Saturday, June 29, 2013

6th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year C

Don’t Look Back

Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

“When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” Luke tells us in the Gospel. Those few words say so much. We know the end of the story. We know what Jesus was facing in Jerusalem. He doesn’t want to go, but he knows it is what he must do. It is where God is calling him to be. It is a moment of change in his life; it is a moment of transition. He looks to God for strength to sustain him in what he needs to do.

A cousin of mine was known for his speed once he got behind the wheel. He claimed that although he drove well over the speed limit he had never had a ticket. “I drive with my eyes on the rear view mirror!” he bragged. I did not find it particularly reassuring.

I realize that many of us live our lives that way. We are constantly looking back, living our lives worrying about past mistakes, unwilling to take a risk, unable sometimes even to grow up and take responsiblity for ourselves. It can affect us in our personal lives. Churches too can be places that get stuck in the past.

The readings this week are an invitation to a new kind of journeying, a new way of setting our face towards Jerusalem. We followers of Jesus are reminded that on life's journey there will be tough choices that require clear vision and determination. They are choices that require moving forward trusting in God's promises. They are choices that remind us not to keep checking in the rear view mirror.

Elisha is being called by God to bear the prophetic word in place of Elijah. Elijah is the tried and tested past, Elisha, the unknown future. It is difficult to assume that kind of leadership, that kind of responsibility. Elisha wants to cling to the strength, reputation and wisdom of the older man. Elijah knows that he needs to hand over the responsibility to the next generation.

He asks an important question. "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." It is a time of testing. Elisha must be ready to act. He must be decisive. He must even risk failure. He asks for the right thing, a double share of Elijah's spirit, the same source of strength that sustains Elijah, strength beyond his own that will assist him in the challenges ahead.

Elijah wisely points out that it is up to him. "If you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not," he tells him. It is a matter of whether or not he has that capacity within himself to accept the grace of God. And of course, Elisha sees beyond the ordinary to the heart of the matter. His anguished cry is the cry of one being deprived of all he trusts and holds dear, but also a cry of suddenly discovered confidence. The challenge is to continue to move forward with that same confidence. The task for him is to channel that grace through his own gifts and strengths.

It is not easy to be a disciple of Christ, to live as Christ would have us live, to be all that God wants us to be. Even Jesus’ own disciples did not always live the life of grace. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples approach a village in Samaria. They are looking for a place to stay. The villagers when they hear that Jesus is headed for Jerusalem refuse to receive them. James and John, not named the sons of thunder for nothing, react with anger. “Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?”

Doesn’t their reaction shock you just a little? Wouldn't you think after all the time they have spent with Jesus that they would have known that it was not his way of doing things, that he was not going to approve of their reaction, that it was not God’s call to them? What they were calling for was not mere retaliation but a show of power that is nothing short of barbarism. It is the kind of thinking that is behind war, apartheid, homophobia, racism and any number of evils done in the name of God.

We may be shocked by the behaviour of the disciples, yet if we reflect on it, their reaction probably is not all that surprising. In similar circumstances any of us, church going and God fearing people though we may be, people trying to live the Christian life, people trying to answer the call of God, might have reacted in much the same way. All any of us need to do is to look into our hearts to see the truth of this. Are we not constantly surprised, shocked, and humbled at the feelings of anger and resentment that arise in us when we are opposed or feel threatened?

And yet, the question of punishment did not even occur to Jesus. Even if it had, to punish a whole village for the attitudes of a few would be not only unjust, but beyond reason. Jesus knew that the only thing to do when people refuse to love you is to move on.

There follow a number of meetings between Jesus and some wannabe followers. As they travel along the road, someone comes to Jesus. “I will follow you wherever you go!” he says. He is over eager. He hasn’t really thought it through. Jesus knows that such emotional decisions come from good intentions but often do not last.
“Foxes have holes, birds have nests; we have nowhere to lay our heads,” Jesus points out to the man. Jesus offers change, transience and insecurity. It is a good idea to know what you are getting into before you take the plunge. It is not always easy to be a disciple of Jesus. We often forget that there is a cost to discipleship. We forget that it is a way that requires commitment. For the way of the Christian is costly and demanding. It promises not softness, but suffering, not comfort, but challenge, not safety, but sacrifice. There is security, joy and abundance, but there is also blood, sweat and tears.
Jesus meets someone along the road. Is it someone he has seen during his ministry? Does he see some possibility in this person? He issues an invitation, “Follow me.”
“First let me go and bury my father,” is the reply. A reasonable request, we may say. Indeed it is a sacred duty. It forces us to ask how we respond to God’s call. It challenges family values with a higher claim of allegiance, our allegiance to God. Looking ahead is the stance that God seems to call for and affirm. That call to radical compassion may challenge all other calls.

