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Pentecost 4 Proper 6C RCL June 12, 2016

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

Our opening reading tells one of the most disgraceful stories in the Bible. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel do not worship God. They worship the fertility god Baal. They are completely corrupt, accumulating money and power and possessions beyond any reasonable measure, and doing it at the expense of the peasants who do not even have the necessities of life.

King Ahab decides that he wants to own the vineyard of Naboth.  He wants to turn this priceless vineyard into a vegetable garden. That is an insulting thought. This is one of the finest vineyards in Jezreel, an area known for its excellent vineyards.  To take this land and turn it into a vegetable garden would be an affront to Naboth and his family and an example of terrible stewardship. Furthermore, scholars tell us that Leviticus prohibits selling family land to anyone outside the family, so now Ahab is actually asking Naboth to break the law. Naboth refuses to sell the vineyard.

Aha goes home and has a major pout. Naboth will not do Ahab’s will. Naboth is trying to do God’s will. But Ahab is so far beyond any morality or consideration for others that he lies down on his bed and won’t eat. The king is behaving like a two year of having a tantrum.

Jezebel rushes in to fix this situation. Using all the power of the monarchy, she sends a letter with instructions to have two scoundrels bring charges against Naboth so that he can be killed. Naboth is an honest and respected man, but the men of the city and the elders and the nobles fall right in line. Any ethical principles they may have had fly right out of the window. They join in this plot, which is such a misuse of power by those who are supposed to be leading and serving the people, and Naboth is killed.

Jezebel tells Ahab that he can now take possession of the vineyard, so Ahab sets out for Jezreel. And now, poor Elijah, the last prophet of God in Israel, has the unfortunate task of telling Ahab that his violent, selfish, unlawful and unethical behavior is the exact opposite of what God would be calling him to do and that such behavior has dire consequences.

King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are people who have lost any concept of a moral compass. They use their power to take what they want and they have no regard for their subjects. This is not what God expects of people in leadership positions.

In our gospel, Jesus is invited to eat with a Pharisee named Simon. Simon is at the top of the social ladder. He is supposedly a shining example of one who follows the law. Yet, when a woman, who is labeled, a “sinner,” comes in and anoints the feet of Jesus, Simon begins to question Jesus. If Jesus were truly a prophet, Simon thinks to himself, he would realize that this woman is beyond the pale, unacceptable, not someone we would associate with. But here is Jesus, letting her anoint his feet and kiss his feet and cry and dry his feet with her hair. So I am concluding, thinks Simon, that Jesus is not a prophet after all. I’ll have to remember never to invite him again; he is just not the genuine article.

Jesus senses exactly what Simon is thinking, and he tries to explain. I think Jesus has met this woman before, and she has shared some things, and he has healed her. When we come to a point in our lives where we realize how broken we are and how much we need help, and how much we need healing, not only physical healing bur spiritual healing, and we turn to God, and God gathers us in to God’s loving arms, and we tell God what is going on with us, and, of course God already knows but it is good for us to lay it out in so many words, and God forgives us and gives us words of wisdom and encouragement and touches us deep in our heart and soul and fills us with strength and wholeness and sets us on a new path with a new life, we are grateful beyond measure, and we just want to go to God and say, “Thank you, God, for your love, and I love you back with my whole heart.” That’s what this woman is doing.

But Simon will never understand this because Simon has no sense of his brokenness or his sin, because Simon feels he is as near to perfection as anyone could possibly be, thank you very much. He follows the letter of the law and that’s it. Simon does not need God. He does not understand God’s love and forgiveness because he has never acknowledged his need for forgiveness.

We are here because we do understand this. We have gone through times when we would not have made it through without God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and our friends in the Body of Christ. This is what St. Paul is talking about when he writes, I have been crucified in Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Christ has come into our lives, and he is living in us, and for that, we are so grateful that it is difficult to find words to express that gratitude. Thank God that we have hymns and psalms and music to try to say thank you to God.

Being reserved Vermonters, we probably would not kneel at Jesus’ feet and anoint his feet with oil and dry his feet with our hair. We would probably also be tongue-tied if we happened to meet Jesus at a dinner. But we can understand why she did it.

