+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 7:7
Theme: “Say The Word”
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
If God had not spoken, nothing would have happened- ever! No joys, sorrows, or activity, period. God would have continued to reside in self-sustaining glory. But we, and the rest of the universe would simply not exist. Vacuum, void, and nothingness would be the limit of vocabulary. But God did speak. His speaking was firstly a creative act, the nature of which we have no comparisons with which to enlighten us. His speaking also has redemptive power. He restores that which is broken, damaged, wounded and dead. Our ‘divine speaker’ became, in the person of Jesus, the human Saviour.
What does this have to do with today’s account? A centurion was a well-paid member of the Roman military establishment in charge of the discipline and oversight of one hundred soldiers, who, in turn, formed part of a larger group of 6000 called a legion. This Gentile military man was sympathetic to the Jewish faith. He may have been a God-fearer, a person with genuine piety and interest, who had not formally converted to Judaism. He was wealthy enough to finance the construction of a synagogue. He was clearly highly thought of by the local Jewish council.
The man had a servant who was at the point of death. The preacher from Galilee was his only hope. Undoubtedly Jesus’ powers were well publicized by now. But how respectful was this centurion? Assuming Jesus to be a traditional Rabbi he did not presume to seek an audience from Him. Instead, he sent his Jewish friends to make the request. Ironically, they petitioned Jesus on the basis of his worthiness; but he considered himself to be unworthy.
The centurion understood the proper exercise of and response to authority. He expected his commands to be followed. He honours Jesus with the same respect, “Say the word, and my servant will be healed.”1 Say the word! Jesus verifies that this response was actually a statement of great trust. “I tell you the truth, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”2 When the messengers returned home the man was found to be well.
Say the word! Words can be very powerful. Words can be petty, hurtful, and hollow. They are always subject to misinterpretation. The rhetoric of politicians can be confusing and maddening. Words are not always spoken with honest motive and candid intention. And we all know that words can be trivial, overused, redundant and tedious. Words can be both the fruit and the cause of sin.
Why do humans struggle so much to listen to and follow God’s word? When God condemns us for not following the ‘Ten Words’, His commands He makes it clear that there are consequences. He threatens punishment- punishment we justly deserve. The centurion knew well what problems rebelliousness, deceit, or selfishness caused for a Roman legion. Penalties were harsh. Safety and well-being was at stake.
Dear friends, that’s exactly what we so often fail to see as sinners: We fail to see what’s at stake. We may even believe that disobedience to God’s will is a benefit to us. How many see sexual immorality, dishonesty, or selfishness as being personally detrimental to them? There are sins of ignorance, sins of weakness, and sins of determination. We don’t like to have our own desires opposed. Consider Paul’s words to the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all.”3 Would Paul express the same incredulity to the church today?
Words can wound. But words can heal. Words are used to express inner desires. The Jews of Capernaum were sympathetic to the centurion. They didn’t want him grieved by the death of his servant so they sent word to Jesus. Sympathy is a strong motivator of human activity. And, as well it should be. It is a reflection of God’s image. It is tainted with selfishness, yes; but sympathy is a movement of the heart.
Your words are powerful too. You may not think they are but if others are candid with you they will likely confirm it. Of course the influence of anyone’s words very much depends on whether they practice what they preach. We all soon recognize the boy who cried wolf. You have the words of a father, or mother, a son or daughter, a boss or employee, a friends or professional. Your words flow from the purpose of your vocation and support the well-being of others. The speech of a Christian should reflect God’s speech to us.
The word is the Holy Spirit’s means to create and sustain faith in Christ who is the Word-become-flesh. The Scripture says, “He sends out His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.”4 Again, “He sent out His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.”5 And again, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”6
Dear friends, the presence of Jesus is actualized through His word. Christ did not go to the centurion’s servant. Proximity (understood in human terms) neither restricts nor facilitates Jesus’ power. He healed the servant without ever meeting him face to face. Christ is as good as his word. At the baptismal font Jesus meets us face to face. His visage is hidden in the aquatic compound but His voice is heard through the audible scriptures. Our inability to see His physical presence does not erase the reality. Would we say that a blind man involved in personal conversation was not talking face to face with someone? Would we claim that a deaf woman reading braille was not coming face to face with the author? At the communion rail we see Jesus eye to eye. He is veiled in bread and wine but His body and blood are offered as life-giving food. Sight is sometimes an aid to enjoying physical food but many a delicacy is enjoyed with eyes closed. Tasting Christ in the sacrament strengthens the vision of faith.
God has sent His Word- His Son- to us. He makes good on all His promises. Christ never leaves us drowning in our sins. He hears our cries for rescue. He answers our pleas. He lifts of the burden of guilt and condemnation from us. He was crucified. He has been raised. He is enthroned over all creation. He has sent to us the Spirit. He transforms our hearts so that we can delight in His word. At the bodily resurrection the triumph over sin will be completely accomplished in us. The scales will fall from our eyes. We will not need words. Faith will be obsolete. We will meet Him face to face and see eye to eye in glory. We might enjoy meeting the centurion too! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday After Pentecost
29 May, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 7:7
2 Luke 7:9
3 Psalm 147:15
4 Joel 2:32
5 Psalm 107:20
6 2 Corinthians 4:6