"Beneath the Sarcasm"

Luke 7:1-10

June 2, 2013 - Proper C4

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

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 also am 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.

Prayer.

What can our enemy teach us about God?

The surprise I experience by the Gospel never gets old.

It isn’t the fact that I’m surprised by what I uncover,

or, more correctly,

by what God reveals to me.

I’ve just come to expect to be surprised and delighted with

God’s word each and every day.

Our Gospel today is no exception.

What can our enemy teach us about God?

The language about God is as deep as it needs to be.

For some, I suppose, it is enough

just to know that God’s love and grace is sufficient

- abundant even -

to get us through life.

For others, we want to know more:

why does God love us?

how does God use us?

what is God up to?

where does God want us to go?

Yet, even others are blissfully untouched and unaware of God,

and hope to keep it that way.

What can our enemy teach us about God?

“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” he proclaimed.

One might expect this to be the proclamation from the gentile Centurion in our Gospel for today.

Surprise, surprise; it isn’t.

These words come from Naaman,

the enemy commander of the army of king Aram,

as recorded in 2 Kings, chapter 5.

Naaman’s army had invaded and raided Israel,

taking captive a young girl

who he claimed to be his wife.

Naaman had probably been unlucky in love

because he had horribly disfiguring leprosy.

When he complained to his captive Hebrew wife

- to his unwilling war bride -

about his blemished and repulsive complexion

she defiantly boasted,

“If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria!

He would cure him of his leprosy.”

The man with the cure worked for the other side;

He was the king of Israel’s prophet:

That man was Elisha.

A white flag waved across enemy lines;

“our general wants to talk to your prophet,

because he wants to be healed.”

Skipping many of the details,

Elisha had Naaman

- his enemy -

wash in the Jordan River seven times

and he was healed of his leprosy.

“Now I know,” Naaman proclaimed,

“that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!”

(2 Kings 5:15)

What can our enemy teach us about God?

God’s grace and healing transcends our national alliances and adversaries.

God healed an enemy of the people.

God healed a Gentile.

God healed a man with leprosy.

God works in and through people we dislike, hate, and fight.

Hum.

Let that settle in for a moment.

God weaves grace in and through people

we’ve learned to dislike, hate, and fight.

Perhaps when we avoid our enemies,

when we erect walls that separate us,

when we do everything possible to avoid peace and reconciliation,

perhaps we are cutting ourselves off from God.

What can our enemy teach us about God?

Jesus came down from the mountain

where he had been praying throughout the night.

People came from all over;

a great multitude of people

from a wide diversity of home towns:

Jews in the south, Samaritans in the mid-plains, Gentils from up north.

Jesus healed them, cured them, and cast out their unclean spirits.

Using this power as a springboard,

Jesus held their attention,

and he began to teach:

“But I say to you that listen,

Love your enemies,

do good to those who hate you,

bless those who curse you,

pray for those who abuse you.”

(Luke 6: 27-28)

It sounds to me

that the way we treat our enemies

is pretty important to Jesus.

The way we treat those who hate us, curse us, and abuse us is

REALLY important to God.

Perhaps we should pay abit more attention?

A Roman Centurion,

stationed in Capernaum,

had a favorite slave

who had become very ill and close to death.

When it comes to the enemy and their occupying troops,

this Centurion was one of the lesser of evils.

He was a good enemy, if you will;

one who maintained control with

one iron fist

and, on the other hand,

one who governed with a felt glove.

On the one hand,

the 80 soldiers under his control

brutally enforced Roman law over a captured people.

Yet, on the other hand,

this Centurion had rebuilt the synagogue for the locals.

In exchange for kindness, he expected submission.

He was one the people could live with;

but make no mistake about it,

he remained their enemy.

When his favorite slave took ill

and

hearing of the miraculous healing of Jesus in his region,

our Centurion sent for Jesus.

I love the postering taking place here.

“When I speak, people listen.”

“When I say jump, people ask ‘how high?’”

“When I want you to come, I send a messenger.”

“But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” (Luke 7:7)

The one with civil authority inflates himself

to the one with cosmic authority.

Truly Jesus is amazed at such hubris.

The Centurion never meets Jesus face-to-face.

Jesus never speaks directly or lays hands on the slave who he heals.

Yet, between them,

between this wide gulf of separation,

between occupier and prisoner,  

between enemies,

there is only one thing that spans between the two:

a thin thread of faith.

“Speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”

What can our enemy teach us about God?

Jesus immediately sees the opportunity.

Jesus reads through the Centurion’s authority, testosterone, and the hubris.

He hears the desperate plea of an enemy seeking the grace of God.

Amazing!

Jesus hadn’t heard such an authentic plea from his own people.

He hadn’t felt the power of such faith in the Jewish elders sent to Jesus to act as intermediaries.

Such faith wasn’t exhibited by the pacified locals who attended the rebuilt synagogue.

Such faith isn’t even experienced when Jesus had been to the mecca of all meccas:

the Temple in Jerusalem.

My son.

My daughter.

“Your faith has made you well,”

Jesus was often known to say.

What can our enemy teach us about God?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised

by the unlikely places that faith shows up in our own world.

It could even show up in those we think are our enemies.

Our enemies can teach us about true faith.

(With thanks to: Jeanine K. Brown, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1678)

They can become the conduits for God’s healing, love and grace

to splash into our arid and desperate war-filled world.

This is not to say that God isn’t interested in working through our friends and allies.

Rather, our Gospel for today is a poignant reminder

that God can

and does work

through all God’s children.

God can

and does work

through both our friends and our enemies.

If the body and blood of Christ are to represent a message for us through the Gospel,

it is that we must be open to removing the walls that divide us.

We must take the first steps of reconciliation to cross no-man’s land.

As disciples of his flesh and blood, we must

turn the other cheek

as he commands

and expect grace to flow

even through former enemies

with whom are called to become friends.

To hate our enemies is to hate our God.

To curse those who curse us is to curse at our God.

To abuse those who abuse us is to abuse our God.

Jesus teaches us

and becomes for us

a more perfect example

of faith that transcends the no man’s land between enemy and friend.

Love your enemies.

Do good to them.

Bless your enemies.

Pray for those who abuse you.

God weaves grace in and through people

we’ve learned to dislike, hate, and fight.

To drink of the fullness of this grace

don’t we need to be the one who first holds up the olive branch?

Who first offers to be reconciled?

Reconciliation becomes the new pathway

for us to experience God

in completely new and wonderful ways.

This bread

and this wine

becomes our personal invitation

to reconcile with our enemies

and to come to know God more fully

in our spiritual walk.

May it be so.

Amen.