Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Recently, a fascinating essay arrived at my desk. The essay had been written by a man named David Saucier, a former patient at Methodist Hospital in Houston. As a matter of fact, David Saucier was the fourth patient at Methodist Hospital to receive a heart transplant.
The poignant essay had been written on the 10th anniversary of David's heart transplant operation, and it's entitled "Number Four is Still Alive." Let me share some of this with you. Listen closely to David Saucier's remarkable words as he reflects on his life after heart transplant surgery. He writes:
Ten years ago in the wee hours of the morning, God performed a miracle in me. It was not the first miracle he had performed in my life, nor was it to be the last, but it was perhaps the most dramatic.
The transplant team at Methodist Hospital under the leadership of Dr. Michael DeBakey performed their fourth heart transplant, replacing my damaged, doomed heart with one from a young man whose own life had tragically ended.
Now, some may call this a miracle of modern science, but life itself is a miracle of God, and for another person's heart to grow to my severed aorta and become a part of the living "me," is a miracle of God in my book!
David Saucier goes on to say:
Many people have asked me if I feel any different, or if I act any different, if the transplant has changed my life in any way. I can answer that in three ways:
First, he says:
There's urgency. I live with a renewed sense of urgency, and that has changed my priorities because I realize that if I'm to stop and smell the roses, I had best do it now.
Second, he says:
There is gratitude. I don't understand this miracle that has happened within me with my new heart. All I can do is accept and feel grateful for each additional day I live.
He goes on to say:
A third change is that I now walk a little closer to God because when you've been through a harrowing experience with someone you form a special bond with them. Recovering from the transplant was at times a harrowing experience, and I guarantee you I clung to God for dear life during those times. He was the good friend who saw me through, sometimes the only one who thoroughly understood. I'm grateful that He was there for me.
Then David Saucier concludes his essay with these powerful words:
Deep down inside I know that God will always take care of me. I also know that no one lives forever and that someday He'll decide He can better care for me on the other side of the Jordan, but until that time, Number Four is still alive and enjoying every minute of it.
David Saucier's words are pretty amazing because he's talking about a new lease on life-a new beginning, a new chance, all because he received a new heart and that new heart gave him a fresh sense of urgency and gratitude and closeness to God.
Something like that happened to Zacchaeus. We find his remarkable story in Luke 19. Zacchaeus didn't have a heart transplant, but he did have a heart transformation. The Great Physician touched his heart, turned his life around.
Somewhere back there in the past, Zacchaeus had gotten off the track. The children sing, "Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he." Well, he was "a wee little man" all right, not only in physical stature, but also in spirit.
Bad habits had evidently taken root in his heart-greed, selfishness, the lust for power, prestige, and money had possessed him. And they were destroying him. Zacchaeus, too, had a diseased heart, and his sick heart was cutting him off from other people and from God.
But, then, along came Jesus, and when Jesus touched his heart, look what happened to Zacchaeus. We see in his experience the drama of redemption, the power of conversion, the miracle of the transformed heart.
When the light of Christ spilled into his life, Zacchaeus was exposed in all his littleness. Perhaps for the very first time, Zacchaeus saw himself as he really was: greedy, self-centered, a traitor, a cheat, a con man. Zacchaeus didn't like what he saw. He was ashamed and penitent.
But he realized that help was available for his dark heart. Even after all he had done, he felt somehow that this one from Nazareth could help him, and he changed! Talk about a conversion! By the miracle of grace, through the presence and love of Christ, his life was absolutely changed! Christ came into his life and made him over.
Listen now! Don't miss the impact of this! Don't miss the message for your life now!
* If you're doing something you ought not to be doing...
* If you're possessed by some bad habit that is tearing you apart...
* If you are living a lifestyle that you're ashamed of...
* If you have somehow gotten away from God and the church...
* If your heart is not right with God...
* If you want to change...
...God has the power to touch your heart and turn your life around. He can give you a new start, a new chance, a new beginning, a new lease on life-a new heart! It happened for Zacchaeus. It happened for David Saucier, the transplant patient, and it can happen for you and me!
But for it to happen, three things must come together: grit, grace and gratitude.
Grit is the courage to seize the moment; grace is the saving power of God's love, and gratitude is the spirit of appreciation and thanksgiving. That's what the Zacchaeus story is about-grit, grace and gratitude. Let's take a look at these one at a time:
First, there is grit. If you look up the word grit in Roget's Thesaurus, you'll find there these synonyms: guts, bravery, stamina, backbone, pluck, nettle, spunk, fortitude. The meaning of this word grit comes into even sharper focus, however, when we look at the antonyms, the opposites: timidity, fearfulness, faintheartedness, cold feet. So, for our purposes, let me define the word like this. Grit is the courage to sense and seize the moment.
We see some good examples of this in the Zacchaeus' story. For one thing, Zacchaeus had the good sense to recognize that the coming of Jesus into Jericho that day was indeed a special occasion. There was an urgency about it. He wanted to experience it firsthand. He wanted to see the master. He wanted to seize the moment, but it was a huge crowd and Zacchaeus was short. He couldn't see, but he was determined! He had the grit to climb that sycamore tree, and it paid off. Oh, my, did it ever!
Also, we see the spirit of true grit in Jesus. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus up in the tree, His heart went out to him. Jesus sensed the loneliness of Zacchaeus, and He went over and reached out to this despised tax collector with love and acceptance. Jesus knew full well that he'd be criticized for associating with Zacchaeus. He knew the people would gripe and grumble and gossip and complain, but with grit, Jesus seized the moment, and He turned Zacchaeus' life around.
