Luke 7. 1-10
+ Now anyone who has me for any period of time knows a few things very quickly about me. First of all, I’m pretty laid back. I am pretty even-keeled when it comes to most things.
But…but…there are a few things that can set me off. There are a few things that people who have worked with me for any length of time know to avoid.
One—this goes all the way back to when I was in junior high school and a teacher I had there—is this: Never begin a conversation with me with the words, “I have a bone to pick with you,” or any variation of that. I have to breathe deeply if I hear those words.
The second thing I am not good at at—and this is a hard one, especially for a priest—is: I hate being told what to do.
Yes, I know. I am under an actually vow of obedience to my bishop as a priest. But…I am not good at it, obviously.
For example, I really do not like people telling me what my job is as a priest. We get that a lot in congregations. I don’t tell people who are doctors how to be doctor. I don’t tell people who are teachers how to teach. People think they know what a priest should or should not do. They think they know what my responsibilities are.
I hate have being people boss me. And I hate being told “do this” or “do that.” This all goes back to being a kid.
Now, nobody would look at me now and say, “wow, that Father Jamie. He’s a real rebel.” Well, I know I don’t look it. But I kinda am. And I really HATE being told what to do. Just ask my poor mother.
I know it’s weird. I’ve worked hard on it over the years. And finally, at this point in my life, I just acknowledge it and accept it. And I’m honest with others about it. It’s not that I can’t take honest, creative, helpful criticism.
It’s not that I can’t work with others. I actually work very well with others—even with people who don’t work well with me. It’s just…don’t pick a bone with me.
So, with that in mind, I have to admit that our Gospel reading for this morning drives me kind of crazy. I know it sounds all nice and wonderful on the surface. Here’s this loyal Gentile. A centurion. A soldier. And here he is submitting to Jesus and the God of Jesus. It’s wonderful.
It’s so wonderful, we even find Jesus amazed at it. We don’t find Jesus amazed at much in the Gospels. So, when he is, we should take note.
But when I hear words like this—
“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…”
—I find myself reacting in much the same way I do when someone tells me they have a bone to pick with me.
This is faith? I have to wonder. This is what Jesus finds amazing? If so, I’m not in good place. And knowing many of you as well I do, I don’t think you are either. This is exactly the opposite of what we thought faith was.
Faith, as I’ve understood it, and certainly as I’ve preached it from this pulpit, is all about freedom. Remember some of those sermons I’ve preached? God does not want us to be robots, I’ve said. God does not want us to mindlessly do this and do that. So, all this talk really riles me up.
But, wait… It’s not so simple as all of that. Because if those are the words we get hung up on—and yes, I’ve gotten hung up on those words in this Gospel reading—then, we are really missing the point. Because, right before those words, the centurion says something else. Something really beautiful. Something really amazing.
“Lord, do not trouble yourself for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,…but only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
This turns everything I have already said on its head. All that rebelliousness gets knocked flat at these words. There is a difference here between blind submission and…humility. And it is humility, not blind faith, that this Gospel reading is all about. I still echo what I have always said:
God does not want robots for the Kingdom of God. God does not want us to be mindless, submissive robots. We have brains and minds, that we must use. We have intellect that we must exercise. We must work on our faith, and question it at times, and struggle with it and under it at times.
But, sometimes..sometimes…and this is really hard…we must submit to it and humble ourselves before God. I know that’s hard for us. It’s hard for me. We are proud at times. And we can be proud. At times. But we also must humble ourselves too. We also must bow down and bend our bodies—and our hearts—to God. And we sometimes just have to stop doing it all ourselves and let God do some things.
That is the beauty of this encounter with the centurion this morning. And it is a beautiful encounter. That humble prayer to Jesus by the centurion really does get right to the heart of the matter.
Only speak, Lord, and there will be healing.
You’ll sometimes notice during our celebration of Holy Communion that I am up at the altar whispering quietly to myself. I’m not talking to myself, trust me. I’m saying certain prayers during this time, such as when I wash my hands, or when I pour water into the wine.
There’s also a prayer I pray right before I receive Holy Communion. It’s a prayer that everyone prays in the Roman Catholic Church right before they receive, and I wish we Episcopalians could have implemented it in our Prayer Book. But it’s a good prayer for all of us to pray right before we receive communion. The prayer is:
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
It is a prayer that, of course, echoes our reading this morning. And it’s a beautiful prayer as far as I’m concerned. Yes, maybe a bit self-deprecating. But, it is truly a humble prayer.
The fact is, we are all called to be obedient as Christians. We are also all called to be humble. Neither of these callings are easy. But, then, nobody promised us that faith would be easy. If anyone ever did, they deceived you. Get your money back from them!
Faith is not easy. It is hard. And that’s all right. An easy faith is not one with any real rewards to it.
But a faith in which one needs to work—a faith in which one must work to be obedience and humble—that is a faith with purpose and meaning.
So, let us embrace such a faith. Let us each work hard on our faith. Let us be obedient, as the centurion was. Let us be humble. Let us ask Christ to come under our roof and to heal us and those who need healing in our lives.
When we do, it is then that our faith will truly flourish. It is then that Christ truly does come under our roof and dwells with us. It is then that Christ will no doubt be amazed and will delight in us as well.