Scripture Reading: Luke 7:1-17
It’s been a rough week to watch the news. Our Prime Minister decided he is going to break one of his big campaign promises, claiming no one wanted it. Another world leader can’t seem to stop making moves to fulfilling many of the promises he made, no matter how destructive they may be. And on top of that a terrible terrorist shooting at a mosque in Quebec City by a racist, white Canadian man.
What is going on in the world right now? And what can we do?
Really though it feels somewhat hopeless. We have no influence on America. If we did, our Prime Minister would be all over the news, he’d be on the phone constantly with the President, and things would be happening very differently.
Instead we hear of people being turned back at the border. People frustrated, from all over the world, including other world leaders. A country which once was seen as willing to engage in conversation, at the very least, is now becoming more and more closed and insular. “America first! America only!” is the rallying call, and it’s increasingly clear this is going to be the way forward for the next while.
And we’re left asking ourselves… what can possibly be done?
I wish I had a definitive answer for you.
But as I was praying this week, as we were reading Psalm 103 in our Hearing God workshop, this verse stuck out for me.
“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19)
God is in charge. Know this. Feel it within your soul. Believe it.
As people who are doing our best to follow Jesus, what we see happening is a real struggle for us. The actions we have witnessed in the news are not what we see Jesus living out in his life, the life we are called to engage in.
What does Jesus have to say when someone different shows up and asks for help?
Well, we see that in the first half of our reading from the Gospel of Luke. A Roman centurion has a sick slave. Normally I suppose this slave would be released to live out whatever days he has left, but the slave is important to the centurion, maybe even a friend. And he would like the slave to live.
So he sends some Jewish elders to go see Jesus to ask if he would come and heal the slave. Obviously word about the work Jesus has been doing is getting around, people are now starting to seek him out when he’s nearby.
The Romans are the rulers of the region, they are the latest conquerers of the area and are not terribly well liked. However they are letting the Jews live their lives according to their beliefs, so there isn’t a lot of resistance at the time. But still, because they are a foreign nation, they are likely seen as undesirable, they are most certainly seen as heathens and unclean, and they are also likely seen as somewhat of an enemy to the Jews.
We don’t hear of great protests in the streets, so the relationship may be getting along well enough, either that or the oppressive Roman army is keeping a pretty tight reign on things. Which could totally be the case.
Anyway, for the Roman Centurion to reach out to Jesus on behalf of a dying slave is certainly out of the ordinary.
But what do we read? When Jesus encounters those the centurion sent, and hears how well he has treated the Jews in the area, even building them a temple, Jesus goes with them.
On the way, the centurion sends others to meet him on the road. They have another message to share from their leader. They tell Jesus, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” (Luke 7:6,7)
They also share some of the respect and authority this man has over his army and his slaves, that they do whatever he tells them to do. He is a man of great authority and influence.
Which part of the message do you think impressed Jesus most?
His authority over soldiers and slaves and that they will do his bidding? Fat chance right!
It says Jesus was amazed at this man. Jesus is not impressed with power and influence. That doesn’t happen.
What impresses Jesus is the first part of the message. Even this great leader saw himself unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus. He couldn’t come to see Jesus face-to-face. He couldn’t expect Jesus, a Jew, to come into his gentile home.
He is so respectful, he is so humbled that Jesus might help him, he is so hopeful based on the stories he’s heard, he knows that Jesus only needs to speak the word and his slave will be healed.
And Jesus heals his slave. But, he doesn’t even mention it in his reply. He just simply says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” and the man is healed.
This is an interesting statement when we think about it. Jesus is saying that in the Jewish holy city, the city at the centre of the Jewish faith for centuries, in there he hasn’t found anyone with as much faith as this Roman Centurion.
The Roman Centurion.
The man’s not even Jewish! Yet in his statement that he is not worthy to be in the presence of Jesus he has shown more faith than Jesus has seen anywhere in his travels to this point.
What is this saying to us?
It’s saying that Jesus has come to save not only the Jewish people, but ALL people, regardless of their nationality or their background. It’s highly likely the slave is not Jewish either, nor is he Roman. In this simple statement acknowledging the faith of the centurion, Jesus has shown that he has come for all nations.
Are you in need of some grace, some help, from God? Come to Jesus and he will help you.
What a powerful statement Jesus is making!
