This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached today, the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The gospel text was Luke 7:1-10. It’s also the day before Memorial Day.
I have never served in the military. But I believe that it must take great courage to serve in the armed forces. And I believe that in order to find that courage, men and women who serve must have a great deal of faith. And I don’t mean faith in God. Certainly there have been brave men and women who served their country well, but who did not share our faith in God. But I think in order to have the courage to fight for your country, to risk your life for your country, to give your life for your country, you must have faith in that country, faith in what your nation stands for, faith that your nation and its people are something worth putting your life on the line.
And I believe that part of what Americans do on Memorial Day is proclaim that the courage and bravery of those who died in military service was not in vain. Proclaim that their sacrifice was not wasted. Proclaim that the ideals of our nation and its people were worth it. Proclaim that the faith they had in our nation was not misplaced.
And while that does not take away the grief that their loved ones feel, it can make that grief easier to bear. It gives meaning to their deaths. Meaning to their sacrifice. Meaning to their service. And it shows those loved ones that they are not alone. That their faith is not misplaced either.
In today’s gospel reading, we meet a centurion.
A centurion was kind of a mid-level soldier in the Roman army. He was in command of about a hundred troops, and he himself was under the command of someone else. And in this story, this centurion discovers that his faith was not misplaced. But the faith I’m talking about here is not his faith in his nation, the Roman Empire. This particular centurion also had faith in Jesus. It’s really not clear where he got that faith. Or how he even knew about Jesus. But one way or another, he was convinced that Jesus had the power to heal, and that if asked, Jesus would heal the centurion’s ill slave.
And this faith was strong. So strong that he simply asked. He sent some people to say to Jesus, “Please come heal my slave.” He didn’t ask, “Are you able to?” Or, “Is there anything you can do?” He simply said, “Please, come and do this.” And he didn’t even expect Jesus to come all the way to his home. Instead, as Jesus was approaching, the centurion sent out more messengers, and they told Jesus this: “The centurion says, ‘I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant shall be healed.’” Now that’s faith. Jesus even said so. Jesus was amazed. “I’ve never seen such faith, not even among my own people,” Jesus said.
And this faith was not misplaced. Jesus did heal the servant, without even stepping foot in the centurion’s home. What the centurion believed about Jesus was true. His faith was fulfilled.
Can we imagine having that kind of faith in Christ? The kind of faith that simply asks him for what we need, trusting completely that we will receive it? It’s hard to imagine. And certainly we should not have exactly the same faith the centurion did. For we know from experience that Jesus won’t always cure our sick friends. In fact, three years ago, the last time this reading came up, I talked about how we can’t count on Jesus to cure us, but we can count on receiving healing.
We can count on receiving the healing that Christ always offers to us, the healing of our spirits, the healing of our souls.
And so if we trust that God will cure our bodies, and keep us safe from all diseases, we will be disappointed. But if we trust that God will be with us in the midst of any illness, and that we will receive the wholeness and courage to get through it, then our faith will be fulfilled. God will do that.
And if we trust that God will keep our loved ones from dying, and prevent us from ever having to mourn, we will be disappointed. But if we trust that God will be with us in the midst of our mourning, and that we will find hope and peace, then our faith will be fulfilled. God will do that.
And if we trust that God will bless our nation with perfect leaders and a perfect economy, and perfect safety, we will be disappointed. But if we trust that God will bless America with citizens who are bold enough to stand up for what is right, and with citizens who are brave enough to risk their lives for what is right, then our faith will be fulfilled. God will do that.
As long as our faith in God is in the things God has promised, our faith is most certainly not misplaced. And here is what God has promised:
- Forgiveness for all our sins.
- Hope in the midst of anything.
- Meaning for our lives and for our deaths.
- And God has promised to be with us. That we are never alone.
Trust in those things. Trust in the promises God has made, and your faith will be fulfilled.