"I tell you, I have never found faith like this, not even in Israel!"
“Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul will be healed” – it’s not quite a quote from the gospel reading today; but it is a prayer from my childhood, and from the Roman Catholic liturgy. I said that wee prayer, every time I received communion as a girl and young woman – not ever realising it was taken from this encounter between Jesus and the Roman Officer.
Jesus’ response to hearing those words uttered was astonishment!Yes – Jesus was astonished!
And then stated how impressive the Man’s faith was; and healed his servant – remotely – from a distance – just as he had been asked to do.
And it got me wonderingWas Jesus ever astonished when he heard me utter those words?!
Or indeed any other words when my faith; my belief; my trust in God’s ability to make something happen in my life, was so assured, so definite, that my prayer was answered in that very moment
This story, is about the power of faithThe power that comes when one is so sure, so certain, of God’s power, and our ability to relate to it, that God, in astonishment grants our desires.
Now, I am sure that there are some of you here, who are thinking, or wondering, or doubting the real tangible power of prayers of faith
Thinking that prayer may be answered indirectly, or in a remote, or distant way – but not that impossible things will happen because of faith - for it requires a certain suspension of belief: not belief in faith or God; but suspending belief in the things we know, hard facts, scientific evidence or that which is right in front of us... suspending one belief system, in order for the working out of something mystical, in its truest sense.
Faith is not really a tangible thing – is it?Faith is mystical.
Faith requires.... faith!!
I can describe in quite good detail – my boys; or my parents; or my fiancé – but to describe how or why I love them; how I trust or believe in their particular talents and abilities is a much more elusive thing.
Some of the things we know are easily described, or defined, and others are not.So it is with faith: faith that can move mountains; faith that can reassure when it seems no reassurance is available.
All of this because faith is intangibleIt is subtle
Mysterious and powerful
And pinning it down to a particular description somehow seems to limit it or diminish its power
Faith is very often best described, or understood, or defined AFTER an event
For it is only in looking back that we can really make sense of it
And sometimes, the looking back is not just yesterday, or last week – but last year, or ten years ago – it can be a whole lifetime of living in faith – until that one thing comes which brings it all into sharp focus, and suddenly it all makes sense
It is our Roman Soldier moment: the moment when you just know: if I ask, this will happen.Jesus will be astonished
Jesus will see, or know, or witness MY faith and be astonished...
Some of us have had little Solider Moments alreadyOthers live in hope
And others still do not actually want or need it
There’s another paradox in the story of our faith; my faith, your faith
In exactly the same way that we are uniquely made, uniquely different and uniquely the same...Our faith is thus too.
We all have different needs
The Roman Solider – did not need Jesus to come with him; for he was a man used to giving orders, and receiving a response.Other people Jesus met needed him in their homes; or needed to touch him; or needed to watch from afar
And each of those, like the Roman Soldier, received Jesus in the way that was right for them
This is the power of faithThat God responds to us, through Jesus; by the Holy Spirit, in exactly the way we need, and at exactly the right time
There is a hymn in the hymn book, “Inspired by Love and Anger”, which is about mission and also about Jesus’ response to injustice... the final verse though, articulates just this point about how Jesus meets us where we are, and responds to our faith as it is:
Amused in someone’s kitchenAsleep in someone’s boat
Attuned to what the ancients
Exposed proclaimed and wrote
A saviour without safety
A tradesman without tools
Has come to tip the balance
With fishermen and fools
(CH4:253 John Bell & Graham Maule)
The power of faith is ours for the takingSurprise yourself! Astonish Jesus!
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word...”