The Church Next Door…a personal touch. Lk 19:1-10

I remember being told about it, I had been a way but when I came back they told me someone from this new church I had visited just missed me at home. I had visited Lifespring that weekend, but the call and the visit surprised me. He came back again. Peter Gitau a very senior person in the church came to visit me a mere youth at my home. This is my story of how I joined Lifespring- young and nothing special- Peter came for me, then later James Kahero, then Pst. Bob, then Mr. Nderitu and this has been my story….people who singled me out, came to where I was and believed in me to be the person I am today.
We continue to unfold our theme this year ‘The Church Next door- Our rallying call this year is Helping People to find God where they are. The church is the body of Christ and as God became flesh in Christ Jesus to serve humanity, we are his body, his hands, his heart and his feet- we must become authentic, relevant and get outside our four walls to impact our community with the LIFE of Jesus in this body. Every one of us as believers are by extension that body of Christ. We are the Church next door.
Last week we looked at how the Church Next door goes about Relationships- and through the encounter of the Samaritan woman with Jesus, we learnt that As the church next door
We are motivated by God’s Love not human love- Only God’s LOVE has the power to break into prisons of fear and truly liberate people. God’s LOVE doesn’t judge people or give up on people- Human love runs out and is threatened by diversity, but Gods LOVE doesn’t and it enriched in diversity.
The Church next door has nothing to hide and nothing to hide in- Our relationships are not limited or defined by structures and or religious backgrounds. Only God’ LOVE determines how far is too far for our relationships. We love anywhere, anyone, everywhere and anytime, all the time
Today we look at How does the Church Next door go about Missions and Stewardship? How do we go about being salt and light and sharing our faith practically to others around us? It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. While we are called to LOVE everyone as our neighbor- We must begin by Loving Someone as my neighbor. My thesis today is The Church Next door goes about people with a personal touch. Because there is a person in the crowd.
Today we learn from a strange Home visit in the gospels, of someone who experienced this Personal Touch of the Church Next door. This is the short story of a short man- Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10
READ
To finance their empire, the Romans levied heavy taxes on all the Nations under their control including the Jews at his time. The Jews opposed these taxes because they supported a secular government and its many pagan gods, but they were still forced to pay. For this reason, Tax collectors were among the most unpopular people in Israel. Jews by birth who chose to work for Rome as tax collectors were therefore treated as traitors.
The Tax collectors also were in the habit of over levying their fellow Jews to make themselves Rich. It was common terminology to heap together the tax collectors, gentiles and sinners. In every way he fell into the category of people who were considered untouchable, because of their contrary lifestyle they did not have many friends and were generally unaccepted in many homes, let alone people visiting them.
They are very much today like Debt Collectors- They must do their job, but to do so they employ skills of threatening and manipulation. Or your landlord coming to visit you and you know you haven’t paid rent. (Hata nyama haikuliki vizuri’)
But because he was short, I Imagine and plump- it was easy to miss him in the crowds- the commotion around Jesus as he walked the streets of Jericho stirred him. It was easy to be left out if you were short. Probably being ignored or assumed to be a child, seeing people backs and feet. He realized he would miss the action and ran ahead to climb up a tree for secure a good vantage.
But if you ask Zaccheaus- How did you meet Jesus? How did your transformation come about? How did you meet the church next door- Like the Samaritan woman, and the woman who was healed after touching the Cloak of Jesus in a crowd-
Zacchaeus will tell you- It’s personal. Its how he saw me, its how he looked at me, it’s what he said to me….it’s the fact that He actually came home. How else can I explain it
He made me feel important, He singled me out among the crowd, He came home when no one would visit….When everyone was displeased with me, he was pleased with me…..and did you hear that- He called me – Son of Abraham, when my own people have called me a traitor.
Was Zacchaeus not aware of the law? Was he not aware that stealing from people was wrong? He was. It is possible that His heart was hardened by people who judged him and made it so obvious to him that He was breaking the law.
This week I heard a story from my pastor friend in Korokocho- Walking about- He was accosted by 4 young men who strangled him and stole every bit of livelihood for his family and took off. Strangely He knew the boys, common petty thieves who hang around the streets. So later he went and gathered courage to look for the boys. He found the gang leader and instead of anger asked him….Why would you do that to me, I thought you knew me? To which the young man replied…Passy you don’t understand….We were hungry, we have not eaten for some time…. we know if we asked you would say no, we do not like what we do, but under the circumstances what else would we do? He later befriend this young man and helped them start a small business in the area, today they offer him security if he needs to walk anytime of day…and tell him the ins and outs of the streets.
But what can we learn from this story? How do we go about Reaching out to the masses, How do we go about our resources as The Church Next Door? We must be personal. We must have that Personal Touch.
In this busy, crowded and faceless community, there is so much noise and impersonal communication. It’s like a market – Everyone is selling something to everyone and shouting about. So to go about it, we have learnt to segment the market there are these kinds and those kinds, so we are always trying to hit a target. It is possible in this kind of trade, even churches join in to sell the gospel in the crowd. We are out to hammer the gospel, so we must be louder, aggressive and forceful about it and if we can’t we remain timid and Lukewarm about it. It is like the local kiosk, because we can’t shout and advertise out like the malls and big supermarkets, we stay quiet and timid and wait for a lost customer to stumble by. And when they do, we are unsure of what we sell, or worse we are found like many kiosks….you have to call out the shop-keeper from the back.
It is no wonder that we have been accused among the loudest noise makers in streets, town even here in this community. This is the crowd mentality, just as sales is in the numbers, we are deceived to think transformation is also in the numbers.
We must go about the Gospel differently, we have the message of LIFE, the most precious of all things, yet it is sometimes how we go about the gospel that renders us ineffective. In the words of Jesus- we must go about the gospel as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove. Looking out for opportunities but when they come being gentle, caring and personal about it.
There are many like Zacchaeus who have been grouped and are easily missed out and they care-less about what we preach, because it is Impersonal, it doesn’t touch me. No one has brought it to me at my level. This is the essence of Incarnation. God becoming flesh so that He may dwell among us. Every individual life is precious as the recipient of God’s LIFE. As the Church next door- we must go about all we do with a personal touch.
So how do we go about it?

