Sermon: Jesus Invites Us to the Fetching Table
Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: November 3, 2019
19.1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Throughout his gospel account, Luke has done a masterful job of letting his readers get confronted by those who think they are “on the inside” of favoritism only to be demoted by Jesus as being spiritual and cultural outsiders. Who are those who think they are on the inside? Typically, healthy and wealthy Jewish males with lots of sons and those who were the religious rule followers. If you were unhealthy, poor, physically different, or a Gentile, you failed at receiving God’s blessing.
Luke 18 has Jesus turning those ideas on their heads. The rich young ruler who has followed the Law of Moses, has amassed wealth, has been an upstanding member of his Jewish community wants to have eternal life and follow Jesus. Surely if there was anyone who could fit the bill of being the Uber Jew, it was this man; unfortunately, he couldn’t get past the death-grip he had on his possessions and wealth and would not give it up to follow Jesus.
Today, we have the antitype of a good upstanding Jewish male. He was a little man. He worked for the Roman government as a middle-man tax collector and could charge whatever fees he wanted in obtaining the taxes. His wealth was a result of his exploitation of his fellow Jewish citizens. There is no evidence that he even practiced his Jewish faith. We can easily imagine him at a first-century bar singing along with the Garth Brook’s tune,
“’Cause I’ve got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns,
And the beer chases my blues away,
and I’ll be okay.”
Poor, little, wee Zacchaeus. He had money, wealth, and influence but little else. He was a distrusted, disliked, and damned man by his community; in other words, he was just perfect for Jesus.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to face his destiny. Jericho is a town a little east/northeast of Jerusalem along the Jordan River. Once you leave Jericho heading to Jerusalem, you began a grueling 18-mile climb from a height of 825 feet below sea level to Jerusalem at 2,500 feet. We can imagine Jesus lost in his thoughts about his climb up to Jerusalem and what awaited him there when all of a sudden, he stops, looks up, and sees Zacchaeus looking down from a tree.
Try to imagine this awkward scene. Crowds are pushing Jesus along when he decides to stop suddenly. He looks up. You look up. “There’s Zacchaeus” you mutter under your breath. “What’s HE doing here?!” And then Jesus calls him down, declaring, “I must stay in your house today!” This really gets the crowd buzzing. “Does Jesus know who this guy is?”
“Does Jesus know the corruption of this man’s house?”
“Does Jesus know that this man has friends in low places?”
Absolutely. Jesus even pushes social protocol and invites himself for a meal and lodging at this wee man’s house!
The power of our Story is that it was a result of Jesus’ desire to have friendship with him that Zacchaeus found his conversion. It was only after Jesus noticed the unloved, isolated man that Zacchaeus responded with his personal commitments to giving to the poor or to any and all he had cheated. Unlike the rich young ruler who wanted eternal life but greedily held on to his money and would not share it, Zacchaeus went looking for Jesus and was willing to give it all away.
If we are not careful, we will fall for our story’s sleight of hand. You see, we think the Story is pointing towards Zacchaeus and his transformation. It does, indeed, do that but only after the Story first points to Jesus’ initiative to restore this lowly man to high places of the Kingdom. Jesus took the initiative in this relationship when he stopped, looked up, and demanded to be his houseguest!
Back in 1996 when my family and I first moved to Celebration, Florida, the Disney Company’s new urban town, I had to start a worshipping congregation within two weeks of our arrival. Celebration is a planned community designed by Imagineers to be an example of what communities should be like in the future. Disney built the infrastructure and town, selected builders built the houses and amenities, and over 5,000 people entered a lottery to be one of the first 300 homeowners in the town. So in November 1996, Disney opened the town and the first few hundred residents moved in roughly the same week. Central Florida Presbytery had the foresight to enter the lottery and build a house in town for a pastor, so Kelly and I didn’t have to go through the lottery silliness. Still, I had to start worshipping community within two weeks of our arrival which in new church development circles, simply had not been done. What was I to do?
In downtown Celebration, the businesses all opened up at the same time as well, and one place caught my eye: Barneys Coffee Shop. It was down near the lake. It had an expansive outdoor patio and it was always jammed as it was the only coffee shop in the area. So what I did was to station myself at a table immediately in front of the exit door of the coffee house in the courtyard thereby giving me the chance to greet everyone who walked out the door. I’d introduce myself as the new pastor in the community and that we were starting a church in the AMC theater in a few weeks. Over 150 people showed up that first service.
For the next twelve years, I sat at that table and invited people to sit and let’s visit. Someone who later became a dear friend from that experience gave both me and the table a name. Gabriela was from Hamburg, Germany and in a very thick German accent, she would call me “Dr. Fetch” because I was always sitting at the “fetching table” getting to know people’s views of God. “Day would smell that awful cigar of yours and den they would be buying you coffee. You were a Fetcher!”
Today, beloved, we come to the Fetching Table of Christ. Like with Zacchaeus, Jesus stands before us and demands that he come and stay and eat with us! Jesus sits at the Table and says, “Come over here and let’s visit a while and share with me what is going on in your world!” You see, Jesus is taking the initiative to be with you and me and wants to spend time around the table with you and me. We may be like Zacchaeus up a tree looking at Jesus from a distance but Jesus is looking up at you and me saying, “Get down here and let’s have supper together!” Jesus is inviting us to the Fetching Table! Come, beloved, come! Zacchaeus and the others are beckoning us, “What are you waiting for?” Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.