One of the things that I love about our church and makes us unique in South Tampa is that we are a small group. Being a small group allows us to be interactive and transparent in our worship.
Last week, we began a new series inspired by the small group study, Address the Mess, from Northpoint Ministries. Throughout this series, you will be given opportunities to creatively interreact with scripture and with each other.
At the end of each service, you will be given a handout with questions that reflect on the teaching for that week. I encourage you to use them throughout the week, either on your own, with your family and friends, or with a group of friends.
My hope is that through this study you will discover that your mess has the potential to bring God near to you in a way that you have never discovered before.
Let’s jump in . . .
Last week we introduced you to this word . . . Hot Mess; a hot mess is defined as an attractive disaster. Somebody whose life is in obvious disarray and yet they remain somewhat functional and somewhat attractive. For some of us this is our life goal, right?
But for most of us . . . this is what we do because at some point in our lives because we have all found ourselves in a mess; financial messes, family messes, marriage messes, health messes, and academic messes. Whatever your mess is. And we’ve thought to ourselves, “what am I going to do?”
And sometimes it's messy because we create the mess and sometimes we inherit messes and sometimes we just look up and suddenly there's mess all around us. You have no idea where it came from but this is just the way life is . . . It’s messy.
But here’s the good news . . . it's not just you; it's not just your life. It's not just your family. It's not just your job. It’s not just your finances. It's not just your GPA. We’ve all been in, are in, or are only one decision away from a mess.
What that means is that you're surrounded by a whole bunch of hot messes, because we've all got a mess going on somewhere in our lives, but we just clean up good.
But as we said last week, the mess that brings us together is the mess that brought God.
The most famous scripture in the New Testament is John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, the messy world, the hot messes of the world, that he sent his son to address the mess.”
And right after this verse is a verse that doesn’t get much attention but it’s just as important because it has the potential to bring God near to you in the most personal way possible.
“God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”
In other words, Jesus didn’t come into the world to get in the faces of all the messy people and say, “do you realize what a mess you’ve made?” But God, through Jesus, came into this world to enter the lives of messy people to rescue them from their mess.
And when we read the gospels, you see this in the most passionate, and personal way imaginable. And this morning, I want us to look at one of my favorite stories of Jesus diving right in to the life of someone who was a hot mess, to be sure.
Let’s listen to our text . . . Luke 19:1-10
Jesus is heading to Jerusalem during the season of Passover, an annual feast where God’s people would travel, usually by foot to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate their story of God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery . . . so the road would have been packed with people.
And along the way there would have been small towns that would swell during this season, as those who were on pilgrimage passed through and they would stop to get supplies, or lodging or maybe the kids want a happy meal from McDonalds.
Well, that's Jericho. And Jericho was a flourishing city, not just because of the tourist industry but because it lay along this caravan route, which made it possible to export its products all over the world.
And in this prospering city was a man named Zacchaeus who was a tax collector. And Scripture tells us that he was both wealthy and powerful as if that were some kind of indictment . . . and it was.
You see, the Roman government at this point had taken over God’s people and were ruling over them. And they would appoint some who were Jewish to be tax collectors to collect money from their own people and hand it over to the godless Roman government.
And the way the tax system worked was like this; there was a chief tax collector with a staff of tax collectors . . . and these guys were the ones to collect money for the government but anything they could extort beyond that was theirs.
And so they would collect taxes on anything they wanted. A cart, for instance, could be taxed for each wheel, for the animal that pulled it, and for the merchandise it carried.
And if they can’t pay the tax then they would seize homes and assets and cars and bankrupting people by taking their savings accounts and retirements account and their children's college fund.
And after they collected the tax they would have to pay a percentage up the pyramid to the guy at the top and that top guy was Zacchaeus; the chief tax collector.
So, as a chief tax collector in a prosperous city on a caravan route; there was lots of money to be made.
As you can imagine, this guy is loaded.
Ironically the name Zacchaeus means “righteous one” or “pure one” but amongst his own countrymen; he was regarded as human filth. And the religious leaders had proclaimed him as unrighteous and spiritually unclean and spiritually hopeless.
Now the money was nice, to be sure. But if ever there was a “hot mess” it was Zacchaeus. He looked great from the outside; he’s got private jets, vacation homes, eats only the finest foods and wears only the finest of clothes . . .
But to live as an outcast among your own people, with no one to call a friend, no social life, not allowed to go to church or celebrate religious holidays with your family, no involvement with others except those who wanted to use you for their own ends . . . had to have been a lonely and depressing place.
He was an attractive disaster.
