This sermon is based on Luke 7:1-10. Jesus heals the slave of a Centurion, and we are reminded of the importance of authority, both recognizing it as well as believe in it.
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Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’ve heard it said that some of the people that you grow closest to tend to be the parents of kids who do the same activities as your kids…and I’m starting to learn the truth of that statement…particularly now in the midst of baseball season.
But I suppose it makes sense…over the course of 2 months, 2-3 times a week you sit on the sidelines for hours at a stretch with the same people. There’s friendly banter and conversation…and you get to know them.
This phenomenon was on display earlier this week. We were sitting at a game, our lawn chairs in line with a dozen or so other parents. And during the game, one of our kids hit an easy little pop up that should have been a routine catch for the other team…but low and behold…the kid trying to make the catch bobbled it…and in the end dropped it. All the parents on our side clapped for the successful hit…and then the dad sitting right next to me leaned over and asked “You have anything to do with that?” I chuckled, but then reported “Nope, couldn’t take credit for that one…it wasn’t in the air long enough to get a prayer out.” (pause)
I hear this sort of thing fairly often…whether it’s for a kid dropping a ball in this case…or prayers that the game will go our way…or asking that we either get the rain that we need, or avoid the storm that we don’t…because…apparently…I’ve got pull. (pause)
If only that were the case…In truth…the title Pastor before my name doesn’t actually authorize me to do that much. According to our denominational structure, being a pastor allows me to preside over the sacraments…though there are certain loopholes tied into that rule…and because of my ordination our state laws grant me the authority to legally bind two people together in marriage…and honestly…that’s about it…beyond these two things…pretty much everything that I do could be done by anyone…preaching, teaching, visitation, leading worship…anyone can do these things…offering invocations at events, funerals…those things too.
And yet, I am entrusted to do these things…I’m given the authority to do so…and its this notion of authority that catches my attention today…because we see discussion around this notion within the gospel. (pause)
Jesus comes into Capernaum…the small town of about 1000-1500 people…the small community on the northern shores of the sea of Galilee…a place marking the cross roads of a couple important travel routes through the region…and the place where Jesus has established his home base in the midst of his traveling time of ministry.
Now also present in Capernaum…the home of a Centurion…a man placed within the hierarchy of the Roman military…One rung on the ladder…not the low man on the totem pole…and certainly not the top dog either.
Why exactly this particular individual is here in Capernaum is unclear, though its likely that Rome has stationed a garrison there due to the importance of trade coming through the area…regardless this man, tasked with overseeing 100 soldiers appears to live in the community…and as we hear…he’s respected.
The Centurion has apparently contributed greatly to the building of the local synagogue…and he’s on friendly terms with the Jewish establishment…likewise, as a commander with men under him…he’s well versed in the authority granted to him. He gives orders to come and go…or to do this or that…and its done…because of the respect that his position gives him…because the people honor his authority. (pause)
And yet…in the midst of this…what do we really know about the man? Honestly…not much…We know his position…we hear that the Jewish elders seem to like him…and we know that he’s got slaves…and that’s about it. We never hear his name…nor does he physically appear on the scene. Everything we know about him, we know…second hand…as he speaks through others…not even approaching Jesus. (pause)
I think it is often the tendency that we think of this man as a good guy…and he certainly might have been…but we don’t know…he might have been a jerk…he’s got slaves…he’s part of the oppressive forces occupying Jewish territory…and even his supposed generosity in building the synagogue could have been nothing more than political savvy to keep the locals happy. (pause) Long story short, we really don’t know anything about this guy. Even his relationship with the sick slave is in question. We hear that the slave is highly valued…but does the Centurion value him as a person…or on the more likely side…was the slave simply worth a lot of money that the Centurion didn’t want to lose. (pause)
Now I bring all of this up…because first and foremost…its important that we not romanticize this guy…good, bad, or otherwise…he was just a man, flawed just like we all are…and as he is stationed in this small town, he’s caught wind of Jesus and he’s heard about the healings that Jesus has already performed…perhaps with his close ties to the Jewish Leadership, the Centurion has heard stories of Jesus’ teachings…and his reputation as one who acts with authority.
