Monday, July 18, 2016

Funeral Sermon for Cliff Bril: "The Lord's Servant"

+ In Memoriam: Cliff Bril – April 30th, 1920 – July 8th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Isaiah 43:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Luke 2:25-32

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.

Simeon the priest was in the temple as he sung these words, serving God, serving others. That was his calling. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah and Savior that YHWH had promised long ago. And there he was in the flesh. In Simeon’s arms. 

Here was the infant Priest foreshadowed by all the Old Testament priests. 

Here was the consolation of Israel cuddled in his aged arms. 

Here was the Lord of all who became the Servant of all for Simeon, for Cliff, and for you.

At that moment, God’s word had been fulfilled.

At that moment, Simeon saw his salvation and Cliff’s and yours in those wiggly infant arms and legs that would one day be fixed to the cross, where the infant priest would make the ultimate sacrifice.

At that moment, Simeon was ready to depart in peace. He was ready to die. The Lord was faithful. The Lord kept his promise.

The more I read Luke 2 in preparing for today’s service, the more I noticed how much Cliff has in common with Simeon.

Like Simeon, Cliff rejoiced in being here in the Lord’s temple where the Lord of all is still the Servant of all: proclaiming his promises for Cliff and us; calling us by name in Holy Baptism, as he did for Cliff; and beholding the Lord’s salvation of hidden in humble bread and wine for the forgiveness of his sins.

Like Simeon, Cliff was ready to die in peace. Like Simeon, he knew he was a sinner, but that Jesus is the savior and rescuer of sinners. He knew it was time to be with the Lord. But of course, we were not ready for him to depart. And so we are grieved. We weep. We mourn. And yet, the prophet Isaiah speaks words of comfort to us Thus says the Lord, Fear not; I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

And like Simeon, Cliff was the Lord’s Servant. He served as a faithful husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He served as a faithful member of this congregation in fervent prayer, love for others in his gracious compliments, and joyfully receiving God’s gifts week after week.

Yes, one of Cliff’s greatest joys was serving others. That’s why he was proud of his time in the Army. He drove supply trucks, built airfields, and even warned his fellow soldiers of a German breakthrough in the Ardennes, boots in hand and socks on his feet.

But don’t think that this is all about Cliff. He wouldn’t want that kind of attention on himself. That, by the way, is another mark of a servant; counting others as more important than yourself.

To paraphrase Isaiah, Cliff knew that when he passed through the waters of Omaha beach behind the wheel of a supply truck, the Lord was with him. He knew that when he was waded through the rivers and forests of France, the Lord was with him. He knew that even though he was surrounded by the thunderous fire of German tanks, the Lord was with him. Cliff knew that whether he was half way across the world in the war, or at home or church next to family, the Lord was with him, just as he was with Simeon.

Cliff knew all this because he knew what Simeon knew…that it was also Jesus’ greatest joy to serve others, to count others as more valuable, more precious than himself, even to the point of laying down his life on the cross for Cliff and for you.

For…The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

This is why Simeon held Jesus that day in the temple. The Lord’s servant had come at last. The Priest and sacrifice had entered the temple. God’s Word was fulfilled. The Lord of all became a servant of all for Simeon, for Cliff, and for you.

Simeon was ready to die in peace because he knew that Jesus had come to in order to bring about that peace. Peace through his death on the cross for Cliff and for you. Jesus fought the good fight against sin and death for Cliff and for you.

Jesus let the torrent waters of judgment overwhelm him so that you would pass through safely to the other side.

Jesus walked up the hill of Calvary to the cross, endured the scorching heat of God’s wrath over sin all so that we would not be consumed.

Jesus is the Lord’s Servant, in death and in life. And he continues to serve us as he did Simeon and Cliff, throughout life, and even through the grave to eternal life. That’s the hope that Simeon and Cliff point us to: The Lord is faithful. Jesus keeps his promises. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

With Simeon and Cliff, we long to see, hope for, and love the Lord’s appearing, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. And we join Simeon and Cliff in confessing: Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 8: "The Outrageous Samaritan"

+ 8th Sunday after Pentecost – July 10th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Leviticus 19:9-18; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are a storytelling people: “How was your day today?” “What did you do over the 4th of July weekend?” “How was your first day at swimming lessons?”