This should cause us to look at ourselves and ask ourselves a question. Jesus spreads his message of hope, he offers love and grace, healing and forgiveness to everyone who is willing to acknowledge him as Lord, which was the very first word the centurion’s messengers used to address Jesus.
If Jesus is Lord, he will welcome you into his presence, no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done. Jesus didn’t care about the centurion’s resume, it was his humble approach to Jesus as Lord which showed his faith. And Jesus responded.
So the question we can ask ourselves is, how do we approach Jesus?
Are we humbly coming into the presence of God with fear that we are not worthy? Or are we coming as if we deserve something?
In the second healing story, Jesus is travelling along the road when he encounters a funeral procession. A man has died. His mother is a widow, she has already lost her husband, and now her son has passed away.
It’s a man’s world Jesus is living in. Men rule all aspects of society. Without a man to speak for her or provide for her, this widow will be completely unable to make a living for herself.
She is lost and alone. The crowd with her on the funeral procession are probably professional mourners. Not all of them likely were close to the deceased man. Some would have, for sure, but not a whole crowd. And not many would have remained to help the woman after she laid her son to rest.
Jesus, as he approaches the woman, senses her loneliness. He sees the questions she has in her heart about how she is going to live without a man to provide for her. She has lost the two closest men to her, men who loved her and cared for her. How can she ever start over? Who would take her in? Who would have pity on her?
The Bible then says Jesus has compassion for her.
This isn’t the kind of compassion that makes you say, “I’m sorry” when you feel like you don’t know what else to say.
The compassion showed by Jesus is a feeling from deep within himself as he sees deep inside the woman and he realizes the depth of her pain.
And then he says, “Do not weep.”
I wonder how the crowd, or even the woman reacted to this statement. I can imagine if I walked into a funeral home and walked up to the family and said, “Don’t cry” I wouldn’t be very popular.
This woman is in mourning, she is completely alone, she has no one to provide for her, she is in shock and in deep distress. And Jesus tells her not to cry.
It’s not exactly the most pastoral statement someone can make when you are trying to console someone.
Now the difference between Jesus saying it and me saying it comes in what happens next.
Jesus can say it because he can do something about it. Me, not so much.
Jesus touches the body and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And he gets up! But more than that, he even speaks! His life is completely restored.
And then there’s this beautiful statement we probably glossed over as we heard it read. It says, “Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Talk about a gift! Imagine the reaction of this woman who now not only has her son back, but also her life!
This woman who had no future, no hope, now has her life back.
The slave of the centurion, lying on his death bed, also has his life back.
It wasn’t the faith of the slave or the son which caused Jesus to give them back their lives. It was the faith and lives of others. It was the faith of the centurion. It was the plight of the mother.
Yet they received incredible gifts as well.
I want to be a little careful with this as we look at these stories with eyes which cause us to think of the people we love in our own lives. It makes us think of all the prayers we have begged God to answer to help those we love, even to the point of saving their lives.
How come these two are healed when we don’t even know if they were faithful to God yet my friend still passed away? This is a concept we might struggle with.
Does God answer prayer? You bet he does. Sometimes it’s “yes”, sometimes, “no”, sometimes “not yet.”
We can’t read these stories and expect God to do them in our own lives just as he has done for these people. These stories are for us to learn about the grace and love of God, to see His nature expressed in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. God used these people to teach us about Himself.
And when we learn about Him, that’s when we start to see how God is active in our own lives. God is wanting to do great things in our lives, but we may be missing out because we aren’t able to see it because we’re expecting Him to give us what we’re asking for and not what He wants to give us, which may be something very different.
Jesus spends a lot of his ministry, certainly in the stories we’ve been looking at the last couple of weeks, he spends a lot of time correcting the understanding of how people view what the Messiah is supposed to do when he gets here.
Last week he challenged the views of the sabbath and asks how the observers of such a day are standing out as people of God.
This week he’s challenging our understanding of just who it is that will receive the gifts of God.
Many believe the Messiah has come to save the Jews from their oppressors, to thank the holy people for their faithfulness, and to reward them for sticking to the rules, as they have defined them for themselves.
But is the centurion and his slave Jewish? No. Are they part of the holy people of God who follow all the rules? Not at all. The centurion even acknowledges his failure to fit into this expectation. But does it stop Jesus? No.
The centurion shows faith. That’s enough for Jesus.
