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Sermon for Sunday June 2, 2013

FIRST READING 1 Kings 8:22–23, 41–43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 41 Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm — when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

PSALM Psalm 96:1–9

1 Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Sing to the LORD, bless the name of the LORD; proclaim God’s salvation from day to day. 3 Declare God’s glory among the nations and God’s wonders among all peoples. 4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods. 5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but you, O LORD, have made the heavens. 6 Majesty and magnificence are in your presence; power and splendor are in your sanctuary. 7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD honor and power. 8 Ascribe to the LORD the honor due the holy name; bring offerings and enter the courts of the LORD. 9 Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; tremble before the LORD, all the earth.

SECOND READING Galatians 1:1–12

1 Paul an apostle — sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — 2 and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! 10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

GOSPEL Luke 7:1–10

1 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 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.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.


I ran across one of those unverifiable stories that floats around, that does a good job of illustrating a point. According to the tale, many years ago, a rider on horseback approached a group of soldiers attempting to move a heavy piece of timber. A corporal was observed standing nearby, hands on hips, barking the order, “Heave. Heave.” Despite repeated efforts, the soldiers were unable to accomplish the task. Apparently thinking that the success or failure depended on determined commands, the corporal persisted, “Heave. Heave.” Addressing the corporal, the horseman asked, “Why don’t you help them?” Straightening himself, the corporal snapped, “Because I am a corporal.” The horseman dismounted, joined the soldiers and provided the extra muscle necessary to move the timber. He then climbed back upon his horse, looked the corporal in the eyes and said, “The next time your men need help, corporal, send for the commander-in-chief.” The horseman was George Washington.
The moral behind the story is that some people, when given a little authority, will sometimes begin to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. The transformation may not always be intentional. Authority, by its nature is capable of working a gradual change on one’s personality. With this in mind, let’s consider for the next few minutes the centurion referred to in our gospel text for this morning.
Jesus has just finished teaching and He enters the town of Capernaum. He was fresh from giving the address we know as the Sermon on the Mount, and based on the length of this discourse, Jesus had to have been tired. Perhaps he’d come into Capernaum for relaxation and refreshment. And as we’ve come to expect from reading scripture, Jesus never seems to be able to catch a break. As He enters Capernaum, there was a delegation of Jewish elders there to meet him with a request.
Jesus entered Capernaum only to discover, as He would discover many times, that His reputation had preceded Him. He had been in Capernaum before, but by now even those of rank and station had begun to take notice of Him. “Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave (Luke 7:2-3).”
As I’m sure many of you remember, a centurion commanded a Roman legion, numbering 100 men. It wasn’t in a centurion’s best interest to risk compromising his authority by making “requests.” The privilege of “command” came with the position. The disposition to “demand” was expected. It’s fair to say that the demeanor of a Roman centurion could generally be characterized to resemble that of the corporal mentioned earlier, standing at a safe distance from a task, issuing orders that to be accomplished.
The centurion mentioned in our text reminds Jesus of his importance: “For I 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 he does it (7:8).” So, can we safely assume that when this man dispatched certain elders to ask Jesus to heal his slave, it was in the context of authority? The answer is of course no. We can’t rush past the fact that what we see happening here was a radical departure from our general characterization. This particular centurion jumps out at us precisely because he’s out of character. And Jesus couldn’t help but be impressed. He was further impressed when the Jewish elders volunteered, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us a synagogue (7:4, 5).” Jesus apparently was even more impressed when the centurion addressed him as “Lord,” and confessed, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof … but say the word, and let my servant be healed (7:6, 7).” Luke tells us that when Jesus heard this message from the centurion He was amazed at the centurion’s faith.
There are only two times in the New Testament when Jesus was said to have been amazed. The first time was when He began His public ministry in His hometown of Nazareth. In an event that in some ways surprises me, Jesus was rejected by those who knew Him best. But I’m not the only one that was surprised. The evangelist Mark tells us that Christ “was amazed by their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6). The second time the word “amazed” is used to describe Jesus’ reaction is this encounter with the Roman centurion.
This time Jesus was amazed, not by a lack of faith, but by how genuine this Gentile’s faith was. Jesus turned to those who were with Him and said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Evidently that faith had an impact, for Luke tells us that “when those who had been sent by the centurion returned to the house, they found the servant well.” Little wonder that Jesus declared, “I have not witnessed such faith, even in all Israel.” Moreover, as insensitive as it may sound, it would appear that the immediate healing of the servant is almost incidental to the faith-filled abandon exhibited by the centurion. He impresses us as a good man, compassionate, and humble; a man of authority, figuratively prostrating himself in the presence of Supreme authority. What we see here is an understanding of the power of the spoken word.
