Remember Your Church, Lord,
to deliver it from all evil
and to make it perfect in Your love;
and gather it, the one that has been sanctified,
from teh four winds into Your kingdom,
which You have prepared for it;
for Yours is the power and the glory forever.
May grce come, and may this world pass away. (Didache 10:5-6a)
2016 – Pentecost 2
The Roman Centurion in the Gospel lesson is never fully in the story. He does not meet Jesus face to face. Yet even though is off the page, so to speak, and never directly before Jesus, he becomes a powerful witness of faith and discipleship.
In the 6th chapter of Luke, Jesus offers a series of teaching that is often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. It is similar to but not the same as the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus gives a parable, an illustration, of a person of faith, a good person, a person who is living a life of discipleship.
Luke 6:43ff “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit; …. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”
So, it will tremendous irony that the person who first illustrates the behavior of the a person who is filled with faith AND has good works is both a Gentile and a significant figure in the occupying Roman Army.
We know almost nothing about this Roman Centurion who remains off the page. What commentators surmise is that he probably wasn’t a Roman from Rome, but of a different ethnicity from somewhere else in the Empire. But, we do know that he is a person who has expendable income. He has slaves and enough money to have a household AND build a synagogue.
Roman Centurions have 100 soldiers under their command. They are one of 60 in a legion. They are responsible for providing training, discipline, and provisions for the soldiers.
This particular Roman Centurion is a “God-fearer” yet he remains an outsider because he is both Gentile and a member of the occupying army. Yet, despite is outsider status, he is respected and beloved within the Jewish community in Capernaum. He is a model of faith.
Our nameless Roman Centurion approaches Jesus with respect. He recognizes his outsider status, and recognizes that it is completely inappropriate for him as a Gentile to approach Jesus directly. He sends the leaders of the synagogue to approach Jesus. Out of respect, he keeps his distance.
When he learns that Jesus is coming, once again, out of respect he prevents Jesus from coming to his home. A Rabbi should not, cannot, enter a Gentile’s home, and most certainly, may not intermingle with the sick.
The Roman Centurion is a person of faith. At the heart of this encounter is the Centurion’s trust in Jesus. As a person of authority, he recognizes Jesus as a person of authority. It is enough for Jesus to only speak the word, and his servant will be healed.
The Centurion trusts Jesus’ Word and that his Word is the very Word of God.
The Centurion is a man of faith who bears fruit. He does not use his rank and position to oppress those around him. He seeks the welfare of those beneath him. He desires good health and healing for his slave. He wants those around him to flourish. The Synagogue he built is a place of prayer, learning, and community. It’s presence in Capernaum strengthens the joy of the faithful.
He who can never be counted as one of the minyan, nevertheless, provides a house of worship and learning for those who can be counted as such.
In the language of John the Baptist, the Centurion is repentant, with love and good works as fruit.
His faith and discipleship put to shame those who proudly lay claim to their heritage as God’s people, God’s own Chosen Ones. The Centurion’s faith and good works casts a dark shadow upon the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious leaders who refuse to accept that Jesus teaches and ministers under the authority of the Father and in the power of the Spirit.
For us, the Centurion is a model of faith.
Often, just before we receive the holy bread and wine of Jesus’ body and blood, we speak a paraphrase of the Centurion’s words. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.”
Jesus is very much alive and with us. The truth of the matter is that we are not worthy to be in Jesus’ presence. But, the gift of grace is such, that Jesus is present to us. Jesus has the authority to hear our plea for forgiveness and healing and to heal us by His Word. His Word to us now is “You are forgiven.” When we receive Christ in the bread and wine, we receive his forgiveness.
We receive this word by faith.
All God’s people say…Amen.
Let us either fear the wrath to come or love the grace which is present, one of the two; either way, let us be found in Christ Jesus, which leads to true life. Let nothing appeal to you apart from Him. (11:1–2)
On the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the congregations of First English, Mishawaka and Gloria Dei, South Bend gathered under one roof in order to encounter God through Word and Sacrament. Our worship was strengthened by the special music that Dr. Kevin Vaughn led his combined choir and three guests through. We were blessed to hear about the ministry of Maj. (ret.) Leslie Haines through the organization she directs Lutheran Military Veterans and Families Ministries. You can read learn more about this ministry at http://www.lmvfm.org
Many of the great stories that we are familiar with come to a conclusion, but also open the door for another story and adventure.
An example or two: Homer’s Odyssey – Odysseus finally comes home and is reunited with his son and wife Penelope. The story concludes, yet the door is wide open for more.
At the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings when Bilbo completes his story, he hands it over to Sam Wise. Sam now can have his own adventures and write them down.
Star Wars just keeps on coming. We thought it ended with the end of Darth Vader, but the force is stirring a young woman to find Luke Skywalker so that she can become a Jedi.
We see this development in the story of Jesus. In Jesus, God came down to us in order to save us. The story should have stopped at his crucifixion, but our salvation rests not only on the cross, but also his resurrection. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. God’s power is stronger than all the powers that work to end us. Jesus’ resurrection illustrates that God is stronger than the finality of death, sin, or the devil.
After Jesus’ appointed time with the disciples, Jesus ascends into heaven. We have a conclusion in Jesus’ ascension, but the door is wide open for the story of God to continue. Jesus promises that when he ascends into heaven, the Holy Spirit will come.
