A Sermon preached on May 29, 2016
Have you ever wondered what it takes to AMAZE Jesus? It’s a funny question because Jesus is always the one who amazes us. But in Luke 7, Jesus is the one who is amazed—he is amazed at the centurion’s faith. There is only one other time in the Gospels that Jesus is amazed and that’s in Mark 6:6 when he is rejected in Nazareth and he is amazed at their unbelief. The centurion, whose story also appears in Matthew, is the only person who AMAZES Jesus with his faith. I would much rather amaze Jesus with my faith, than with my unbelief, wouldn’t you?
So who was this centurion who amazed Jesus with his faith? He is the most unlikely person in Scripture to have an amazing faith.
1. For starters, he’s a foreigner, a Gentile and not a Jew— He most likely is a practicing pagan—which in Jesus’ time meant believing in many gods—a god of fertility, a god of war, another for weather and harvest and so on.
2. He’s a military man, and as such, he’s part of the oppressive Roman military that occupied Palestine during Jesus’ life. A centurion is a captain of 100 foot soldiers in a Roman Legion, whose job it was to subject the Jews to the Emperor’s rule. He was a man of war who achieved his rank by distinguishing himself above others in battle and in the Roman martial arts.
3. This centurion has no intellectual understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, the story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt and why the Messiah, arriving in the person of Jesus matters so much.
The centurion did, however, have some good points: He ruled not by force and terror, but through compassion and empathy. He built a Temple for the Jews to worship and cared for their well-being; he even cared about his slaves. And because he cared for the people’s well-being, the people cared for his well-being so they appeal to Jesus to heal is slave.
So what was it that amazed Jesus about this centurion? Was it just because he was a nice guy, unlike most of the Roman military?
No, it was more than that. The centurion amazed Jesus because through his own experience, he recognized Jesus’ power, his authority and his mission. The centurion used his own experience to see God at work in Jesus. He had heard the stories of Jesus healing people with a simple word, a simple command. He could understand this kind of power because he had experienced it himself: For I am also 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.
The centurion couldn’t use his authority to heal his slave, but through this window of experience, he recognized that Jesus’ words also did what he said. Jesus marvels in amazement that through his own experience, the centurion completely trusts in Jesus’ power.
Today, the centurion invites us into his story and asks us to reflect on our own experience, and how some of our experiences help us trust in Jesus’ power, recognize his mission and embrace his authority and presence in our lives.
I think sometimes as Lutherans, we can get too caught up in our intellectual understanding and reason, in correct behavior, in rote memorization and repetitive liturgy, forgetting that our experience is also a crucial part of our faith life! I’m not saying the Bible study, moral behavior and liturgy aren’t important—of course they are—and I embrace and practice all of them.
But our experience is also a wonderful gift of our faith that’s easy to avoid because we don’t want to be too touchy-feely, or overly emotional, or too spiritually far out and “oogie”. Well, the centurion uses his experience to embrace the mission of Jesus, and he isn’t too touchy-feely, emotional or gives us the oogies. Paul in Galatians affirms that the Gospel he preaches came not from humans, not from teaching, but from his experience of Jesus Christ. We also have to remember that Martin Luther himself embraced the grace-filled love of God in Jesus Christ because of his experience that he couldn’t achieve salvation through works, and that experience became the bedrock of the Reformation.
You may feel like the centurion, that you are the most unlikely person to amaze Jesus with your faith. But I would offer, that is not true. I want you to reflect for a minute about your own experiences and how they inform your faith. What experiences have helped you embrace, feel or understand the work of God in the world? We call this our spirituality in everyday life.
• Maybe you’ve served in the military or are a supervisor and you, like the centurion, have a window into seeing how Jesus’ words do what he says.
• Maybe you’re a teacher, you understand why Jesus teaches in parables because your experience gives you a window into the transformative power of stories.
• Maybe you work in the medical field, and every day, you get why Jesus went to the lepers, the sick, and the outcast, because you have a window into how isolating illness can be.
• Maybe you’re a mom on a tight budget and with a grateful heart, you can make one chicken give your family 4 dinners and your experience give you a window into how the loaves and fishes multiplied.
• Maybe you’re a coach and you encourage kids to try something they’re afraid they can’t do, and your experience gives you a window into why Jesus invited Peter out of the boat to walk on water,
• Maybe you’re a dad who lost one of your kids a 6 flags and your experience gives you a window into the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and you understand that desperate search in your guts.
• Maybe you’re a gardener and have insight into the created order of the universe from your own backyard.
• Maybe you’re a parent and you have sacrificed something for your kids to have what you didn’t and this begins to give you a window into the kind of love that motivated Jesus to die for us.
• Maybe you’ve suffered physical illness and your experience opened a window of compassion for Jesus’ suffering.
The good news is that Jesus is no longer a person bound by history--he rose victorious from the grave so that his resurrected Spirit is everywhere at the same time, and he dwells inside each one of us every second of every day!
Because of the in-dwelling presence of his Spirit, your daily life is full of experiences of God when Jesus makes himself known to us. And in order for us to receive the spiritual benefit from these experiences, it’s important that we identify them and share them. I had a seminary professor say, “we don’t learn from experience; we only learn from experience that is reflected upon and shared.” So I encourage you to share with your pewmates, your friends, your family today, one experience of your faith that came to mind. Make it a daily habit to share “God-sightings” and these experiences that inform your faith, your understanding of Jesus’ power and mission, and of God blessing you.
I had an experience that opened a window to a deeper understanding of what Holy Communion is all about: Our oldest son, Daniel was not quite 4 and we were at the community pool for swimming lessons. When his lesson was over, he said, “I want fish for dinner.” I said, “Okay, but why fish?” His response: “It will make me swim better.” When we got home, I asked my husband, Dan if we had any fish sticks in the freezer because Daniel wanted fish for dinner. Daniel piped up and said, “No! I want REAL fish—only REAL fish will help me swim better.” We went to the store and got some REAL fish!
It’s why we trust in the REAL presence of Jesus in, with and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion—only the REAL Jesus can help us live more faithfully. So, come to the table! Come to the table with all of your experiences and all of your faith, and the REAL Jesus will be amazed and fill you again.