A Community Known by its Convictions and Actions

Sermon by Tanya Fernandes

OT: Habakkuk 1: 1-4 and 2:1-4

NT: Luke 19: 1-10

I recently found these on the internet: You know you’re from a small town when:
• A ‘Night on the Town’ takes only 11 minutes.
• You know what 4-H is (I was a Jolly Farmers 4-H member).
• You said something you shouldn’t have and your parents knew before you got home.
• You went cow-tipping or snipe hunting (I took my city cousins hunting snipes—they didn’t find any).
• You can name everyone in your graduating class (there were 98 in mine).
• You had senior skip day at school.
• Football coaches suggest that you bale hay for the summer to get stronger.
• Your teachers remember when they taught your parents (and in my case, your aunts and uncles and cousins and brothers and sisters…).

I grew up like the above in a small town. Everyone knew my family names. The Kunzes and the Craigs were known. Both had come from around Chesterville. I was Paul Kunze’s granddaughter. Chuck Kunze and Saundra Craig’s eldest daughter. My dad seemed to have a zillion cousins in the county. I went to high school with 4 of my cousins along with my brother. I have another sister and brother and several younger cousins in same elementary and middle school. We were all in band and plays and sports and clubs and everything together. We all went to the same church. We all got together every Saturday at one of our farm houses for homemade ice cream and board games for the adults and kick-the-can for the kids.

I grew up with community and family. We worked hard and we played hard and we were one. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

The word “Presbyterian” comes from a Greek word means “elder.” The Presbyterian denomination is governed by elders. There are various types of church governments. Some are “hierarchical” with a head such as the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches; others are “congregational” where each member votes on decisions such as Baptist and Congregational churches.

In the Presbyterian Churches, we have a ‘representative’ form of church government where we elect elders to represent our needs. Order becomes very important when you have representative governance.

As Presbyterians, did you know that we have a Constitution? It is made up of two books that help guide our corporate fellowship and worship. The word ‘corporate’ comes from the Latin word ‘corpus’ which means body. We come together to form a body of believers in Jesus Christ.

How many of you have heard of the Book of Order? I would guess that most Presbyterians know about the book of Order because we are an orderly people. If you were at the meeting after church last week, you witnessed parts of the Book of Order in action.

I would guess that many of us think that the Book of Order would be the First Book that guides Presbyterians, but it is actually the second. The First Book is the Book of Confessions. This is a book that has several statements of faith that have been used throughout the years to state what we believe. It contains the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Scots Confessions, and several others.

Section F-2.01 of the Book of Order tells us, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states its faith and bears witness to God’s grace in Jesus Christ in the creeds and confessions in the Book of Confessions. In these statements, the church declares to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do.” Did you really hear that? In the confessions, we declare:
• Who we are
• What we believe
• What we resolve to do

The next sentence of F-2.01 is “These statements identify the church as a community of people known by its convictions as well as by its actions.”

Convictions and Actions! Convictions and actions—hear that—the Book of Confessions helps identify us as a community KNOWN by convictions and actions. Ours is to be a living faith, lived out because our convictions will fuel and lead our actions.

Our New Testament lectionary reading is about a man who everyone in Jericho knew—just like in my small town where most people knew me when I was growing up. Everyone in Jericho knew Zacchaeus. They knew:
• Who he was
• What he believed
• And what he was resolved to do…or so they thought!

We are told in Luke 19, that Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. Immediately, before this, in Luke 18:31-33, Jesus takes his disciples aside and tells them that they are heading to Jerusalem, “…and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished…for he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon and after they have scourged Him, they will kill him and the third day He will rise again.” Bet they were very excited to be heading to Jerusalem!

Jericho is about a four hour walk from Jerusalem, so when Jesus and the disciples arrive Jericho, they are getting close to the end. In Jesus’ time, Jericho was a resort for King Herold and many priests. It was much lower than Jerusalem, so it was dry and warmer which attracted the ‘tourists’ (we can relate—ha). It was a prosperous town. As Jesus and the disciples entered, they would have found a very busy place.

In Luke 19:2, we are told that Zacchaeus is the Chief Publican in Jericho. This means that he was the chief tax collector. If you were here last week, Chaplain Sugg spoke about tax collectors. They were Jews who were collecting taxes, or tributes, from fellow Jews for their captors, Rome. It was known that they extracted extra money for themselves at the same time, so they were seen as low-life’s. They were taking advantage of the horrible occupation of Rome. AND Zacchaeus is CHIEF of the low-lifes in a prosperous town, so he is rich—truly filthy rich—and he is well known.

People knew who he was. He was a Jewish turn coat, a low-life tax collector. They knew what he believed: that it is Okay to harm others to get ahead. And they THOUGHT they knew what he was going to do. But here comes Jesus. Jesus changes everything!! Jesus is coming by, and we are told in vs 3 of Luke 19 that Zacchaeus is of small stature and cannot see over the crowd, so he RUNS ahead of the crowd and climbs a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus!