Now, we may think this is all just polite conversation, but these are invitations to tell a story, about our day at work or with the kids, our vacation or leisure time with family and friends, or our summer activities. It’s as if God hardwired us to be storytellers. And I think he did. That’s at least one of the reasons Jesus spends much of his time teaching us in parables.

Parables are stories. And at least one temptation with the parables, is to treat them like our daily stories around the dinner table, in the car, or on the patio over donuts. That is, to make them all about us. I watched fireworks. I spent the weekend with family. I saw Finding Dory.

Did you notice? It’s all about me. We’re tempted to apply this same storytelling method to the parables as well. “Am I the prodigal son or the one who’s angry at the Father’s lavish grace?” The answer is both, but it’s actually about the Father’s grace more than the sons’ sins.

“Am I the lost sheep or one of the 99 Jesus already has in his pen?” Again, the answer is, yes. But the parable is more about the outrageous love of the Good Shepherd than us.

“Am I the worker who’s been in the field all day or the one who comes at the 11th hour and still receives the same wages?” It matters not, because the parable is about the mercy and abounding grace of the land owner, not our work.

Jesus’ parables are stories that point to, find fulfillment in, and reveal Jesus’ mercy, grace, compassion, outrageous forgiveness, and undeserving love. When we turn them into Aesop’s fables or look for the moral in the story for better Christian living, we’ve missed the point. Jesus’ parables point us again and again to his seeking and saving the lost, the loser, the outcast by his death on the cross.

And so, when it comes to the parable of the Good Samaritan, we must fight the temptation to make it all about us. No doubt we’ve all heard it told this way before:

There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was ambushed by robbers; they stripped him, beat him, and left him for dead. Along came a priest and a Levite, both of whom kept walking right on by. Finally, an unlikely hero, a Samaritan comes along; he helps the man, takes him to an inn, pays his medical bills and more. Which of these three was the neighbor? The obvious answer is the Samaritan man of course. The one who showed mercy. So, you go and do likewise. Don’t be the Priest or the Levite. Be the hero. Be the Good Samaritan.

That’s usually where we’re left hanging when this parable is told. The Good Samaritan is only an example we’re called to imitate. The problem with reading the parable this way is that once again it’s all about me. And the Gospel gets shuffled down the road quicker than the Priest and the Levite.

Remember, Jesus tells this parable to a man who asked him: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Wrong question. What do you do to inherit eternal life? Nothing. An inheritance is given. Jesus gives you eternal life.

So, Jesus tells this parable, not to give the man yet another merit badge to earn or an achievement to unlock, but rather to join him in his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.
When Jesus is at the center of this parable it sounds quite different.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

Sounds an awful lot like Jesus to me. Like the man in the parable, Jesus is making a descent, not from Jerusalem to Jericho, but a journey downhill to his passion and death, to be the first who becomes last, the one who becomes lost and stripped, beaten, and left for dead…all for you.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

To the Jewish hearers, these men would’ve been the heroes. And yet, in their quest to fulfill the ceremonial law, they neglect the moral law to love your neighbor as yourself. Sadly, all they know is the law; they know nothing of love, for only love, not the law, can serve the neighbor in need. And so they kept on going. And you can hear Isaiah and John echo in the background. He was despised and rejected by men…he came to his own and his own did not receive him.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.

It’s no accident Jesus chose a Samaritan for this third character. The Jews considered them heretical worshippers and half-breeds, like the term mud-bloods for you Harry Potter fans. The Samaritan was an outcast, a loser.

And here’s the genius of Jesus’ storytelling. He sends the outcast to the rescue of another outcast. He sends the loser to minister to another loser.

Sound familiar? Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. Jesus, who is first, became last so that we who are last might become first in Him. Jesus became the outcast, the loser, the lost one, the dead man, so that in our lostness, deadness, and outcastness, we are found, welcomed, and made alive again.