Jesus gives us this promise in John 14:16-17. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
On this day we celebrate the remarkable way in which the story of God continues. In dramatic fashion, the Holy Spirit arrives. The wind and tongues of fire are dramatic enough for a movie production. And then, the disciples begin to proclaim the Good News of Christ Jesus to people in their native languages.
The word that Jesus uses in John 14:16 for Advocate is paraklete. Paraklete is a descriptive word for Holy Spirit translated in a variety of ways – Advocate, Counselor, Helper.
When we get down to the brass tacks, all of these words point us to the Holy Spirit who “comes down alongside us.”
When the Holy Spirit comes down along side of us, the Spirit leads us into the Truth of the Gospel, forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life with God.
The Holy Spirit transforms us from those with no faith to a people of faith. In Acts 2, we see disciples of Jesus transformed from people of faith who are afraid to people of faith who are emboldened to speak fearlessly of Jesus as God and Savior.
We now, we the church, are the continuation of God’s story. For the Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, and enlighten the church through the Gospel. The church continues to grow and develop in the world, sometimes in the most unlikely of places and situations. Always, the Spirit comes alongside us to lead us into the capital T of Truth of God.
To be a Christian is to have a story to tell and live a life of adventure. The Holy Spirit comes alongside of us and propels us. One of the prayers that conclude the litany in Evening Prayer gives voice to our Christian vocation. And, how the Holy Spirit comes alongside us and leads us in direction we do not anticipate.
“O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.
Easter 7 2016 – John 17:20-26
At the height of the Easter season, the words of Jesus serve to remind us of who we are. He reminds us that our true identity rests in Him. Even though we have a number of identities, what Jesus is praying for and telling us is that the single most important thing in our lives is our faith in Him.
Faith in Christ leads us to the Father. Faith in Christ binds the church together in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have faith in Christ who is the head of the church.
We live in a time when people have many identities. We can easily get side tracked by these identities, but they are not what is essential.
Even though we are Americans, the church is not about being American.
Even though a congregation may appear to consist of similar ethnic groups, our ethnicity is not what makes the church.
Even though we have a gathering of families in worship right now, families are not what makes the church.
Even though we are an assembly of individuals who make individuals decisions, the church is not just about the individual.
Even though congregations do an enormous amount of good in their local communities, the church is not an association of people who do good things.
Even though we may call ourselves Lutheran by either choice or heritage, the church is not about being Lutheran.
The church is much deeper and broader than just one particular house or denominational label. The church is what we confess in the creed, “One holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”
The church transcends all categories and specificities. The single common denominator is our faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus, God Incarnate, Son of God, dies on the cross so that we may be reconciled to God through a forgiveness that Christ earns on our behalf. Our faith in Christ reconciles us to our heavenly Father.
Jesus prays for us. Jesus prays that our confession of faith may continue until we reach the conclusion of our baptismal journey. He prays that we may never be separated from God’s love.
To have faith in Christ is to have experienced the love of Christ and to enjoy the love that exists between the Father and the Son.
Jesus prays that we may be one. We are one through Christ’s love and we place our faith in Jesus who is our Christ.
Found in a card sent by kind relatives:
May you be blessed with –
Peace when you are troubled;
Grace when you are needy;
Courage when you are afraid;
Strength when you are weary;
Faith when you are doubting;
Hope when you are uncertain.
Wills, Garry. Augustine's Confessions: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
This book is part of Princeton University Press’ Lives of Great Religious Books series. I expected more explanation of how the Confessions impacted people throughout the ages. This explanation was relegated to the last chapter. According to Wills, the Confessions was received as autobiography until relatively recently. And, while it continued to be read through the Middle Ages and Reformation era, it did not have the same kind of impact as Augustine’s works such as On the Trinity or On Teaching the Christian Faith. During the Romantic period in the late 18th century, there is renewed attention to the Confessions. However, different aspects of the story receive more attention than others. For example, there is the emphasis on Augustine as the “great sinner,” and later, the usage of Freudian psycho-analysis to put Augustine “on the couch.”
In the first eight chapters Wills informs us on how to properly read the Confessions. Wills argues that Augustine may talk about himself, but this is not an autobiography as we know it today. The Confessions is an extended prayer that includes an extended engagement with Holy Scripture. Wills argues that the pattern of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, provides the structure by which Augustine tells the stories of his life. Wills points out that what Augustine says in the Confessions does not line up with what he writes in his letters, other writings, or what others recall of details.
Wills also argues that the famous scene in the garden that is labeled as a conversion experience for Augustine is not the final step to fully receiving Christ, but is really the moment when he gives us sex.
Wills argues that the final three chapters in the Confessions is an extended reflection on the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I found Wills’ short book (148 pages of text) an enjoyable and challenging read. When I go back to read the Confessions this summer I will be looking at what Augustine writes there with a more critical eye than the first time I read it more than two decades ago.
Wills relies on his own skills as a historian and classics scholar, but he quotes the Augustinian scholars James O’Donnell and Peter Brown with regularity.
May the Lord support us
all the day long
till the shadows lengthen
and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is o'er,
and our work is done!
Then in. His mercy
may he give us a safe lodging,
and a holy rest,
and peace at the last!