Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Are You The One Or Should We Expect Someone Else?": Jesus Ministers to John the Baptist (luke 7:18-35)... Close Encounters With God's Grace Revolution (part 3)

I don’t know if you remember way back when you were a kid on the playground at lunch trying to decide what game you were going to play together… let play this… nah we did that last week, I don’t want to… hey what about this… no that’s too boring…yes there were favourites but it changed from day to day… and the bell could go without a decision being made or after a very unsatisfyingly small amount of time actually doing something fun. 

or if you remeber being teenagers and getting together to try and decide what you were going to do on a Friday Night or sunny Sunay afternoon. 

My son Isaac says that in his class at school they have a playlist of music that they are allowed to have when they are working by themselves. He says you never get music that everyone likes. He says he’s part of a small group in his class who likes old people’s music, and when he says that he doesn’t mean classical stuff or show tunes and crooners, he means stuff that isn’t in the current top forty, "you know dad," he says, "the kind of stuff that you listen to…" but the play list is diverse because the whole class never agrees which is the right music for them… 

This is the kind of thing that Jesus uses in the parable that he finishes his reflections on how people had responded to John and Jesus different styles of ministry  … that this generation was like a group of children who couldn’t choose which music they wanted to listen to, what kind of game to play. John was too austere and strict so they wrote him of as having a demon, Jesus would sit down and enjoy a meal with anyone so they wrote him off as a drunkard and glutton and a friend of sinners. But says Jesus wisdom will be proved true by all her children… those who are truly about God’s purposes despite their style will prove God right in what they do. 

This reflection on how people had responded to John and Jesus ministry comes at the end of the third of four encounters with Jesus that are recorded in Luke chapter 7.  Four close encounters with God’s revolution of grace. This long unit records John the Baptists encounter with Jesus. Again like the two previous encounters it is full of the miraculous; Jesus heals many people, but the focus in the narrative is on the person who captures Jesus attention. We saw the surprising faith ofthe gentile centurion, Jesus compassion for the widow at Nain and here we see Jesus minister to John the Baptist in his difficult situation, as he wrestles with who Jesus is… ‘are you the one or should we expect someone else?’  And like the previous encounters amidst this we are shown more of the character and identity of Jesus. 

This long passage is split into three sub sections. We see Jesus dealing with John’s enquires about Jesus then in verses 21-28 we have Jesus affirmation of John the Baptist’s ministry and finally in 29-35 we have a parable where Jesus explains why certain people had not responded to either John’s ministry or Jesus: Affirming that both proved the wisdom of God.

 This narrative is directly connected to what has gone before. We finished the passage last week with news of Jesus ministry and miracles going out to the whole region, and we start this week with John the Baptist’s disciples bringing them to him. After John had baptised Jesus we are told that he was arrested and imprisoned  
by Herod. John has some very definite ideas of what the messiah would do and be and he is concerned that just maybe Jesus isn’t the one he had thought he was. Maybe even the fact that John was still in prison played on his mind surely the messiah would topple the political systems of the day and establish Israel as a righteous nation again and he’d be sprung . So he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus are you the one? In Jewish legal thinking you needed to have two witnesses to get a reliable account, you see the disciples acting in this manner when they repeat John’s question to Jesus word for word. Somethings haven’t changed in the summation of the judge in the cairns perjury trial he said you could judge a man guilty on one person’s testimony.

Rather than simply affirm that yes Jesus is the Messiah, with Jesus it’s not about making claims of status or position but rather that people see the compassionate things that God is doing. Jesus invites them to see and hear what he is doing. We get an account of Jesus preaching and the miracles that he performs, and having seen and heard Jesus sends them back to john to report what they have seen. The report is couched in terms that echo the prophecies in the book of Isaiah about the messianic age. They point to the fact that yes he is the messiah but his messiahship is different than John’s expectations. Jesus does not criticise John for his questioning rather he uses it to open John’s eyes more to the scope of Jesus identity and mission.  Jesus finishes his reply with beatitude ‘blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of me’… It’s not a rebuke but a gracious encouragement of trust in Jesus.