The Samaritan binds up his wounds, pours oil and wine – all acts of kindness to be sure, but something that most normal people would think an inconvenience when helping someone else, not to mention expensive and time consuming. But the Samaritan does it all the same. And more. He puts the beaten man on his own animal, which means he had to walk the road for him. Then, he takes him to an inn, takes care of him for the night, further impeding his travel plans. And, if that wasn’t enough, he goes to the front desk in the morning and books the victim an indefinite stay, all expenses paid – room, food, doctors, medicine, health club, a healthy donkey if needed – no questions asked, no strings attached. He lays down his own life and livelihood for this man.

Jesus’ whole point here is not to give this lawyer another stairway to try and climb his way to heaven. He’s not giving us a formula for Christian niceness, as if that is going to answer the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

The reason for the rather outrageous, irrational behavior on the part of the Samaritan is not to point us to another set of good works for us to do, but to the passion and death Jesus accomplishes for us.

Jesus tells us along with the lawyer; stop trying to live by the law; stop trying to inherit eternal life by what you do or say. Rather, be willing to die, to be lost and then found, to be the dead man and to be made alive again in Jesus.

Does Jesus want us to go mercy to the neighbor? Of course. He meant what he said. Before we can be the Good or kind Samaritan, we must first be the dead man on the road, rescued. Only when we are free from the law are we free to help our neighbor and show mercy.

And Jesus has set you free. Here, Jesus puts you on his own back, takes you home, binds up your wounds, and lays down his life for you – everything charged to his account. We who are lost, are found in Jesus. We who are last, are first in him. We who are outcasts and losers are welcomed by the Father with arms wide open, victors in the death of Jesus. We who were left for dead on the roadside are joined in death, and made alive again in Jesus.

You are free. Free from your keeping track of your good works and free from making the law your own personal hamster wheel. You are free from sin and death. Free to go and do likewise for your neighbor.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 7: "Peace be to this House"

+ Pentecost 7 – July 3rd, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:1-10; Luke 10:1-20

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the 1930’s “peace in our time” was the popular cliché. The 1960’s the cry was, “peace and love”. And the 1980’s made famous the phrase, “peace through strength”. What does today’s slogan of peace sound like? Peace and tolerance. Coexist. Or, as the great hymn writer, Axel Rose once sang, “Peace sells, but who’s buyin’?”

Even though it’s dimly lit and covered with more and more dirt every day, all our human attempts at peace are a window. As St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until we find our rest in Thee.” We want peace. We see a world, our communities, families and friends, and ourselves in need of peace. And yet we live in a restless world where peace is quickly becoming a word without meaning, a feeling without substance, and a quest without a goal. The kind of peace we seek in this life is illusive and often an illusion; we’re incapable of finding the very peace we need.

It’s into this kind of world that Jesus sends the 72 disciples. Not a utopia. But a broken, fallen world. A world that is the opposite of the Shalom, peace, wholeness, everything fulfilled and at rest that it was in Genesis.

Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.  Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you

Jesus gives the 72 his message: proclaim peace. They are ambassadors of the Prince of Peace. “Peace be with this house. Peace be with you”. This is no pithy greeting card message, or a friendly “howdy ho, neighboroony”. No. Jesus’ peace is a blessing and promise all in one.

This is the peace that comes only in the Crucified and Risen Jesus. To the world, the cross is foolishness, a scandal and a disgrace. But for us it is the power of God for our salvation. Jesus’ peace for you is found in his pierced hands and side; his kingdom comes for you by his crown of thorns. His cross is true love for you, true peace. Jesus gives you peace through weakness, by laying down his life for us.

This is the peace the world cannot give, a peace that surpasses our understanding. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27)
The Hebrew word is Shalom. Not a temporary peace, but a restoration of wholeness. With Jesus’ peace comes healing in body and mind. It begins now…already in Christ you are a new creation. And yet it is still to come. Jesus will make all things new. There will be everlasting peace.
Do we sit idle then and wait? No. Jesus sent the 72 and instructed them to “Heal the sick and say to them ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Jesus calls us to be ambassadors of His peace: We don’t build the kingdom of God. Like the 72, we’re called to proclaim it. There’s a big difference. Sometimes we get the impression that the kingdom of God up to us to build. But that wasn’t the case for the 72, and neither is it for us. The kingdom of God is built not on our efforts but on God’s efforts, not on our works, but Christ’s works. Not with our blood, sweat, and tears but with Jesus’ blood, sweat, and tears. Jesus does the work; we proclaim: “it is finished”.
And so for all the times we’ve shaken the dust off our feet at Jesus, how beautiful are the feet of him who bears good news for us on the mountain of crucifixion. For all the times we’ve rejected his peace for our own private rebellion, Jesus cancels our record of debt by nailing it to the tree, reconciling us with the Father. For all the times we’ve desired for my kingdom to come, and my will to be done, in Jesus speaks: “Peace be with you”. Rejoice; your names are written in heaven.
The same Jesus who’s birth was announced by the angels - “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – is the same Jesus who was born to be our Prince of Peace.

