1-5 When he finished speaking to the people, he entered Capernaum. A Roman captain there had a servant who was on his deathbed. He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking him to come and heal his servant. They came to Jesus and urged him to do it, saying, “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.”
6-8 Jesus went with them. When he was still quite far from the house, the captain sent friends to tell him, “Master, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. I’m not that good a person, you know. I’d be embarrassed for you to come to my house, even embarrassed to come to you in person. Just give the order and my servant will get well. I’m a man under orders; I also give orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9-10 Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.” When the messengers got back home, they found the servant up and well.
In other versions of scripture, this Roman is called a Centurion—we are more accustomed to captain. Both titles indicate someone who has authority. This story appears in more than one Gospel. Like many of the encounters with Jesus, this one is brief and doesn’t give us much back story. And its power gets lost some 2000 years later. Remember Luke is a Gentile, not a Jew. He tells stories that connect Jesus to non-Jews and to people who wouldn’t be acceptable company for a Jew. Romans controlled Galilee and this town of Capernaum. Jews were allowed to exist and practice their faith, but a Roman Captain or Centurion could demand almost anything. They were not trusted. And yet in this story, the leaders from the Jewish community go to Jesus and ask on behalf of the Roman Captain. Why? This Roman deserves this. This Roman loves our people and he built our meeting place.
Then as Jesus is on his way, the Roman sends his friends to say, “Don’t go to all this trouble. I’m not that good of person and I’d be embarrassed for you to come to me in person. Just give the order and I know my servant will get well.” Luke tells us through these encounters that the God who showed up in the man crucified on a cross regularly shows up where we don’t expect God to be and never, ever stops delighting in surprising us.
A man known as the most outspoken Catholic in America died this week. Father Andrew Greeley challenged the Catholic faith he loved when those at the top forgot the most important message of all. He said the message of the church is this: “That God loves us. I think that’s what Jesus came to tell us, and that’s the core of it. And unfortunately, that core has often been overlooked…. I don’t want to deny that there are moral and ethical implications of the gospel, and I think those implications should be preached. But unfortunately what has happened in the course of history is that the ethics and morality of the church’s messages are stressed, and the core revelation is just ignored—that God loves us.”
Worship is time to remember God loves us. And no matter how old I get, the reminder always seems to be more important than I realize. There is always someone who needs their faith renewed. There is always someone who needs to know that God still speaks in rainbows and friendships and unexpected people who finally say the words we’ve longed to hear.
Worship is when we bring into this sanctuary our lives—just as they are—no embarrassment, no shame, no hiding. And when we come to this table, we are accepted and loved. Communion is where we are all invited to the table—no one is excluded. It is where we are taught how to eat at every table. Listen to how an unknown author describes what happens here on Sunday.
On Monday morning, a custodian arrived at a church to clean and sweep up the sanctuary. However, this week he didn't find the usual fare—forgotten Bibles, umbrellas, bulletins covered with children's scribbling, and torn up notes that teenagers wrote during Sunday's service. No, this week the custodian found very different items indeed.
On a middle pew on the right side of the church laid a discouraged man's anger toward God. On the back left pew sat a woman's profound disappointment and her fear of an unknown future. Further down the pew laid a middle-aged father's sense of failure. Across the aisle the custodian found a young couple's lukewarm commitment. On the front row he discovered an old man's fear of death. In the corner, so small you could barely see it, laid a young person's sense of guilt. On other pews he found bitterness, pride, jealousy, fear, and doubt. It was like this all over the sanctuary. The custodian wasn't sure what to do. Finally, he swept it all up—all the wounds and hurts and fears and shame—and he threw them away.
And that’s what happens in worship every week—God sweeps up our wounds and hurts and fears and shame, throws them all away, and says one more time, “I love you.”