When John’s disciples have left, it tells us that Jesus addressed the crowd and he affirms John’s Ministry.  He asks the crowd why did they go out in the wilderness to see John, was it because of the scenery, the reeds waving in the wind or because John was such a flashy dresser, no they went because he was a prophet, someone who spoke God’s word… calling Israel back to God and to demonstrate that in  ethical living. Jesus affirms John as a prophet and goes beyond that to acknowledge that he is the one that the scriptures had said would prepare the way for God’s salvation, God’s messiah. John holds a special place in salvation history, he is the herald of a new era in what God is doing. Jesus affirms his greatness in human history and then affirms that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. In Jesus we have what john and all of the scriptures were looking forward towards.  The ultimate identity for us is in Christ.

Finally Jesus addresses the different ways that people would respond to John’s ministry and Jesus. Almost as an aside Luke tells us that the tax collectors and sinner had responded by seeing God’s word in John’s ministry and Jesus words. They had repented and been baptised, the kingdom of God was for these people as they acknowledged their spiritual poverty. The Pharisees and the experts in the law had rejected John so they rejected Jesus also.  And Jesus sums this generation up with a parable. The religious people of the day wouldn’t respond to the austerity of John or the joyful acceptance of Jesus because John and Jesus wouldn’t simply join in their religious games or dance to their tunes. They judged them because of the style of ministry they had and wrote them off, rather than hearing the word and wisdom of God. But despite these different approaches wisdom ,which in the proverbs eight is a feminine picture of God, would be justified by all her children, it wasn’t the style it was the transformed lives and the substance of their ministry that counted. 

Well how do we encounter God’s grace revolution in this narrative today? And this wonderful cartoon that was shared on facebook from St Columba’s in Taradale this week sums up the challenge of taking a biblical text and applying it to our context today.

Firstly, Jesus summary of people’s response to John and Jesus ministry speaks to us as the church today. We can be divided and caught up with style of ministry… the chandelier swinging, hand clapping, tongue speaking, and loud music pumping Pentecostals right through to the high church chanting, rigid liturgy mumbling, hymn singing traditionalists. The happy Smiling even before their first cup of coffee hallelujah brother-ers and the deep dourer sincere and I wonder if they’ve been sucking lemon devout. We can get caught up in the style of ministry and forget that the proof of God’s wisdom is in the substance of   The things for us are to be open to what God wants to do and be steadfast about the purposes of God.
ministry, is in transformed lives and healing and wholeness in Jesus Christ. Darryl Bock reflecting on his own journey to faith and that of a college friend of his, said that their journeys to faith were totally different and they had responded to different ministries. Bock had become a Christian after five years of quite bible study orientated evangelism which suited his personality, while his friend had responded at a big evangelists rally, the first time he heard the gospel.

The second thing, and what spoke to me in this passage was how Jesus dealt with John’s questioning, his doubt, or as a Korean pastor in a small bible study I have on Monday nights put it in explaining a Korean word to me his down hearted moment. Jesus does not meet his expectations of what the messiah should do… Do you have times when Jesus does not meet your expectations?
I found it heartening and encouraging knowing that such a great man of faith as John the Baptist could wrestle with discouragement and doubt. John’s ministry had led him to prison, it wasn’t all success and joy, and could he have also been wrong about Jesus? One of the great things about the scripture is that they are very honest and open about such things. The Psalms are full of the most heartfelt doubts about God… where are you God, have you gone home and put your feet up in front and dozed off in front of the TV?
Jesus is very accepting of John’s honest questioning; the difference between unhealthy doubt and healthy doubt is that we are open to God’s answer. Jesus invites John’s disciples to be with him and to see what he is doing. We see Jesus willing to show them and open their eyes to a new understanding of who Jesus is. 

