Sunday, June 02, 2013

Pentecost 2C

If you like a good fight then you only have to look as far as today’s second reading and today’s gospel.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is alarmed that some of the members of the church have been listening to other preachers, preachers who have a different message from the one he’s been giving them.

And Jesus, in today's gospel, says that a presumed enemy of God’s people has more faith than they do.

Paul was angry because the church in Galatia, the church he started, invited a guest pastor and no one thought to look at his resume. It seems that when he opened his mouth, all sorts of weird nonsense about God came out. And the problem was that people believed him and decided that St. Paul was wrong.

Fewer things made Paul’s head explode faster than his people under his care being led away by false preachers peddling weird ideas about God. It wasn’t his own ego that he was worried about, it was what the Christians believed about God that concerned him. And these people were being given some BAD information.

So Paul writes this letter to sort things out and put things back to where they were. And he gets right to the point:

“I am ASTONISHED that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if ANYONE proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let THAT one be accursed!”

People were being pulled too far from what Paul believed to be “the true gospel.” And he was reminding them where the boundary lines were. He was bringing them back to where they belonged because people were led too far away from where God wanted them to be.

So, in many ways, this letter from Paul is about creating a definition of what a Christian is.

Where Paul was trying to tighten the boundaries on what a faithful believer is, Jesus is pushing them further to the edges and challenging everything people believed to be good and true.

Jesus heals a centurion’s slave. Jesus, in healing this slave, not only saves the slave’s life, but does the centurion a HUGE favour. This centurion was clearly not a member of the Jewish community. In fact, he was an oppressor. He was a high ranking officer in the occupying Roman army. He was the enemy.

Centurions were known more for their muscles then their grey matter. Their job was to keep the peace through any means necessary. They were brutes who gloried in the violence of what they were asked to do. They loved the smell of blood.They weren’t afraid to break a few bones or hang a few troublemakers if it meant keeping everyone else in line.

But this guy was different. He wasn’t like the other centurions. He was respected by the Jewish leaders because he treated THEM with respect.

When they needed a house of worship, he put on his tool belt and hammered a few nails. When neighbours feuded, he stepped in to negotiate a fair solution.

There was something about these Jewish folks that endeared them to him.

If his strategy was to win the hearts and minds of the locals, we can say, “job well done.” For an enemy, you could a lot worse.

It was on the Jewish elder’s recommendation that Jesus decided to help this guy out. But, for some reason, this centurion, not known for their humility, decided he wasn’t worthy to have Jesus in his house.

“The centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For 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."

Jesus never meets the centurion. He heals the slave from down the street. And Jesus says, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

In other words, “This guy gets it, and he’s not even one of ours.”

This Roman Centurion, this enemy occupier, had greater faith in Jesus then those who were closest to him.

So, what was it that Jesus saw in him? Was it his public service to the Jewish community? Was it his ability to see with concrete clarity what needed to be done, then resolve to do it? Was it the eyes he had to see what Jesus could do?

Could be all of that.

But also, I think it was the centurion’s humility that Jesus saw. It was the ability to look beyond the stories he’d been told about what Jewish folks were like. After all, as a Roman citizen he’d been told that he was superior to everyone else on the planet. Especially these Jews. But this centurion didn’t believe what he was told. He saw the goodness and beauty in them.

It was his ability to look for creative ways to resolve conflict. It might have been easier to unleash his sword on these Jewish folks when they stepped out line.

He could have used his military training to bring down the force of the Roman empire on the tops of their houses. Instead, he chose to help build their community.

He immersed himself in their lives. He became their friend.

He could have mocked their religion, demanding that they worship Caesar (like he did) instead of the God of Israel. But instead, he saw in Jesus the power of God to heal.

He looked past the narrow vision that he was given, the narrow way of believing what he’d been told about himself and the world. And he was opened to new possibilities - God’s possibilities.

And Jesus only had to hear the story of this outsider, this pagan Roman centurion, who by definition, should be his enemy. And all Jesus could say upon hearing about this man was, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

In other words, “This guy gets it, and he’s not even one of ours.”

Those who knew the centurion probably nodded their heads in agreement. But I’m sure there were others who who were aghast at what Jesus said. After all, the centurion was not under covenant with God and God’s people. He was an oppressor. He was the enemy. He was no one to look up to. At least that’s what he looked like on paper.

He’s not alone.

Last week Pope Francis preached a sermon where he said: "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone!"

What I took the Pope to mean is that God can and does work through ANYONE because God will not be limited. If atheists are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and giving to the poor, then they’re doing God’s work more than those who sit at home and read their bibles all day, and never their get their hands dirty. He was trying to bring people together by doing common good.

And while folks like me didn’t think he said anything controversial, vatican officials felt compelled to send out a statement “correcting” the Pope saying, “Yeah...well....about that....umm...actually, atheists are still going Hell no matter what the Pope says...”

In the other words, “the line has been drawn, and their lack of belief has permanently kept atheists out of God’s kingdom.”

I don’t know if atheists are going to Hell or not. But I do know that belief will not limit God. God does whatever God wants to do. And God will use whomever God wants to use.

The centurion had respect for Jewish belief and traditions. But there’s no evidence of him joining their community, or getting baptized and following Jesus. We don’t know if he renounced his worship of Caesar to worship the God of Israel. But Jesus said of him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

In other words, “This guy gets it, and he’s not even one of ours.”

For me, this is not a story of healing. It’s a story of seeing great and new possibilities for our lives, our church, and our world. The centurion teaches us that God can break open old boxes of our thinking and present us with new ways of looking at the world.

The centurion shows us that God will not be bound to our human traditions, but is finding new ways to challenge us and make us grow.

The centurion shows us that God can use anyone - ANYONE - for God’s kingdom purposes, and we can - once again - be surprised by faith.

The centurion reminds that we can rest in our faith, but also that our faith is always on the move, it is always growing, pursuing unfamiliar avenues of expression, taking us on new and exciting adventures, and finding creative and imaginative ways to declare the nearness of God.

The apostle Paul understood the same thing, to circle back to the beginning. It turns out that the false preacher in Galatia was trying to turn back the clock (which you will hear about next week). Paul knew that God was doing a new thing. And he was angry that this guest preacher was telling his church that God was still demanding people worship in ways that no longer had meaning, and that their God wouldn’t accept them the way they were. That they weren’t good enough. That they weren’t worthy.

But as we now know from the centurion, God can make ANYONE worthy. It’s not about right belief, or proper behaviour. God makes you worthy because that’s what God wants to do. God is always more ready forgive then you are to sin.

God will not let yours or anyone’s failings get in the way of using whomever God wants to advance the glory and power of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of new possibilities, the kingdom of healing for our selves and the earth, the kingdom of life for everything God has created..

May this be so among us. Amen

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home