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.

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