The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - May 29, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 7:1-10

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Just a quick orientation as to where we are this week.  The book of Luke is one of the thee Synoptic gospels, synoptic just meaning seen by the same eye, or point of view.  It was probably one of the later gospels to be written, probably around 80 CE, and was probably written by the same person that wrote the book of Acts.  Without getting into it too much, it is believed that the author of the book of Luke, whose name we do not know but we will call him Luke, had access to the book of Mark and a source that we call Q, which no longer exists.  This explains how Luke and Matthew can share things that are not found in Mark.  Luke also had his own material, things that are only found in his gospel.
     This story is found in Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark.  Since they are so similar, we assume that this was one of the stories, in some form that was found in the lost gospel of Q.  It is also helpful to know that Luke was writing, we believe, for a Gentile audience.  Those who were not Jewish.  As I mentioned last week, when we were looking at Paulís letter to the Romanís, Paul, whose story we know from the book of Acts, that was written by the same person that wrote Luke, thought that Jesus had come to save everyone.  So much of Paulís writing have to do with how Gentiles and Jewish followers of Jesus should get along, and Luke also seems to pick up on the fact that many who would read his book would not be Jewish. 

     So it is no surprise to us that the hero of this story is a Roman Centurion.   He has a sick slave, and calls for Jesus to come hopefully to heal his slave.  But Jesus does not even get there, is stopped by this manís friends who tell him that he does not even need to come to the house, just needs to say the words.   But this is the twist in the story.  Remember that this whole area was under Roman rule at this point.  The Romans are never seen in a positive light, but this one Centurion built a synagogue, even though we assume he was not Jewish.  And he is held in great esteem by the Jewish rulers.  According to the Jewish rulers, he is worthy of a visit by Jesus. 

     And this Centurion is often held up as a symbol of what faith should look like.  We donít even need to see Jesus, we just have faith and are healed.  And Jesus is amazed, that is the word that Luke uses when he describes Jesusí reaction to this manís faith. 

     We donít know what happened after this.  Did this Centurion become a follower of Jesus?  He certainly believed that Jesus could do amazing things, his servant was healed, but there is no record of an invitation to follow Jesus.  And it seems, since it was not recorded, that Luke was not that interested in what happened to this Centurion after the story.  We can probably guess that he still treated the Jewish fairly, this act of Jesus probably did not change that, but donít know.

     Many, or perhaps even most of my friends are not involved in a faith community.  A few of them will, occasionally, attend church for a special occasion, such as a first communion or baptism.   But most of them do not regularly participate in church.  Most of those I consider friends are more co-workers outside of the church.  I have mentioned my involvement in Cub Scouts.  These parents, mostly fathers, give up huge amounts of free time.  There are probably 6 of us who will be bringing the Cub Scouts to camp this summer.  These kids are about 7 to 10 years old.  For many, this is the first time they have spent time away from parents or relatives.  For even more, this is the first time they have ever slept out in a tent.  The first night for them is a mix of being frightened, and being excited about what is going to happen the next day.  The leaders get them into bed by around 10:00, and then they leaders stay up very late trying to get them all asleep.  They have to get up to brush their teeth, and go to the bathroom one more time.  It is too dark, they have a night light at home. They hear an animal and are worried that it will come into their tent.  Once they are all asleep, we lay down, only to get up about 5:00 the next morning when the kids who were able to fall asleep fast are up and ready for all the adventures of the day.  Most use vacation time to spend that week with the boys.  In addition to that, many of these leaders coach sports.  The baseball coaches, that are really busy this time of year, and the hockey coach who gets up to get his son on the ice at 6:00 am often on Saturday and Sunday morning. 

     I also consider those I work with on the ambulance and fire department among my friends.  In both of these groups, you need people who have your back.  It is not unusual for a fire fighter to get hurt on a call.  Everyone else stands back, we are going into a burning building with a hose and an ax.  You might be crawling through a broken window, or pulling down parts of the building to get to the fire.  There are uneven surfaces you can twist your ankle, things can fall on you, and all that water we use turns into sheets of ice in the winter.  If you get hurt, you want someone who will pick you up if necessary and carry you outside.  On the ambulance we deal with all sorts of things from drug overdoses, to assaults, to people we are not able to save.  And you never know when you walk through the door what you will find.  Those that will watch your back are the type of person I want as a co-worker and a friend.

