Sunday 29th

 

1ST SERMON

MORNING HOLY COMMUNION                         TRINITY 1                    Preacher: Rev Lynn McKeon

Luke 7 1-10

 

 

Centurions show up rather frequently in the Gospels and in Acts. This in itself is not surprising, since centurions would have been a part of the Roman occupation force in Judea and Galilee in the first century. What is surprising is that these representatives of Roman occupation are portrayed in quite positive ways in the New Testament and here in Luke 7:1-10. They end up responding to Jesus and his kingdom message with a recognition of his identity and, sometimes, with faith.

 

The centurion in Luke 7:1-10 fits this surprising profile. He is a Gentile (and presumably Roman, although not all members of the Roman army were               ethnically Roman), who seeks Jesus out for the healing of his slave. This             oppressor of the Jewish people initiates a conversation with a Jewish healer. He sends Jewish elders to speak on his behalf to Jesus to prove that he has been a patron of the Jewish people (7:3). Then he sends his friends to keep Jesus from coming to his house, expressing confidently and with an analogy from his own role in the Roman army that this Jewish healer, Jesus, is able to heal from a distance (7:6-8).

 

Conversely, Jesus is cast in the unlikely role of responder and not initiator in this passage. When asked to heal the slave, he goes with the Jewish elders (7:6). He responds in amazement at the centurion’s confidence that Jesus needn’t actually come to his house to heal his slave: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (7:9). And finally, Jesus heals the servant, although this is not narrated explicitly (7:10).

                                               

Nevertheless, Luke’s reader has been prepared for this surprising portrait of one from the Roman occupation army coming in faith to Jesus for healing. In Luke’s programmatic introduction to Jesus’ ministry (4:16-30), Jesus has preached a message from Isaiah about restoration that references Elisha’s healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-14). Jesus speaks of ‘hometown rejection’ that leads the Old Testament prophet Elisha to heal not the many people in Israel who had leprosy but instead an army commander of Aram, a country hostile to Israel (2 Kings 5:2). And because Elisha heals this Gentile and military enemy, Naaman comes to acknowledge, “there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” (5:15).

 

Returning to the passage in Luke 7:1-10, the primary characterization that Luke offers of this enemy of Israel is faith that surpasses what Jesus has seen in Israel (7:9). The centurion’s faith is apparent in his understanding of Jesus’ God-given authority to heal and to do so even from a distance. “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” (7:8).

 

Centurions had a middling role in the hierarchy of the Roman army, put in charge of about 80 soldiers but situated below those who commanded cohorts  (consisting of six centuries) and legions (consisting of ten cohorts). The                  inclusion of “also” at the beginning of verse 8 suggests an analogy between the authority of centurion and Jesus’ authority. As the centurion is given authority from above to command those under him, so the implication is that Jesus has an authority from God that he can enact by simply saying the word. The centurion’s faith in Jesus’ authority proves to be well placed when Jesus heals his slave without visiting his home (7:10).

 

Somehow, it seems fitting in this surprising story that Jesus himself is surprised and amazed at the trust this centurion demonstrates (7:9). He is surprised to find faith in a centurion that surpasses what he has seen in anyone from Israel. And we can learn something from Jesus’ own surprise at the spectre of an enemy soldier proving to be a model of faith for the people of God. Maybe we should not 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.

 

As we preach this passage and drive this point home, we should be careful not to mitigate possible tension arising in our audiences from Jesus healing on behalf of an enemy soldier. If we only highlight the centurion as a person with faith in Jesus, our congregations might miss how surprising this scenario is in Jesus’ (and Luke’s) context. We can remind them that this man, although he has proven to be a friend to the Jewish people by building their synagogue, still represents Roman (enemy) occupation.

 

Like the people of Nazareth who respond to the story of Elisha and Naaman with anger and rage (4:28), people might respond less than positively if we preach that Jesus cares about, ministers to, and wants to bless our enemies. Moreover, according to this surprising story, God can use those we perceive as our enemies to teach us about true faith. In the end, this story is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:27: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

 

The centurion was also the most unlikely persons to amaze Jesus. He was a  Gentile. Doubtless he had a pagan upbringing. He was a Roman, stationed in Palestine to subject the Jews to the Emperor's rule. He was a man of war. He achieved the rank of centurion by distinguishing himself above others in the brutal Roman martial arts. Not exactly the résumé you'd expect for becoming one of the Bible's great heroes of faith.

 

So what in the world had happened to this man? We don't know. But there he is in Capernaum; a miracle of God's marvellous grace. And he's a first fruit and a foreshadow of what Jesus had come to bring about. He was a living illustration that "many [would] come from the east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11).

