Text used – Luke 7:1-10
This week was our annual meeting. In our congregation, we intersperse the annual meeting with worship because it helps us remember that all that we do and say as this church – even the business stuff – we do for the glory of God. On annual meeting Sunday, we have a lot going on: meeting elements, installation (and sometimes ordination) of new ruling elders and deacons, and communion, so I write more of a short reflection than a traditional sermon. So here’s this week’s mini-sermon:
He was a centurion, the commander of a small, local Roman military unit in small fishing village – a town no bigger than Oronoco. Did he have a lot of power outside Capernaum? Nope. To be honest, he didn’t even have that much power inside Capernaum. He was just the Roman’s placeholder – someone to command the local troops in case of any skirmishes, someone to quell any potential uprisings. He didn’t have enough clout with Rome to warrant any special assistance. There were no strings to pull. No favors to call in. And his most trusted and important servant was ill and wasn’t getting any better. In fact, he had gotten worse. He got sicker and sicker. And before long, the centurion could tell that his servant didn’t have much time left.
But then Jesus came to town. The centurion had heard about Jesus from the local Jews talking about this Jesus guy and all the miraculous things he’d done – healing people, banishing demons, and all sorts of incredible things. And the centurion believed the stories. There were too many of them to dismiss them as just rumors. So the centurion believed. In fact, the centurion believed in Jesus more fully and more humbly than anyone else had up to this point. The locals had gone to Jesus to urge him to help the centurion’s servant, telling Jesus what a good man the centurion was. Scripture said, “When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. ‘He deserves to have you do this for him,’ they said. ‘He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.’” And so Jesus goes, but before he can even get to the centurion’s house, the centurion himself sends one of his friends to Jesus to say, “I don’t deserve this. I’m not worthy to even have you visit me. I believe in you enough that I believe all you have to do is say the word, and my servant will be healed.” No need to lay hands on his servant. No need to breathe on him or take his hand or anything else. Just a word.
The faith of the centurion is so complete – so full and whole and strong. It’s the deepest faith we’ve seen expressed so far, and to be honest, I think it’s one of the deepest faiths we see expressed in all of Scripture. There is humility and honesty in the centurion’s faith. And an all-in trust that Jesus is who he is and can do with a simple word what no one else has been able to do. And Jesus names this: “When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, ‘I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.’ When the centurion’s friends returned to his house, they found the servant restored to health.” The fullest, most genuine form of faith in Jesus Christ … from someone who is about as “other” as it could possibly get in the gospels. A Roman. A Roman soldier, no less. An oppressor. A pawn of the Empire. And yet, his faith in Jesus impresses even Jesus himself. So here’s the question: Where do we least expect to find genuine, life-changing expressions of faith in the world and the people around us? And what can we learn from those unexpected expressions of faith?