Surprised Into Faith
A Sermon Preached at the Larchmont Avenue Church
June 2, 2013
Text: Luke 7:1-10
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”
And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “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 only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.
For I am also 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 slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”
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.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
A little less than a month ago, a story came out in the news cycles about a woman named Martha Mullen. Perhaps you heard of her? Mullen is a mental health counselor living in Richmond, Virginia, and she chose to do something very small, which quickly became something very big. Like many of us, Mullen was deeply pained by the bombings at the Boston Marathon. She was transfixed by the hunting down of the two alleged perpetrators. She was grieved to hear the details of their story, their choices, the suffering they caused.
But then one afternoon she heard a radio news report about the difficulty the family of the bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was having in finding a place to bury his body. Nearly a month after he was killed by police while fleeing, his body remained at the morgue, as graveyards throughout the state of Massachusetts refused to accept the body of an accused terrorist.
“My first thought was that Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Mullen told reporters. “And then I thought, ‘Someone ought to do something about this… And I am someone.”
Mullen proceeded to make several phone calls, looking for a cemetery which would accept Tsarnaev’s body. And eventually she found one.
Not surprisingly, Mullen has been ridiculed and reviled for her choice to help, and while she admits that this is difficult, she also expressed a deep conviction that her action was a direct outpouring of her faith. “Any time you can reach across the divide and work with people that are not like you,” Mullen said, “that’s what God calls us to do.”
In our scripture lesson for this morning we meet another outsider. A Gentile, the Centurian was a part of the Roman occupying force in Judea and Galilee in the first century. He was wealthy and powerful, and yet he used that power for good. His Jewish friends tell Jesus that the centurian built the synagogue where they worshiped. He loved them. He respected them. He cared for them.
While he was good, he was not the type of man they expected Jesus to help. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor and proclaim release from the captives. This man was neither poor nor captive. He was other. His power allowed him to tell this man to go and he would go, to tell that man to come and he would come. He would say, “do this,” and it would be done.
And yet the man knew where his power failed. His favored slave was dying, and he could do nothing.
A man like this, a man with money and power, a man with access to all the resources he needs… He was not the type of man they expected would ask for help. True, this man who asked for Jesus was a good man, but he was also a Roman. He was also an outsider. He was also a part of the government that continued to oppress the Jewish people, ignore them, neglect them.
And yet he came to them, and asked for Jesus.
Jesus himself had been teaching on the plain, saying things that surprised them, challenged them, confounded them.
Jesus had said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Love your enemies. Does this include a member of the Roman military force that occupied Palestine? Does this include a immigrant teenager who encased shrapnel in a pot and set a bomb that killed three and injured hundreds?
Jesus had surprised them, and then Jesus himself was surprised.
Perhaps what surprised Jesus was that the centurian understood his own power, and also understood where his power ended.
Jesus had said only verses before, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? And then, immediately after, he meets a man who calls Jesus ‘Lord,’ and seems to know what that means. Even Jesus did not expect this outsider to say what he said. Even Jesus did not expect that this outsider, this man of power and wealth and authority, trusted Jesus so implicitly, that he believed merely his spoken word could keep a man from dying.
The Centurian knows as well the ways in which he needs others. He seems to know that while the roots of one’s faith are embedded deeply in the individual heart, a lived faith recognizes itself as part of the world. He knows when he can no longer go it alone. He knows when to ask for help. He knows when to go to his friends and say, take me to Jesus.
Perhaps this is what we are called to do, as believers: to find and know the edges of where our power ends and God’s power begins. To be aware of the ways Jesus is Lord over all of our lives, not little pieces of it. To understand that faith is not a solitary endeavor, but is to be lived in a community of hospitality and trust.
All of this is enacted as we come to the edges of the table, and are reminded of the way Christ sustains us for the journeys of our lives: journeys that contain suffering and pain, and yes, even death.
We come to the edges of the table alongside a host of others – friends who will go to Jesus on our behalf, friends who need us to go to Jesus for them too, and friends like Martha Mullen, who remind us what it means to be not merely hearers of the Word, but doers as well.
We come to the table, surprised into deeper faith even by those who are different than ourselves. We come to the table, becoming worthy of God’s grace by knowing we are not, and holding fast to Christ and Christ alone. We come to the table, trusting that Christ’s Word of grace is enough to pull us through and make us whole.
Come, friends, to the table. For Jesus invites us all to share in his grace and love.