Others on the road overhear the conversation. “I will, but not yet,” they respond. It is a common response, isn’t it? First let me raise my family. Let me get the children through university. Let me get settled in my job and save a little money.

Is it impossible to really be a follower of Jesus? As he writes to the Galatians Paul sets out what it means to choose to follow Christ. He affirms the need to choose between grace and law, between wanting to do something and having to do it. The Galatians were saying that if Christ has set them free from the law then that means they can do whatever they wish. “No!” says Paul. “We are under a new law, the law of love.” That sets us free to become everything that God wants us to be. What a wonderful gift that is, but what a difficult law to keep!

It requires persistence in the faith. Do we have that willingness to follow Jesus? Do we take the promises of our baptism seriously? Are we willing to live differently? Are we willing to see with eyes of faith, like Elisha, to see beyond the ordinary to where God is leading us? Do we have that sense of radical compassion? Are our lives different because we are Christians? Is God at work in our lives?

This parish is in a period of transition. The way ahead is not often clear. There are many unknowns as you discern where God is calling you. And with the beautiful historical setting in which you worship, you may well be tempted to look back on the past. If this community of faith is to thrive it is by embracing the future and all it can bring. I encourage you as new leadership comes into place to trust that God has great things in store for you. Be the community of faith that God is calling you to be. Amen.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, Year C

God’s Restorative Justice

Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-14; Psalm 42; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

Through all of life's hurts and sorrows God is there to restore us. God restores us when we are hurt by others. God restores us when we hurt ourselves. God restores us even when we hurt for no reason. That is the theme that flows through the readings this week. It is a theme that resonates for me and hopefully for all of you on a deeply personal level.

God restored Elijah. He is on the run. In true ‘Rambo’ style, the prophet had stood up against the ungodly forces of Ahab and Jezebel and had revealed the far greater forces of God over the followers of Baal. But the outcome, predictable as it may have appeared to everyone else, was not what he expected. The powers that be had not turned to God, and now the infamous Queen Jezebel was out to get him. He feels alone in his struggle, totally alone. He cannot put aside what has happened. In his mind, he is alone, and he alone is the one able to set things right in Israel. He suddenly loses courage and flees for his life.

It is a familiar story if you really think about it. It is easy when we meet opposition to run as fast and far as we can. We feel defeated and despondent. The whole world is against us. We can become soured or angry by what has happened. We can become fearful.

That was how Elijah was feeling. He had reached the point of hopelessness. He sat down under a tree, ready to die. And there in the wilderness God restored him. God took care of him, supplying him with food and drink.

Still Elijah kept running. He hid out in a cave. It was there that God met Elijah. Not as he might have expected, with a great show of power, but in the stillness and quiet, God spoke to him.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asked him. He poured out his complaints. “The whole world is against me. I alone have remained faithful to you. They are out to kill me.” God put things into perspective. ‘You are not alone. You do not have to do it all yourself.’ He needs however, to trust God and let go of the past. Our loving God restores us even when we hurt ourselves.

God restores us when we hurt for no reason. What an amazing story of restoration we have in today's Gospel. In the person and work of Jesus God confronts and defeats evil so that a human life is restored, is set free to live the life God intends him to experience. We may not have the same understanding of evil or of demon possession as is present in this story of the deliverance of the man from Gerasene. However, we can see Jesus present in the life of the demoniac, in the lives of the townspeople, and present in our own lives, restoring us to faith, removing our burdens, setting us free. We can certainly see the need for such restoration in the lives of the mentally ill and those victimized through discrimination.

Some people become legitimately burdened by the cares of life. Life is not always easy. Being a Christian does not guarantee that we will not suffer. Sickness, the death of a loved one, unemployment, marital discord, all the troubles of life that people face, can make them feel alone. Is there a God? If so, is God listening to me? Does God care what is happening to me? Why do I feel so alone in all of this? Hopefully it is evident even in our modern day world that God relieves distress, expels demons, cures illnesses and restores lives.

