Sunday, 5 February 2017

Healing and Faith - sermon for 5th February

Luke 7: 1-17 

Some things are inevitable.
We are born, we will die.
Some things come when least expected, least wanted, least anticipated.

The Roman centurion we are told considers his servant to be precious, beloved. 
He is attached to the servant, and cannot bear to be parted. Knowing how ill he is, that he is indeed literally at death's door, he sends local friends, Jews, to plead on his behalf, to ask that the prophet, the teacher, this miraculous man should help. 
The Roman is a foreigner, an oppressor, he may be fair and righteous, but that doesn't stop him from still being a foreigner. Why should Jesus help? He is not Jewish; he is not one of Gods people... Or is he?

The widow, it is important to understand that her status as a widow is precarious, widows are status less, they are at the mercy of relatives to look kindly on them. She had been blessed to have a son to take care of her on the death of her husband, but now, her son dead, she is bereft, broken, anguished, for she understands what is to come. She will be left alone in the world... With nothing. The widow, wrapped up in her grief, in her despair. Did she even know Jesus was in town? Did she even know who he was? As he approached the funeral procession, did her heart leap with a tiny spark of hopefulness? Or was she unaware of his presence?
It is difficult for us to know. She certainly didn't ask Jesus to help, nor it seems did she have any expectation. Yet Jesus, seeing her, is moved.

The centurion, having sent his friends along, thinks better of his request. Who is he to ask this? It seems unlikely that he felt humility or lacked confidence. Rather, he was aware that Jesus was on a mission, he seems to be aware that the detour would stop Jesus from attending to other, more worthy causes. So he instead turns his plea for help into an amazing statement of faith.
Lord. I am not worthy to receive you, but say the word, and my servant will be healed! Assurance. Confidence. Propriety. All should be done in the good and proper way. Jesus, hearing this is moved.

Jesus, hearing of great faith
Jesus witnessing overwhelming grief.
Jesus moved to marvel and to compassion.
These two stories carry important markers; important elements of Gods plan for humanity.
These two miracles are confirmation that Jesus’ message was for all. All people. All humanity.
Even the foreigners. Even the marginalised. Even women and slaves. Foreigners and outcast. Jews and non-Jews. 
Jesus is taken aback. He cannot quite believe that a foreigner has such faith, such confidence in his ability. Not only is his request granted, but Jesus proclaims that this faith is greater than he has ever witnessed before.

Out in our world, it seems that faith is in scant supply. The world wants us all to rely on our own strength, to look after our own interests, to look inward, to be self-reliant, and unyielding. This could not be further from Jesus message of love, compassion and hope, Jesus’ command to look after the outcast and stranger was not new, it came from the prophets, it came from God's instruction to look after the widows and orphans, to care for those who are in need, to bring hope to the hopeless.
And, that message, that instruction is as powerful and important today as it was then. Maybe even more so. Our generation has lost sight of it; our generation has become self-sufficient; our generation does not like to ask for help or rely on others. We have become insular.
As you know, I have just returned from America. My friends are witnessing turbulent days; there is an air of anxiety and mistrust I have not seen before. People are angry. Angry about many things, but most of all, about the extreme views and opinions that have suddenly become acceptable, and thus are being put into action. Angry voices fill media streams. Reaction and consequences – marches peaceful and heartening. Followed by ugly name calling and veiled threats. There is a tangible sense of anxious anticipation among my colleagues and friends that this will not end well. That something will give and then – well, then who knows what will happen.
The phrases, “fake news” and “alternative facts” appear light and comedic at first; until you realise they are not joking; that there is indeed a version of facts, a version of the news that seems to be based not in fact but invention. And, those who call it out – who name the lies are made vulnerable in ways we, they, hoped never to see again. History is being written as we watch from the side-lines.
Jesus marvelled at the faith of the centurion – a foreigner who was aware of the thing he was witnessing.
Jesus felt compassion for the widow and her son – reaching out and touching them in their misery and fear.
Jesus is all too aware of what can happen when people challenge injustice and prejudice – but he did it anyway.
As we spend these weeks following Jesus’ journey as told to Luke, and shared for us to see and understand, we cannot just sit back and wait. Jesus calls us to action. To live as he lived. To react as he reacted.
When we witness injustice, or faith, or inequality we have a choice.
We can watch and do nothing
Or we can speak out. Stand up. Be counted.
Spread the news about Jesus – be people of faith in action.
For the world needs to hear and know that God’s love and compassion is here. And we are charged with sharing it – living it – knowing it.


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