I get discouraged sometimes and in those times I find that I’m often drawn to accounts or encounters with people who will share their stories with me of God’s grace and goodness, of transformation and new life.  I’m not ashamed to say they bring me to tears of joy as I see what god is doing. Sometimes it’s just little things, in our prayer course group we’ve seen some answers to prayer, a house sell that had been on the market for over a year, a friend of a person in the group whose relationship is rocky asking the group member were you praying for us because we had the best of days yesterday all the tension was gone…not a total fix but a glimpse and possibilities of God presence and healing. In the face of terror and fear, reading stories of Middle Eastern Christians helping in refugee camps, of people still willing to open doors and homes to refugees despite the best efforts of ISIS to make us afraid. 

It’s also encouraging to know that Jesus actually understands our work for him. He affirms us for what we do for him. He affirms John the Baptist in a profound way. In New Zealand this week we’ve had time to stop and reflect on the life of a great All Black Jonah Lomu, and the stories of his character and exploits have been wonderful…he’s a very public figure, and people have lauded him as a humble giant, willing to spend time with anyone, to help and to care as well as being an awesome rugby player. Jesus sees who we are and acknowledges and affirms us. And while we may wish for success and status and accolades from people around us, there is also the affirmation that the greatest identity and affirmation we can have is that we are in Christ, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that God raises up the little ones and we have been adopted into the family of the most high.
The last piece of encouragement is the affirmation that people actually responded to Jesus and John by both coming to God and also by rejecting them and totally getting them wrong. But in the end Wisdom is proved right by all her children… The encouragement is not to simply play religious games or dance to the tune of this generation but to be about the purposes of God.    

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Widow at Nain.. Jesus Compassion Brings Life In The Face Of Death (Luke 7:11-17)... Close Encounters with God's Grace Revolution: four encounters with Jesus in Luke 7 (part 4)

Ok let’s get it out into the open.. Our western twenty first century minds really struggle with the miracle in the narrative of Jesus encounter with the widow from Nain … right! I’ll be straight up it was the first question that came to my mind. Is this real…I wanted to understand it scientifically. It goes beyond my understanding and worldview. 

Maybe I wanted to be saved by the bell … which is a saying that comes from times when medical science wasn’t so great and people used to be buried alive and wake up in their coffins and would ring a bell that was placed in them to signal that they were alive. Was he really dead,  And if that was the case how did Jesus know? And we still have to deal with Jesus healing someone that was so close to death with simply his word. ‘ Young man I say to you get up!’

I wanted to suggest that Luke had simply used this story about Jesus because it fitted into stories about Elijah and Elisha from the Old Testament, it was a literary way of saying if anyone could raise someone from the dead it would be Jesus.  I mean Luke even calls Jesus ‘the Lord’ which seems out of step with the rest of the gospel, and this miracle story is only mentioned in Luke’s gospel.

I’m being honest, and I find myself standing with the people who Luke tells us saw this miracle. In the narrative they can’t deny what they have seen, and their conclusion helps us put it into perspective as well. ‘a Great prophet has appeared amongst us… ‘God has come to help his people’. They can’t explain it but in this event they recognise the presence and rescue and power and grace of God. Something they had as a people been longing and waiting for they realise that there is something unique and special about Jesus.

We are working our way through four encounters with Jesus and God’s revolution of grace in Luke chapter 7. Each one showing us more of the scope of Jesus ministry and points us more and more to his identity. Last week we looked at the healing of the Roman Centurion’s servant and the Centurion’s  surprising faith in Jesus authority.  This week Luke’s focus is Jesus compassion, a compassion that leads to life in the face of death: A compassion that reconciles a widow to her son and to her community. That invites us to see more and more what Jesus is like and to ponder who Jesus is.  

This narrative is connected to the previous one temporally and geographically it happened soon after and in another town called Nain… one that was a ways outside Capernaum. Jesus is accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. One of the later conditions for being an apostle was that they needed to be with Jesus and here they, and the crowd, act as witnesses to what Jesus is going to do. Maybe it’s one of the disciples who tell Luke this incident and so we have the phrase ‘the Lord’ this is one of the things that spoke home for that disciple with Jesus, of who Jesus is. 

Just like with the healing of the roman centurion the focus is not on the person being healed, or the miracle,  but on the person who is the centre of Jesus attention.  In the previous narrative it was the roman centurion and in this passage it is the widow from Nain. In the previous encounter Jesus was surprised by the man’s faith and in this encounter Jesus is moved by the widow’s plight, he has compassion for her. 