The man whom Jesus healed was so grateful for his restoration to life that he wanted to accompany Jesus and the disciples on their mission. But Jesus pointed out to him that he had a mission of his own. “Return to your home,” Jesus told him, “and declare how much God has done for you.”

The message from God to Elijah was similar. “What are you doing here?” He left the warmth, the silence, the peace of the cave and went out into the community, no longer feeling as if he was on his own, but knowing that God was present with him and would help him to be the leader he was meant to be.

Who are the forgotten in our society? Who are the ones who need God’s loving restoration?

Friday was National Aboriginal Day. There is a prime example of people who need restoration. Our First Nations people need redress from the past. They are the forgotten of society. Our government made treaties with them as nation to nation. We have not lived up to the intent of those treaties. Instead we removed them from their ancestral lands. In an attempt to assimilate them into 'white' society, we shipped their children off to Residential schools, many run by the Anglican Church, destroying family ties and uprooting generations of people. Many of the schools were places of abuse. Even the good schools were places that deprived the children of their relationship to their family and tribe, to their language and cultural heritage.

Stereotypes abound about our First Nations peoples. For the most part we are able to ignore their plight saying that their situation is the same or better than that of other Canadians. This is despite findings by the Auditor General of Canada which highlighted the critical shortage of adequate housing on reserves and findings released by Statistics Canada that point to concerns about health, education, housing and water safety for off-reserve Aboriginals. In fact statistics show that the majority of Canadians blame their poverty on lack of effort rather than circumstances, many citing substance abuse as the greatest factor.

The Anglican Church has done much over the past few years and continues its efforts in an attempt to redress the wrongs of the past. There has been a formal apology. There have been Truth and Reconciliation hearings listening to the stories of those who have been abused. There has been compensation to many for their suffering. Yet it will take generations for real healing to take effect.

In the Pikangikum Water Project we have an opportunity to partner with PWRDF to assist one community in a small way that could have a lasting impact on their lives. It is a community in Northern Ontario where housing and water are huge issues. If you wish to find out more about it, there is a short PowerPoint presentation set up in the hall for viewing. There is a PWRDF donation box at the back of the church for donations. The Youth at St. Saviour’s have to date raised $500.00 towards the effort. The newly founded Faith, Study and Action Group at St. George’s has plans to raise funds as well.

God has done great things for us in our lives. We need to declare how much God has done for us. We need to share the experience of how God is at work in our lives. Especially we need to be aware of the ministries to which God is calling us. God calls us to be advocates to the poor and those in need, to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to be Christ in our community. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Proper 11, Year C

God Loves You

Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2: 15-21; Luke 7: 36-8:3

To love as God loves is the Christian call. It is a call to "do" acts of love. We all know that. But let's face it; most of the time, doing the loving thing does not come easily or naturally. It does not always leave us with warm or peaceful feelings. Truly, it is often the way that requires the most effort to accomplish. It is far easier to find other ways to get people to do as we think they should. Fear, punishment, manipulation, come to mind as pretty normal tactics.

Don’t you just hate to hear someone say, “I’m only telling you this out of love”? Or even worse, “God told me to tell you…” You know that the ‘advice’ comes with an expectation that you will not only listen to what is said, but you will change your mind and do as is suggested.

How different it is when people do act out of love, for true acts of love are responses to the unconditional love of God. They come from our utter dependence on God who is love.

The gospel is just such a story. The unnamed woman in the gospel reading accepts God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. There was a party given by a rich Pharisee in honour of Jesus. While they were reclining around the table, the woman, uninvited, and whom we are told led a sinful life came in and began to wash Jesus' feet with her tears. She dried them with her hair, kissing his feet and pouring precious ointment on them. Jesus’ host, Simon was appalled that he would allow her to touch him in this way. "Can he be a real prophet," he wonders, "if he does not even recognize what kind of a woman she is?"

Even before Simon can give voice to his sentiments Jesus addresses him. “Her sins which were many have been forgiven.” It is Simon who needs to learn about God’s love. She already knows. That is what has brought her to Jesus. That is what has prompted her acts of kindness and love. She already knows what it means to be loved. That experience of unconditional love has enabled her to become a loving person.