1. We must see people with a personal touch- Zachaeus was probably used to it, the strange stares from people was the common thing. So am fat and short…mind your own business. But it is the fact that Jesus took effort and looked up, when everyone was looking down. Jesus singled him out. That look that saw more than what people saw?
Jesus, looked at him and saw beyond the skin, he saw someone lost needing help. Someone lost in his identity, lost in his ways. Transformation begins when we see people as God sees them. People made in the image of God, lost in sin and darkness, empty and broken and as potential Recipients of God’s LIFE.
Unfortunately, we live in a world full of spectacle, we are always watching out for what is dynamic, entertaining, faster and exciting. People now become these things. The sad thing is to watch people and not see people.
We watch our neighbors fight, quarrel, argue and whether we admit it or not….it somehow entertains us like real telenovela- we pull out our phones and take selfies and forward to others to watch.
We watch people even kill each other, we watch accidents on the road, we watch drunkards, we watch people going down, we watch people suffering, we watch people stealing
We watch people but we don’t see people- So we miss their names, we miss their families, we miss their birthdays, we miss them altogether.
I have been a victim, but did any of you watch the soldier or did you see him? Do you watch your neighbours or do you see your neighbours,
Until we see them, they don’t care what we have or know or say… They miss out on LIFE because we don’t see them.
When we go about generosity- Do we see the people behind our giving, what if we saw people- how different would we give, how different would we serve. Next time you toss a dime to a beggar, See them first….it is more transformational. People are looking for a personal sight. Do you see me?

2. We must have conversations that touch people
It is surprising that Jesus did not say many things- but simply called His Name, and said I must be a guest in your home today? It wasn’t much but this is exactly what He needed to hear. Zaccheaus would not expect that Jesus of all people would want to visit him, going by His reputation. Jesus was not just inviting himself but giving Zacchaeus a high honor in getting to know him more. Just as He said to the Samaritan woman, Go and call your husband- This was a personal touch for Zaccheaus to hear.
Of all homes, my home? He would ask.
People are tired of contracts and agreements. Contracts are made in the streets and offices, Jesus comes to give us a covenant- and covenants are made at home.
Zacchaeus figured this is not that kind of discussion of use me and leave me discussion, but this conversation would lead to something more, a covenant relationship with God.
There is something powerful about conversations we have at home and until we get home some discussions are surface and lifeless.
Some of the things that touch us most whether good or bad are not those things said to us in the office space, but in our own homes. Because trust is built at home not in the market place. People give their word in the market place but they give their hearts at home.
The church next door will not thrive in these four walls but in people’s homes, this is how the early church grew.
Of the many people who God has used in my life, I appreciate most those who came home, those who drew closer, sought me in private, became vulnerable and open to me. Even the hardest words become sweet. LIFE is shared at Home but life is divided in the market place.
Think of what this means- How can we add that personal touch to our conversations- How can we get more at home with our conversations- Slow down and Listen to people.
Having an agenda in our conversation with people is not wrong? When we meet our conversation has an Agenda- Do you know Jesus, I wish you knew Jesus as I know Him? How is God’s LIFE working out in yours?

3. Lastly the Church Next Door has actions that touch people.
It is not clear what prompted Zacchaeus transformation to give back what he had stolen, but this interaction with Jesus was thought impossible, unexpected and distant but suddenly had touched him at the innermost place. Is it the fact that he ate the same food he was eating, drunk from his cups, sat on his chair.
He was laid bare, broken and vulnerable. He did not need much prompting to see what he needed to do. This is the power of being touched by LIFE.
I heard the story of a Muslim who became a Christian through the actions of a brother who offered to sell for him at his shop while he went to pray during the Ramadhan fasting. With time he earned the Muslims trust and soon he was invited to their home and they shared as families. When this LOVE was questioned- the opportunity lent itself to sharing about God’s LIFE.
What actions can you do that will touch people- When we talk about serving and giving our resources for the Kingdom, we must do so to touch God’s people.
Touching people does not mean treating people equally, but treating each as he deserves, to some a hug will do, to some a visit will do to some, some words will do, to some a helping hand will do….But whatever we do we must touch people where they are.
Jesus touched the lepers, the sick, the broken and the rich, the sinners and every touch was personal. History has it that people have been touched wrongly, that’s why they are hurting. They need a different kind of touch. The LIFE giving touch of Jesus.
In Conclusion- People don’t care how much you know, how much we know until they know how much we care. Care is not felt in crowds but when there is a personal touch, when we are singled out as special and important, when we see people as God sees them, and prioritize them as Recipients of God’s LIFE. This what we must be about this year as the Church next door. How are we touching our neighbors with the Gospel.

Let’s pray

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