In the previous encounter, the roman centurion was a man full of power and prestige and status, even though he was a gentile. In this case the widow’s world has turned upside down. She has no status she is the most vulnerable in her society. 

Firstly she is a woman, in her time a women’s place in society and their welfare was usually dependant on the men in her family. 

 By the way Luke actually presents Jesus as ministering equally to men and to women,  when you read through his gospel narratives of encounters with Jesus they often come in twos, they alternate between male and female. You have Mary’s song and Zechariah’s song in the birth narrative, Simeon and Anna in the temple when Jesus is presented as a child. Jesus public ministry in Capernaum starts with the healing of the man with the withered hand and then Simon’s mother in law. We go on from the pairing we are looking at and we have john the Baptist and the woman who washes Jesus feet. The healing of a demonised man after the transfiguration in Luke 8, is paired with the raising of a dead girl and the healing of a sick woman. The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coins. It almost has the feel of the New Zealand Green Party policy on leadership. It shows Jesus equal ministry and provision of good news to men and  women. One of the early cricisms of Christianity was that it was a religion fit only for slaves and women and Luke's response might well have been... 'Your point is'... It is a revolution of God's grace not a keeping of the first century status quo.

Secondly she is a widow she does not have a husband to provide for her and now her only son, her only child has died.  This is way before the welfare state and she will have to depend on the charity of others to simply survive. The Old Testament law was full of laws to make sure that happened and exhortations for the Jewish society to care for these people. In this story however, she is seen as central and given honour, instead of being defined by her relationship to men, they are defined in terms of her, her husband, her son, the people at the funeral are with her. She is seen by Jesus and he has compassion on her. She encounters Good News and is restored to her son and to her community. 

In this Narrative we see Jesus Compassion. When we had the narrative of the roman centurion the emphasis was on Jesus authority, even if it was compassionately shown to a gentile. But here the focus is on Jesus compassion. He saw the women, and understood her plight. His compassion moves him to take action. He moves to comfort the widow, he says don’t cry. He puts himself into the situation. It tells us he reached out and touched the funeral bier. First century funerals took place as soon after the death as possible: Usually on the same day. In the Middle East without refrigeration you could imagine it was a health necessity. The body was placed on a plank, a bier and carried out to the family plot outside the town. By touching the funeral bier Jesus is again crossing a religious line, he is risking becoming ritually unclean by touching a dead body. His compassion causes him to speak, and for what is an amazing miracle they seem to be so ordinary words… ‘Young Man, I say to you get up!’ But he speaks God’s power and authority into the situation.  If Jesus could heal the servant with a command in the previous narrative here Jesus authority speaks and the dead are resuscitated. Lastly Jesus compassion is shown by the fact that Jesus gives the son back to his mother. His focus is not on the amazing thing that has just happened but this widow and her consolation.

The story finishes with the peoples reaction to what they have seen. As a Jewish audience their thinking, their understanding and their hopes are formed and shaped by the Old Testament scriptures. Their hope for liberation and freedom and justice is based on God sending a prophet like Moses. Their understanding of what that would look like and mean is shaped by the stories of Elijah and Elisha in the book of first and second kings, both of which contain a narrative very similar to Jesus raising the widow’s son.  They have a worldview shaped by a belief and trust in God. So they acknowledge that a great prophet has come into their midst. While for Luke they don’t have the whole picture they are beginning to recognise something special and important and unique about Jesus. They say ‘God has come to help his people’ they see the hand of God at work. Like us there is no natural explanation for what they have seen it can only be understood in terms of the divine. But these words are more than just an acknowledgement of God’s presence in this one case. Again with eyes that see through the lens of Israel’s history they express the hope that just like in the time of the exodus that God has come to help his people, it is an expression of their messianic hope. AS we’ll see next week it leads to disciples of John the Baptist coming to ask Jesus if he is the one that we should be expecting. Is this the long awaited messiah, the saviour that God would send to establish his kingdom? 