And its this notion of authority that the Centurion grabs hold of…as he hopes against hope that Jesus might just be willing and able to do something about this illness that threatens his slave…and so, the Centurion really seems to play his cards right…honoring the various cultural rules that might be in play…those things that could possibly stand in the way of Jesus lending his healing hand in this situation.
He starts off by sending the Jewish elders…a group that he’s got some sway with…to go and get Jesus…and they play their part perfectly…This man is worthy of having you do this…for he loves our nation and built the synagogue…but perhaps more important than their words…is the inherent authority that they possess as elders in the community. Surely Jesus will listen to them.
And then…as the story continues we see that Jesus is, in fact willing to go help out, for what ever reason…and then, in order to continue to save face…recognizing the cultural limitation that a Jewish rabbi would be unlikely to enter into the house of a Gentile and risk becoming ceremonially unclean…the Centurion sends another group…and whether his humbleness is genuine…or simply another sneaky ploy to make himself look good in front of the locals…his words carry an important message. (pause)
Lord…speak the word…and let it be done. (pause) This phrase…this request, regardless of the motivation…is given by the Centurion because he understands authority…and Jesus names this as faith…but I found myself wondering, just what was it that Jesus praises here…what is it about the Centurion’s words that Jesus is so impressed by?
Listen to them again. “Lord, do not trouble yourself…only speak the word and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one Go and he goes, and another come and he does.” (pause) The Centurion holds on to authority and what it means when someone who has this authority gives an order…he believes that when this authority manifests itself in a a command…that it WILL be done…and Jesus recognizes this…as…faith.
Believing in the word spoken by one with authority…Now of course this raises the question of just what the Centurion recognized as authority within Jesus…was it authority granted by humanity…or was it something different?
Because that’s the thing about the position he found himself in…or that any of us find ourselves in. Authority within humanity…must always be given. Perhaps its granted to an individual through an establishment…or by laws…or as in the case of the Centurion it is handed down from those higher up the ladder…but additionally…we also grant authority to those we perceive as being above us, by following what they say. (pause) That’s the crazy thing about human authority…it can’t be taken, one way or another, it has to be given.
But when we start talking about Jesus…well that’s something altogether different…and whether the Centurion recognized it or not…he was appealing to divine authority…authority over disease…authority over nature…authority over creation itself…and that’s not something that is received from another…divine authority, which Jesus possesses…simply…IS. (pause)
Whether he realized it or not, the Centurion was appealing to the same authority that spoke the words and calmed a storm…he was speaking to the same authority that made up its mind that there should be light…and then said it…and sure enough, there was light. This same authority that literally spoke our reality into reality is present within this man…within the divine word of God made flesh.
And so today, the big question for us, is what does this authority…this divine authority, not that which is granted to anyone, but which simply is…what does it say about us? (pause)
That divine authority of Jesus Christ…the authority living word of God…the literal voice of the divine…SAYS…You are mine…I have chosen you…and there is nothing that will stand in the way of that…and I for one feel blessed that each and every week, we get to hear that…it’s a humbling thing to stand before you, not under my own authority, but under the authority of Christ, who declares to you that you are forgiven…that you are of worth…that you are chosen by God because of his perfect love for you…and just as the Centurion seemed to believe…that if Jesus says the words, then they are true…and Jesus has said these words to you…and if there is any doubt in your minds that God has accomplished this amazing work…this amazing thing that we are in no way capable of doing on our own…just remember the last things that Jesus said as he hung on that cross. It IS finished. (pause)
That work of redemption is already done for you, whether we realize it or not…because that’s the amazing thing about the divine authority of God which manifested in Jesus Christ…we don’t have to grant it…we don’t have to understand it…and in fact, we don’t even have to acknowledge it in order for it to be true…
But it is true, because Jesus has already said so…may this be our prayer today and every day…that when we recognize our own failings…our own shortcomings…our own unworthiness…that we also believe the words of our Lord who heals our brokenness anyway…
Speak the word Lord, and let us be healed…And then believe that this word…has already been spoken for you. Amen.