The Vacation Bible School team from St. Barnabas, Lafayette, joined us Sunday, May 29 for communion service and fellowship brunch. The VBS team will offer VBS at Christ Episcopal Church May 30 thru June 3 in the Parish House. This is the 4th consecutive year the team has made this offering to the St. Joseph area. We greatly appreciate their time given to the children of our community.
2 PENTECOST - C- 16, PROPER IV LUKE 7:1-10
Today’s gospel is one of those rare ones, in which Jesus heals without any direct contact with the one who is in need of healing. It is also another example of intercession and how powerful that can be. The Centurion in the story intercedes on behalf of one of his servants and because of his faith his servant is healed. And it is a story that deals with the question of “credentials” or to put it another way, “worthiness.”
Jesus is in the region of Galilee in the city of Capernaum. You have heard me say before how much I was impressed with the ruins there. They extend over one half mile, not the least impressive are the remains of the first century synagogue, where according to St. Mark, Jesus performed his first miracle healing a man possessed with a demon.
Portions of the walls remain, as well as the columns that were at the entrance. The stones are elaborately carved and are quite massive, some weighing up to 5 tons! The appearance of a Roman eagle over the porch suggest that a Roman was the builder. Obviously it was magnificent to behold in its day.
Luke tells us that while Jesus is in Capernaum, some of the Jewish elders approach him on behalf of a certain Centurion, a Roman soldier, who it appears has a highly valued servant that is ill and close to death. The Centurion is a God-fearer sympathetic to the Jewish religion and according to the elders that approached Jesus on his behalf, he was the one who built their synagogue.
The elders commend the Centurion to Jesus, as Solomon commends the foreigner to God who comes to pray towards God’s house in today’s first lesson. The elders in today’s gospel deem this Roman, this foreigner, worthy of Christ’s intervention. We would say that his credentials are in order.
Jesus, then, agrees to accompany them to the Centurion’s house. The procession had almost arrived when friends of the soldier stopped them to deliver a message from him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…but speak the word only and my servant will be healed.”
The soldier did not even see himself worthy to come to Jesus, to stand before him face to face, much less have Jesus come to him, or to enter his house. Instead, the Centurion manifests his faith in Jesus’ authority to heal, even at a distance.
Jesus is impressed with his faith. He turns to the elders who are with him and surprises them by saying that not even in Israel has he found such faith. Where the Centurion got his faith we do not know. If he had lived in Capernaum for a while undoubtedly he had heard of Jesus, perhaps he had even witnessed Jesus’ healing power.
He is a man of authority, authority under Herod is absolute and he recognizes in Jesus a likewise authority under God. Christ does not have to come to his house to restore his servant’s health, all he has to do is say the word. No wonder Jesus was impressed.
The heart of the story is not the healing of the servant, that is important, for without it the story would not exist, but it is just the framework. What matters is the Centurion’s faith. Jesus is surprised at his faith. His faith is not abstract belief about God, or the learning of dogmas. It is a simple, clear belief in Jesus’ divine authority that when he commands that something be done, it will be.
One of the most human fears is rejection. It is a fear that runs from top to bottom in society. The rich and famous, even the poor have a fear of being rejected, or should we say, found unworthy of their position or title. They fear that one day the truth would be known, that they had somehow “made it” under false pretenses and that they really lacked the proper credentials. Their fear of rejection comes with their fear of being unmasked.
Likewise too many people feel as though they lack the credentials necessary to approach God and thus they ask others to intercede for them. Some feel they are simply unworthy to ask God for anything, or because of their feelings of guilt or sinfulness, or what ever, they don’t expect God to do anything for them. They don’t deserve it, they say. What are the “credentials” for worthiness?
Others feel that they are not on the same plain with most Christians in terms of their faith and thus do not ask of God or are afraid to approach him, or simply say that they do not know how. Such feelings are one reason many Christians stay away from church. They feel that their “credentials” are lacking, and without the proper “credentials” there will be no blessing. Who is worthy of God’s grace?
It is not that they view the rest of us as some kind of super Christian because we go to church every Sunday, but that they view us as somehow standing closer to God, and because of their lack of trust and faith in God they see themselves as simply unworthy to be in our company. How sad is that?
We have the “credentials” they say to themselves to come before God, to be in this place; to pray and praise and to receive God’s grace through the hearing of His Holy Word and by the partaking of the Blessed Sacrament and they do not.
Their faith, hope and trust in God is not strong enough. If they only knew that those of us who come to worship in this Holy Space week in and week out know that we do not possess the proper “credentials” either, and that it is precisely why we are here.
It was and is the Love of God manifested in the sacrifice of His only Son Jesus on the cross, and our response to that Love that opens the way for each of us to approach Him. We are spiritual weaklings, whether we realize it or not and God knows it. Our approach to God’s altar, comes by putting our trust in His Grace and Love, not in any sense of our own “worthiness.”
It was precisely the Centurion’s sense of unworthiness before Christ, his vulnerability in the face of Jesus’ power, his openness to what he needed but knew that he did not deserve, his reaching out to what can only be called grace, that Jesus calls Faith - that was the one and only credential necessary to draw near to God - and so it is for each of us.
The centurion’s cry, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…but speak the word only,” to which we add, “so that my soul shall be healed,” is the cry made by every honest person before God.
It is a cry that God will never reject, but will always respond to through the intercessions of His Beloved Son, Jesus, who by His sacrifice on the cross “has delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before Him.” AMEN+