Sunday, February 10, 2013

sunday sermon

February 10, 2013
A soldier walks forward slowly in the jungle. He has been ordered to protect some villagers from a terrorist cell; each step could lead to danger. Suddenly a command reaches him on his radio. His senior officer has seen where the enemy is hiding. The soldier must obey quickly, not for his own sake, but for others. It isn’t what he is expecting, but he has been trained to do what he is told without hesitation.
This kind of authority and obedience to the authority is vital in many dangerous jobs. An order goes from the top down and each rank in their turn must not only convey the order, but carry it out immediately as directed.
Most of us do not live under this kind of authority or structure. Granted, there are always people at our place of work whose decision we carry out and go along with. As children, we learn to respect and obey our parents, though we do not totally realize why until we are much older. We take for granted this authority and even sometimes challenge it. But, if we were a soldier in the field, our choice to accept or challenge could mean the lives of himself as well as others.
How often is it that we treat God with the same respect and obedience? Do we treat God with the respect the soldier does for his commanding officers, or do we challenge God and His laws? Of course, God’s sovereignty over the world is exercised with such love and compassion that the image of a commanding officer organizing a battle or route march is hardly the best picture to use, unless, of course, you might be the ancient Israelites fighting their enemies who to expect a warrior type of God .
There are multiple facets to today’s Gospel reading, and the Epistle which ties into it as well.
The biggest piece of the Gospel account is first and foremost the faith of the Centurion. Here was a middle ranking Roman officer, stationed at Capernaum. He would have roughly a hundred men under him, hence the title ‘Centurion’. He would regularly receive orders from a commander, probably from Caesarea fifty miles away. Men would be assigned to him to perform tasks locally and even keep the peace (in the old Roman sort of way).
It was common for officers of the Roman army to despise the local people as though they were an inferior race. However, our Gospel tells us that this Centurion did not despise them, but loved them it would seem. He even paid for the building of their local synagogue. (I have to meet this guy. We have some things that could use some work right here! Anyway…) Luke presents this Centurion as a humble Gentile looking in on Israel and Israel’s God from the outside, if you will. It would seem that by so doing, he was opening himself to learning a new truth from this seemingly strange and ancient way of life the Israelites led.
As we advance in the story, we see something quite out of the ordinary. We see Jesus emotionally astonished. Normally, it is the people who are astonished at Jesus, not Jesus being astonished by one of them. The reason of Jesus’ astonishment? The sheer faith of the Centurion! This is no abstract belief in God or the learning of dogmas or laws. It is simple and humble belief that whatever Jesus commands will in fact be done. No ifs, ands or buts about it. The Centurion knows whatever Jesus commands will be so. He regards Jesus as he would a military officer with authority over sickness and health. If Jesus says get well, they will.
We do not know where he got this faith. Neither this Gospel or in the Gospel of Matthew where the story is also written, is there any reason for the Centurion’s faith. If he had been living in Capernaum for some time, there is no doubt he would have probably heard of Jesus. Keep in mind; cities of that time were not of the populations of San Diego. News would spread and it would spread quickly. He may have even seen Jesus at some point perform a miracle. This Centurion grasped the very center of the Jewish faith; that the one true God, the God of Israel, was the sovereign one. The Lord of heaven and earth. Whatever the cause, this Centurion in faith was willing to risk more than the Jews that followed Jesus.
Contrast this situation with the Centurion and that of our own prayer lives. We all too often might say to ourselves, “Lord, I would like you to do this … but I know you may not want to, or it might be too difficult, or maybe even impossible…” We then go on our way puzzled, worried and not sure whether we have really asked for something or not. Of course, sometimes we ask for something and the answer is ‘no’. God reserves the right to give that answer. But this story and Jesus’ subsequent astonishment shows us that we should have no hesitation in asking. Is Jesus the Lord of the world or isn’t He?
Now, let’s move on to something else about this Gospel reading that many people do not know. As you all know, the country is in a little stir about same sex marriages. Now, without getting into that topic directly, I bring this up only because this passage is sometimes used as a defense by gays and lesbians that are advocating the ability to be married as heterosexual couples do.
Why is it used as a defense? I will try to make this as short and uncomplicated as I can and still get the point across about the text.
First, as many scholars will admit, Jesus is suspiciously silent on the topic of Homosexuality. Nowhere in any of the Gospels does Jesus mention Homosexuality by name or otherwise. The argument could be made that he speaks of marriage, and the answer to that would be correct, but he does so only in so far as in that of “traditional marriages”, as they are so being called today. His discussion usually centered on the topic of adultery and divorce, not on the topic of whether Homosexuals could marry of if they were even sinful in being so. We have to be careful not to try to put words in Jesus’ mouth where they don’t exist. He simply did not speak of Homosexuality, period. Homosexuality was known in the same context then as it is now anyway.