The same Jesus who entered Jerusalem amidst the shouts of - “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” – is the same Jesus who reconciled the world to the Father, not counting our trespasses against us.

The same Jesus who spoke “peace be with you” to his disciples after his resurrection, is the same Jesus who delivers his peace to you today. For in Jesus the Kingdom of God has come near…and comes near to you still.
This is no abstract peace, but a real, tangible, flesh and blood peace. Jesus gives us peace in his body and blood in ordinary bread and wine. Jesus gives us peace in his Word that gives true Shalom and rest. Jesus gives us peace for all time in your Baptism.

This is what we receive and proclaim: peace through Jesus’ cross. Peace by his blood, shed for you. Peace in his wounds. Peace in his resurrection.

Peace be to this house.

Peace be with you.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Funeral Sermon for Edwin Anderson: "Jesus is the Bread of Life"

+ In Memoriam: Edwin Anderson – September 28th, 1939 - June 28th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Isaiah 61:1-3; Romans 8:31-39; John 6:27-40

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

If ever there was a fitting verse someone who spent a good part of his life working in a grocery store, this is it. Edwin knew a lot about bread.

Ed worked hard in his labor of love to provide daily bread for his wife, Sharon. He prayed to the Lord with his family and for his family: Give us this day, our daily bread. In his years at the grocery store he shelved, bagged, bought, and managed the bread and everything else that people needed for this body and life. And like any good Lutheran, he also enjoyed the occasional can of liquid bread.

Jesus knows a little something about bread too. As the crowds are gathered listening to Jesus’ preaching, Jesus reminds us that for all the blessings it is for our bodies, for all the vocations God employs to give us our daily bread, there’s one major problem with bread. Bread is food of the fall.

Recall God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:

Cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

East of Eden, bread takes work – even the ground is cursed. And so, seeds are sown. The farmer harvests. The miller grinds. The baker bakes. The truck delivers. The shelves are stocked. The grocer sells. Then we buy and eat. This is how God gives us our daily bread, a process Ed was quite familiar with. And yet, Jesus reminds us that the very bread that sustains us is also a sign of our mortality.

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.

Even the best bread molds and decays. It fills us one moment, and leaves us hungry the next. Bread comes from the earth and feeds our bodies which will one day return to the earth.

And so, today, as we mourn the death of Ed, a loving husband, father, grandfather, neighbor, friend, and brother in Christ, we might be tempted to think that the bread of death is all we have to eat, that all our work on this fallen earth is pointless, and that the grave gets the last word. But we would be wrong.

Yes, God’s gifts of daily bread in this life are temporary and will fade away. And so Jesus calls us to something that will never rot, decay, or pass away: his Word and promise. His life lived for you. His death for Ed, for you, and for all.

Yes, we hunger in this life, and yet God richly provides all that we need for this body and life, out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. Ed knew this too. It is by grace we are saved; and by grace we are given daily bread.

Yes, Moses and the children of Israel ate manna in the wilderness and they died. And so will we.

But here’s the good news. So did Jesus.

By the sweat and blood of his brow, Jesus labored under the weight of our sin for Ed and for you; he suffered and wrestled with thistle and thorn on the cross for Ed and for you. And then he returned to the dust of the earth for Ed and for you. Jesus swallowed Adam’s bread of death in order to give you the Living Bread of his flesh and raise you to life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Jesus rose again from the dead. And that means Ed is not alone. Neither are you. Ed is with Jesus. And Jesus is with you. And together, with Ed and all the faithful departed, we await the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.  

