Sunday 9 • 29 May 2016

1 Kings 18: 20-21, 30-39
Galatians 1: 1-12
Luke 7: 1-10

Rev. John Candy

The Centurion’s Faith

They call it synergy, synchronicity, and synthesis— that time when disparate strands come together, particles coalesce, and in that catalytic moment, something completely new is born.
Pentecost launches one of those times.
The readings for today bring the strands of Israel’s history to the moment.

The great prophet Elijah calls down divine, consuming fire on the prepared holocaust after he has called the community closer and called out to God.
Solomon dedicates the temple that his father David so desperately wanted to build, and in that discourse he foresees the temple being a place of refuge and outreach to the foreign nations who will be drawn to its magnificence and offer a prayer there.
The gospel recalls the centurion, that symbol of oppression and abuse, who kindly builds a synagogue for worship and receives grace for his child from the God for whom he built it.

If the lections have a synergistic, synchronistic, synthesizing theme it is inclusivity.
That openness to others who are different from us is the conduit through which the Spirit arrives in powerful fire to cleanse, heal, and ignite the mission of God.
Our exclusivist dogmas, rituals, and practices are the valves that block and quench that Spirit.

All of us who seek to know Christ and live the life he called us to, have loved ones and friends who desperately need to know Him too.
We all would like to see God use us to help reach these and others with the gospel.
There is perhaps nothing more thrilling than when another person is put in touch with God’s saving power through what we have done or said.
We could say that most Christian people want to become a more effective servant of Jesus Christ in reaching others with the gospel.

Only twice in the gospels does Christ commend a person for great faith—the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew’s gospel, and this centurion we meet in our text.
Both are Gentiles; one is a woman, the other a man.
It is as if the Lord is making clear to us that the way of faith is open to people of all cultures, classes, race or gender.
The faith that pleases God is not an exclusive thing reserved for the religious crowd.
Any and all can lay hold of God by faith.

This centurion could be used as a model of effective Christian service.
Though he was a person in authority over 100 soldiers, he became a servant to his own servant by calling Jesus to heal him.
As such, we can use his example as a picture of serving. Our example is this Centurion through whom Jesus showed us how to live by reaching out to those in need, especially to those who may be lowly and despised by others.
He was the channel through which Christ’s power flowed to this dying boy.

Although the centurion was in the military, which is not known as a seedbed for piety, he had great faith.
It is interesting that every centurion mentioned in the New Testament is presented in a favourable light.
The centurion’s engagement with Jesus shows us that we can serve Christ in any wherever we are and whatever we do in life.
We can be godly people in the midst of a violent, secular leaning and unbelieving world.
Wherever you are and whatever you do, this centurion demonstrates to us how to be an effective servant of Christ.

So, this morning’s Gospel reading is a wonderful story about an extraordinarily insightful centurion nearly 2,000 years ago.
But it is a story for you and me today.
We desperately need to grasp its message if we are to grow in our own faith.
So often in our powerless state of being we mumble something about, "If Jesus were here in the flesh and were to lay his hand on this person he would be instantly healed, but ..."
This is good faith, but only a nursery school level of faith. It's like the woman with the haemorrhage who said, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed."
Her faith was focused in her personal ability to touch the hem of Jesus' garment.

We're like that.
If only so-and-so were here, he could accomplish this. If only Nelson Mandela, or St Francis or John Wesley or Mother Theresa or....
We look to the personal instrument of the healing rather than to our God who can accomplish the task with just a word -- his own word.
God is the delegator of the power, not some great saint past or present.
They and we for that matter are instruments.
The centurion's insight is that Jesus' delegated word of authority can span distance and has the power to command even in the spirit world.
When Jesus speaks a word then that word brings about accomplishment.

Yes, Jesus can and does delegate his authority to you and to me.
His mission is the same today as when he stood to read in the synagogue in Nazareth, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to.
Now you and I are on the front lines.
We are the ones who see the sick and downtrodden and oppressed.
Our Lord, whose word of spiritual authority can span distances, wants you and me to take faith and do the impossible on his behalf.

This passage is making it clear that Jesus delegated spiritual authority to perform miracles.
“Jesus is the delegator.”
In your own corner of the world, you are the delegate. Nothing has changed and we are called to carry out Jesus’ orders with his full authority and power backing us up, to accomplish the task by any authorised means.

As I began to realise the implications of the centurion's insight, I was suddenly overcome with the awesomeness of this call.
Why does the realisation of the awesomeness of Jesus’ delegation of authority touch us so emotionally?
I wonder as it is not sadness or depression.
But I guess it is because of our own sense of powerlessness that we have felt over the years.
I wonder if that feeling of powerlessness has been brought about by our own narrowness of faith.

I've known in my head Jesus could do anything -- in person.
But maybe I really didn't believe he could delegate his power to me or through me.
My own smallness of faith actually diminished his power and limited it largely to the thirty-three years of his life in First Century Palestine.
Have you done the same?

How myopic we are!
You, know, when we go to the optometrist if we have that tendency to be myopic they notch up our glasses prescription.
But in our spiritual life, let us not be myopic but be determined to get our spiritual vision corrected so we can see spiritual things 20/20!

The centurion's insight, his faith, is astounding to Jesus. "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."
I don't think Peter or the other disciples grasped it at that time.
I doubt that few in our own day grasp it either.
But I want to, and I hope and pray you want to grasp it also.
Jesus can speak his word across whatever distances and delegate his power to be exercised by you and me, here and now, by any authorised means.
That is the message.
That is the insight, if we can grasp it.