Ok how does this encounter with God’s Grace Revolution speak to us today? 

The first thing that came to mind was that Jesus presents us a prophetic picture of the need for authority and compassion to go hand in hand. I don’t know about you but last week I was left with some unease of thinking of Jesus authority in military terms as the centurion did and here Luke dispels any possibility that that is case.  It shows us the loving merciful heart of God and it speaks to those who have authority and power in this world… Authority without compassion is at the least dangerous and cold to the plight of the poor at the worst it is  tyrannical and destructive. If Jesus is a great prophet in our midst his example is exceptional love and grace and justice for the poor and hungry those who mourn and the oppressed. We saw the attacks on Paris yesterday an example of no compassion and authority.
Secondly, I don’t know about you but I find it hard to know how to act when I feel compassion, maybe part of the cause of that in our media soaked environment is that we suffer from compassion fatigue. We are confronted with this disaster, this need, this tragedy a new one everyday a new one every news cycle and while our hearts are moved we are distanced from them and the ability to react, or underwhelmed because the images are not as stark or the story as compelling,  or simply overwhelmed by the share magnitude.  But Jesus gives us an example of what to do of being moved by compassion. There is an empathy which prompts action… He is moved to give comfort, ‘do not cry’. But it’s not like the professional mourners who would have accompanied the widow and this funeral procession helping to give voice to the widow’s grief and the communities’ sorrow He moves to get involved, he places his hand on the funeral brier. It is not the socially accepted thing to do, but it is a willingness to get involved in the situation… He brings God’s presence into the situation and with that the very real possibility of transformation and healing and new life. I’m not saying we should make a habit of interrupting funerals and praying for the deceased to get up.  I’ve heard some very amazing and challenging and creditable stories of people praying for the dead and seeing miracles… But acting on our compassion opens the doors for the authority of God; our compassion opens the door for God’s presence to speak and to move. I wonder what amazing things we will see when our exceptional God is present in situations because of our exceptional love in response to God’s grace. 

Finally, one of the commentators I read talked of writing on this passage in the week he was attending the funeral for his old university professor and mentor, and at the same time as his church was praying for a family in their midst whose six year old was dying of leukaemia. It caused him to wrestle with this passage. Because it’s part of life that humans die. The widow’s son would have eventually died again. We face sorrow and grief.  But this miracle gives us a glimpse that death itself is able to be overcome in Christ.  We see the restoration with loved ones in Christ. We see the truth that even though for us it seem impossible, and death remains that final barrier that God is able to overcome it. It points us to the resurrection and our Christian hope in new and eternal life in Christ. AS Paul would tell the Christians in Corinth who wrestled like we do to understand this ‘death where is your victory, where is your sting, death has been swallowed up in victory.” The hope of God’s grace revolution is shown in the fact that in Jesus Christ ‘God has come to help his people.’

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Suprising Faith Of A Gentile Centurion (Luke 7:1-10)... Close Encounters with God's Grace Revolution (part 1)

Since Pentecost this year, way back at the beginning of June, we’ve been systematically working our way through Luke’s gospel. This is a bit of a recap to place us in that exploration…

We looked at Jesus early ministry… following his footsteps… we started with his baptism and his setting the agenda for his ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah: that the Spirit of Lord was upon him, to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the bind, to free the prisoner and bring release to the oppressed and declare the acceptable year of the Lord. And we moved on to see how that was fulfilled in Jesus encounters with people and how it leads him into his conflict with the religious people of his day.  We looked at what it told us of Jesus and how we could follow his footsteps in our own lives.
 Over the past two months we’ve been focusing on two sections of Jesus teaching in the gospel.
Last month we looked at Jesus teaching on prayer in Luke 11:1-13, we took that section out of order to coincide with doing ‘the prayer course’ here at St Peter’s. We looked at what Jesus teaching in a prayer, a parable and a principle told us about prayer as communication with God.  That the hope of prayer was found in the character of God, therefore we could be hopeful in prayer, and with shameless audacity approach God, and in the Prayer Jesus taught his disciples he encapsulated the scope of our human hope: Giving us petitions to pray, a pattern to our prayer and a priority for our prayer and our life.

