Sermon Notes: Ordinary 9

Text: Luke 7:1-10

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

  • Earlier this year, when I appeared on Mastermind, a number of people that I knew from my youth made contact with me.
  • Almost all of them expressed surprised that I – of all people – should be now a priest in the Church of England.
  • All over Facebook, there are a litter of people who knew me in the past shaking their heads in disbelief that I should now be doing God’s work here. In this place.
  • And yet, there are none more surprised that me.
  • After my… colourful past, my terrible reputation, my scandalous life…
  • And yet, I hope and pray that such a past, such a reputation, such an experience of God’s grace and forgiveness and redemption should make me a better priest and a more grateful, humble Christian.
  • For the one who saved me, who redeamed me, who brought me into a life filled with hope and new possibilities, also suffered from a terrible reputation:
    • He spent time with the wrong kind of people.
    • He ate with the outcast, the despised of the world.
    • He associated with the worst among us.
    • He reached out to the poor, the broken, the marginalized.
    • In this expansive vision of hope, which he offers to the poor, the disposed, the addicted, the stressed and the disaffected, the gospel reaches full flower.
  • Our Lord and Saviour never just followed the accepted, the norm, the socially or culturally or religiously acceptable, but sought out the goodness of God in all places and sought to redeem all the world by his loving action.
  • In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is approached by a centurion seeking his help.
  • Centurions are the sharp edge of Rome’s power, a cruel force that has dominated the people of Israel. From the perspective of many of Jesus’ neighbours, this centurion represents everything that is wrong about the world.
  • And yet, Our Lord is willing to see this centurion. He does not hesitate in the slightest to head toward his house.
  • The centurion sends friends to stop Jesus from coming into his house. He recognizes that he is unworthy to host Jesus. This is a rather extraordinary display of humility and submission for a Roman military leader used to having his orders followed, not questioned.
  • Humility and power usually don’t mix well as we know. Just look around at the world today…
    • Most people endowed with power are not used to taking on postures of humility.
    • Look how those who used to be Archbishop of Canterbury speak out of turn and undermine those who currently hold that position
    • Look how feared Pope Francis is by those who wish to cling to power and resist his Gospel-focused message of humility and care for the poor.
  • Jesus is dazzled by this centurion’s faith, commitment, humility: marvelling that such faith is not even found among God’s chosen people. This is shocking.
  • I sometimes try and make sense of this by translating some of Jesus’ parables into a modern context:
    • I have spoken of how the Good Samaritan becomes the Good Drug Addict, the Good Asylum Seeker… pick a modern-day pariah – immigrants, muslims, the mentally ill, the homeless… it’s all as shocking, as subversive.
  • But all through Gospel of Luke, Our Lord comes to challenge our nice little secure norms:
    • The foreigner and the stranger and our worst enemy are as welcome at God’s table as anyone else is.
      • After all, it was mere shepherds, not the kings of the world, who welcomed Jesus at his birth.
      • When corrupt tax collectors ask John what they should do, how they should repent, John does not tell them to stop being tax collectors. He tells them to stop taking advantage of their neighbours.
      • When Roman soldiers come to John right after and ask him the same question, he tells them not to lay down their swords but to execute their duties with honour.
      • When Jesus preaches his first sermon, he points out that God sent God’s prophet beyond the boundaries of Israel when hungry widows at home could use Elijah’s help.
      • He also reminds us that it was a foreign soldier named Naaman who is cleansed of leprosy by Elisha.
  • This has happened before. And it will happen again…
  • God will not be restrained by the boundaries we draw around one another. God will surprise us; God will even enrage us when God’s grace extends even over those we deem unworthy of such a gift. This has happened before, and it will happen again.
  • The outrageous possibilities of a God who knows no boundaries, pulls no punches and reaches out far beyond our petty notions of respectability is the God who calls YOU
  • As you are. To be whom God calls you to be.
  • My own life was redeemed by my Lord and my God. No matter where you are on life’s rollercoaster he shows today how much he wants to reach out to you.
  • Ask, and he will help you. Seek him, and you will find. Follow, and you will find direction.
  • No matter how powerful or influential or pious or unworthy you are, or I am, he is there for us.
  • He was there for me. And will be for you.

Amen.

sparked off from an original idea from The Rev. Dr. Eric Barreto with much thanks