(sermon note: 02-07 sermon note)
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘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. For I also am a man set 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 slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a farmer who had about 500 hens but no rooster and he wanted chicks. So he went down the road to the next farmer over and asked if he had a rooster that he would sell. The other farmer said, “Yep, I’ve got this great rooster named Kenny. He’ll service every chicken you got, no problem.” Well, Kenny the rooster cost $3,000, a lot of money for one rooster, but the farmer decided he’d be worth it. So he bought Kenny. The farmer took Kenny home and set him down in the barnyard, but first he gave the rooster a pep talk. “I want you to pace yourself, Kenny. You’ve got a lot of chickens to service here and you cost me a lot of money. I need you to do a good job. So take your time and have some fun,” the farmer said, with a chuckle. Kenny seemed to understand. The farmer pointed toward the hen house and Kenny took off like a shot. WHAM! Kenny serviced every hen in the hen house – three or four times! – and the farmer was really shocked. After that, the farmer heard a commotion in the duck pen and, sure enough, Kenny was in there. Later, the farmer saw Kenny after a flock of geese down by the lake. Once again – WHAM! He serviced all the geese. By sunset, the farmer saw Kenny out in the fields chasing quail and pheasants. The farmer was distraught and worried that his expensive rooster wouldn’t even last 24 hours. Sure enough, the farmer went to bed and woke up the next morning to find Kenny on his back out in the middle of the yard, mouth open, tongue hanging out and both feet sticking straight up in the air. Buzzards were circling overhead. The farmer, saddened by the loss of such a colorful and expensive bird, shook his head and said, “Oh, Kenny, I told you to pace yourself. I tried to get you to slow down, now look what you’ve done to yourself.” Just then Kenny opened one eye, nodded toward the buzzards circling in the sky, and said, “Shhhh, they’re getting closer!”
Boy, oh boy, Kenny proved to be more than worth the $3000 the farmer paid for him! In a single day he managed to service nearly everything that flew within miles of the farmstead! Clearly he was a rooster who knew his purpose and was dedicated to fulfilling it! If only we all had such clarity and drive, perhaps the world would run a lot smoother. We all have a purpose for being in this world. God gives each of us a purpose for being here…even multiple purposes. Our purposes can change but typically we each have a primary purpose for being here on any given day. And it is the responsibility of each of us to figure out what that purpose is. And don’t try to steal the purpose of those around you! We all have a unique purpose specifically tailored to each of our lives that it would be foolish to believe someone else’s purpose might work in your life. No, God has created each of us for a very specific purpose and it is our responsibility to figure it out and work to fulfill it. Kenny knew his purpose and by golly, he eagerly set about fulfilling it! Which, of course, raises the question: why must we figure out our purposes? Because in doing so, our worth is then revealed. We can see just how much we’re worth once we know our purpose. The farmer who sold Kenny knew how much he was worth because he knew Kenny’s sense of purpose and drive in fulfilling that purpose. He knew that Kenny would have no problem servicing all 500 hens, something few roosters could do, so his price reflected that. You see, purpose and worth are deeply interconnected.
Today’s reading sparks an interesting reflection on worthiness. The centurion had a dying slave that he greatly valued. He had heard that Jesus might be able to heal the slave so he sent some Jewish elders to request such healing. Jesus agreed to come and heal the slave but as he approached the centurion’s home, the centurion sent out some more people, this time his friends, to tell Jesus something rather odd. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” The request for healing had nothing to do with the centurion’s worthiness! Jesus came to heal a man, nothing more, nothing less. And even if the healing was about the centurion’s worthiness, the Jewish elders made a pretty good case that he was worthy to have his slave healed. He had helped build their synagogue for them. The slave was worthy according to the centurion, the centurion was worthy according to the Jewish elders, and yet for whatever reason the centurion didn’t feel he was worthy. It wasn’t about him! So why did he try to make it about himself and cause such a scene?
The centurion is an interesting and all too-familiar character in this story. His lack of self-worth is something that many of us struggle with. We don’t think we’re worthy for being in the presence of our Lord let alone to personally receive his healing. The centurion had asked for his slave’s healing, not his own healing, yet he was ashamed to be in Jesus’ presence. Clearly he needed Jesus’ healing himself even though he didn’t ask for it. Jesus knew it, we know it, if only the centurion knew it. All too often people refuse to acknowledge their own need for healing and I haven’t quite figured it out. Is it a pride thing? Are we too prideful to ask for healing when we so desperately need it? Are we afraid to come across as weak? Or are we afraid to let go of our pain and sickness? We live with it for so long that we become attached to it, comfortable with it. We don’t want to let it go. Why do we refuse to seek healing when we need it? The centurion claimed he wasn’t worthy to be in Jesus’ presence. What makes a person worthy to be in Jesus’ presence, to receive his healing? Is it what we do that makes us worthy? If so, the centurion was more than worthy. He helped build a synagogue, a place where God is present with his beloved people. If anyone is worthy according to their deeds, the centurion’s deeds made him more than worthy. Perhaps the centurion was consumed with all his misdeeds in life that took away his worthiness. Well, we can only guess why he felt he wasn’t worthy and why people fail to seek healing.
In the end, our guesses are ultimately moot anyways. Jesus heals ALL people and considers ALL people worthy to receive him and his healing. Over and over in scripture we hear of Jesus healing the so-called “unworthy”- the outcast, the poor, the wealthy, the despised. Jesus is willing to heal ALL of us no matter who we are or what we’ve done in life. Jesus wants to heal ALL of us and believe it or not, we ALL need it! Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (5:8) God didn’t show his love and bestow his grace on us because we stopped sinning. No, God showed it because He is a good and gracious God and eager to love us. Jesus healed the centurion’s slave simply because he was asked and someone was open to receive it. God’s grace is for all people and especially for those who ask for it. It’s hard to receive it unless you ask for it and are open to receiving it. Be open to receive God’s grace.
And if you wrestle with your sense of worthiness like the centurion, simply remember how precious each of us is to God. Recall what Jesus taught us: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7) Beloved, each of us is deeply treasured by our heavenly Father. He knows us and loves us! And if worthiness and purpose are interconnected, because we are so loved then we are to so love each other and those around us. We can all share that singular purpose: to love each other. How we go about loving is unique to each of us but together we serve the same purpose to love. Now let’s all go about fulfilling the purpose with the same gusto as our friend, Kenny! Thanks be to God! In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.