Before that we had spent five weeks looking at Jesus sermonon the plain in Luke chapter 6… seeing Jesus call for his disciples to show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious blessing. That God’s offer of blessing was for the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, the ones who were despised and persecuted because of the son of man… and in light of that we were to love our enemies, not to judge to be merciful as our Father is merciful, and  that the only foundation for showing  such exceptional love is in knowing Jesus, hearing his words and putting them into practise.

Today we are starting a new series, looking at four encounters with Jesus in Luke chapter 7: The gentile centurion, the widow at Nain, the disciples of John the Baptist and the woman who anoints Jesus feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. In each of these encounters with the revolution of God grace we see how Jesus mission statement about good news and recovery and release grows in its scope, we see how Jesus follows up his words about showing exceptional love with exceptional ministry, and we are drawn deeper and deeper into the identity of Jesus as God’s agent. 

Today we are looking at Jesus encounter with the gentile centurion. Up to this point in the gospel people have been surprised and amazed by what Jesus has to say and what Jesus does, but in this narrative we find that Jesus is surprised and Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s words and his humble faith and he a mere gentile is held up as an example for us of faith in Jesus Christ.

After Jesus had finished his sermon on the plain it tells us he came into Capernaum, which had been his base of operations for the first part of his ministry. We are told the servant of a certain centurion was ill and about to die. A servant that was valuable to the roman officer.  We are told the centurion had heard of Jesus, Jesus had healed many people in the Capernaum and the villages and towns around there, so the centurion sends some Jewish elders the civil leaders of the town to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. The question is whether Jesus revolution of grace, his love and his compassion and his ministry would extend to a gentile, to someone who was considered the enemy.

The centurion would have been the figure of roman authority in the town.  The Jewish elders present a case for Jesus to come, that the man loved Israel and had built the synagogue in the city. We are presented with a picture of the centurion who at the very least did not treat the locals with contempt, who followed the roman custom of showing respect for cultures older than their own, and saw religion as an important part of the social fabric to be encouraged to keep order in the empire. Even his caring for his servant may simply have been the pragmatism of roman society where to care for sick slaves was advised because it prolonged their usefulness. Or we are presented with a man who is genuinely kind and was interested in things Jewish and their God. In the end we don’t know.  The Jewish elders seem to come to Jesus with a case that the roman centurion deserves Jesus attention.  He was their patron and in the social way of doing things that meant they should repay him.

This goes against what Jesus had been teaching about God’s revolution of grace, that god’s favour and god’s blessing is not earned but rather freely given. We can buy God’s favour by being nice, kind and caring. It is about God being kind and God caring and if I may be so bold God being nice… But Jesus choses to go with them; Jesus revolution of grace is willing to go past the social barriers between Jew and Gentile with compassion and healing. To set foot in the home of a gentile was to face ritual uncleanness. More than that to show such kindness to a roman office was like treason. But Jesus revolution of grace was willing to reach across those boundaries with exceptional love.

On the way another delegation comes from the Centurion, we are told this is a different group, not the civil leaders but the centurion’s friends. They tell us a different story, they carry the centurion’s own words to Jesus. He does not think he has earned Jesus favour or cand emand it by right but he does trust and have faith in Jesus.  The centurion addresses Jesus as Lord, he is aware of something about Jesus that the Jewish elders are not.  The centurion is aware that he is unworthy of the favour of Jesus he does not deserve to have Jesus come under his roof. He uses the word not trying to earn or garner favour with Jesus, but acknowledges his humble reliance on Jesus graciousness and mercy.   He acknowledges that has faith in Jesus authority to simply speak and the servant will be healed. He sees in Jesus someone who has authority over sickness and disease… he expresses it in terms of his own experience as an officer in the roman army. He has been commissioned and given orders and he has authority over his soldiers and expects them to do what he says. He gives orders to his servants and they carry them out.  It is hard for us to see the authority of Jesus in the strict terms of a military system, but the centurion acknowledges the authority of God, to do what God chooses.