Mark Trotter, a few years ago, told a beautiful story about a boy whose parents were missionaries to India. When the boy was 12 years old, his parents left him and his younger brother to go to India and take up their tour of duty there. Their intention was that once they got settled they would send for the boys. But shortly after they left America, World War II broke out. They couldn't get to the boys, and they couldn't get the boys to them. So the separation between the missionaries and their sons went on for something like eight years. When the war was over, the parents returned to America. Their oldest son was 20 years old and in college. He recalled how excited he was when he got the word that his parents would soon arrive in their hometown by train. The son got to the train depot early, even before the sun came up. When the train finally pulled in, the mother and father were the only ones who got off the train. The son wrote these words:
"I could barely see them in the haze, and they could hardly see me. We embraced in the semi-darkness. Then my mother took my hand and led me into the light of the waiting room. There were tears running down her cheeks as she looked at me. She kept looking at my face, staring hard. Then she turned to my dad and called him by name, 'Arnett,' she cried, 'he's gone and looked just like you! He looks just like you!'"
That happened to Zacchaeus spiritually that day. He came down out of that sycamore tree looking and sounding and acting like his Lord. Look at what he said. The very first thing he said was, "Lord, the half my goods I give to the poor." His greedy, selfish, diseased heart had been transformed. Now he had the heart of love, the heart of compassion, the heart of generosity, the heart of his Lord, all because he had the courage, the guts, the grit to seize the moment, all because he had the backbone to accept this new heart Christ could give him.
Well, how is it with you right now? Do you need a new heart? Do you? Do you have the courage, the backbone, the grit, to say yes to God? Every Sunday people sit in our churches, and they truly want God to touch their heart; they really do. But, sadly, many of them will turn and walk away. They'll put it off till another day because they can't find the strength to do something about it. They can't find the fortitude to step forward. There are times when we all need grit, the courage to seize the moment.
Second, there is grace. The Zacchaeus story is jammed full of amazing grace - the saving, healing, redemptive, life-changing power of God's love. In the early days of the Salvation Army, a young man named Alexander was made treasurer of the Army. William Booth, who was the founder of the Salvation Army, and his wife, Catherine, dearly loved Alexander. They trusted him and treated him like a son.
Little by little, however, Alexander began taking money from the treasury. He took more and more until finally he was caught and arrested and sent to jail. William and Catherine Booth still loved Alexander. They visited him in prison, wrote him letters weekly, and prayed for him daily.
Alexander was so touched by their gracious spirit. He was penitent and remorseful, and he asked for their forgiveness. On the morning Alexander was released from jail, Mrs. Booth was waiting outside the front gate of the prison with a little thermos of tea. She invited Alexander to sit down on a nearby bench, and then she poured him a cup of tea.
"Alexander," she said, "I have something here more than tea." She reached into her purse and pulled out a moneybag. "General Booth and I want you to come back to the Salvation Army and help us," she said to him. "And we want you to begin your duties as our treasurer this very morning."
Let me ask you something. Can you love like that? Can you forgive like that? That's what grace is, and that's the way God loves and forgives us. He's offering that kind of love and forgiveness to you and me right now, but we have to accept it. We have to have the grit to accept the grace.
First, there is grit, the courage to seize the moment, then there's grace, the saving, life-changing power of God's love.
Third, and finally, there is gratitude. The spirit of appreciation and thanksgiving is so important. You see, Thanksgiving is more than a national holiday. It's more than turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce. It's more than a day off work and two days out of school. It's more than football games and family reunions.
Thanksgiving is a spirit that pervades the life of the Christian day in and day out. It is the ongoing recognition of God's love for us, God's generosity toward us, God's presence with us. Can you imagine the incredible gratitude that must have welled up in the soul of Zacchaeus that day when he felt the love of Christ touching his heart? He felt loved and accepted and valued. So should we.
One of my favorite Peanuts comic strips is the one that came out some years ago just a few days before Thanksgiving. Lucy's feeling sorry for herself and she laments, "My life is a drag. I'm completely fed up. I've never felt so low in my life."
Her little brother Linus tries to console her and he says, "Lucy, when you're in a mood like this, you should try to think of things you have to be thankful for; in other words, count your blessings."
To that, Lucy says, "Ha! That's a good one! I could count my blessings on one finger! I've never had anything and I never will have anything. I don't get half the breaks that other people do. Nothing ever goes right for me! And you talk about counting blessings! You talk about being thankful! What do I have to be thankful for?"
Linus says, "Well, for one thing, you have a little brother who loves you."
With that, Lucy runs and hugs little brother Linus as she cries tears of joy, and while she's hugging him tightly, Linus says, "Every now and then, I say the right thing."
Well, we have a God who loves us, and if that doesn't make us sing the song of thanksgiving, I don't know what would. That's what Zacchaeus realized that day in Jericho. He realized that God loved him, even him.
David Saucier, the heart transplant patient, said his new heart gave him a new sense of urgency and gratitude and closeness to God. The same thing happened to Zacchaeus, and it can happen for you and me. But for it to happen, it takes grit, grace, and gratitude.
Let's bow our heads for just a moment.
O God, help us this day as we celebrate Thanksgiving together, to understand the importance of grit, grace and gratitude. We pray in the strong name of Christ our Lord. Amen.