Sermon for Sunday, June 2, 2013

Luke 7:1-10

“Looking For Faith In All The Wrong Places”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, OH ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

To see a video of this sermon, go to: http://youtu.be/YGpvuSP4x8k

Pastor Allen’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com; Twitter: @FranklinCircle

468786_10151617325594640_666645763_oLast weekend my partner, Craig, and I were delighted and honored to be guests at the Disciples Fellowship Retreat at Camp Christian.  Some know it as “Family Camp,” for it is a place where both individuals and families of all ages can enjoy camp together.  They gather on Labor Day Weekend as well as Memorial Day Weekend.  It was a wonderful experience by all accounts, and I was so pleased that Craig could finally be introduced to the magical place we know as Camp Christian.  I hope you will consider it in the future!

976173_10151617326749640_198746964_oWe were the keynote speakers at the camp, and we had chosen to talk about one of our favorite constellation of topics: diversity, hospitality, and inclusiveness.  The title of our presentation was “Put Another Leaf In The Table,” and one fun aspect of the keynote was to project images of tables that the campers had previously sent me.  We used the image of the table, in large part, because the Communion table is so central an image to Disciples of Christ.  The table illustration is also powerful because almost every person in all cultures and times gathers around tables at home, work, school, community, and church.

Using stories from this very congregation, we together celebrated the Jesus-inspired calling to try to include more and more of God’s people in the community of the church, no matter how different we may seem to be.  We lifted up the success of Franklin Circle Christian Church at bringing together people of vastly different life experiences and physical, emotional, and spiritual qualities.  Our Open & Affirming, Anti-Racist, and Accessible Core Commitments were inspiring as much as they were challenging to the participants.

But then I come home to have to preach on a text like the one we have today.  It reminds me there is so much more we have to do.  Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of the hard work we do day in and day out to maintain a rich and healthy diversity in this community of faith.  But the story of Jesus healing the Roman centurion’s slave pushes even our boundaries… my boundaries.  Let me explain.

JesusHealingCenturionsServantOn the surface this text from Luke 7 could be seen as just another example of Jesus healing people, or even just another example of how a vastly different persons responded to Jesus message and presence.  But we would be missing the point if we left it there.

You see, much like disciple, Matthew, and follower, Zaccheaus, whose tax-collecting occupations represented collusion with the enemy – the Roman Empire in this instance – the centurion represented that and more.  For not only was the centurion a hireling of the hated Roman occupiers, he was in the business of fear, control, violence, and death: all antithetical to Jesus’ understanding of the Reign Of God, which was more akin to the Beloved Community.  The militaristic focus of the centurion and his ilk stood in stark contrast to Jesus’ message of “turn the other cheek” and “lay one’s life down for a friend.”

Centurions had the middling role in the hierarchy of the Roman army, put in charge of about 80 soldiers, but situated below those who commanded cohorts and legions. (1)  In a mostly unusual turn, Jesus does not initiate healing here, but responds to a request from this outsider and, ostensibly, antagonist.  Jesus, in essence, heals on behalf of an enemy soldier.  It demands us to recalculate our hospitality, both here in this church and in our own lives.  Yes, we welcome those who are different from us, but do we actually respond to and care for the needs of those who are our enemies.

With Jesus words from Matthew 5:44 ringing in our ears, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” our commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and hospitality is stretched mighty thin.  Sure, that’s easy for Jesus to say… after all, he’s the Son of God!  But me?  I’m an everyday follower of Christ who has to schlock out a meager existence all on my own.  We’ve done enough “widening the circle” for all those children of God who are different from us.  We shouldn’t be expected to “widen the circle” for our enemies.  Right?

Wrong.  Or at least not biblical.  So, it begs for me the question, “Who is my enemy?”  And lest I go frolicking in that garden of liberal niceties (i.e. “I don’t have any enemies for I love everyone!”) I ought to get real and acknowledge that there are people I understand as my enemy, whether I use that word or not.  For me, and this is deeply personal and confessional, a few of my enemies are:  persons who are intractably and proudly intolerant of others, rabid fundamentalist and conservatives – especially talk show hosts and television preachers, anti-urban avengers who have nothing good to say about cities, mean-spirited people who intentionally hurt others, petty and self-absorbed people… and the list goes on.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, all of us have a list of “enemies.”  Jesus is calling us to face up to it, and see them as people.

To twist the words of an old song, we need to “look for faith in all the wrong places,” or, to misappropriate the motto of Star Trek, we need to “go where no one has gone before.”  Or, at least, few have gone, and rarely at that.  If we are going to be completely honest about our commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and hospitality we need to find ways not just to tolerate our enemy, but love our enemy.  Love them enough that we would bring healing and restoration to their household.  THAT, my beloved, would be to “Widen The Circle For ALL God’s Children.”  Amen.

(1) Commentary, Luke 7:1-10, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.  Found online at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1678

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