But along comes Jesus and word is out that Jesus is different. He has a reputation for being comfortable with those on the fringes of society . . . so maybe this Jesus was worth checking out.
Now that was easier said than done. Zacchaeus was short, and seeing over or through a crowd was a real chore. His only hope was to climb up a tree to see over the crowd. And that's what he did.
He waited there in that tree, probably not quite knowing what to expect, as Jesus came into view.
And then, the most amazing thing happened . . . Jesus stopped and looked up at him and then he calls him out by name . . . “Zacchaeus” . . . “righteous one” . . . and then he says, “come on down from that tree you messy little man because I’m going to your house”
Now this may seem rude at first, Jesus invites himself over and he has with him 12 disciples and an entourage of other followers who are all really hungry, so it's gonna be a big event.
But what Jesus is doing is telling Zacchaeus, “I want to engage you in your mess.”
I suppose Zacchaeus could have stayed up in that tree and refused Jesus' invitation. Plenty of people do. It is certainly much easier to go on with our life and to continue in our messes than to allow Jesus to invite himself over for lunch and delve into our inner core.
But Zacchaeus’ response was, “You want to eat with me, get to know me, become a part of my lift . . . man; no one wants to do that so Yeah, let’s do this thing”.
And so he receives the love, and the grace, and the mercy of Jesus.
But the crowd . . . they’re not all that happy about this. Instead they were grumbling. How could this so-called Messiah even acknowledge, much less eat with the messiest guy in town?
But let me say this . . . there seems to always be grumbling when God’s grace is poured out because we’re afraid that Jesus is going to simply forgive people, and all the evil and injustice that has been done will just be swept away and there won’t be any justice . . . and we want justice! We want people to get what they have coming to them . . . especially if we’re the ones who have been wronged.
But the truth is this: Jesus not only forgives people, he engages in their messy lives and he changes them . . . and this is what happens with Zacchaeus.
We really don't know what happened at Zacchaeus' house. All we see are the results, and those results tell us a great deal. Zacchaeus makes a two-pronged pledge: to give half his yearly income to the poor and to return any stolen funds four times over.
Zacchaeus comes down and he has a party at his house and Jesus and the disciples come over and he experiences God’s messy grace and his life is changed and he’s rejoicing. And in his rejoicing, he becomes generous and in his generosity he makes this pledge . . . and because of this pledge others get to rejoice too.
Zacchaeus generosity created this ripple effect of rejoicing in the community that even the poor were rejoicing . . . “Man, we don’t have to beg for food anymore. We don’t have to rely on faith café to feed our families.”
And I can’t help but wonder how the grumbling people felt. Probably a little embarrassed.
Don’t grumble when God is at work in someone’s life. Wait and see what God does through that person . . . and I promise you there will be rejoicing which totally outweighs the judgment you were looking for.
That’s why I gave you the challenge last week, when you see someone whose life is a mess, instead of being critical, say to yourself “I know a mess when I see one because I am one.”
Now I think it’s noteworthy that this is a rich man and earlier in Jesus’ ministry, he said that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Here Jesus gets a camel through the eye of a needle. Jesus accomplishes what he said was impossible but that’s what grace is all about. God sent his son to do what no one else could do, not with guilt or condemnation, but with grace . . . messy grace!!
As I said at the beginning, the series is going to give us an opportunity to interact with each other and this morning, I want to invite my good friend Cara to come and share her messy story.
1. What was your mess? And how did it effect you?
2. We all have things we naturally lean towards to cover up or try to deal with our messes. Mine is to smile. That’s because I’m a hot mess. What was your “go to” natural response?
3. In the story of Zacchaeus, there seemed to an “aha” moment that became a turning point for him and immediately he was changed. Did you have an aha moment that became a turning point for you?
4. How has your mess impacted the way you see other people’s messes?
All of us have been, are in, or are one decision away from being a mess.
The good news is that God is present in our messes.
Jesus said,” I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He’s saying, I am the light. I can and I will show you the way forward, and I will show you the way out.
Here’s what this means for you. You are in a dark messy place and you need a light. And as you watch Jesus navigate his way in and out of the lives of messy people, you can rest in knowing that Jesus has invited you to follow him even though your life is still a mess . . . especially because it’s a mess . . . because he does not pull back from the messy people of the world, instead he engages them.
And as he is engaging in your messiness, he surrounds you with other messy people . . . called the church . . . to listen to you, pray with you, walk with you in your mess so that together you may discover the light of Christ.
“For God so loved the world, the messy world, the messy people of the world that he sent his son to address the mess. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”
Let’s say it together.
May it be so for us!