The Son of Man Came to Seek and to Save the Lost

Text: Luke 19:1-10
Date: 125th Anniversary of Zion, Detroit
+ 6/4/2007

     On any anniversary—whether it be the occasion to mark a birthday, a marriage, a high school or college reunion; the anniversary of the beginnings of a manufacturing company or the organizing of a political party or of some other association, group, school or movement; the marking of some past act in history that still has a profound effect on a growing number of people’s lives today—anniversaries review a history dotted with accomplishments and failures, names, buildings and the effect of the times surrounding that history which maybe have changed the initial vision or plan…changed by challenges or simply growing in knowledge and maturity. Whatever the occasion, on any anniversary it so much easier to look back, to remember and appreciate the past than it is to look forward, to anticipate or really know what the future holds.

      As pastor Kenneth Runge’s ministry, begun in 1938, was coming to a close in 1974, after serving Zion congregation for 36 years, and thanks to the many tape recordings made by our dear member Otto Kraske, we have Pastor Runge’s words recorded from a reception held on that occasion being introduced by the then President of the Michigan District, pastor Runge’s good friend and my predecessor at Trinity in Jackson, Rev. W. Harry Krieger. In his short 8 minute address, as he humbly recalled his many mistakes and errors from which none of us are immune, he spoke of his wish and prayer for Zion congregation in these exact words:
     “In the years that lie ahead,” he said, “I hope that this congregation is going to prosper mightily under the grace of God and be a true light of the world and a city set on a hill that cannot be hid…. I pray for this parish that it may become ever stronger even when my ministry is at an end, that it will go to greater heights, and that the influence of Zion and Christ through her will remain in this community for many years to come.”

     Well, here we are some 40 “years-to-come” later from that prayer and wish, and we’re still here. Are we still that light and city set on a hill? Here we are exactly 125 “years-to-come” later from that initial vision of a Rev. K. L. Moll and 51 laymen, ten from Immanuel Lutheran Church, and we’re still here. Are we stronger and still a blessing in this community?

     One phrase of Pastor Runge’s takes us to the Gospel text before us this night, when he prayed that this parish “will go to great heights.” For such was the task of the diminutive Zacchaeus who, when he heard Jesus was coming through his town, “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” Because of his short stature he sought the “greater heights” of a sycamore-fig tree which he climbed for his viewing stand. From there he could see Jesus as He passed by, recalling everything he had heard about Him. Maybe he noticed and saw his former colleague in the tax collecting business, Levi called Matthew walking along side of Jesus. What he could not see from up there, however, was what was about to happen to him.

     In a similar way we tonight remember and consider the past blessings and acts of God in our congregation. We have a number of fine histories that have been written; the first all in German by the Rev. F. Lussky (apparently Pastor Walter Lussky’s father?) printed in the 50th Anniversary booklet dated June 5, 1932. There are many members who still today recall the old school building, the construction and dedication of this magnificent late-Gothic church building 74 years ago, the packed pews that needed to be extended with folding chairs especially at Christmas and Easter, the Gottesdienst or divine services conducted in German until the last one on October 6, 1974, the many service and fellowship organizations that have existed, the members who gave their lives in the service of our country in the World Wars and beyond, and the myriad of memories of families created, expanded, sustained and delivered to their eternal home through the thousands of marriages, baptisms, confirmations and funerals conducted in this very hallowed place. Tonight these walls can talk. Like Zacchaeus of old we today climb to a height where we can see and recall the graceful hand of God over 125 years of history. Yet again, like Zacchaeus, we do not know the future or what will happen to us in the years to come, except for the certainty of the eternal gift of life that has been pledged to us by our loving and saving God in His Word and Sacraments.

     The key words of our text are the words translated “to seek” and “to stay” or “abide.” On the one hand, Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was. Little did he realize, however, that Jesus was actually seeking for him, as He says in conclusion, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” For Jesus called to Zacchaeus from his perch in that sycamore-fig tree, saying, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay (or abide) at your house today.” And Jesus was welcomed into Zach’s house complete with a fellowship meal. As a result something important happened and changed in this man even though he was despised by his congregation in Jericho because of his collaboration with the hated Roman occupation as a tax collector. The change was saving faith demonstrated by his pledge to give half of his possessions to help the poor and to repay with 400% interest anyone he had treated unfairly in the past. Upon this evidence and confession of faith Jesus responded with the words, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”

     My friends, just as with Zacchaeus of old, so our Lord Jesus has sought you out and knows you and calls you by name. Many have taken as their confirmation verse the words of Isaiah 43 that say, “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” [Is. 43:1]. Baptized into Christ and by faith in His blood, your name is written in the Book of Life, that is, having sought you He also saved you. “He saved us,” as St. Paul wrote to Titus, “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” [Titus 3:5].

     Then, just as Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ house and joined Himself with him in a fellowship meal, so he joins Himself in everlasting fellowship and communion with all whom He has made members of the household of God. As the Apostle John wrote, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” [1 John 4:13]. He abides in us by His Word being lodged in our minds and hearts. And we abide in Him by the very faith He has created and sustained in our hearts.

     As for what will happen from here on in, between today’s celebration and the consummation when our Lord returns on the Last Day, as one person said it, “we may not know what’s coming, but we do know Who’s coming!” And it is in that faith and knowledge that all our coming days can be planned and revised, pursued and lived, in the daily forgiveness of our mistakes and mis-turns, with a confidence and joy that knows no ending, with thankful hearts that know no limit of our responding to the Savior’s gift of love, forgiveness and salvation in the giving of ourselves, our time and our possessions to be that city on a hill that cannot be hid, that light to the nations and the community around us.

           So, yes, Pastor Runge, we heard you and remember your wish and prayer and continue to dedicate ourselves to be the blessing of Christ to this community today. Yes Lord God Almighty, our Father in Jesus Christ our Lord, we heard You, and continue to listen, and remember Your calling us by name that we may be Your own people, “living stones, being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” [1 Peter 2:5]. In the great grace of God may we continue to greater heights to bring Christ to the nations and the nations to the Church. For our Lord and Savior still says, “Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”