The widow, does she fit into the ideal model to receive gifts from God? No, she doesn’t either, even if she is Jewish. Yet that doesn’t stop Jesus either.
She is a woman in need. She has moved to being an outsider in her own community. She is broken, hurt and alone.
And Jesus brings her hope. He brings her life. Jesus restores her to being part of a community. This is important in the life of first century people.
Jesus is showing us it’s more than about ourselves and how we want things to be. Jesus is showing us what it means to be followers of God’s way.
What it boils down to is, if we are claiming to be a faithful people, then we won’t put up barriers, or walls if you will, to those who are in need. Yes some of those people will also believe in God, others may choose to disagree with us. But as we see in our readings from today, it doesn’t really make much of a difference.
We know the centurion believed Jesus had great power, but we know nothing of the widow’s faith. Although I think it’s safe to say she believed after Jesus gave her back her son! As the whole crowd went off amazed at what had happened, they shared it with everyone they met.
Which is still an example for us. Jesus has done an amazing thing in bringing the widow’s son back to life. The whole crowd then went around the region spreading the word about what Jesus has done.
I would imagine those in the centurion’s household would be doing the same thing once the slave rose from his illness.
Jesus has given us the ability to also share in his ministry. Jesus, through the church, continues to touch lives today.
We may not be able to bring people back to life, but there are many other things we could be doing in our community which will spread the news that good works are still being done in the name of Jesus Christ. And not as a swear word either!
In a way it goes back to my question from last week, how do we stand out as Christians in the world which has withdrawn from God?
There are hundreds of people in our town who this morning are really struggling to get through today. There are children who are waking up this morning maybe after trying drugs or alcohol for the very first time because they’re bored and had nothing else to do last night.
What do we have to offer these people?
Jacqui and I went to the opening service for the Lighthouse church in Sydney last Sunday night. It was a service in a building which will be primarily used as a recreation area for kids, getting them off the streets. They can use their skateboards inside. There will be a games room with ping pong and pool tables. They’ll play floor hockey and basketball. There will be a music room full of instruments where they can go in and make some noise. Everything has been donated so far, including labour, to the tune of $50,000. Another $40,000 and the building will be finished.
The Glace Bay location is open pretty much every day and 400 kids pass through the doors every week. On Monday night, the opening night in Sydney, 50 kids showed up to use their skateboard sand scooters in the sanctuary we worshipped in just the night before.
What would something like that look like for our kids on the Northside?
What a message something like that would give our community, that the churches of Sydney Mines care for our kids so much they’ll give them a safe place to play and be kids.
Could it happen? I sure hope so. It’s been the prayers of many people for a number of years now. We just need some vision. We need some direction. We need some energy to make it happen.
We don’t have to heal people or raise them from the dead to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, or even to stand out. We just need to follow God into our community, reaching out to people in need. Just as Jesus did. Just as he did in our reading today.
Yes he did things we can’t do, or at least can’t do right now. But in the simple act of reaching out to someone in need, news spread.
He didn’t build a wall. He didn’t close the borders to people he didn’t like.
Jesus broke down barriers by reaching out to a Roman and healing a foreigner. He opened the gates of heaven so that everyone now knows they have access to the love of God through him.
You don’t need to be rich. You don’t need to be from a certain country or live a certain way.
You just need to believe.
Do you believe?
Do you believe Jesus has great plans for Sydney Mines?
Do you believe he wants us to be part of it?
Does he want you to be part of it?
Let us pray,
You are amazing. You came from God to show us how to live. You showed us that by simply reaching out and doing something we can share the love and grace of God with our neighbours.
Help us to see how we can reach out. Jesus, as we pray for guidance in our lives, as we meet later today as a church to discuss the year gone by and the future ahead of us, Lord, speak to us that we may know the plans you have for us.
And Lord, soften our hearts so they may be ready to receive the love you offer us. Open our ears to hear the words you have for us. Open our eyes to see those around us who are in need of help.
It is your awe-inspiring love which leads us into the world; a world which is sometimes scary, a place where we hesitate to speak of your love in our lives.
So Jesus, give us the courage to speak. Give us the vision to see. Give us the hearts to care. And give us the feet and hands to do the work.
We thank you, Lord Jesus, for all that you have done in our lives and we offer ourselves to your service so your work may continue and lives may be changed.
This we pray in your powerful name.
Amen and amen.