Do you have any idea what we’re doing right now?
Some of us are hearing this sermon in the sanctuary of our church building. We are together in one place—carefully and healthily distanced… wearing masks… but still, together—invoking God and uttering prayers, eating at their table, asking to be made into living testaments of their saving power.
Some of us are hearing this sermon by watching the video or listening to the podcast. We’re spread out. We’re hearing this sermon at different times and in different places. But still… we’re invoking God and uttering prayers, eating at their table, and asking to be made into living testaments of their saving power.
And that is not a light thing. That is a deeply dangerous thing. We’re mixing up dynamite to kill a Sunday morning. We’re setting off M-80s unsupervised in the woods. This worship… this church… this following Christ… is not a nice safe respectable middle-class activity. It is wild and dangerous and full of grace.
It could change the world. It could change us.
Jesus has been going around, from town to town, wreaking miracles. And now he’s back in Capernaum. This is where he met Simon. This is where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law. The place where he called Simon to follow him was just… over there.
And Jesus and Simon and Andrew and James and John have been traveling through the cities of Galilee and Judea. Jesus has been curing people with leprosy, and making paralyzed men stand and walk, and telling men with withered hands to stretch out their arms. He has been teaching people and accepting disciples and appointing apostles. And word has gotten around.
So when he comes back to Capernaum, these elders come up to him—these leaders in the Jewish community—and they tell him:
There’s this centurion who lives in town and he has this slave who he really cares about. And we know, he’s a centurion. He’s a commander in the army that is occupying our land in the name of the Roman Empire. But he’s not a bad guy. He loves our people. He built our synagogue. And he asked us to come to you. And we thought… well… we’ve heard what you’ve done… would you help?
And Jesus says yes. And Jesus goes with them. Jesus walks through the streets of this little fishing village toward the centurion’s house.
And I don’t know what Jesus is thinking. I don’t know what he’s expecting. But I imagine that he thinks he’ll get to the house, and he’ll meet the slave, and he’ll say something like, “now be made clean,” or “stand up and walk,” or “stretch out your hand.” And the miracle will happen. And the people will be amazed. And he’ll give a little lesson.
But as he gets close to the centurion’s house, some people come out to see him, and they tell him:
Look. He knows how these things work. He has people who tell him what to do. He tells other people what to do. If he tells a soldier to go there, they go there. If he tells a solider to come here, they come here. So, y’know, you don’t have to, like, come into the house. Just give the order and it will be done.
And Jesus is amazed. It says that, right there in the Bible. Jesus is amazed. He’s been going to synagogues. He’s been talking to people who have read the Torah, who have heard the words of the prophets, who know the stories of miracles from long ago. And it is this centurion who has the faith to say, “You don’t have to come all the way here. Just give the order and it will be done.”
And he doesn’t say a word. But he gives the order. And he walks away. And when the others get back to the centurion’s house, the slave is fine.
Jesus has been going around, from town to town, wreaking miracles. And the thing about all of those miracles is that we never hear what happens next.
After all of this happens, and Jesus and his disciples leave Capernaum and go on their way to Nain, there is a centurion… sitting in his house… catching the eye of his slave who was healed. And I don’t know what he’s thinking. Luke doesn’t tell us what he’s thinking. But I imagine that he has to be thinking:
I asked the elders to talk to him. I sent my friends out to talk to him. He never even set foot in my house. He didn’t say a word. And he did this. And he was amazed at my faith. And what am I supposed to do with that?
This centurion has to face a fact. And this centurion has to make a choice.
The fact is simple: the centurion’s life will never be the same. The wonder happened. It will always have happened. It is a part of his life.
The choice is harder. He can keep going has he was. He can keep being a commander in an occupying army, living in a house in Capernaum. He can keep living in comfort, attended by slaves… including that one, who had been so sick that the centurion had turned to this man, and who had gotten better.
Or he can lay down his arms, and resign his commission, and let his slaves go free, and follow this Jesus.
(Or, maybe, he can thread the needle. Maybe he can keep what he has and stay who he is and still follow Jesus. But… no, probably not.)
And here’s the thing: we never find out what he chooses. Luke never tells us. Luke just tells us about the miracle, and watches Jesus walk away, and we catch up to him when he’s about to perform another wonder.
And here’s the other thing: Jesus has been going around, from town to town, wreaking miracles. There are so many people who have experienced these wonders. Lepers have been cured. Paralyzed men have stood and walked. People with withered hands have reached out. And a young man is about to come back from the dead; a woman is about to be reunited with her son. And they all face the same fact… and make the same choice.
And here’s the other other thing: that’s us.
Some miracles are big and flashy. Sometimes, Jesus heals someone from afar. Sometimes, Jesus raises the dead. And don’t get me wrong. Those are cool and all, but…
The biggest miracle… the most amazing miracle… the miracle that changes everything… is subtle. It sneaks in and surrounds you. You might not have even noticed it.
The miracle that changes everything is that God looks at a world in need and says, “You are loved and worthy of love.”
That’s not just a description. That’s an act. God looks at us… no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey… no matter our race, ethnicity, culture, faith, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, family status, age, ability, or anything else… you and me and everyone… a world in need… and makes us loved and worthy of love.
Do you have any idea what we’re doing right now? We are facing a fact and making a choice.
The fact is simple: we are loved and worthy of love; and because we know that, our lives will never be the same. That truth is part of us, now. That truth will always be true. That truth is part of our lives.
The choice is harder. We can keep going as we were. We can keep being who a broken world asks us to be. Or… we can lay down the parts of our lives that hold us back from love—the parts of our lives that aren’t really us—and follow this Jesus.
And I’ll admit it. There are times when it feels like we can thread the needle. But there are also times when we need to be daring… when we need to take risks… when we need to be wild and dangerous and full of grace.
And when we sit here—in the sanctuary, or watching the video, or listening to the podcast—and when we invoke God and utter prayers and eat at this table and ask to be made into living testaments of God’s saving power… when we hear God whisper, “You are loved and worthy of love,”… well… that is what God is calling us to.
And that can be scary. And that can be wondrous. Because God is calling us to go out and wreak the greatest miracle of all: loving one another into the kingdom of God.