PENTECOST 2, C – June 2, 2013

SCRIPTURES – 1 Kings 8:22-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10; Ps. 86

When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at [the centurion], and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

This is one of the most astounding statements in all of Scripture. How incredible it is that Jesus – the Son of God who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the one almighty and eternal God; who created and upholds the entire universe by the power of His Word; who in the utter greatness of His mercy and love for us sinners became a man and gave His life to save us sinners; – this Jesus, to whom none of us mere mortals and sinners can begin to compare, marvels at another man! And, a foreigner, to boot. It is truly astounding that Jesus marvels at and praises a Roman army officer!

Or, is it? I don’t think too many people would be amazed by this today. We live in a day in which the prevailing opinion is that, unless you’re a terrorist or a child molester or a murderer or someone equally vile, God of course loves you and is pleased with you! God loves everybody and just wants us to be reasonably decent people, right?

I urge you to pay close attention to today’s Scripture readings. Take them home. Read them again and think carefully about what they say.

Does God love everybody? Well, yes, of course; so much so, in fact, that He eagerly desires to receive and save everybody from their sins. From the earliest times God’s people understood this. Nearly 1,000 years before Jesus came, Solomon, the 3rd king of Israel, built and dedicated in Jerusalem a fabulous temple for the worship of the God of Israel. In the prayer he prayed at its dedication, he prayed: 
  • “When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.” (1 Kings 8)

Foreigners were welcome in the temple of the God of Israel! Solomon prayed that God would hear and answer their prayers! Unfortunately, by the time Jesus came 1,000 years later the people of Israel seemed to have forgotten this. Their temple – rebuilt and expanded and made very ornate a few years before Jesus was born – now had a court of the Gentiles. Only Jews were allowed in the inner part of the temple, where the sacrifices and the prayers of the priests were offered. Thank God Jesus changed this! By getting up and going to the aid of the Roman centurion who asked for His help – and, above all, by giving His life on the cross for the sins of the world – Jesus shows that God loves and desires to help all people. All are welcome here in His house. Oh, you may have your pew, your regular place where you sit. But, you would welcome anyone to sit next to you, right? Young or old; light skinned or dark skinned or any color in between; male or female; rich or poor; of sound mind (“normal,” some would say) or developmentally disabled or with Alzheimer’s; you would accept anyone because God accepts anyone and everyone, right? I hope so.

Why does God accept us and others? Is it because we are reasonably decent people who try to do what is right and help other people? He expects far more than this. He expects us to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love others as we love ourselves. That’s quite a tall order! We all fall short of doing it. Still, God will accept you anyway, as long as you’re trying to be good, right?

That seemed to be the mindset of the Jewish elders who went to Jesus to ask Him to heal the servant of the Roman centurion. They pleaded to Jesus on the man’s behalf: “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” It kind of sounds like they were bargaining with Jesus; kind of like we do at times, perhaps, in our prayers. “I’ve done my best, God. I’ve tried to be good; or, at least I’m not that bad. Please help me!”

How offensive it is to God to speak to Him in this way! As if you had to bargain with Him to gain His help! As if you could bargain with Him, when He is fully aware of your every sinful thought and desire and motivation. Bargaining with God would be worse than me saying to my wife last Friday, our anniversary: “Hon, I’ve tried my best this past year to love you and do good things for you, so would you please love me for another year?” I guarantee you that such words would not go over well.

The Roman centurion makes no attempt to bargain with 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 say the word, and let my servant be healed.” It is at these words, at this faith, that Jesus marvels, for such faith is so rarely seen.

It is hard to say to God, “Lord, I am not worthy of You.” This is a denial of self, of who you are and all that you have done. None of it is good enough! It is hard to say this, but we must, for this is true. Will this truth, our sins, make God not hear and help us?

Focus upon Jesus and listen to Him. He immediately gets up and goes to help the centurion’s servant. He doesn’t need to be persuaded to do so, because He is the God who has come to help and save sinners. If you are a sinner, then you have in Jesus One who will always help you! Don’t ever doubt this. Believe in His mercy and love, and in that faith seek His love and help.

Jesus is so good and so great that He doesn’t even need to be physically present to help. The centurion believes this, and this is what astounds Jesus. “But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” All Jesus needs to do is speak and there will be blessing, for His words are powerful. They are the words of one in authority. They are the words of the God who rules all creation.

Believe this and rejoice in the words Jesus spoke to you in your baptism: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” A pastor spoke them over you, but they are Jesus’ words, not something the pastor or the church came up with. In your baptism God took you, a sinner, to Himself. Rejoice in the words Jesus speaks to you through me, His servant, when you confess your sins: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins.” They are forgiven, for Jesus told His disciples to speak this forgiveness in His place. Believe this! Rejoice especially in the words Jesus speaks to you today: “This is My body given for you… this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Here is your forgiveness and God’s acceptance of you, for you in the body and blood of Christ! Because of His love for you, and His love given to you, you can be sure that also your prayers and cries for help are accepted by God and will be answered by God. He is for you in Jesus!

This is the faith at which Christ Himself marvels: a faith which acknowledges one’s lowliness because of his sins, but also Christ’s goodness and ability to save;; and, a faith which finds His salvation in His Word and gladly holds to it. Believe in this Jesus! Seek and hold to His words! You will then be saved. Jesus will proclaim you great because of your faith in Him!