Saturday, 3 January 2015

Where will faith be found in 2015?


[If the service is in the context of an all age gathering, the following may be appropriate.
In our story Jesus finds something in an unexpected place. 

I've hidden 5 boxes in the church
(each box has letter of the word 'faith' on it. One of boxes needs to be in an unexpected place. When they are all together get children to work out what the word is)

Rhiannon found love in a hopeless place! 
Jesus found faith in an unexpected place]

'I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith' 

Jesus is looking for people with faith.

He looks for faith in the place where he would expect to find it.

Of course that would be in the people who God chose to be his own people - the people of Israel.
They were the people chosen by God to be His people all those many years before. They were the people who had seen God act time and time again to rescue them. They were the people who had been given the great promises of God and the word of God.
They were the people who knew that if you turned to God in repentance and humility he would be merciful and he would act. 

In our story the elders do believe Jesus. They believe that Jesus can heal. That is why they come to him on behalf of the centurion.

But if you look closely you will realise that their faith is not faith in the love and mercy of God, but in the fact that the centurion is a good man and that God rewards good men.

‘He has done good stuff. He is worthy. He loves our nation’, they say. 
‘He built our synagogue’, they say.
He's put the money in the machine, and now it is right for him to get something out of the machine. Their faith is partly in Jesus, but mainly in the good works of the man.

That is what many people think. It is what many church people think. If you do good, you'll get good - if not in this life, in the next. In some religions it is called karma. 

But that is not the faith that Jesus is looking for.
Instead he finds the faith that he is looking for in someone who was not a Jew, but a Gentile. 
  
1. The centurion sees himself as he really is. 

He says, ‘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’.

The elders think that the centurion is worthy for Jesus to do this for him. But he knows that he is unworthy – not only for Jesus to do this for him, but even to have Jesus come into his house.

In other words, he knows that God owes him nothing. Even if he had built a thousand synagogues or churches God would owe him nothing. After all God has given him everything he has in the first place. Everything he had was gift. And in comparison with Jesus he is nobody.

That is why Jesus is astonished at his faith

2. The centurion sees Jesus as he really is.

He says, ‘For I too am a man 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The centurion has his authority from the Roman Emperor. He is under authority. But it is because he is under authority that he has authority. When he speaks to his men he is speaking to them as, in place of, with the authority of the emperor.

So this is an amazing statement of faith. It realises that Jesus is both under authority, and – because of that – he exercises the authority of the one whose authority he is under.  

I don’t think that the centurion had worked out the doctrine of the Trinity. But he had probably heard Jesus praying to God his Father, and he knew that Jesus operated in the world with the authority of God the Father.

But in making this statement, he throws himself on the mercy and the goodness of Jesus. It is Jesus’ choice. 
If Jesus heals his servant, that is wonderful. 
If he does not heal his servant then it is still OK.
Jesus is still the one who speaks with the authority of God. And he is still to be trusted.

That is why Jesus is astonished at his faith.

3. The centurion knows that the word of Jesus has the power to raise the dead.

The centurion’s servant was at the point of death. And yet the centurion says to Jesus, ‘But say the word, and let my servant be healed’.

To believe that the word of God is the only thing necessary is the greatest act of faith. For most of Jesus’ healings, people needed him to come to him, to have him touch them, to have him do something for them. But this centurion realises that the only thing necessary is the word of God. The only thing necessary is what God says.

That is why Jesus is astonished at his faith.

In 2015 where will Jesus find faith?

He would look for faith in the church.

After all, we are the people who have become Christians because we heard the Word of God about Jesus, about repentance and the forgiveness of sins, about the the hope of heaven – and we believed it and received baptism and the Holy Spirit.

The question is whether he will find faith here?

Perhaps we allow a bit of deserv-ism to creep in to our faith. I’m a good person and I am worthy for God to do this for me – or for him or her.

Or is there an element of conditional-ism in our faith. We put our trust in God while he heals our servants. But if he doesn’t ..!

Or is there an element of active-ism in our faith. We must do something, and if we don’t then perhaps it won’t happen

I’ve just read CJ Sansom’s Lamentations – it is a great if a bit of a gruesome read. The story is based on an incident in the life of Queen Catherine Parr. She was not just the 6th wife of Henry VIII, the one who survived! She is also one of the very first women authors in English, and I am not sure that her role in establishing the Reformation in this country has yet been fully recognised. She wrote two books: Meditations and Prayers, and Lamentation of a Sinner.

The Meditations begin with a prayer of surrender.

‘Grant me that I may ever desire and will that which is most pleasant and most acceptable to thee.
Thy will be my will, and my will be to follow alway thy will. ..
Give, therefore, what thou wilt, as much as thou wilt, and when thou wilt. Do with me what thou wilt, as it shall please thee, and shall be most to thine honour. Put me where thou wilt, and freely do with me in all things after thy will. Thy creature I am, and in thy hands, lead and turn me where thou wilt.
Lo, I am thy servant, ready to do all things that thou commandest; for I desire not to live to myself, but to thee.’

There is no conditionality in that. It is a prayer of faith.

And as we face an exciting year, beginning what I hope will be a new era in the life of St Peter’s, my prayer is that we will be men and women who put our faith in the Word of the Son of God, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
I pray that we put our faith in the promises that he has given us, and the call we have heard.
And I pray that, like the centurion, we bring the equivalent of our sick servants to him: our children (my deepest desire) - the things that frighten us, our monsters, our hurts, our decisions (second minister), our hopes. 
And that – with no element of deservism and no element of conditionality – we trust him.

There is a much repeated quote: ‘I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future’.

Or, as most of you will be aware: The letters FAITH can stand for For All I Trust Him.

May God find faith here in us in 2015

1 comment:

  1. This talk will be published in the February 2015 edition of 'The View'

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