Most of us put conditions on love. If he weren’t so stubborn … If only she would stop nagging … If only I could get them to clean up their rooms … If only he’d study harder …

And truly, we live in a materialistic society where nothing is unconditional. We become suspicious if something is offered to us for free. We ask, “What will it really cost?” And when we look into it, of course, we find that our suspicions are well founded. From our perspective, how can we grasp what is happening here in this story?

It is part of Paul’s message to the Christians at Galatia. He is responding to those who would say that it is by keeping to the letter of the law that we please God. How is it possible, Paul responds, for a human being to stand before the throne of God, perfection itself, and have any hope of being accepted? The wonder of it is that we are justified through the grace of God who offers us unconditional love. Forgiveness depends on our faith in God’s compassionate love, and not on how righteous we may strive to be.

It is difficult for us to even conceive of that. How can we be expected to understand a God who loves unconditionally? It isn’t how we experience life. We expect to have to earn our way. And the wonder of it is that God does not accept us on some basis by which we can never be acceptable. God does not grade us with some pass/fail system. God does not expect perfection. We are judged by whether we have loved or not. We are judged by whether we do the loving thing. Because we know God’s love, we know that we are forgiven. Because we know God’s love, we are able to reach out in love to others.

How do we learn that God loves us? It would be wonderful if it happened as it does on television. There was that old series, Touched by an Angel, in which people in the depths of despair heard that wonderful message, “God loves you.” Their lives were suddenly transformed. But, let’s face it, most of us don’t have that experience.

So we need to be able to say for ourselves, “God loves me”, knowing that it is not because we deserve it. It is not because we have earned it. It is not because we are clever. It is not because we are attaining perfection. To be able to say “God loves me” and stop there is the beginning of knowing God’s grace at work in our lives. It is the beginning of knowing that we are forgiven, reconciled people of God. It brings us to the understanding that we are created by a loving God who continues to find us precious and valuable.

That is what the unnamed woman did. She said to herself, “God loves me.” She knew it to be true. And so she did a remarkable thing. She wept, knelt at Jesus feet, anointed them with oil, and wiped his feet with her hair. She became a healing presence. If you consider her circumstances, it is quite remarkable that she was able to understand how loved she was by God.

Today we have been asked to consider a partnership with the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund on a water initiative. PWRDF is the Canadian Anglican response for emergency relief, development and justice. The pooling of our Anglican resources makes a difference in the world. Clean water is a gift we often take for granted and a gift that is not shared by our First Nations communities in many places. The young people in Orono have already begun to partner with them for clean water in Pikangikum, a First Nations community in northern Ontario where living conditions are well below even third world standards. It is affecting every part of the lives of the people of that small community.

Their standard of living is a disgrace to every Canadian. The high rate of suicide amongst the young people in the community is unconcionable.

There are many people who will be like Simon. “They got themselves into this mess. There is nothing we can do for them,” they will tell us. “Besides if you give them anything they will buy alcohol with it.” They will tell us that anything we try to do for Pikangikum will be useless. It is a systemic problem and will always remain a problem. And truly we do know how difficult it is for people who have been abused to accept help and begin to make a difference in their lives and in the lives of their families. Their situation is not new. It goes back generations. It can be traced back through some of the worst abuses in Canadian history. We have a terrible legacy with our First Nations people. Many are victims of the Residential School system. Their lives are certainly symptomatic of systemic abuse. It is time that we did everything we can to help them to understand that they are of value, that they are loved, that they have the capacity to love. This project can let one small community know that we care.

In the hall is set up a Powerpoint presentation that I hope you will take the time to watch before heading out to the picnic. As we celebrate God’s gift of water we will remember in prayer Pikangikum and other similar communities. I hope that you will consider a gift to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

It begins with saying to yourself, “God loves me.” Say it over and over again until you believe it. But don’t stop there. Believing that God loves you is just the beginning. You are called to share that message with others, to reach out with that same loving spirit. Become a healing presence. See Christ at work in others. Share the love of God with those in need. Pass on that message of love. It is a message that is sorely needed in our world.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Proper 10, Year C

I Say to You, Rise!

Readings: 1 Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-17; Luke 7:1-17

The readings today are wonderful stories of how the action of God brings life into the desolation of our human condition. Whether it is physical healing or spiritual renewal, God is present with us.

First of all there is the story of the widow of Zarephath. God leads Elijah into the heart of enemy territory. It is a place where the god Baal has its stronghold. There he finds lodging with a widow. As a widow, she is one of the most vulnerable in her society. Yet she willingly helps him. Perhaps her willingness arises from her need. Whatever the reason, she is taking a chance. To harbour him, a foreigner, puts her at great risk. On the other hand, not doing so could mean starvation for herself and her child.

