St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-29-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-29-2016

How to earn God’s Blessings: Faith

Psalm 96, 1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

In our Bible Study group recently, in fact if my memory serves me correctly it was just last week, we were commenting about how we wish we could have lived when Jesus was living and preaching on earth; how wonderful it would be to witness, first hand, the words he spoke, works he performed, and to be able to ask him for clarification on all the things we read in the Bible that we don’t fully understand.

It’s a wonderful thought, isn’t it; to be right there receiving the Good News as it was spoken and to see the power of God flowing through Christ as the lame stood up straight, the blind gained sight and even the dead were reintroduced as living! Wow, wouldn’t that be just fantastic!

But, then, our little bubble of fantasy was burst as one of the group reminded us of the fact that all of Jesus’ mission was undertaken in a tiny area and it would be “just my luck that I’d be living somewhere else, missing the whole thing”.

How very apropos that we have, in today’s Gospel reading, a story addressing these exact thoughts.

Jesus has just finished preaching His sermon on the plain; Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel; and goes into Capernaum. There He heals a Centurion’s servant. Again, Luke’s version of this story is slightly different than the parallel found in Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew, the Centurion comes to Jesus, but in Luke’s telling, the Centurion sends some Jewish leaders to Jesus on his behalf.

I doubt that any of us here today have the privilege of hearing any version of the story for the first time; I know I don’t. We already “know” it from beginning to end so we miss the affect of first impressions. Further, we can easily intertwine Matthew’s and Luke’s telling, which might take away from Luke’s special emphases. Of course, this is true in any reading that appears in more than one Gospel so we must look at each one carefully, line-by-line as if reading it for the first time, in order to receive everything each writer is trying to tell us.

Case in point: In Matthew’s version the Centurion speaks of having “love for” his slave; but from Luke we hear that he “valued” the slave “highly”. Consider the difference; we could think that holding his slave in ‘high value’ is much the same as loving him but that might be a wrong assumption.

And in regards to ‘first impressions’, if we read verse 3 without knowing the rest of the story we would begin to consider what kind of man this Centurion is, Verse 3 reads “When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave”. So, is this man too lazy to get up and go to Jesus himself? Has his power gone to his head, expecting the Elders to act as his slaves? Does he think that his authority extends to Jesus?

At the very least, as these thoughts go through our mind, we are being called to keep reading attentively to find the answers.

We do begin to get some answers in the very next verse when we hear the Elders telling Jesus that he is a loving man, concerned about the people, even having built a synagogue for them. That’s no small sign of respect and desire for peace between them, if we assume the Elders are being completely honest.  But we might also ask; are the Elders feeling loved… or are they feeling indebted? Are they acting out of gratitude for the Centurions generosity or are they fearful of him changing his ways if he doesn’t get what he wants?

These are all good questions to ask; they are examples of how we can dig deeper into Scripture to find more meaning, more truths, and even more accurate truths. And they raise the thoughts that bring light to the story.

What really highlights this story, and the questions raised within it, is Jesus’ reaction. He doesn’t interrogate the Elders for more information; his ability to see through lies isn’t brought into play, and nothing is said about the ethnic status of the Centurion; whether he is a Jew or a gentile. Jesus simply does what he usually does; he goes to where there is trouble to make things right for all involved.

But, this time, we get two more pieces of information about the Centurion before Jesus gets there. 1) He is a humble man who states, in contradiction to what the Elders said about him, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof”. And 2) unlike many who have spent time face-to-face with Jesus, he understands Jesus’ authority, exemplified by his words “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”.  He gets it! He understands that Jesus need only “speak the word” and his slave will be healed.


The Centurion was a remarkable man. As a Centurion, he had power; there is no doubt about that. But whether out of the kindness of his heart or by finding other ways to get done what he needs to be done, he doesn’t abuse his power; Take notice, he didn’t send his soldiers to drag Jesus to his house, he was far more diplomatic than that. And if we take everything else said about him at surface value, not reading more into the statements than are there, he has many more attributes.

 Be it his love for his sickly slave or his value of him as a good slave, he didn’t want to lose the good thing he had. As a military leader, he also had economic status. But, again notice, he didn’t try to buy Jesus’ favor. And whether or not he was a Jew, he did have connections within the Jewish community, built out of concern and generosity as opposed to threatening forcefulness.  And- he-was-humble; feeling unworthy of meeting Jesus face-to-face!

Yet, even if we do read more into the story than the word-for-word, considering and questioning how his powerful position may instill fear into the Elders; how he may have only a sense of monetary value for his slave; how his financial standing may have made him arrogantly assume that Jesus would come running at his request; the sincerity of his caring for the people; the genuineness of his generosity; and the authenticity of his humility; none of it matters. It-is-none of these things, not the positive or the negative; nor the sum of them all, that earned the blessing of the healing of his slave. In fact, the blessing wasn’t even earned. It was a gift made possible by-his-faith!

The Centurion say’s, through his messengers “But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed”… Do we hear Jesus say “be healed” or even “let it be so”? No, the word we hear him speak is “faith!” “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith“!

As I said, the Centurion was a remarkable man: either by having a good heart or a mind that saw alternative ways to get done what he needed to be done (or both is a possibility), and we can learn much from him! We can learn to control our power and use it wisely, whatever power we may have. We can learn generosity or wise use of our financial resources. We can learn the value of good relationships across ethnic lines. And we can learn about humility, even when, especially when, we have the resources of power and money in our hands.

But the greatest, most important thing we can learn from him is the recognition of the ultimate power of faith in Jesus Christ. He shows us that we don’t need to meet Jesus face-to-face and be eye-witnesses to his mighty deeds; that we may even be unworthy of such an honor in this time and place; and that we don’t need to be able to ask him questions so that we may understand everything about God and Christ perfectly to receive the gifts they can, and do, grant to us abundantly; and, we do not need to be of a particular race, or creed, or ethnicity, or religious persuasion, or any other special kind of person to receive God’s Grace! We just need to have faith! And believing in Jesus’ power, without witnessing it first hand or understanding it completely and accurately, is the purist definition of having faith there is! Amen

Luke 7:1-10
7:1 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.
7:2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.
7:3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave.
7:4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him,
7:5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”
7:6 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;
7:7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.
7:8 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.
7:9 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.”
7:10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.


1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39
18:20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel.
18:21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word.

18:30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down;
18:31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”;
18:32 with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed.
18:33 Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”
18:34 Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time,
18:35 so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
18:36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding.
18:37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
18:38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.
18:39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD indeed is God; the LORD indeed is God.”

Psalm 96
96:1 O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
96:2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
96:3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
96:4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
96:6 Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
96:7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
96:8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
96:9 Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
96:10 Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
96:11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
96:12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
96:13 before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.


Galatians 1:1-12
1:1 Paul an apostle–sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead–
1:2 and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
1:4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
1:5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
1:6 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–
1:7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
1:8 But 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!
1:9 As 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!
1:10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
1:11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;
1:12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.