Jesus is amazed at this. He turns to the crowd that was following him and says that he had not found such faith in all of Israel. He here in this gentile we find great surprising faith: Faith that trusts in the power and presence of God in and with Jesus. We are told that when the men who had been sent return to the centurion’s home the servant is well.

Now the fact that Jesus had started to go with the Jewish elders shows us he was going to heal the servant, it wasn’t because of the man’s kindness or his faith but rather because of God’s grace and love, even for the occupying forces, even for a rich powerful man.  But the centurion has displayed such humble faith in Jesus that is shown to us as an example of how we should respond to Jesus. It is a great example of trust in God's authority and the shameless audacity Jesus says we should have when  we pray.

So let’s turn and look at what this passage says to us today.

The first thing is that one of the things that concerns Luke in his gospel and later in Acts is that Jewish and gentile Christians can get along. In this passage we see that expressed in the relationship between the roman centurion and the people in Capernaum. The start of cross cultural relationships comes with respect and kindness. The roman could have come in and enforced his own culture and his own religion and beliefs on the local populous, he could have treated them with contempt. But rather we see him growing to understand and appreciate the other culture. That breaks down barriers and actually allows for God’s grace to bring healing. It allows Jesus to be introduced into the situation. It speaks to us in our increasingly multi-cultural world and church, we are often used to the dominant culture simply having things their way. I wonder if that stops the grace of God from speaking into the situation.  The centurion shows us that in being open to what the other culture had to offer opened him up to the grace of God.  
The second thing is that the faith of the centurion is a challenge for all of us. Firstly that the centurion realises that he does not have the right to come into Jesus presence, there Is a humbleness that acknowledges his unworthiness, we often have identified that idea in a negative way, it is a putting of ourselves down, but that is not the case here, the centurion realises the uniqueness of Jesus, the power of God. Psalm eight expresses it wonderfully, it is a written as the poet stares up at the vastness of  heavens and the amazing awesomeness of the God who has created all that  and realises his own insignificance, ‘who is man that you should consider us… But there is also the wonder and amazing fact that God does and God cares.

The centurion’s faith is that Jesus simply needed to speak the word and the servant would be healed… It is a trust in the power of God, to do what God chooses to do, that God is sovereign, all powerful. It is the same faith we need when we pray. A trust in God to do good. Sometimes our prayers simply become a waffle of vague hopes and wondering if God can, the centurion’s faith was yes that God could, yes that Jesus could, and in asking all he risked was that Jesus would say no. But he didn’t.

The last thing is the wonderful expression of exceptional love that Jesus demonstrates. Here we see jesus revolution of God’s grace reach across the great socio religious divide of his day. The scope of God’s grace of he kingdom of god as not is not just for Israel, it is not just for the people who have historically been identified as his people, it is for all, it is universal. It is for the gentiles, it is even for the powerful and the wealthy as well as the poor and oppressed. It is for all who our religion and cultural understandings can see beyond God’s care or as our enemies.  Jesus not only talked the talk of love your enemy he lived it out as well.

I couldn’t help but be moved by a story I read In the October edition f the Voice of the Martyrs magazine. Which I think shows how cultural respect and kindness can open the door to god’s healing and grace. Raji was a member of a militant Hindu group in India, they were opposed to any Christian activity in their village. One day a pastor from another town had come to preach, and raji and twenty others had beaten him and left him in a ditch. But Raji felt a real sense of guilt that he ahd beaten an innocent man and after telling his wife, Aysa, what he has done, she convinced him that this was not the way their culture tells them to treat people and to go and get the pastor so they could tend to his wounds. So he did. The next day after he was able to speak again, Asya asked him why he had come to their village and he told her that he had come to talk of Jesus who cared for the poor and healed the sick. Asya’s sister in law had been sick for months so she bought her for the pastor to pray for and he shared the gospel and prayed for her. Two days later she was healed and about forty people from the village became followers of Jesus including Raji and a church was established.  Kindness opened the door to to Jesus love for our enemies and to God’s healing and saving power.