Monday, 3 June 2013

Only speak the word...

Trinity 1 (Proper 4) – Eucharist –

(1 Kings 8.22f, 41-43; Galatians 1.1-12; Luke 7.1b-10)

As far as I’m aware, this is the first time today’s readings have come up for use at the Eucharist since the present lectionary was introduced in 1998 - you need a combination of an early Easter and the right year in the three year-cycle by which the readings are organized if you’re going to get them. So take a good look - I don’t know when we’ll be seeing them next!

Because we don’t use them very much, you might not be very familiar with them. The first reading shows us Solomon, son of the great King David, at the dedication of the Temple which he has built in Jerusalem. Solomon can be rather full of himself. He’s a man of accomplishment. People come from far and wide to admire the buildings he’s put up - and to gawp at this wealth and riches. He’s renowned for his wisdom - though like many clever people he can also show quite a capacity for being stupid. And now we see him taking it upon himself to address God in prayer. “There is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath,” he acknowledges - but at the same time there’s a certain note of self-congratulation in his tone, a sort of “look at what I’ve built.” And then there’s the conclusion to his prayer - let people come from other nations to this place, and let them recognise who God is truly for them - “may they know your name and fear you… may they know that your name has been invoked on this house…”

If you visit Jerusalem now, you can’t help but be impressed by the size of the Temple Solomon built. Not that it is there for you to see - but the vast expanse of the site where once it stood... On the Temple Mount today you’ll find the El Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock - large, impressive buildings in themselves, but surrounded by still more empty space. The Temple which filled that space must have been immense. People who visited it must have been quite taken aback by its scale - as we know the disciples were by its smaller replacement when they exclaimed, “look at the size of the stones with which this place is built!”

Impressive buildings can have a certain converting effect - the Temples, churches and mosques which have stood on that holy site in Jerusalem; St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul; our own Cathedral in Durham… These are places of prayer, places of pilgrimage, and they ask of us, “what does this place say about the God who is to be worshipped here?”

There isn’t a right answer to that question. The buildings which stand to glorify God were so often built to declare human power. Durham Cathedral stands alongside Durham Castle to remind us that the Norman king, William, truly was “the Conqueror.” It doesn’t stop them being holy places, but their very scale and expense begs the question of the cost at which they were built - wealth so often built up by unjustly acquired riches; human labour which was not always properly rewarded…

So I’m a bit ambivalent about the plea made in today’s Gospel reading by those who approach Jesus for a favour on behalf of a Roman officer. This centurion, say the people who have come to seek out Jesus, “is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue.” I want to ask how the centurion found the money to pay for the synagogue - was it his to give? Or did he direct the labour of those who built it? - and were they fairly treated? And a still deeper question I have is in those words “He is worthy of having you do this for him…” What makes this man worthy? - the fact that he has the money at his disposal when others are poor? - the ability to tell people to get on with the job when others are only to do what they are told?

But here I need to stop griping. King Solomon at the dedication of the Temple might be over-impressed by his own wealth, power and supposed wisdom. But this Roman centurion is someone quite different. The people from the synagogue who come on his behalf do so because he counts himself anything but worthy to approach Jesus - and they know he is a true friend of God. The centurion is a man of truly human compassion. He wants healing not for himself but for a slave. As a man who has more wealth than most and people at his beck and call, you might expect that the illness of a mere slave would be the least of his concerns. But this is someone he cares for. In his telling of the story, St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the centurion goes to Jesus himself - he doesn’t say anything of what he has done to deserve special treatment; he can only ask. In St. Luke’s account, other people go on the centurion’s behalf - and they say what they say because they know the extent of his faith and love.

And we see more of that faith when he sends a further message, asking Jesus not to come to his house - simply, “speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” As a man of authority himself, the centurion recognises the authority of Jesus - a man of God who will do God’s work. As a man of faith, he believes in the one who can bring healing to his servant.

Do we believe it? Do we believe that God will answer our prayers? Do we believe that God will give us the healing we ask for?

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…

That’s what we say in response to the invitation to come to Communion in this Eucharist: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Jesus is the word who comes to us in the bread of the Eucharist, who gives us his Body and his Blood, for our salvation - for our healing. We need simply place ourselves before him, make our request, and he is there for us.

Not that we are worthy - but we can ask in faith.

This is how Bishop Tom Wright sums up what he has to say about today’s Gospel reading:

Contrast the prayer of this centurion with the prayers we all too often pray ourselves. ‘Lord,’ we say (not out loud, of course, but this is what we often think), ‘I might perhaps like you to do this… but I know you may not want to, or it might be too difficult, or perhaps impossible…’ and we go on our way puzzled, not sure whether we’ve 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 shows that we should have no hesitation in asking. Is Jesus the Lord of the world, or isn’t he?

1 comment:

val said...

The true Gospel is now delivered to you from the wilderness Rev 12:6 as a witness Matt 24:14.
Our heavenly Father will NOT put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins. Sin doesn't scare God! He created it Isa 45:7 to teach us all the knowledge of good and evil Gen 3:22 for our eternal placement in his coming kingdom. Throwing a child of his into a hell fire has never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Anyone preaching a hell fire to God's children is deceived. The whole world has been believing in a god of hate murder and revenge (The devil Rev 12:9). The true word of God John 1:1 is now delivered Rev 12:5 here

God chose a woman Rev 12 to be the prophet like unto Moses and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17. Those professing themselves to be Christians would be wise to hear all Acts 3:23 BEFORE making any judgment. The proof of what I tell you is in the hearing.

Prove ALL things 1 Thes 5:21. Satan has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9 until now.