But even now, Jesus doesn’t leave us hungry; in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus takes the food of the Fall, fills it with his death and resurrection, and turns it into a feast of forgiveness for you. In Jesus’ flesh we have bread that brings immortality, holy food that sustains us on our pilgrimage home. Jesus’ body is true food that will never perish, and in eating and drinking his body and blood, he guarantees that you will never perish either.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. Jesus is Edwin’s bread of life. Jesus is your bread of life.
For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
 "Lord, give us this bread always.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sermon for Confirmation Sunday: "God's Own Child"

+ Confirmation Sunday – June 5th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  (Deuteronomy 6)

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2)

 “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  (Luke 18)

There’s a common thread woven through these readings this morning. Did you hear it? 

“Teach my word to your children.”

“The promise is for you and your children.”

“Let the little children come to me.”

Why all this childish talk? Didn’t St. Paul teach say, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.And now you’re telling me to become like a child? Which is it? Give up my childish ways or become like a child?

In good Lutheran fashion, the answer is yes. 

Repentance is a call to give up our childish ways of selfishness, stubbornness, and foolish attempts to save ourselves. And to become like a child is to look to God as Father, dependent upon his mercy, grace, and steadfast love in everything.

When Scripture teaches us to become like little children God is not teaching us to become a bunch of Toy’s R US kids who never grow up and he's not giving us a dose of Peter-Pan theology where we boldly declare, “I’ll never grow up, never grow up, not me!”
What does it mean to be God’s child?

It means that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them; that he daily and richly provides me all that I need for this body and life; that he guards and protects me from all evil…all out of his fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.

To be God’s own child means that God has redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  

To be God’s own child is to believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith.

To be God’s own child is to rejoice in Jesus who became a little child for each of us so that he could put away all our childish sinful ways of selfishness, stubbornness, and sin forever, and make us his beloved children. Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God…and so you are.

And so it is the vocation of children to receive: clothing, shoes, house, home, and the like, as we hear in the first article of the Creed. And to receive our life in Christ as well: food for body and soul in the Lord’s Supper. Words in our ears and that set us free from our old childish ways. Holy Baptism that makes us heirs of heaven. Holy Absolution that constantly reassures us: you are forgiven; you’re a member of the family.

And if it is the vocation of children to receive, it is also the vocation of parents to give, nurture, and teach, as the Lord instructed Moses. We do this at church to be sure, but also in our homes, on vacation, or in the car. It’s why we have a catechism class, examinations, and a confirmation Sunday. Of course, we don’t do any of these things today to become God’s own children. We do them as a way of confessing who we already are in Jesus: God’s own child, I gladly say it. I am baptized into Christ!

A blessed confirmation day to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 2: "Jesus and the Centurion"

