We live in this amazing, vibrant and disorienting time and place. It seems that daily we have new technology that changes the way we interact, think, live, perform daily tasks, do business and even do church in the world. How we live today is unrecognizable from 100 years or even 50 years ago. And I suspect none of us would really want to go back. We like our cars with power steering, internet, cable or satellite tv, electric toothbrushes, microwaves, radial tires, racial integration, civil rights, women in the workplace, child labor laws, common airplane travel, space travel, space station, cell phones, tablets, laptops–these are all things that our modern and post-modern society and culture have offered us and I think we would all agree, for the most part, these are good and especially in the realm of social issues, have made us stronger as one global community.
The advancements in communications in particular, have highlighted that we as people on this planet are all interconnected with one another and creation–woven together-some even refer to this system as a web. I now can easily call or email my parents in WA for free and say as much as a I want versus when I was a child and we lived overseas we could only afford to talk to my grandparents or other relatives in the United States, when my dad (who was a ham radio operator) could connect us through other ham radio operators stateside to put a phone call through without the international fees. And even then, we were limited on how long we could talk.
Even with all of these advances, there are some core pieces of our being that have not changed. We all need to belong somewhere to someone. And while how we communicate and relate to one another has radically changed, the fact that we need to be in relationship and know that someone cares about us, thinks about us and has our well being in mind….remains the same as it did 50 years ago, 100 or even thousands of years ago. The more things change-the more things stay the same.
When reading the text in Luke this week, I was immediately struck by all of the relationships happening in this small fishing village and Roman military base of Capernaum. We read of all these different groups in the village who should not even be in relationship with one another. The Jewish leaders are unlikely suspects to be in any kind, other than adversarial, relationship with a Roman centurion. But we come to find out that the centurion, who shouldnt want to have to do with the Jewish leaders—-helped to build their synagogues and we can only imagine that through working together– that walls came down and boundaries blurred as the common humanity of the one was revealed to the other.
Then you have the fact that the centurion cared deeply for his slave. Moving past the fact that we now cringe at the thought of someone owning another person, we see that the slave seemed to have value to the centurion beyond just work and service. This slave was so valued that when he or she became ill, the centurion told his many friends-not just the Jewish leaders but some other friends that help him out that we meet in verse 6. You don’t worry about and talk about someone unless you care about them.
So we have this web of community and relationships that cross boundaries: religion, political leanings, more than likely race, social status, and probably other boundaries that we are not aware from a 2000 year point of view. But here they all were and they all came together for the sake of the ill slave, to go to Jesus. The Jewish leaders proclaimed that Jesus should help this centurion not only because he helped build the synagogues but also because he loves their people. This is not a business relationship-the centurion did something for us, now will you Jesus, do something for him? This is a mutual relationship; They didn’t want to see the centurion unhappy. The second group of friends bearing the centurion’s message that Jesus should not come into his house but just “speak the word and heal the slave,” also seem to have a deeper connection than just what the centurion did for them. They agree to take time out of their day for this task-not just one friend but a whole group.
No wonder Jesus is amazed. I think we assume that Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s faith that Jesus can heal from afar with just giving the word--but I am sure that was all Jesus was amazed about. No, I think what amazed Jesus was that this motley crew of Jewish leaders, a Roman centurion, another group of random people and a slave belonged to one another and were behaving as if their presence as a unified community was a matter of life and death. It was a matter of life and death for the slave and this whole group of people put aside whatever they were doing that day, they put aside whatever annoyances they had about the Roman Empire, they put aside whatever personal thoughts they might have had about this Jesus (the Jewish leaders would not have been keen on Jesus.), they put aside whatever they may have thought about those who can own slaves and those who are the slaves, in order to save the life of one who did not have a voice in that culture or society. They were behaving as if being one people bearing each other’s burdens, loving unconditionally, setting aside their own judgments, caring for the neighbor they know and don’t know, and bringing all of this to Jesus was the most important aspect of their lives. And Jesus was amazed.
2000 years later, even with all of the technological advances, community centered on Jesus Christ is amazing and a gift that begs to be burst wide open for all people. We need each other, not just those here at LCM, but we need those who are not present here this morning, and those who are not here, need us as well. The gift of community is a matter of life and death for we live in a culture where many people of all ages and backgrounds, feel alone, that no one cares, that they have no value or voice. The consequences of this are staggering: self medicating through substances, self abuse, being a workaholic, putting up with abusive relationships, even some taking their own lives. This and other brokenness happens every day in our neighborhood. Enough. Our neighbors are waiting for us to share with them the good news that all people belong to God, that all belong in the family of God, that all are loved unconditionally, that all are welcome at the table and at the font and are promised new life. The love of Christ-the death and resurrection of Christ-means something, means everything, in our world and is a matter of life and death.
Death to division, death to loneliness, death to our own wants and death to whatever keeps us from behaving like a community of the living Christ. God has promised from those deaths will springs new life. Just like with any life that grows, we may not know what it will look like until we see it. It might look like caring for homeless families through Family Promises, caring for children and staff at Molholm, tutoring at Green Mountain, volunteering at the Action Center, welcoming the community to VBS, maybe one day being a place where unsupervised youth can hang out after school in a safe environment, maybe one day offering affordable child care for families in need, maybe offering a community garden…..the possibilities are endless as to what the Holy Spirit may call us to do and be in this changing world.
We don’t know and it does have a sense of unknown, mystery and excitement. What we do know is that this new life will have something to do with what God is already doing in our midst, how in this changing culture we bring the good news and love of Christ to this neighborhood, how we welcome all to belong among us with no expectations of anything in return, and here is what I know with my whole being because I have walked this road of trans-formative ministry before-God will be with us every step of the way. God will continue to meet us on the road, in the water, in the bread and in the wine and we will be amazed. Amen!