After a time her young son became very ill. “What have you against me?” she rails at Elijah. You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son.” It is a cry from the depths of the human heart and will be uttered in many ways until the end of time. The woman has lost her child. At least that is her presumption. She turns on Elijah in anger. She turns as we so often do, to the very one who is there to help her. It is pain, bereavement, loneliness, fear, all of her emotions looking for an outlet.

There is mixed with her anger, a sense of guilt. There must be a reason for the terrible suffering she is enduring. She must have done something terrible to deserve such treatment. It must be her fault.

That gives way to anger at God. The real culprit is God. After all, God could have prevented this from happening. God is the villain.

How often that is true in the minds of the bereaved. They may not give voice to it. But they will think it just the same. After all, if I rail against God will God make something even more terrible happen?

“Give me your son,” Elijah says to the woman. And then almost echoing her words he cries out to God for help. God answers the prayer. The woman’s son is restored to health.

Let us fast forward to the time of Jesus. He and his disciples, accompanied by a large crowd of people arrive at the town of Nain just as another procession, a funeral procession, approaches the gate. At the head of the procession is a woman, a widow, who is now burying her only son. Jesus has compassion on her. “Don’t cry!” he says to her. He is not telling her that crying is not a necessary human response to her loss. He is not telling her that she is weak for succumbing to her tears. He is not saying that there is something wrong with her. He is simply saying that there is no need for her to cry.

And then he speaks some words that must have startled the onlookers. “Young man, I say to you, rise!” What happened next must have shocked them even more. The dead man got up and began to speak to his mother.

We could get into the usual arguments about this healing. The favourite has always been, “He must have been in a coma. He wasn’t really dead at all.” What we need to understand is that at that moment Jesus is the source of new life to that young man and his family. By extension, we need to understand that Jesus is the source of new life to us.

Paul’s story is also a witness to God’s life giving action in the world. He loves to recount the transforming miracle of his conversion. Indeed, it almost sounds like bragging. He remembers the Damascus Road, the blazing light, the crashing fall, his blindness, the voice of God calling out to him. As surely as God gave new life to the dying child held in Elijah’s arms, as surely as Jesus gave new life to the young man outside Nain, so Christ gave new life to Paul. And he rejoices in it.

Let us fast forward once again to our own time. A friend of mine says that the saddest thing she had to do was to sell the family home following the death of her father. It brought home the reality of his death. As she packed up his things, memories welled up in her of shared family times, of her growing up years, and of wonderful family gatherings centered around food and always, she told me, there was music.

The sale of the home didn’t go well. The house was in a state of disrepair. The d├ęcor was less than up to date. It went for far less than she had expected. And along with it went her treasury of memories.

Some weeks later she had the opportunity to meet the new owners. Not only were they lovely people, but they had children and grandchildren and a wonderful sense of family. The most astounding thing was that they were a family of musicians.

Now looking back at her reaction to the sale, she reflects, “Who cares about money? If Dad’s home continues to be filled with love, life and music, then it was the perfect sale.”

Our human condition is such that there are many ways in which we can be regarded as dead. Our faith can be dead. Our love can be dead. Our sensitivity, or joy, or hope, or trust can be dead. All that Jesus can say to us is, “I say to you, rise!”

As surely as God gave new life to the dying child held in Elijah’s arms, as surely as Jesus gave new life to the young man outside Nain, as surely as Christ gave new life to Paul, so God offers new life to us.

So rise, and rejoice in it. Amen.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Proper 9, Year C

Don’t Be Surprised at Where Faith Turns Up

Readings: 1 Kgs. 18:20-39; Ps 96; Gal. 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

My parish before I retired was in Mississauga, perhaps one of the most diverse communities in Canada. The parish was wonderfully diverse. As well as those of us born in Canada including one First Nations family, there were people from the West Indies, South America, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, China, Iran, and Great Britain. Pot lucks, as you can imagine, were amazing. Within walking distance of our church were several Christian denominations, a mosque, a synagogue and a Buddhist temple. It was nothing to see people in our mall wearing saris, African dress, or the hijab. It was a wonderful place to experience other cultures and religions and to learn to have a sense of tolerance. Not that it always happened! As for my own journey, I found myself being constantly surprised at where God showed up. The readings today help to underpin our need to open ourselves up to the possibility that God reaches out to people of every faith and every culture.

