03 June 2013

Sermon: 2 June 2013 (2 Pentecost / Proper 4)

Readings: Galatians 1:1-12Psalm 96:1-9Luke 7:1-10

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Holy and Loving God, write a message on our hearts.  Bless us, direct us, and send us out, living letters of the Word.  AMEN.

But when Jesus was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof ... but only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”

This morning we begin a series on healing the Gospel of Luke.  The season of Easter is over with the ascension of Christ, the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and our celebration of the Holy Trinity last Sunday, and now the Lectionary shifts for the summer to focus on a series of moments in Jesus' ministry.  For the church nerds among us, we are entering what is named, “ordinary time” – a term not developed in the marketing department.  I can see it now, billboards across the MidSouth, come on down to church for something ordinary!  Actually, this season is one of my favorite times to preach, for now the lectionary provides some of the richest stories from the meat of Jesus’ life and ministry – parables and teachings and healings – all far from ordinary.  I hope you are fed and will return for the series over the next several weeks.

We kick off with the Centurion and the Centurion's servant or slave, and right off the bat, we notice that the nature of the healing is unusual because neither the ill person nor the person pleading on their behalf is ever physically present with Jesus.  Jesus only hears of this Centurion and his ill servant through intermediaries.  First a group of Jewish leaders approach Jesus and share some backstory about their local Roman Centurion and what a good fellow he is and how he loves the people and how he even built a temple for the local population.  Some scholars speculate that this Centurion may have practiced Judaism himself, but did not officially convert in order to keep his imperial office.  Later, as Jesus approaches the Centurion’s house, the Centurion sends friends to meet Jesus.  The crowd speaks on behalf of the Centurion and they say, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof ... but only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”  The Gospel reports that, “when Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’

OK, friends, I have to be honest with you, this is weird on a number of levels.  For one, if my friend or colleague, or heaven forbid my child or spouse were terminally ill, and I heard that, oh, the Messiah was in the neighborhood, I would drop everything and go myself, get on my hands and knees and beg for my beloved’s life.  But the Centurion didn’t do that, he sent a group of Jewish elders, which may have been in keeping with his station and that region’s and that time period’s currency of power, but that still strikes me a darn peculiar.  Then, when Jesus goes to the man’s house, the Centurion doesn’t even go out to meet Jesus but sends friends to speak with him.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I grew up in the South and my mama taught me that was rude!  Company comes calling, you get up, you look sharp, and you offer that man a glass of tea!  There’s a reason you receive all of these darn chip and dips as wedding presents – for when company comes.  But the Centurion does not meet Jesus, he sends friends to plead for his servant.

When circumstances are weird in scripture, the Word is trying to communicate something: from the obvious signs, like bushes burning but not being consumed, to smaller head scratchers that merely strike us as odd.  If you read something in scripture that you find weird, stop – for the Spirit is moving.  

I believe a key to understanding a truth under today’s Gospel can be found in the words of the Centurion himself.  He says, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”  I am not worthy.  I am not worthy.  Strange words for a man of such power.  Here is a man who gets things done, who obviously knows how to call in favors, win the support of his fellows, and garner the love of his constituency.  And yet, he confesses to Christ that he is not worthy and won’t even go out to meet him or host him in his own home.  Very weird.

We pray for those in need all the time.  Every Sunday we pray aloud for those known to be ill.  In the bulletin, there is a much larger list of those requesting prayers.  Our wonderful chapter of the Daughters of the King keeps a confidential list of those in need and they are kept in constant prayer.  And each of us, regardless of how structurally obvious our prayer life is, we hold in our hearts friends and family who are hurting and we plead, we beg, we implore for their release.  And God answers.

But how often, do we neglect to pray for the person in need we know the best, ourselves.  We may not have a diagnosis or a crisis or even a consciousness of what we are grappling with, but all of us need healing.  We pray for others, but for ourselves we say to God, “I am not worthy.”

What are we afraid of?  Why do we not advocate for ourselves when we so readily advocate for others?  What is so frightening of actually being well?  Sometimes – I never do this, just ask my wife, but you might – sometimes we hold on to our illness, to our brokenness, to our failures, for that is all we know and that is all we can comprehend.  We have held on to this pain, this addiction, this abuse, for so long, it has seeped into the deepest recesses of our brain and poisoned our soul.  Our sickness feels normal.  And we say the most ridiculous things, like, “I am not worthy.” 

I have news friends.  I have good news.  The Centurion is worthy.  You are worthy.  We are all worthy. When God made you, God said you were good.  If you don’t believe me, look it up – it’s in the Bible, somewhere near the beginning.  And because of our being made in the image of God, and that goodness being confirmed in the incarnation of Christ, we can approach God with our brokenness, leave our pain at the foot of the Cross, and begin to imagine a world were we are well.  This is what Paul was writing about to the Galatians, "grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free."  Freedom can be terrifying, for what will we do when we are actually well and free and don’t have our sickness to carry around anymore?  What would that feel like?  It would definitely be very weird.

The Good News this day is our God is a God of healing.  God reaches out – yesterday, today, and tomorrow – and brings wellness and wholeness.  But moreover, and perhaps even more profound, we should not fear such wholeness, especially for ourselves.  For we are meant to be – we were made to be – whole and well, and out of our wholeness and wellness, we do great work.  As we explore our healing God over the next few weeks, do not be afraid.  Our God is a God of healing and you too are worthy and can be made well.  AMEN.

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