Sunday, May 29, 2016
“But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed,” the centurion tells Jesus this morning. Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t even have to enter the centurion’s house – he doesn’t touch or even see the servant, and he is healed. With a word, Jesus heals. Jesus does something no doctor can accomplish in healing the centurion’s servant, just with a word. Words are powerful, Luke shows us in the gospel for this morning. But most importantly, the one who speaks those words, Jesus the capital W Word, is powerful, more powerful than any other religious leader, doctor, or soldier. This morning I’d like for us to take a look at how Jesus uses words to heal – not just the centurion’s servant, but to heal others, to heal US, to heal our world.
What words have you heard in your own life that have power? Words, perhaps, that have changed your life? “I love you.” “Will you marry me?” “No dessert until you’ve finished your supper.” “You’re fired.” “You’re hired!” “I forgive you.” “I’m sorry, but your husband/your wife/your child is not going to make it.” The words we say and the words we hear have power – power to shape how we view ourselves and the world around us, power to change the course of our lives. Let’s look at how words are used in this particular gospel story:
- In this gospel passage, Jesus demonstrates that he keeps his word. He doesn’t just say things without meaning it – he practices what he preaches. His word is true. So our gospel began this morning with Jesus entering Capernaum after finishing his famous sermon on the plains. You know, the one where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who hunger…” A large part of his sermon happens to be about loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, and not judging others. Lo and behold, as he enters town the Jewish leaders ask him to help a centurion. Now, can anyone tell me what a centurion is? It’s kind of cool that here on Memorial Day weekend we have a story about a military veteran. A centurion was a Roman officer in charge of about 100 soldiers (hence CENTurion). He was of a high enough rank to be a well-respected military leader and to have servants under him. Notice, however, I said that a centurion was a Roman For Jesus and other Jews of this time, Roman soldiers were like the equivalent of British officers during the American Revolution – Israel wanted its independence from Rome, but they were under Roman occupation. Jews and Roman citizens were not always on friendliest of terms. The Jewish Zealots were outright hostile to their presence in Israel. But Jesus has just entered Capernaum having preached “love your enemies,” and here is a Roman officer asking him, a perceived enemy, for help. Jesus lives out his message by loving and healing his enemy.
- It’s not what others say about us that give us inherent worth and value, but what Jesus as the son of God says about us that counts. Jesus’ word is the only word that matters. The Jews who ask Jesus to heal the centurion’s slave have guessed that Jesus may hesitate because not only is the centurion a Roman, he’s a Gentile. They insist that Jesus should help the centurion and his servant because “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” The centurion, however, perceives that he is NOT worthy, saying, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.” The centurion knows he is a Gentile, and that a faithful Jew like Jesus would defile himself by entering a Gentile home to heal the centurion’s slave. So is the centurion worthy or unworthy of Jesus’ help? What about the slave, for that matter? Again, Jesus is true to his word – he heals the slave not because the centurion is worthy or unworthy, but because God in Jesus Christ values the dignity and worth of every human being. Gentile or Jew, servant or free, decorated war veteran or undocumented immigrant – Jesus looks past the labels that society places on people to humanity’s God-given inherent worth. Faith – not social status, ethnicity, or political party affiliation – is what motivates Jesus to heal the centurion’s slave.
- The centurion asks Jesus for healing for his slave because he heard about Jesus. The word about Jesus is spreading – his power as a healer, that he’s a man who keeps his word, that he’s a person who dares to love those who are unlovable in the eyes of society. People are using words to talk about Jesus! And the word about Jesus gets around! The ELCA’s current motto is God’s Work, Our Hands. I like this motto – it sums up in a succinct way what we are about as Lutherans. I have a colleague, Pastor Dave Daubert, who recently suggested that perhaps our new motto ought to be “God’s Word, Our Voice.” Lutherans don’t use words to tell people WHY they’re out doing good in the world enough, he argues! It’s because of JESUS that we experience healing. It’s because of Jesus that we visit those who are sick, care for those regardless of class, race, or culture. It’s because of Jesus we dare to love our enemies! The work that we do matters, but the words that we attach to that work matter, too, because it points everything back to God. God uses our voices as well as our hands. God will use the words that we dare to speak to others about Jesus to bring healing, life, and salvation! When we tell someone else what God has done in our life, that could be life-changing for another person. Where are our friends and family members hearing about Jesus today, if not from us? We underestimate the power of our words that can bring spiritual as well as physical healing by connecting those in need to the source of all healing, Jesus Christ. Another colleague in South Dakota recently asked what questions churches can ask of their neighbors that get people talking about their faith in a nonthreatening or intimidating way. The answer he discovered was this: Ask how you can pray for them. And then actually do it – pray with that person. Our spoken prayers for others matter.
In a world where we are surrounded by words on Twitter, Facebook, texts, and billboards, with all kinds of opinions, Jesus’ words are true. Jesus’ words have power – power to heal, power to save. Jesus’ words are words to live by. Jesus’ words tell us who we truly are: children of God of immeasurable worth, loved unconditionally by God, created to praise and serve God alone. And our words about Jesus matter, because they can lead others to seek Jesus, love Jesus, and live for Jesus, too. Amen.