I imagine that Zacchaeus is watching Jesus approach the same way that one of us might watch a celebrity driving up and getting out of a limousine. We are taking in all that they do, but we do not expect them to really “see” us. But suddenly, in vs 5, Jesus comes to “the place” and looks up. As the kid’s song says, Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, you come down for I’m going to your house today!”

Can you imagine? “Who, me?” Zacchaeus might ask, point to himself, and then look behind him to see who else is in the tree with him. No one else is there. He turns back to Jesus, “You mean me??!!” Vs 6 tells us that he hurried down and received Jesus gladly.

In Vs 8, Zacchaeus stops and tells Jesus, “I am going to give half my possessions to the poor, and I will give back four times as much as much as I took to anyone I defrauded.” Zacchaeus declares what he is resolved to do because he has MET Jesus Christ the Lord. In Vs 9 & 10, Jesus declares, “Today salvation has come to this house…for the “Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zacchaeus was lost—L-O-S-T—he may have had everything that anyone in Jericho might have wanted, but he was lost. Everyone knew who he was, what he believed, and what he intended to do UNTIL Jesus came. After Jesus, Zacchaeus had a whole different testimony and a whole different way of living.

Our OT Lectionary reading today is from the book of Habakkuk. If you remember a few Sunday’s ago when we were studying Lamentations, we talked about how the Children of Abraham had become divided into two nations: Israel and Judah. Both end up turning away from God. Israel is conquered first. Eventually, during the time of Jeremiah, Judah is conquered first by Assyria and then by Babylon, with King Nebuchadnezzar eventually destroying the temple. It is believed that Habakkuk lived sometime between when the Assyrians conquered Judah and the Babylonians. So Habakkuk is a prophet at the same time that Jeremiah is one.

The first part of our reading, Ch. 1:1-4, is the beginning of a conversation between Habakkuk and God. Vs 1-4 are really Habakkuk complaining to God. “HOW long, O Lord will I call for help…will you not hear?…I cry to you that I see violence!! Yet you do not save me….I see iniquity and wickedness and destruction and violence, and strife and contention rising—the law is ignored, justice is never upheld…the wicked surround the righteous—Justice is perverted.” Habakkuk is complaining: God, the Jewish world around me is a MESS!!! They have walked away from you, even I can see that.

Ever felt that way? You look at the world around you and you say, Dear Father, it is a mess: Strife, contention rising, law ignored, justice not upheld, justice perverted, and violence. Put yourself in the shoes of a store owner in Ferguson, Missouri. You did not do anything wrong but picture standing and watching your livelihood being destroyed. You would feel that destruction, violence, strife, and contention are rising as law is ignored and justice is perverted. There are times, even in this modern time, when the world is a mess around us, and God does not seem to be doing a thing about it.

God patiently tells Habakkuk, in vs 1:5, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told…” God goes on in vs 6-11 to tell Habakkuk that the Chaldeans are going to be used to bring correction to Judah. Then God finishes the section saying that the Chaldeans will be held guilty…”whose strength is their god.”

Habakkuk asks more questions and complains more, so God goes on to tell Habakkuk that the Chaldeans will be punished. He talks about pride and violence and plundering: The Chaldeans will answer for their own sins. But, God says in Habakkuk 2:4, the righteous will live by faith (the actual Hebrew word there is ‘faithfulness.’) The righteous will live by faithfulness.

Have you heard that scripture before? Different versions of the Bible have it worded differently: “The Just shall live by faith” or “the righteous shall live by faith” Soooooo, All of you have read Habakkuk, haven’t you?? That is how you know that verse, right? I am so proud of you all!! (smile)

Actually, where most of us have heard these word is in Paul’s letters. Two times he quotes Habakkuk:
• Romans 1:17 Paul writes: “…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, But the righteous man shall live by faith”
• Galatians 3:11, Paul writes; “Know that no one is justified by the Law before God…, “The righteous man shall live by faith”

The just shall live by faith or the righteous shall live by faith…Live by faith!

In our corporate worship here at Navarre Presbyterian Church each Sunday morning, we do something together after the sharing of the word of God. We cite one of our Confessions from the First Book of our Constitution. We recite the Apostle’s Creed. ‘Apostle’ means messenger. We recite the creed believed and lived by of those who carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. We stand up together and with our mouths say a whole group of words.

I feel moved to make sure that if you are saying those words today…or any day…that you mean them.

Remember we started this by talking about how we are to be a community of believers and that our Confessions tell one another and the world—Who we are, What we believe, and What we intend to do!!!