Jesus consented to the centurion’s request. However, the centurion, fully aware of the power of the spoken word, uttered by one in authority, responded by saying something to the effect, “Oh no, you don’t need to trouble yourself more. I’m not worthy for you to come under my roof. Just speak the word and my servant will be healed.” He’s obviously convinced that if he has the power to command the lives of one hundred men with a word, beyond the shadow of a doubt, it’s within the power of Jesus to dispel even the powers of darkness with a word. “Speak the word only, and my servant will be healed.” From this, I would like to suggest that words have power; power close to our own experiences.
A certain ministry of words has been given to each of us, although we’re not always faithful to speak them. For example, Words of reconciliation. Tempers flare and abrasive words are exchanged between you and a friend or loved one. Only moments before, the thought that such words would ever come from your mouth was inconceivable. Nerves are tense. Faces strain in hateful expressions. An awkward feeling presses down upon the relationship. Words! Cutting and slashing words. See what they’ve done. And suspended there in your throat, dangling between passion and compassion, pride and reason, are two words waiting their time: “I’m sorry.” Words of possibility, yet many times words impossible to say. Or consider words which remove fear.
A person sits anxiously in a hospital waiting room. A friend or relative is undergoing a life-threatening operation. A multitude of “what ifs?” and “if onlys” race through a person’s mind at a time like that. Finally, after what always seems like an inordinate length of time, the doctor enters the waiting room. “Everything went fine,” he says, “No complications and the patient will be up in no time.” What marvelous words! Just words, but ones that can remove the terrible weight of worry from tired shoulders, erase shadows which had crept in upon the soul, and replace the unspoken fears with visible joy. Words have power!
I’m reminded of a story told to me by a friend. He said, when I was a little boy, it seemed everything on the street where I grew up was giant-sized; especially the trees. Tall, spreading elm trees lined both sides of the street, overlapping to form a kind of leafy tunnel. The sidewalks too, stretched like a corridor in both directions. One evening, following considerable debate, his parents reluctantly agreed that he be allowed, for the first time, to attend the local theater without their accompaniment.
The theater was only four blocks away, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that finally, they weren’t going to chaperone him to and from the theater with all their grown-up guidance. It would be a small step for humankind, but a giant step for my friend. He was ecstatic about this unexpected windfall of overdue freedom, that it somehow escaped him that although the theater was only four blocks away, it was also four blocks back. The significance of that was the four blocks back would be in the dark. My friend says he didn’t remember anything about the movie, but he did remember the walk home.
As he recalls, the night was very dark. Thick, hovering trees obscured whatever welcome light there may have been from the lone streetlight. Shadows flickered and danced in every direction and grotesque, stoop-shouldered, long fingernailed ogres, who prey upon little children, lurked behind every tree. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there. He also knew that they would come upon him from behind, clutch him with their clammy hands and whisk him away to wherever those kinds of things whisk people away to. It’s very difficult to tiptoe four blocks without breathing, looking in all directions at the same time.
Too frightened to walk, too afraid to run, he said his heart pounded against his shirt as if trying to break away and take its chances on its own. Now, there was only one block to go. Maybe he had a chance! But then he thought, No they’re going to wait until he’s almost home and when he gets to the front yard, maybe even the doorstep, they’ll capture him. Then, midway down the block, he saw it; the shadowy figure of a man in the middle of the sidewalk, coming slowly toward him.
He knew there must be others closing in on him from their appointed places. Stopping in his tracks, he was just about to inform the neighborhood of his predicament when a voice said, “Something about to get you, boy?” It was his father’s voice. Doxology and Hail Mary! He was coming up the street to meet me: His father’s voice; only words. But, as my friend continued, I submit to you from personal experience, words can annihilate fear. There’s someone you know who needs to hear a word of assurance or encouragement. I don’t know their names, but you know them and you know the words they need to hear. Third, there are words which remove loneliness.
Leslie Weatherhead tells a rather pathetic story about Rupert Brooke, the English poet. After having boarded an ocean liner at Liverpool bound for New York, Brooke looked out on a sizable crowd of people lined along the dock to wave farewell to friends and family departing for America. Brooke had no friends in Liverpool and was suddenly overtaken by an almost unbearable sense of loneliness. Seeing a little street urchin standing alone on the pier, he rushed from the ship and made for the little boy. “What is your name?” he asked. “William,” the surprised lad answered. “William, would you like to earn six-pence,” Brooke asked. William was agreeable to do that. “All I want you to do,” Brooke informed him, “is wave to me as the ship puts away.” Weatherhead relates that Brooke never forgot the figure of the little urchin, waving a dirty handkerchief, delivering him from loneliness. Sometimes that’s about the sum of it, isn’t it?
We superficially wave a handkerchief to those we know to be lonely when we know what they would really appreciate is a sincere word. Loneliness is different from solitude. Solitude is intentional privacy. Loneliness is circumstantial detachment. We could fine-tune the distinction, but we know the difference. More than that, we know the difference between detachment and involvement. We know the difference between a playground filled with happy children and a nursing home filled with persons sorting through old photographs. We know the difference in home-bound shut-ins and the dedicated person or persons in our church committed to call on them. We know the difference in “waving a handkerchief” or giving a polite tip of the hat to one who’s lonely instead of speaking words of fellowship and caring.
