Luke 7: 1-10 Trinity, Monroe
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen
Easter was very early this year. In 17 years of ordained ministry this is only the third time I’ve preached on this gospel. My current favorite commentary begins this season after Pentecost two weeks from now. So. Where to begin? Maybe our Psalm holds a clue. To excerpt a couple of verses it says “Sing to the Lord a new song;…For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.”
Our entrance hymn echoed that Psalm, did you notice? All sorts of things and all sorts of people sing to the Lord a new song. The notion that God is, well, God, is carried in the lessons as well.
In the face of these lessons I found myself thinking about our culture here in the U.S. and wondering, what, or who, do we really worship today? What do you think? Solomon, speaking to us in 1 Kings seems pretty sure of his answer to the question. “O Lord. God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath…” I’m struck by how Solomon talks with God asking that if a foreigner should come to “this house”, meaning the newly built temple, and pray God would listen and respond so that all people may come to know the God of Israel. That’s quite a vision for all those years and generations ago. What about our second lesson, a part of the letter to the Galatians? It seems the problem of who or what to worship has returned. Paul has occasion to write to the congregation; “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” It’s hard to know now what was going on then but there seems to have been some kind of competing claim on the people’s faith. And it surely did alarm Paul. And so he wrote to call that congregation of Galatians back to the one true God. That notion that the gospel he received by the revelation of Jesus Christ was the only thing worth investing in is a key point of his letter. It remains true today and his letter could just as well be written to us. The Gospel lesson makes that same point but comes at it from a different direction. Here a centurion, a Roman soldier, is one of the key players although he never does speak directly to Jesus. The centurion had a slave he valued highly. That slave was sick. When Jesus came to town some of the centurions friends approached Jesus asking him to come and heal the slave. The friends are Jewish elders who speak highly of the centurion. Jesus starts out to the centurion’s house but the centurion sends out friends to say “do not trouble yourself to come, I am not worthy, just say the word and let my servant be healed.” The centurion, one used to the authority of the military command structure, trusts that Jesus’ word alone will be enough to heal the servant. Listen carefully to Jesus’ reply. “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” There are lots of admirable points to be made from this passage. It parallels the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles in Acts, the two sets of friends speaking for the centurion provide a dramatic bridge between the Jewish and Gentile worlds. God is seen as God of both Jew and Gentile, a novel, even revolutionary, point at the time. The power of Jesus’ word to heal can and does move beyond any human barriers between Jew and Gentile. Those are all, as I said, good points and, again, they were absolutely revolutionary at the time. But it is the faith of that centurion that is really and truly remarkable. He was not even part of the Jewish people though he was clearly involved and had found faith in the God that Jesus, and the Jewish Scriptures, proclaimed. So. What about us? What do these three very different readings, say to us? There is a common point being made of course. There is the One True and Living God whose word gives life in ways that all those other gods do not. I have to say though it’s pretty easy, even pretty natural, to worship false gods. Hence the lessons we had today. The thing that has changed from Solomon’s time to Paul’s time to our time is the specific false gods we worship, the false gospel we proclaim. We don’t turn to foreign gods, in ancient Israel they were called Ba’al, to hedge our bets these days. We don’t declare our faith in the Caesar, declaring our ruler a deity, as the Romans did. But we do put a whole lot of emphasis on economic independence or having the things that proclaim that we are successful and able to take care of ourselves. Then, sadly, there are those today who seem to worship the Bible itself more than the God it reveals. What about the notion that we can, even must earn our own salvation by either following the rules as they are set out in scripture or through our good works? It is a common enough gospel in this culture to concern me. And it may well have been what Paul stood against. The early church Fathers called it Gnosticism and labeled it as a heresy. It is a kind of cruel theology indeed because it means that our salvation is up to us rather than a free gift from the God who first creates and then loves us into the fullness of our being. And we just can’t do it on our own. The god of prosperity will fail, putting the Bible in the place of God will lead us astray. The notion that we can and must save ourselves ultimately pulls us away from the One true and living God to break us on the rocks of our own pride. God as revealed to us in scripture and in the breaking of bread, God as seen through the lens of Jesus Christ, is all we need and the central message of Jesus our Savior, that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us, contains our fullest hope. That God, the God of ancient Israel, the God of Jesus, our God is the one God worth worshipping. How can we live into that gift? How can we celebrate that hope? How can we continue to grow more fully into God’s reality? We can come together week by week for corporate worship, we can work and pray and give for the spread of God’s kingdom. We can so live the Good News of Jesus Christ that everyone around us can experience it for themselves. I dare say that is the duty (though that isn’t a popular word these days) of all Christians. It’s what the one true and living God calls us to do, it’s how we live in joy secure in God’s eternal presence. Amen