Pentecost 2 – May 29th, 2016
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: 1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29, 41-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At first this story seems like many of Jesus’ other miracles. There’s a servant who was sick, and at the point of death. The reports of Jesus’ teaching and healing had spread like a viral YouTube video. But now Jesus was back in Capernaum. There’s hope for this deathly ill servant. Messengers are sent. Jesus listens. Jesus speaks and the servant is healed.
Yes, at first this story might appear to be one of many miracles Jesus performed. We’ve heard it so many times that we forget to stop, slow down, and listen to each story carefully in detail. It’s easy to get lost in the familiarity of Jesus’ teaching and miracles. How quickly we hear without listening and read without seeing.
This is a story about Jesus healing a sick servant, and yet it is more than that. This is a story about the faith of a Roman centurion, and yet it is more than that too. Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant is a series of unexpected events. And we see this right from the beginning of the story.
Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.
Let these verses sink in a minute. The Romans thought Jews (and later, the Christians) to be nothing but a bunch of superstitious, religious zealots. And the Jews considered the Romans unclean, Gentiles and outsiders.
And yet here’s a Gentile Roman centurion sending Jewish leaders to a Jewish Rabbi to heal his servant. He heard the reports about Jesus’ healings and teachings. Staring death in the face, he knows Jesus is the only one with the authority to do something about it.
As Jesus later points out, the centurion’s faith is also unexpected; he’s not your average Gentile.
This particular centurion loves the people of Israel and helped build their synagogue. He’s what the Old Testament called a God-fearing Gentile. He’s a living, breathing answer to Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8: “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name's sake.”
It’s all the more unexpected because the Jewish leaders are the ones talking this Roman centurion’s credentials up before Jesus. He’s worthy to have you do this for him, they say. He loves our nation. He built our synagogue.
This is what we expect from religion: Let’s make a deal with God. We do our best and God will do the rest. Ask the average person in a man-on-the-street interview about what makes someone worthy for forgiveness, life, and salvation, and I expect that most of the time you’ll hear: “I’m basically a good person. I try to be nice to others. I’m not perfect, but at least I haven’t murdered anyone.” That’s how one is worthy in the eyes of the world: what you do or don’t do.
Sadly, this kind of thinking works it way into our Christian lives as well.  If only I set aside more time to read the Bible, pray, and diligently follow my daily devotions, I would be worthy. If I gave more of my time and offerings to the congregation, then I would be worthy. If my faith was like the Roman centurion’s then I would be worthy too.
Do you see the trap that is set before us here? It’s not that any of these things are bad. Quite the opposite actually. Daily prayer, devotions, and Scripture reading are good. God’s Word is our life just as gave life to the Centurion and his servant. Our stewardship of time and earthly possessions are also good. But it’s always done in response to what God has given us first.
Our worthiness doesn’t come from what we do for God or others, but what Christ has done for you. Our worthiness in God’s eyes is not found in our love for others but in Christ’s love for us. Our worthiness before God isn’t based on a faith that looks inward to ourselves, but outward to the cross. It’s not our worthiness that saves us, but Christ’s
The Jewish leaders thought that the Roman Centurion was worthy because he was so compassionate, generous, and loving. Rather, he was generous and loving because he knew he was unworthy and his worthiness was in Christ.
It’s the same for us too. We love and serve others because Christ first loved and served us by laying down his life for us. Our worthiness is in Christ crucified and risen for us.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t praise the centurion’s worthiness. He doesn’t even pay attention to the Jewish leaders’ gushing praise for the centurion. Jesus simply goes on to the Centurion’s home where the story takes another unexpected turn.
As Jesus approaches the Centurion’s house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you.
Here was a Roman’s Roman, a commander of 100 in Caesar’s army. A man of Strength. Honor. Integrity. He cared for his household and community. He was a Roman officer and a gentleman. If anyone was worthy to have their request for healing met, it was this guy. That’s what we, along with the Jewish leaders expect. But, then to our surprise, what does he say? I am not worthy.
The centurion confesses his own unworthiness. He didn’t cling to any worth of his own. He looked to Jesus and his Word. And ironically, this Gentile in all his unworthiness sees more clearly than any of Jesus’ own people what kind of Savior he is. The centurion knew he was in need, knew he was unworthy, and believed that even though he had no claim on Jesus, Jesus was the one who would rescue, save, and heal both his servant and him. And so he does for you too.
In the Roman Catholic communion liturgy, the people say these words as the body of Christ is distributed: “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” In our Small Catechism we hear a similar thing preparing us for the Lord’s Supper: “He is worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
This kind of faith is also unexpected. What makes us worthy along with the centurion? Knowing that our worthiness is found in Christ alone. Like the centurion, Christ declares us who were unworthy to be worthy. You are counted worthy by the blood of the Lamb, worthy by his death and resurrection, worthy in baptism, worthy guests at the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says the word and you are worthy.

Along with the Roman centurion, we cling to Jesus’ Word.
But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
This man recognized that Jesus was also a man under authority. The Father said, “Go.” And Jesus came; He was born for you. Kept the Law that declares us unworthy for you. He was crucified for you. He rose from the dead for you. Unexpected to be sure, but this is how Jesus makes you worthy. Jesus does all everything to rescue and heal you and then gives you the credit, just like the centurion.
It’s not at all what we would expect, it’s not even what we deserve, but it’s exactly what Jesus has done for you. Like the Roman centurion your faith is great in Christ, you are healed by his Word, and you are worthy in Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.