Dr. Charles L. Goodell produced a little volume not long after the turn of the last century titled, What Are You Worth? In one of the chapters, he refers to a man standing beneath a great bell suspended high in a cathedral tower. The man patiently blew upon a flute, note by note, until at last, a faint response from the bell was detected. He prolonged that specific note until the bell began to vibrate, every molecule awakened. The man then explains, “The deepest thing about that bell which no hand of mine could reach was the note to which it was tuned to respond.” I was fascinated by this so I did a little research and found an explanation; it’s called the overtone series.
The same principle can be illustrated on a piano by placing one hand lightly on certain keys then strike a particular key elsewhere on the keyboard. If you strike the right key, those beneath your hand will vibrated in response. Keys under the one hand will be activated because they’ve been tuned to the note affecting them. What does this suggest to us about the effect of caring words, spoken kindly to a lonely heart? It’s a note to which the human heart is tuned to respond, and to speak such a word is to be in genuine ministry. Next there are words which heal.
Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, recalls how timely words healed a broken condition of her soul. Mrs. Graham’s father served as a medical missionary to China. On one unforgettable day, bandits descended upon the city and presently became engaged in a shoot-out with the authorities. When the shooting was over, Mrs. Graham’s father worked for hours over one of the injured bandits, summoning all his medical skills in an effort to save the man’s life. Finally, when it was apparent that the man would survive, the exhausted doctor carefully wrapped the patient’s head wounds and took his leave. Mrs. Graham relates that three hours after her father had returned home, she passed beneath the city gate. Hanging from the gate was the head of the bandit her father had labored to save, bandages and all! Of that horrible moment, she says, “My faith was thrown into chaos. I didn’t know what I believed anymore.” In the years which followed, her spiritual dilemma progressively worsened.
Later in life, while a student at Wheaton College, she had occasion to speak with one of her instructors and told him about her faith struggle. Dr. Gordon Clark was known to be a scholarly man, given to hard logic and unemotional brilliance. She fully expected him to respond to her with hard, cold facts. She had assumed correctly. However, she says that all she really remembers is the way he concluded his remarks, “Ruth, there is still the leap of faith.” While these words may not add illumination to Ruth’s struggles for you and me, they were the words she needed to hear. She then proceeded to take the blind leap of faith and, according to her own testimony, has known peace in her soul ever since. Dr. Clark had spoken the healing word!
Healing words – words which change circumstances, were very much a part of our Lord’s ministry. We can’t recall them all here, but we can be assured that the memory of the man healed of palsy never turned loose of the words, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” Nor did the woman healed of 12 torturous years of hemorrhaging ever forget the words, “Be of good comfort, your faith has made you whole.” The sweetest words ever to be recalled by the adulteress, who was given a new lease on life, were: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” The thief on the cross drew his last breath on this side of eternity with the triumphant words ringing in his ears, “Truly, I say to you today, you shall be with me in Paradise.” Words of healing, spoken in the hours of need.
Sure, the healing ministry of Christ was unique, but, as Christians, we’ve been given another grace; the witness of Christian fellowship with the ability to change someone else’s condition, if only their attitude about their condition, by speaking a healing word. The writer of Proverbs said it best: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (25:11).” Finally there are words of witness.
A man came out of his house on his way to church one Sunday morning. Across the yard, his neighbor was loading his golf clubs into an SUV. The neighbor said, “Henry, do you want to play golf with me today?” Henry, with an expression of self-righteous horror on his face, replied: “This is the Lord’s Day and I always go to church. I most certainly do not want to play golf with you today.” After a moment of embarrassed silence, the golfer said: “You know Henry, I’ve often wondered about your church and I’ve always admired your devotion. You know also, this is the seventh time I’ve invited you to play golf with me, and you’ve never once invited me to go to church with you.” Sometimes, the word of witness, like the other words we’ve mentioned, begs to be spoken.
“But say the word and let my servant be healed,” the centurion appealed to Jesus. We admire his judgment; the record shows that for one, his faith was not misplaced, and for two, his estimation of the power of Jesus’ word was accurate. Believing His word and convinced that in Christ there is life abundant. The presence of Christ, in our own lives, continues to confirm that neither has our faith been misplaced nor the estimation of His power been exaggerated. We know whom we have believed in and are persuaded that he is able, to keep that which we’ve committed unto him, not only against “that day,” but today as well!
Look again at that ancient soldier one last time. See him coming in behalf of another, engaging in ministry, putting together such a faith-filled, unrehearsed combination of words that our Lord couldn’t help but take notice. Christ performed the greater miracle, but the servant owes his healing to the centurion. I need to be clear here: I’m not speaking of vocabulary or verbosity, but spiritual disposition; the disposition which embraces the strong spirit of Christ and dares to speak the word in behalf of another.
There’s someone to whom the sound of your voice is familiar, waiting to hear your voice now, speaking a word of reconciliation, fellowship, caring, healing, or witness. Our prayer each day should be that of the psalmist who wrote; “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (19:14).”

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