Let’s look at our Apostle’s Creed confession that we make every Sunday…and ask, “Are we living it?”
• I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Do you? Do you honestly believe God is the maker of heaven and earth? Do your children stand on that fact when every science lesson in school tries to tell them otherwise??? I love science, but un-godliness controls it today. At one time, science was led by men and women of faith in God. I believe there is an all-powerful creating God who is the creator of science, and he has made it amazing. Do you and your children believe he is the “Maker of heaven and earth”?
• And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord. We believe that Jesus is Emanuel, meaning God with us. He is the promised messiah. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. We believe that Jesus is the only way to God the Father. No other way. Is that what you believe?
• Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary—do you? Is Jesus God? A virgin…really? What do you honestly believe?
• Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. Do you believe Jesus took our sins upon him and became the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world? That he came for this purpose and that our salvation and our healing were accomplished in his sacrifice?
• He descended into hell. Someone asked about this a few weeks ago. We, the church, come to this belief from verses such as Eph 4:8-10 and I Peter 3:18-20. There are differences as to what we think happened, but do you believe the word of God even when we cannot completely explain it to one another?
• The third day he rose again from the dead—really? You believe that Jesus came back to life? Do you believe that we serve a risen Lord and living God?
• He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. We come to this understanding from verses such as Rom 8:34, Acts 2:33, and Luke 22:69, and we believe that he is not only sitting there but that he is making intercession for us with God the Father.
• From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead—the ‘quick’ are the living. Do you believe what the Bible says about how each will be judged? The Church gathers this conviction from verses like II Tim 4:1 and I Peter 4:5.
• I believe in the Holy Ghost. We get this from places like John 15:26 and John 16:7-15. What is your relationship with the Holy Ghost? Jesus called him the promise of God. Do you ask God to lead, teach, and comfort you through his Holy Spirit?
• The holy catholic church; the communion of saints. This ‘catholic’ is the little ‘c’ which means the universal church. Peter, Paul, the apostles did not foresee Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. It is the communion of saints no matter what form of church governance or worship you find most comfortable. We believe in Jesus Christ, so we are one church: the church of the redeemed.
• The forgiveness of sins. Do you believe that your sins are forgiven? We get this from verses such as I John 1:9 and Acts 10:43.
• The resurrection of the body. Are you looking forward to a new body? We come to this hope from verses such as I Corinthians 15:35-58.
• And the life everlasting. Do you yearn for eternity in the presence of God and Christ? We get this conviction from promises such as John 3:16, John 6:40, Romans 6:23, John 5:24, and Thessalonians 4:13-18.
• Amen. Meaning, “so be it.” We end in agreement that these are our convictions.

According to our constitution as Presbyterians, we stand up together and say this creed, this confession, so that we and the world around us will know the following:
• Who we are
• What we believe
• What we intend to do

Just like with Zacchaeus. It is Jesus who makes us anything worthy of God. Without him we are nothing. We are as much of a low-life as Zacchaeus, but when Jesus comes into our lives, then we have forgiveness of sins, we have newness of life, and we have hope. Presbyterians confess together because we are a people known by our convictions and our actions.

So this brings us to a very important word, “actions.” Ours is a living faith. When you walk out the doors of our church building, your confession of your faith does not end. You merely begin to prove whether you mean it. Just like the people of Jericho thought they knew who Zacchaeus was—and even complained that Jesus would spend time with such a sinner—they thought they knew what Zacchaeus believed. How had they come to their understanding of Zacchaeus???? Through his actions—his actions—what was the first thing Zacchaeus proclaimed that he was going to change? His Actions!!

When we go out into the world, does the world see us as a people of conviction and actions that scream that we are Christ followers?? If we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, we should be different from the world—we should be weird! Because the Holy Spirit is living in us, we should have the fruit of God’s Spirit alive in our actions. People should see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in us. These are not always ways of acting that the world values.

The other reason we should look different in our actions is that we live by God’s word—don’t we?? We confess we are Christians, and we confess that we believe, so then they we should live by the word of the Living God!! This impacts every aspect of your life. Everything that you value, every shopping spree, everything that you choose to do with your with your talents or your training, every way you spend your time (each TV show you watch, each event you choose to attend, how much time you spend in prayer and reading the Bible), EVERY decision that you make, day in and day out are part of your confession (and since the election is coming soon, I want to mention that this includes voting. As Christians, is our voting matching our confessions?? That is one that is between you and God as to what it means, but I encourage each one of us to pray for Godly wisdom as we do our civic duty in the near future.)

We are to be people of actions that represent our confessions.

We are not perfect and will not always perfectly live out our convictions. Zacchaeus had walked away from God and was living a life that harmed others. Judah in the time of Habakkuk had walked away from God and was in a mess. We have failed God at times in our lives…

BUT then here comes Jesus, and he changes things:
• Personally: Friends, no matter how you have failed God if you will just turn your heart toward him and climb up in that proverbial ‘sycamore tree’ trying to see him—by asking questions about him, by trying to read the word, by praying—then the Bible promises that God will see you and basically say your name and will draw you until himself just like Jesus did for Zacchaeus.

• Corporately: Brothers and Sisters, even if we end up living in a time like Habakkuk, where most people do not live a good confession regarding God, we have to hold on to our confession.
o Paul warns Timothy that a messed up society is coming someday. In II Tim 3: 1-5, he says, “You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.”

In times like what Paul describes, we must know whom and what we have believed, we must ask God to give us Godly wisdom and to lead us by His Holy Spirit so that we LIVE our confession with one another and before the world. There have been and will be times when living our faith is difficult or counter to the culture, but even in hard times, we are to be Presbyterians—a community that is known by our convictions and actions!!!! Go out this week and live out the good confession that Christ as Lord!! Amen and Amen.