Series: The Outsiders
Title: The Worthy
August 5, 2018
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Back in the last century, in the late 1980’s I was a huge fan of Saturday Night Live! Course that was before we had kids and I could stay up that late!! One of my favorite sketches was about two teenage boys, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar. Wayne, played by Mike Myers, was an “enthusiastic and sarcastic long-haired metalhead.” With his sidekick, and best friend an “equally metal-loving” geek named Garth, played by Dana Carvey, the two hosted a public-access television program from Wayne’s basement, every Friday evening at 10:30.
On Saturday Night Live, they became known as “Wayne’s World.” Remember that sketch? They opened their show with lyrics “Wayne’s World! Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!”
They became so popular that they even made a movie. One scene Garth and Wayne get backstage passes to an Alice Cooper concert and make their way into Alice’s green room. When Alice invites them to stay and hang out, the boys drop to their knees crying, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.”
And yes, sisters and brothers we’re not worthy either, unless you consider grace, and we do. Our series on the Outsiders begins today with the story of Jesus healing a Centurion’s slave, an outsider in Jewish culture. “In Luke’s story of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant, we also see the principle of extending the boundaries at work. Or perhaps, it would be closer to the truth to say that we see the overturning of the conventional way of looking at things.”
After Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, “Jesus enters Capernaum, the town which served as his base of ministry. We’re told that while Jesus is there, there’s this centurion who has a slave. It is a slave that he values. But there’s one problem. The slave is sick and at the point of death. From that little bit of information, we can glean a lot. Jesus is recognized as a master teacher. In Luke 7:16 he is called “A great prophet, who has arisen among us!”
“Jesus is someone to be reckoned with — as is the centurion. A centurion was a Roman military officer in charge of a company of a hundred men. This man was probably not in charge of all the troops stationed at Capernaum, but he may have been in charge of some in the service of Herod Antipas, the local governor appointed by Rome.
“That this man has a slave he values is revealing. Slaves were considered “living tools.” Roman owners of slaves could treat them as they saw fit. They could punish them when they wished, and even kill them if they felt like it. Slaves were dispensable. The fact that this man cared enough about his slave to want to save him indicates that this man was a good man, a compassionate man. So much so that when he heard Jesus was in town, the man went out of his way to see that his servant got the help he needed.
“Interestingly, the centurion does not confront Jesus himself with his request. The man uses the existing network he has with the local Jewish elders to get his wishes accomplished. He uses them to get Jesus to come and heal his slave. These elders are quick to do the centurion’s bidding. They lose no time trying to convince Jesus, a Jewish teacher, to heal this slave, a non-Jew. In other words, to heal this outsider. Or in what was probably their evaluation, even less than an outsider, more like a nobody, a slave.
“The elders’ appeal to Jesus is based not on the fact that the slave needs help, but because of the esteem they hold for his master. “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us” (Luke 7:4b, 5). A little pressure is put on Jesus to ensure that Jesus will come across with the good deed.
“It’s as if to say, “Jesus, you’ve got to heal the slave for this centurion, for we owe a great deal to him.” We know for a fact that the Romans helped build many Jewish synagogues. The Romans felt it was in their best interest to maintain good order and stability in the countryside.
“Without so much as a question, Jesus goes with the elders to visit the centurion’s house to see what he can do for the slave. “… but when he was not far off 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; therefore, I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed’” (Luke 7:6b, 7). The invitation is none other than for Jesus to heal the boy indirectly and from a distance.
“Now the centurion appeals to what he judges to be a common bond that he and Jesus share. “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” (Luke 7:8).
“The centurion thinks he knows how Jesus must feel on the inside, being a man of authority himself. He is quite clear that he knows what it means to be under authority and to exercise it himself. He knows how to take orders and how to give them, something he feels that he and Jesus have in common.
“When Jesus hears this, he turns to the crowd and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9). Luke concludes the story with some crucial information. When the centurion’s friends return home, they find the slave to be in good health.
“What on the surface looks like a story about healing, turns out to be a story about faith, the extraordinary faith of an outsider. It’s what I like to call the message in the miracle.
“I find the contrasts in the story particularly enlightening. The Jewish elders judge the slave worthy of treatment. Jesus agrees, but for a different reason. The elders think Jesus should heal the boy because of the generosity of the centurion in building their synagogue. But Jesus is willing to heal the boy because of the centurion’s own personal faith and trust.
“The centurion shows himself to be one who trusts Jesus to heal his servant, even from a distance. The Roman officer does not feel he’s worthy of having Jesus in his home. Actually, it’s out of deep respect for Jesus that he doesn’t want Jesus to enter his house. The centurion knows that for Jesus, a Jew, to enter the house of a Gentile, it would mean Jesus would instantly become contaminated or unclean. For this reason, Jesus says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
“Evidently, even Jesus was surprised to find such faith and compassion in an outsider like this Roman military man.
“What can outsiders teach us? For one, they can teach us that we don’t have a corner on the market. Whether it’s in the church or in the world at large, because of all the power and wealth we have, Americans can get to feeling that we know it all and are the point of it all. But there are people of faith outside as well as inside the church.
“Secondly, in much the same manner, we can learn from those outside that we are not the only ones God loves. ” Sometimes our own penchant to judge others steps in and we begin to think that others, those dissimilar to us, those on the outside, don’t belong in our church! I am thankful that we took a stand in 2014 to be a Reconciling Church that specifically welcomes everyone, and particularly our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Too many churches work to keep “those folks” on the outside, not welcome here, at least not unless you change your ways.”
“For us, here at the church, I think there’s another small lesson that we can learn. Maybe it’s not so little after all. Jesus treated the centurion no differently than he did the Jewish elders. He respected them both. He listened to what they each had to say, and he acted accordingly. In a word, he treated the centurion as if was already an insider. And in the process, Jesus healed a hurting boy, a boy who was not even a Jew, not even a Roman, but a slave, a nobody, but in Jesus’ eyes, he was a boy who just happened to be a somebody, a child of God. He was a fellow human being in need of help.
“The moment the church stops acting like a club for the like-minded, and begins treating nonmembers the same as members, that’s the day the church will really become an outpost for the kingdom of God. And when the church begins to act like this, those outside might just want to come inside. ”
The bottom line is this, we aren’t worthy, any of us. And that my dear sisters and brothers is where grace comes in. Through Christ we not only do we become worthy of God’s love and grace, but we have a savior who knows what we’re going through, who knows our hurts, our fears and loves us, as my mother would say, “warts and all!” My question as we leave worship today is this. How will we welcome the worthy, the outsider, and tear down the division between inside and out? Because “We are worthy! We are worthy! We are Worthy!” Amen.