Now, in the Gospel of Matthew, the identical story uses the Greek word, pais. This word could mean ‘son’ or ‘boy,’ ‘servant’ or ‘slave,’ or ‘junior/younger male partner.’ This was the common meaning at that time, and additionally, it was a common practice at the time as well. Roman soldiers or affluent men would have this type of slave. Luke uses a different description of the sick man; he calls the man the Centurion’s entimos doulos. The word doulos usually means ‘slave;’ it did not normally mean son or boy. Entimos means ‘honored’, so the combination would produce ‘honored slave’, as we read today. This would be a contradiction of terms and meaningless unless it applied to a ‘junior or younger male partner.’ Thus the meaning of pais in Matthew is limited to the partner in a same-sex relationship (reportedly, the shield bearers for Roman soldiers were their lovers). In the only example in the Bible where anyone asked for healing for a slave, Jesus was not only healing for a conquering overlord, he was healing his male partner. So it would seem anyway.
We need to allow reason to be our guide here. Romans viewed slaves as nothing more than a possession that were there to wait on them hand and foot and do whatever they were told. Their life as a slave was usually pitiful and thankless. Most slaves would be allowed to die instead of their owner even taking the time of day to acknowledge that the slave was even ill. There obviously was something more to this slave. Maybe it was an earlier form of ‘bromance’.
However, the point is this: If Jesus cared about whether people were engaged in such activities, given how common it was among Greeks and Romans, he really missed a good opportunity to ask, and potentially offer a rebuke. I wonder how those who think the answer to “WWJD?” is to “condemn homosexuals” will explain the fact that Jesus did not even bother to ask or address the issue, apparently missing an opportunity that his conservative followers today would not have passed up.
There is no denial that Jesus may have had many “missed opportunities” in addressing sin, but as we in this church teach, Jesus was not as preoccupied with every law we break, much less with what goes on in some people’s bedrooms. Why? He was far more concerned with our relationships with each other and our relationship with God our Father. Remember what He said are the two greatest commandments. He taught us that the commandments were not so much laws, as they were a guide to the treatment of others and in so doing, our involving God in our lives.
Now, this topic can be argued for hours, however I am not intending on giving a doctoral thesis on the topic in the limits of a sermon, or even argue every possible point that could be brought up by it. I merely bring this up for two reasons. First, this understanding of the passage is not readily known by the average Christian. Most on the conservative right would rather no one even thought about it. Secondly, as some of you know, in September of 2011 the Bishops of our denomination passed a resolution allowing for the marriage of Gays and Lesbians within our churches if the pastor of any our church parishes were so requested and he or she were so inclined. Our denomination does not agree with some other branches of Christianity that Homosexual orientation is ‘disordered’, ‘sinful’ or ‘evil’.
Now, finally, how does the Epistle reading tie into all this today? First, let me read the entire passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Our Epistle misses some of the passage and it loses some of its meaning because of it. (I Corinthians 12:1 – 13:4).
As we have seen by the Gospel reading, Jesus wants us to have faith. Not only have faith, but be willing to put that faith to work, as it were, by praying for what we really want and need fully knowing He has the authority and power to make it happen. By Jesus’ willingness to help a Gentile Centurion and his slave who would appear to be a bit more than a slave, he is making a statement to all of us, just as Paul has done to the Corinthians.
We have to learn as humans that every fellow human being is deserving of the kingdom of God and we are all called to treat each other in a manner that is appropriate. As St. Paul points out, we are all believers in the community of faith. A church is a community of believers. We come from all walks of life with various backgrounds and abilities. We are all a part of the Kingdom of God. We each are given certain faculties by the Holy Spirit that is a benefit for the path we are called to follow.
This is another example of the importance of being a part of a faith community; a church. No one person can act out life on their own any more than the hand can say to the arm ‘I do not need you’. Many of us have gifts that are given to us to use for the greater good. Some of us go through life never using them or even realizing them sometimes. Not only must we have faith to pray for our needs, but we must put faith into action by treating each other with Christian love and using our gifts as a church community for the benefit of others if and when we are called to do so.
We all have our commanding officers, no matter whom or what they may be. We have a sovereign commanding officer that is calling upon each of us to do something; Our Father in heaven. Let us open our hearts and ears to that command and carry it out as soldiers of Christ. Let us do this by letting our faith build and be willing to ask for that help when and where we need it knowing full well He has the authority and power. Jesus is waiting on our call; let’s call Him!
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.