of neighbors, drug dealers, prostitutes, drug addicts, single moms, elderly and poor... all these people would stop and ask about the food.
And we could have simply answered questions and put our heads down and gotten back to work, but it was kind of like Zacchaeus had come to our garden. We took time to connect and found that the biggest outcome of the garden was that it created a time and a space to have a conversation with people we would not normally have the opportunity to know. We got to know the people walking through our neighborhood. Jesus gathered at Zachaeus’ table, we gathered around our garden table.
So where is your sycamore fig tree, your urban garden? Where are the Zacchaeus’ in your life trying to connect with Jesus?
Maybe they are at work, coworkers. Maybe they are your neighbors. Maybe they are at your child’s school. Maybe they are your child’s friends. Maybe they work at the Quarterback club on Monday mornings. Maybe they are the Northfield Retirement Community. Maybe they are in your own family.
I am posing an invitation challenge this fall. Everytime you invite someone to church, to a church event, into a conversation about Jesus. I want you to write their first name on a card. Put it in the offering plate, and I will pray for them by name. I will post the invited names so we can all be inspired by the invitation challenge.
Jesus sought out the lost. He invited Zacchaeus into his presence. He then invited himself in, he put his own needs, reputation aside. He broke bread with Zacchaeus. He invested in Zacchaeus. He invested his time. He invested himself and connected with Zacchaeus. Jesus took the time, created the time to connect. As a result, Zacchaeus was forever changed.