+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 7:2
Theme: No Anonymity in Christ.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
There is no anonymity in Christ. The unrepentant sinner cannot disappear into the woodwork. But the children of God need never think they are forsaken or forgotten. Our status before Him is never a matter of achievement but of grace; not of merit, but of mercy. We never presume upon God, but we do expect great things from Him. Christ never meets the expectations of the egotistical, but always of the humble.
Today’s account from Luke is a great illustration. Today Jesus was ‘summoned’ to the aid of the slave of a Roman centurion. Who or what has the authority to summon Christ? Only humility. We are told the man was precious in His master’s eyes. The seriousness of the man’s condition (he was dying) required urgency. Yet the centurion himself, a Gentile (but a God-fearer), didn’t think he was worthy to trouble Jesus. Here is what the centurion said, “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 say the word, and let my servant be healed.”1 It is just this type of humility that God commends.
Say the word. Centurions were accustomed to having their word obeyed. A centurion had charge over a hundred Roman soldiers. It was an immense responsibility and with it came respect and status in society. Other centurions played important parts in New Testament history. The centurion who stood guard at the foot of the cross and witnessed the death of Christ is understandably the most notable. He confessed Jesus as the Son of God. Cornelius was a centurion who, at the Spirit’s direction, invited Simon Peter into his home. And a centurion name Julius was a key figure associated with Paul’s shipwreck. Jesus commends the faith of this centurion as exceeding anything He had found in Israel! No pretense! No intent of negotiation or manipulation! No attempt at interrogation! It stands as a lesson for all who approach God with an agenda.
Humans are very crafty in their ability to rationalize matters about which God has clearly spoken. We do this quite “naturally” to excuse our failings and pacify our consciences. One of our most common techniques involves ambiguity. We claim we’re not exactly certain what God means and whether it is applicable to us. Generalized love cannot replace the specificities of the Ten Commandments. The intent to love without concrete parameters can easily decay into nothing more than good intentions. When God says, for instance, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour,”2 He means something more exact and comprehensive than above-average intent to tell the truth. When God says, “You shall not covet,”3 He means something more specific than enough self-control not to be constantly ruled by jealously. He is condemning that juicy bit of gossip you’d like to help spread or that specific envy of your neighbour that keeps getting the best of you.
What we ultimately hope to excuse ourselves from is the need for forgiveness. If belief about original sin- and here we mean not the theory of its existence but the power it still wields in our lives- is compromised, the need for forgiveness will soon become discretionary and the sacraments optional. We can witness this reality both through personal encounters with those who seek to tap into their inner goodness or beauty, and in the official teaching of churches and denominations that give much more credit to the inherent goodness in people than the Bible allows. Finding ways to tap into that apparent goodness leads to far different approaches to spiritual well-being than looking to put to death the sinful nature because there is no good worth salvaging.
The search for ‘goodness’ that is useful as a means to an end is the methodology of all the ideologies of the world. On one level it is the simple application of logic. Spiritually, it is the method of the law. The law is not unintelligible to the unbelieving world. That doesn’t mean it won’t be challenged, denied, circumvented, or rejected. The unconverted will operates between the polarities of fear and reward. Decisions are made based on what one can get away with or what benefit stands to be gained. The function of the law is innately familiar. Its dynamic is the way of the world; risk-reward, investment-return, obedience-praise, restraint-protection, and an eye for an eye. This is how we function in the social and civil sphere.
The gospel, however, is another matter altogether. Here the world is baffled and/or offended. The Christian’s life is overlain by the grace and forgiveness of Christ. The gospel counter-balances the work of the law in the lives of Christians. But not in such a way that the two are kept in equilibrium. The truth of Christ- His humbling Himself to be born of a virgin, His suffering, His crucifixion, His triumph over hell and Satan, His resurrection and ascension, all for you and for your salvation-this life-giving truth frees us from the condemnation of the law, from guilt, and from serving the world’s agenda, and finally, from doubt and despair.
Every human being craves certainty. We crave certainty in respect to our greatest needs and our strongest fears. Without certainty there is not stability. And without stability humans are prone to anxiety spanning the scale from slight to severe. God’s word is a fortress of indestructibility. Say the word, Lord! We can hardly do better than to ask to have the faith of this centurion. By Christ’s word sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the dead are raised, the earth is renewed. Say the word Lord and calm our anxieties, restore our relationships, temper our grief, cure our diseases. What made the faith of the centurion so exemplary? His was a humility that did not presume upon God. His was a faith that looked only to Christ and found its rest in Him.
The centurion’s was not a self-reflective, navel-gazing faith. Our assurance of salvation can never be based on introspection. You can try to reconstruct a memory of your faith at the time you were confirmed. You can reflect on your faith at times of crisis and times of happiness. You can try to take a reading of your faith every day or every hour for the next month or year. And what will you find? You will find that your faith is like the weather. It may have long stretches of sunshine but also dark and stormy episodes. It may become cold like the frost or tossed about by the wind. Your faith may wilt as in the heat of summer or shimmer like a brilliant autumn day. But you can NEVER be certain what it will be tomorrow. Your faith can never be a barometer by which you know the certainty of God’s love!
If only I could be more devoted! If only I could repent more sincerely! If only I hadn’t committed such and such sin! If only I could change the past! Then, I could be certain that my faith is good enough for God. Dear friends, Christ was good enough. He is good enough. He paid the price for you sin. He lives that you may have life. And He doesn’t extend His blessing to you generically. The Holy Spirit names you in baptism. He designates you as God’s child, freed and forgiven. There is no anonymity in Christ. When you kneel at His altar He knows your name. His blood isn’t given to the unidentified but to those who bear His name. We were never told the centurion’s name. Christ knew. And through him Christ was made known. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday After Pentecost
2 June 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 7:6-7
2 Exodus 20:16
3 Exodus 20:17
4 1 Corinthians 10:2-4
5 Romans 6:3-4
6 2 Corinthians 4:17