In the chapters of Luke prior to this chapter and after we hear an ongoing set of teachings and miracles of Jesus, all leading to the answer of one question; What is faith? All of them have to do with the presence or absence of faith. How do we recognize it, how do we live into it, how do we express it? Faith involves humility, gratitude and service. Faith has no gender or racial bias. It denies or refuses no one. Jesus in his ministry shows that he comes for all people.
In this mornings reading, we hear the story of the centurion in Capernum. A man of power and of position, part of an empire of oppression. A man to be wary and fearful of.
He’s noted in Luke’s gospel as not being Roman, but as a gentile. A man who supports the synagogue of the town for the Jewish people, endearing himself to them to the point that when his favored slave falls ill, the elders of the town quickly respond to his request to go ask the healer he has heard about, Jesus, to come to his aid.
The centurion has heard about Jesus and his miracle-working power. So he sends Jewish elders on his behalf. The action is culturally sensitive: not knowing Jesus personally and recognizing that he is of Jewish heritage, the soldier sends representatives of Jesus’ own ethnic background to plead his case. This man had won the respect of people across ethnic and religious lines. There is no demand made, only a request. And they earnestly do so.
This story is fascinating in many respects. First, that the elders of a town under Roman occupation would find compassion for a soldier living in their midst. Secondly, that as Jesus approached the man’s house, he encounters a second group of people sent by the soldier. People, who say to Jesus don’t bother. Delivering the soldiers message of, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority.”
Words of humility gratitude and service, that shows Jesus this man’s deep faith in him.
When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” One of the rare gospel accounts where Jesus’ reaction is recorded, and even rarer, when someone receives a clear commendation from Jesus. When this happens, it is an occasion for reflection.
The powerful and poignant testimony of this gospel reading and of the centurion provides us an opportunity to reflect on our faith. An opportunity to show us that people in very different places and with very different backgrounds have heard Jesus’ message and appreciate it. That the example of Jesus in his life and ministry isn’t simply something for us as Christians to think we own, or have access to. That God’s actions in the world through his son are for all people to see. The emphasis in this mornings gospel makes this miracle different from the earlier miracle accounts in Luke. The miracle itself is not the focus, rather, the stress is on the attitude and faith of the person seeking the healing. Luke takes the attention from Jesus’ miraculous work and subtly shifts it to the centurion as a person and his response to the man’s actions.
Jesus’ statement, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” is like the dawn of a new light on the people gathered around him. Here is an eample of faith that should be emulated. Here is trust, confidence, and belief in the authority of God. The Jewish people have something to learn from this outsider. In an awareness and understanding that Jesus’ authority truly comes from God, the centurion has committed the well-being of his beloved slave into Jesus’ hands. In our gospel reading next week, this dawning of faith is affirmed again as Jesus visits yet another small village, Nain, raising from the dead the son of a widow in front of the villagers, fear seizing all of them because of their witnessing his power. And they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” When the crowd fears and recognizes Jesus as a great prophet, they aren’t wrong; their understanding of Jesus’ true nature is merely incomplete. With todays lesson and next weeks, Luke is steadily building his portrait of the true complex nature of Jesus. God is visiting his people. Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. He affirmed what John the Baptist foretold was going to happen. His ministry was filled with evidence of God’s presence.
It’s in this understanding of God’s never ending presence that I come back from a week of mission in the Dominican Republic, humbled and awed once again with what I experienced. Some of you have perhaps been on mission trips in the past going where you see the grinding poverty and the human misery others endure as part of their daily life. Like my experience, you may have experienced the irony of staying in a comfortable air conditioned western style hotel with a tasty breakfast buffet for the visitors from America, while a few miles away there is nothing but poverty, cement block shacks and hunger, wrapped in oppressive heat and humidity. We rode, like you may have you ridden, in an air-conditioned van, past and through miles of trash and deep poverty to arrive at our destination where we worked for what seemed for us a long day, but in reality only a taste of the life those we served lived. I prayed over what a complete game of chance it was that I was born where I was to be born, and not in one of the hot poor small homes we visited to see people who couldn’t leave their homes.
And yet on Sunday, we worshipped together in a simple cinder block church, our differences, our worlds one, bound in faith and love. God truly was there in every moment.
We didn’t perform any miracles, we certainly didn’t raise anyone from the dead, but we were there present. Acting as Christ’s hands and feet in a world vastly different from ours. Being present as active servants called to do what we could. From a one month old to a one hundred year old, we met people where they were and for a few moments nothing else mattered. We were there fully present and connected. Healing and nurturing through faith, much more than medicine and science.
One of the traps we have to quickly get past is the assumption that we are there to fix something. And that’s not what mission is about. Mission takes place in the everyday and ordinary. God’s mission happened in the silliest of moments, in places of laughter as well as moments of quiet and tears. Mission happened and happens everywhere. It is local and global – It involves our worship here at Trinity and the message we leave here with to share with others, as well as our outreach and love to neighbor both locally and abroad. It is what will grow our community as people see us living our faith out in the open in the world they live in. Not sheltered away in a building unseen. Mission is our giving witness to who Jesus is, not only through the proclamation of what we believe, but also in living it out in our daily actions; actions of loving God and loving others.
A missioner who’s name escapes me once wrote, “Part of what it means to live faithfully as God’s people is to live as someone sent out into the world, in ministry to the world. But mission is not something we do for God. It is not something we initiate and then invite God to participate in. Mission is what God is already actively in, and at work in, in our world. The mission of God is something that we participate in on a daily basis. As we go about our lives at home, at work, at play, on the weekend and in the community of God’s people; our witness together grounds us as witnesses in the story and the practice of God’s mission.”
By nature of our baptism and our faith, we are all missioners. One who is “sent on a mission.” Being witness, being actively present with and listening to other in their lives, in their context is what being Christian is about. Through our faith in God’s action in the world comes compassion and love of others. Its there at the intersection of it all that miracles happen; the miracle of relationship and love. And where we live into Christ’s command to love God, love others and love ourselves.
When Jesus asked his disciples to follow him, when he asked them to lay down their lives and then sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom he was asking them to give witness to himself. And if we here, called by God to spread his kingdom of hope to the world around us wish to grow and invite others to grow with us, we must take seriously the words of Jesus to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. We must begin the process of mapping out what mission is here at Trinity and what it means for our community and our faith. To have the opportunities present for people to come, to engage their faith and their call to help others in humility gratitude and service to God.
Mission touches the heart of our faith and the heart of God. What better example are we called to share with others as we model the ministry of Christ in the world that to do just that; walk in the word. Amen