Those who have a preconceived notion about who is saved and who is not, about who is in and who is out in terms of God’s reign of Shalom, who is righteous and who is not, will have problems with the readings. They will likely gravitate to the Old Testament lesson.

In it Elijah decides to bring the ongoing conflict between those who support the god Baal and those who support Yahweh to a head. It is the climax to a long struggle for supremacy between two very different approaches to faith. He challenges Baal’s prophets, all four hundred and fifty of them, to a contest to find whose god is the most powerful. Both sides are to choose a bull, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but not set fire to it. Then they are to call on their god to answer by lighting the fire. The outcome will indicate who is the one, true God. When nothing happens for the prophets of Baal Elijah mocks them. They cut themselves with swords and lances. They rave on, but their god remains silent.

Elijah’s turn comes. With great flourish he adds to the difficulty of the contest. In a drought torn country he has gallons of water poured on the sacrifice. He prays, and God answers. The people turn to God whose power has been declared.

What we did not read this morning is that Elijah then ordered the execution of the prophets of Baal. No doubt that part of the story was left out because in today’s world we are appalled when religion is used as an excuse for terror and atrocity. In the ancient world it was not so clear. Religion was the core of human life. Everything fell under the authority of the gods. Everything was sacred. So it is in this story of the competition between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. There is no grey area. God is good; Baal is evil. God is pure; Baal is reviled.

We do hope in our culture to find common ground. The other two readings are ones that help us to understand that faith can turn up even in those we consider to be our enemies.

Paul’s life journey is certainly one in which he learns about inclusion. He recounts the story of his conversion as a time when he began to see God as the God of everyone. He loves to share the story of his Christian experience. Understandably so! It had such a profound effect on him. It totally transformed his life. He had been violently opposed to the Christian faith and had been zealous in his persecution of Christians. God called him “through grace,” he says, to reveal Jesus to him “so that he might proclaim him among the Gentiles.”

Paul never lost sight of that new beginning, of the new chapter in his life, his new life in Christ. His ministry took him beyond the borders of Judea into Syria and Cilicia. So when his opponents began to undermine his ministry to the gentile world, disputing his credentials and authority and instead trying to impose an understanding of faith based on strict observance of biblical laws, he refused to allow himself to be drawn into the debate. He knew that the most important thing was the free grace given by God to those who believe. He went on in his letter to speak of love not as a reason to keep rules, but as a fruit of the Spirit. He learned not be surprised at where faith turns up.

And so did Jesus in healing the Centurion’s Servant! The Roman Empire was widespread. Its personnel were posted out to the very edge of the known world. There was no system of returning a soldier to his home. People would stay for years, perhaps their wholes lives, in a small community in a foreign country, responsible for keeping law and order and reporting back to headquarters every once in a while. Such people often became part of the community, making friends and adapting to local customs despite their official function. Such must have been the case with the Centurion. His slave, whom he regards with some esteem, is ill. The Roman knows that Jesus is a healer and a Jew. He sends for some Jewish friends to make the connection for him. He knows that his request may make life difficult for Jesus. It could alienate him from the Jewish community. For Jesus to enter his home would mean defilement. And so he pays Jesus a compliment. “I am not worthy,” he says, “to have you come into my home. Just speak the word and let my servant be healed.”

Jesus’ response is one of amazement at the man’s faith. Grace is given to a non-Jew opening up the way for the Christian faith to be available to the Gentile world.

So often Christians are under the illusion that peoples’ problems, that the world situation, could be solved by simply preaching the Gospel and having them turn to Christ. For such folk it is about “Air Miles”. They believe that our commission as Christians is to talk about Jesus, to witness to the faith so that others will benefit in the after life. The early Christians did not differentiate between the social and the spiritual. They stood for justice for everyone. Jesus gave authority to the disciples to do what he did and greater. That is our authority as well. When we are truly committed to Jesus Christ both the spiritual and social needs of others become our concern. We need to learn that God is not just with Christians, but with all of humanity in so many different ways. We need not to be surprised at where faith turns up.

So let us ask ourselves, how do we react when we discover that people of other faiths walk with God? Do we seek common ground? Do we look for the face of Christ in everyone we meet? Amen

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...