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Some Things We Can’t Repay, But We Can Pass Them On

Luke 19:1-10

So many times I read something written or hear something said, and I think to myself: “Golly, I wish I had said that!” For example, I came across a series of quotes from different individuals on the subject of golf. After reading each one, I thought to myself: “I wish I’d said that.” See if you agree.

  • Miller Barber said: “I don’t say my golf game is bad, but if I grew tomatoes, they would come up sliced!”
  • Joe Louis said: “I play in the low 80’s. If it’s any hotter than that, I won’t play.”
  • Harry Toscano said: “I’m hitting the woods just great, but I’m having a terrible time getting out of them!”
  • President Woodrow Wilson said: “Golf is a game in which one endeavors to control a ball with implements ill adapted for the purpose.”
  • Willie Nelson, when asked what was par on a golf course he purchased near Austin, Texas, said: “Anything I want it to be. For instance, this hole right here is a par 47, and yesterday I birdied the sucker.”
  • I especially like what Mark Twain said: “Golf is a good walk spoiled!”

Don’t you wish you had said some of those things? I do. But in a more serious vein, I heard something a few weeks back that I wish I had said as well.

I was involved in a conference here in Orlando, and at one point I was seated in a small group. We began talking about the crisis moments in our lives, and how in life’s hard times God seems to raise up special people to be there for us and to help us through. One young woman in the group told of a time when one of her children was stricken seriously ill. At that point, a neighbor had sensed the seriousness of her dilemma, and had stepped in so graciously and so sacrificially to help them through this trauma. The young woman was moved to tears remembering how the neighbor had “come through” for her, and she went on to say: “There’s no way I could ever thank my friend for what she did for us that night. There’s no way I could ever repay her.” At that point, another person in our little group spoke up and said something that captured my mind, reverberated in my brain, and invigorated my spirit. He said: “You know, it’s a fact of life that there are some things we can’t repay, but we can pass them on!” As that great idea pierced my consciousness, I thought to myself: “I wish I had said that because it’s such a big part of the Gospel. Why didn’t I think of it? It’s so true, and it’s so Biblical. Some things we cannot repay, but we can pass them on!”

Think for example of the gracious, generous love our parents gave to us. We can’t repay that. There is no way. All we can do is pass that love on to our children. Or think of the gift of this church. The pioneers of this church dreamed it, and by the grace of God they built it. And now they have given it to us. Sir Christoper Wren was the architect who built the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. When Sir Christopher Wren died, they buried him inside the church with this simple inscription: “Christopher Wren. If you seek his monument, look around you.” That could be said of those who have gone before us in this place. If you seek their monument, look around you. How do we repay them for what they have given to us in the name of Jesus Christ? We can’t repay that. No way! All we can do is commit ourselves to build this church strong, hold it high, carry it forward, and then pass it on to the next generation, stronger and more glorious than when we received it.

Some things we can’t repay; all we can do is pass them on. I could go on listing things we can’t repay: a job opportunity, a word of recommendation, a friendship during a crisis, a word of advice in a time of confusion, an act of love when we feel down and out, a comforting presence when our hearts are heavy. And then, what about all that we owe God? Grace, pardon, healing, deliverance, salvation, atonement, and love—there’s no way we can repay Him for those gifts.
All we can do is accept them in faith and then try to be the instruments by which God’s grace and love are passed on to others.

We see that so clearly in the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Christ offered Zacchaeus the break he doesn’t deserve, the love he doesn’t expect, the forgiveness he doesn’t earn, the kindness he can’t repay. It was God’s gift, and when he accepted it in faith, he couldn’t sit still. He came scrambling down out of that sycamore tree determined to pass it on to others. He said: “Lord, half of my goods I will give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will restore it four times over.” Talk about a conversion! Zacchaeus’ life was turned completely around by the precious love of Jesus Christ, and then all Zacchaeus could think of was passing that same gracious love on to others. What was true for Zacchaeus is true for us as well. We can’t repay Jesus for what He gives us in life. All we can do is pass it on. Let me show you what I mean…

We can’t repay God for the gift of acceptance; all we can do is pass it on.

Jesus surprised everybody in Jericho that day. Of all the people in Jericho, He reached out to Zacchaeus—Zacchaeus, of all people. Not to the mayor, not to the high priest, not the military commander, but to this outcast tax collector our Lord reached out with His gracious, generous, surprising, accepting love. Everybody else had rejected Zacchaeus, written him off, labeled him a traitor, a lost cause, but Jesus widened the circle to take him in. Jesus accepted Zacchaeus.
Let me ask you something. If Jesus walked into this sanctuary today, where would He sit? Do you know what I think? I believe He would look around a bit and find that person who is hurting the most—the one who is most lonely, the one who is feeling the most pain, the one who is the most needy right now—yes, that’s the person Jesus would choose to sit beside. That’s the one our Lord would reach out to with a gift of gracious acceptance.

