June 2, 2013
Second Sunday in Pentecost, Communion, SS Recognition
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
You know how sometimes a movie or tv show will give you lots of information, but one word or part of a picture (intentionally or unintentionally) pops off the screen? I was thinking of the old Batman and Robin shows, especially when it went from "real life" to the animated part, and there were pictures of the caped crusaders taking a punch with the proverbial "kapow" or "bam." That's what reading the scripture passage for this morning was like for me this week with one particular word - worthy.
As Bob makes his way to the pulpit, I'll give you a couple of relevant points. A centurion in Jesus' day was a military employee of the Roman government, which, for all intents and purposes, was code for enemy of the Jewish people. The original number of men a centurion was in charge of was 100 - like in 100 years is a century. A cohort - in that day - was in charge of six centuries - 600 men. Although a legion was originally ten times a century - or 6,000, that number changed over time to mean numbers between 3,000 and 6,000.
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Thank you, Bob. This is one of those passages that I wish we could sit with for a few hours - there being so many different topics to explore. It's interesting that we don't really know if the three main characters ever actually meet. Again, one perceived to be an enemy seems to have more faith in Jesus than his "friends." Just as the Roman centurion understood that his authority came from those ranking above him to command those under him, he seemed to understand that Jesus has an authority from God that he can enact by simply willing that thing to be. But there are balls to cue up, naps to take and fish to catch.
Despite all the really incredible avenues to be pursued from this passage, my heart kept going back to the centurion and his issue of worth. For those of you who didn't happen to count, the word "worthy" is used just once. But there are three other - obvious - places where the issue of being worthy is implied. There was a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly. The second occurrence was when the elders begged Jesus to heal the servant, because the centurion "deserves to have you do this." And the third is the centurion's response to Jesus' impending arrival, "Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof."
For those of you who listen to Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor, you understand how Scandinavian Minnesotans have been bred to have high levels of humility. In other words, you are not to have too high an opinion of yourself, because you make less of a mess when you don't have so far to fall. It's almost a genetic predisposition to admire those with healthy self-esteem. So was the centurion a Scandinavian from Minnesota?
Maybe he was doing some political maneuvering. Maybe some of the centurions higher-ups caught wind that he was being kind to the Jewish people, and they didn't like hearing such things. If those same folks found out that this same centurion was hosting a potential Messiah who was causing a stir in Palestine, well, those higher-ups could make life miserable for the centurion. Maybe it would be easier to keep this Jesus person at bay. And we could "maybe" the morning away with what may have been going on.
But my heart kept going back to "worthy," especially the faces I saw in my mind of people who really listen in when I talk about our worth to God. Maybe the centurion wasn't being so cynical as real, thinking that he didn't deserve for Jesus to stop in for a quick healing and a glass of wine. Maybe this guy, like so many of the hearts that I see and know and hear about, need to hear that you are worthy: of God's love.
You are worthy of God's healing, even if it doesn't come in the way you may expect. You are worthy of God's mercy, and you don't even have to do anything to get it. You are loved that much. You are worthy of forgiveness, because there is nothing that Jesus' cross doesn't cover, no matter what human laws say. You are worthy of God's grace, because if you weren't, God would not have created you. You are worthy, because you belong to God. Period.
We don't have to beg, we don't have to have anyone vouch for us. As simply as Jesus caused the servant to be well, so simply do we get to stand before God, next to Jesus, surrounded by the Holy Spirit, and take in that precious relationship. As we celebrate the time of relationship over a meal with Jesus' disciples, we have the opportunity to drink in and eat of the reminders that we, like the original disciples, are worthy to sit at the table; even if we do so in our pews. So let us allow that truth to settle in as we prepare to be reminded of our worth.
Let us pray. God of Grace and Mercy and Love, we thank you for reminding us of how you see us. Sometimes to understand how much you love us and adore us and cherish us can be overwhelming. But you don't allow our humanity to slow you down. So thank you for the blessings that you continue to shower on us, regardless of what we have done, are doing or will do. Thank you for the love you have had for each of your beloveds from before the beginning of time. To this, and for all of you, all your people say, Amen.