 

This centurion is also a reminder to us that "man looks on the outward                     appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). I think we will be surprised someday when Jesus doles out rewards. Most of the great ones among us will probably have lived in obscurity. Jesus is not as impressed with titles, degrees, and achievements as we are. He is impressed with those who really do humbly believe him.

 

John Piper once quoted Billy Graham, saying, "God will not reward                   fruitfulness, he will reward faithfulness." The centurion was faith-full. I don’t know about you, but I want to be like him

 

2ND SERMON

EVENING HOLY COMMUNION              TRINITY 1               Preacher:  Fran Powis

 

1 John 4 verse 7—end                    

Luke 16 verses 19—31

 

As we stand, let us pray,…Dear Lord, may I now speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Please be seated.

 

As people who like to bicker aren’t we fortunate in having as our main topic, at the moment, the E.U. Referendum? Amongst family and friends it is good to have a meaty subject that we can get our teeth into, where we can differ without falling out with each other!

This example is not displayed on our t.v. screens, like me you may be wondering how, after all the insults have ceased to flow backwards and forwards, the country and our politicians can possibly get back to working amicably with each other, or at least without acrimony.

All our readings for this service this evening are about God’s love and how we are commissioned to share that love with others.

2 Samuel 9 tells us of David’s kindness to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth who was expecting condemnation from his family’s adversary. Mephibosheth could not believe that he was worthy of forgiveness and generosity. God’s grace is given to us, can we do less for our neighbour?

Psalm 41:1-4 describes the joy of those who give to the poor, God wants our behaviour to reflect his generosity to us.

Tonight’s epistle reading from John’s 1st letter, written around A.D.85-90 is believed to have been written whilst John, the Apostle, was in Ephesus, before he was exiled to Patmos where he received his visions as recorded in Revelations (AD95).

Even at this time, within 3—4 generations into the life of the new church, there was dissent and argument, disagreement and heresies. Some believed that Jesus was divine and therefore could not behuman also, it was rumoured, that he left no shadow or footprint; others however believed that as Jesus was human and lived and taught on earth therefore he could not be God and so not divine.

John writes to convince people otherwise. Maybe the last living apostle, John’s books are full of the love that Jesus showed to all around him. John was an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life and times, he was a close friend, he loved Jesus and was loved in return. In his gospel John writes of The Word who was there before the world began, coming to earth, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’.

In Revelation John was given the gift of visions of heaven, the heaven which is open to all who believe; and this was written as reassurance for all those who were being persecuted, most cruelly, under the terror reign of Emperor Domitian A.D.90-95.

Little has changed over 2000 years, many believe, sadly others don’t. We have the Bible, God’s inspired word to rely on, those who argue against our faith display half-truths, heresies and persecution, both by word and deed. Still today many suffer persecution for their beliefs, ostracized by family members, mocked by fellow students, intimidated by employers, imprisoned and even killed by oppressive regimes. We hear how victims, from the Roman arena to the present day go to their deaths with dignity and strength of faith in the full knowledge that they will see Jesus in paradise.

Many of us are not called to this public expression of our faith but how can we demonstrate that faith in our everyday lives?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”.

God is the source of that love, sending his Son as a sacrifice for our redemption, freeing us from our sins. Everything that Jesus demonstrated by living and dying for us was supremely loving.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to love, living in our hearts and making us more like Christ. God’s love involves choice and action, can we display God’s love as he does?

Some of today’s problems stem from love, not God’s love but a distorted view of what love is and does.

We hear stories of young children, girls and boys, being unhappy with the way they look; someone has told them they are not worthy of being loved without dieting or colouring their hair or changing their bodies or behaviour. There are many young people in care or living on the streets because they can’t get on with those in their family unit. We increasingly hear of domestic violence because one partner does not conform to the requirements of the other. Old people are viciously robbed for coppers because they are vulnerable. Those in care homes may not be treated with respect because they are not able to live independent lives.

Where is love being shown in these scenarios, love for self,  selfishness, is being shown; love for self as a god.

We of faith need to turn this around and demonstrate God’s love, that unselfish love of the Creator, the caring, forgiving love of the Father, the generous love of the Son, the guiding love of the Spirit, the love of the giving God who offers us eternal life.

God accepts us as we are, the way he created us, he doesn’t expect the shy to become extrovert overnight, however we are called upon to show love to those we come into contact with. With no target that exceeds our capabilities, we in our daily lives meet people, God will provide us with the strength to do what he requires of us.

When we became Christians we received the gift of the Holy Spirit, he gives us the power to love, the more we love, the more confidence we receive to love more.  When we stumble and arefearful of our worthiness for God’s kingdom, we can rely on God’s love to see us through.

When we stand in front of that judgement seat we can be sure of immeasurable love which will quiet our fears. God’s love is the source of human love and in loving others they too will grow in confidence as God’s love warms them.

If we neglect others then we are rejecting God’s love for those created in his image.

Amen.