Some years ago, when K. C. Jones was the coach of the Boston Celtics basketball team, he became noted for his unique ability to give his players unforgettable words of encouragement when they needed it the most. If a player scored 30 points or made the game-winning basket, K. C. Jones would not say much more than, “Nice game.” Ah, but when a player was down and really struggling, Coach Jones would be there to help and to inspire. All-Star forward, Kevin McHale, once asked Coach Jones about this one day. K. C. Jones replied: “Kevin, after you’ve made the winning basket, you’ve got 15,000 people cheering for you, TV commentators clamoring to interview you, everybody giving you ‘high fives’! You don’t need me then. When you need a friend most is when nobody is cheering.”

Well, nobody was cheering for Zacchaeus that day in Jericho. To the people of Jericho, Zacchaeus was an outcast, an outsider, an outlaw. Jesus befriended him, included him, valued him, encouraged him, accepted him—and look what Zacchaeus did! He came scrambling down out of that sycamore tree, passing our Lord’s gracious acceptance on to others. “Lord, half of all my goods, I give to the poor.” Some things we can’t repay. We can’t repay God’s acceptance of us, but we can pass that on to others. We can live with that kind of graciousness of spirit.

And we can’t repay God for the gift of forgiveness—all we can do is pass it on.

Christ forgave Zacchaeus for the wrong he had done, and as a result, what Zacchaeus wanted to do more than anything else in the world was to put things right with the people he had wronged. He said: “Lord, if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will restore it four-fold.” Likewise, when we receive forgiveness for some wrongs we have done or some things we have left undone, the best thing we can do is to take on that spirit of mercy in our dealings with others.

Lyman Coleman is one of the most effective Christian leaders of our time. He is known all across this country for his Serendipity Workshops and Bible Studies. Lyman Coleman and I have known each other for some years and we have a lot in common. For example, we each have three children, all adopted. And now, we have something else in common. You see, on Thursday, January 12, three weeks ago, Lyman Coleman’s 26-year-old son, Kevin, was killed in a skiing accident in Breckenridge, Colorado. This past week, Lyman Coleman and I were among the speakers at a conference at the Crystal Cathedral. We wept together, we remembered together, we prayed together. We even laughed a bit together. For example, Lyman told me that a few months ago, Kevin was serving as his driver as he moved from one city to another, conducting his seminars. One day, they were driving from Birmingham, Alabama, to Atlanta, Georgia. Lyman was sleeping in the passenger seat, when Kevin blurted out: “Dad, he got me. That cop on the other side of the median caught me speeding. He’s going to take away my license. Can you get behind the wheel?” Lyman said: “I was still groggy with sleep and not thinking clearly. So, as the policeman was looking for a place to cross the median, without really thinking, I grabbed the wheel, Kevin jumped over into the back seat and I slid behind the wheel. By the time the cop pulled us over, I was sitting behind the wheel, looking guilty as sin, and Kevin was asleep in the backseat as innocent as a babyI” Lyman then went on to say: “I certainly am not advocating this practice, and, undoubtedly, I’m going to have to answer for it before God, but it suddenly dawned on me that that is exactly what God did for all of us when He took our place on the cross and paid the penalty for sin for all of us.”

My friends, that gracious forgiveness of God cannot be repaid. It can only be humbly accepted and then passed on to others.

Nor can we repay God’s loving kindness—all we can do is pass it on.

Jesus changed people with the power of His love and kindness. That’s what happened to Zacchaeus. He was changed, converted, turned around because Jesus reached out to him in loving kindness. Of course, we are not Jesus. We are not the Savior. We are not the Messiah. We are not the Christ, but we can be the instruments of His loving kindness in the lives of others.

I like very much the ancient legend about the monk who one day found a precious stone. It was a priceless treasure—and now it was his. And then one day, according to the legend, the monk met a traveler on the road. The traveler said that he was hungry and asked the monk if he would share some of his provisions. The monk opened his bag. The traveler saw the precious stone there and, on a lark, asked the monk if he could have it. Amazingly, the monk immediately gave the traveler the stone. The traveler walked off on his way, overjoyed at his valuable new possession. However, a few days later, the traveler returned, searching for the monk. He handed the stone back to the monk and he said: “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m asking you to give me something more valuable than this stone, as valuable as it is. Please give me that which enabled you to give the stone to me in the first place.”

Like Zacchaeus, you see, love changed him. Love turned him around. Love redeemed him. There’s a wonderful little chorus that says it all. It goes like this:

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around warm up to its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love once you’ve experienced it,
You spread His love to everyone, you want to pass it on.

“I’ll shout it from the mountaintop,
I want my world to know,
The Lord of love has come to me.
I want to pass it on.”

Yes, some things in life we cannot repay, but we can pass them on.

Oh, I wish I’d said that.
More to the point—
I wish we’d live that!

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