     I would bet that most of us can point to friends, or even family members, who do great things, but are not particularly religious. 

     When I was in North Carolina we needed to hire someone to do some cleaning in our buildings.  Our secretaryís mother was looking for some work, so we offered her a few hours a week to do some cleaning, and light maintenance.  She was not really comfortable driving the 45 minutes from her house down to the camp alone, so her husband started to drive with her.  He would read the newspaper, go for a walk, just relax.  After she was there about two weeks I had the camps tractor out for something and the rod that connects the clutch pedal to the clutch broke.  If you have ever driven a standard, you know that you use the clutch to get the vehicle to move, and push it in when you want it to stop.  I pushed on it, it went right to the bottom and nothing happened.  I was able to put it into neutral, and get it to stop.  So I asked her husband if he knew anything about tractors, and he said that he would take a look at it.  We pulled it over to the shop and he started to poke around.  I went over to do some work in the office and it was about an hour later that I saw him drive by, had the tractor working perfectly with just the parts he found lying around our shop.  

     About a week after that, he was helping his wife do some painting, jumped on a mower one day as the lawn was getting long and we had not cut it yet.  I decided as long as he was at the camp working every day we might as well pay him, so we put him on the payroll.  Ellen and Jesse were always there for us, of course they loved Glenn, so gave him his first bicycle, and lots and lots of other things that they picked up when they went to yard sales on weekends.  When Collin was born, they came down and spent a couple days at the camp, stayed with Glenn overnight, brought him to preschool the next day.  They were not religious, but certainly acted like we would expect someone who was a follower of Christ to act. 

     I have another acquaintance; not sure I would consider him a friend since I have actually never met him.  He worked for a company that did camp registrations, and then moved into a department of that company that worked on websites for camps.  We spent a lot of time on the phone and emailing back and forth.  When he left the company, he emailed all the people he had worked with to let him know that he was starting a new adventure in his life.  He got married and then moved to Missouri to attend the New Tribes Missionary School.  I sent him an email saying that it sounded very interesting and wished him well.  This got me added to his email list, so every few months I get a newsletter from them, and a request for donations.  They are very, very conservative, and I guess the idea is that they go someplace in the world and try to teach others about Jesus.  Many of these groups speak regional languages, so a big part of their work is translating the Bible into the native language of that area.  And in some of these areas, the literacy rate is also very low, so in addition to teaching about Jesus, they also run schools in these communities. 

     His latest email said that he was moving from some little community in Mexico to an even smaller community in Mexico.  There is already a small group of missionaries living there, but it is a language that he is not familiar with, so he will spend the next year or more working with the other missionaries learning the language, translating the Bible, preparing ways to teach Bible lessons to these people, and then start with Bible study and worship.  I donít think he has ever come out and said it, but I feel that he is doing all this so that those people do not go to hell.  He talks about those unreached by the gospel, and saving people by teaching them about Jesus.

     All of this got me thinking about my good friends, those I work with now, Ellen and Jesse, and all those other friends and family members who do really good things, but their relationship to the church is sketchy or non-existent.  Some just have no interest, some have no time, some consider themselves Atheists. 

     Do you suppose that these people are children of God?  Perhaps they would never admit it, and many would probably deny it, but perhaps, just perhaps, God is using these people to do good things.  Maybe they are even living a life that Jesus would commend, that if Jesus were on earth today, others would suggest that Jesus go visit them.  The Centurion was not Jewish, but did good things, he built synagogues, he was respected by the Jewish leaders.  He knew that this person named Jesus had authority, which he knew about.  He has soldiers and servants; he knew how to use this authority.  Maybe the interaction between Jesus and this Centurion can point to the kind of relationship that we should have with those who we love and admire, but whose beliefs are different that our own. 

     I would like to give thanks this morning that these people are in our lives.  I would like to give thanks that God would use them to do Godís will in the world (even if they wouldnít call it that), and pray that we would have the grace and courage to commend their good works and share with them our gratitude for them and our faith that God loves and uses them?

     I would also pray that we might be less surprised that God uses people we have decided are unexpected or unlikely to do wonderful things.  I would like pray that God would open our hearts and eyes to see that Godís love, will, and work extends far beyond the confines of our church or faith and that the God who showed up in the man crucified on a cross regularly shows up where we donít expect God to be and never, ever stops delighting in surprising us.