Our Lord has done so much for us, and even now he is with us and leads us like a Good Shepherd. We are thankful for all his gifts. He sets a table before us in the presence of those who trouble us. He anoints our heads with oil. Our cup runs over with blessings.

The attitude of gratitude is a powerful thing. May we thank God this day and every day for all the gifts God has bestowed on us, most especially, the gifts of love, grace, healing, and forgiveness. Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 5C RCL June 5, 2016

i Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

In all of our readings this morning, we hear a theme of hope and  promise: God gives life. Christ brings new life.

In our first reading, Elijah is called to go into Gentile territory, to the region of Sidon, the home country of Queen Jezebel, who worships Baal, the fertility god. Elijah is called to go to the home of a widow, and we remember that, in that time, widows and children were the most vulnerable people. A widow would normally go to her extended family after her husband had died. She would then have the protection of the men of her family.

But this widow is alone with her son, and, when Elijah arrives, they are about to have their last meal. Elijah gives her God’s promise that they will not run out of food until the rains come and end the famine. The woman is skeptical, but the promise is fulfilled.

Then the woman’s son is stricken with a deadly illness. The text says,
“There was no breath in him.” This is a worse calamity than the famine. The woman is going to lose her beloved son, her only living relative. The woman thinks Elijah has brought this tragedy on her. But Elijah asks her to give him her son, and she trusts him enough to do so. Elijah carries the boy upstairs and puts him on his own bed. He prays with all his heart and the boy is revived. The woman now has faith in Elijah and in God.

God brings life in two ways. The woman and her son are about to starve to death in a time of famine, and their last remnants of food just keep lasting and lasting. Then the son has no breath in him, and he is brought back to life. In this text, God reaches out beyond the usual boundaries, into the land of the Phoenicians, the land of Baal.  God reaches out to an obscure widow, someone who has no power in the culture, and her son, who has even less power. God feeds them and then God transforms death and hopelessness into life and hope.

This is good news for all those on the margins of society.

In our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Paul is telling his story, and what an inspiring and honest story it is. Paul did not receive the gospel from a teacher or a preacher. He received it directly from Jesus. He had just witnessed the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and he was going to Damascus to continue his work of persecuting followers of Jesus. On the way, our Lord spoke to him and changed his life.

Sometimes we humans can be so sure that we are doing the right thing. We can rise to the top of the power structure in doing something we think is good, and then we find out that we were going down a destructive and wrong path. That was Paul. He was killing people in the name of God.

Once he saw the light of Christ, there was no stopping Paul. He traveled around the Mediterranean Sea, planting churches. Paul had been living a life of persecution. God gave him a new life and called him to proclaim the gospel of love and forgiveness.

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the centurion’s slave. As he enters the town of Nain, a tragedy is unfolding. People are carrying the body of a man who has died. Jesus finds out that this young man is his mother’s only son. She doesn’t even have to ask Jesus for help. He sees her overwhelming grief, and his compassion flows out to her.

Jesus comes forward and touches the bier, and then he calls on the young man to rise. Instantly, the young man sits up and begins to speak. It would be interesting to hear what he said, but that will always be a mystery.

The text says, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus does not rush off. He gives this young man to his mother as the greatest gift anyone could give. As parents, we all know that having a child die is the worst tragedy that can happen. Now, Jesus gives this young man back to his mother, and her son is alive. Once again, he is giving the son the gift of life itself, and he is giving the mother a new life with her beloved son.

The crowd thinks Jesus is a great prophet in the tradition of Elijah. They know the story of the widow of Zarephath and her son. As time goes on, they will find out who Jesus really is.

The theme for today is: God brings life. When we are at the end of our rope; when we have tied a knot at the end of that rope and we are hanging on for dear life; when the world looks dark and all hope has gone; when we have tried plan A, Plan B, and every other plan, God brings life and hope. God brings life. Christ brings newness of life.

The other theme of these readings is that God cares about the least of us. God cares about those who have very little. God cares for those who have no power, no influence, no wealth, no status. God cares about everyone, and God cares especially for those who are living at the margins.

Our readings today are telling us that God cares deeply about how we treat those who, like the widows and children in these readings, have very little buffer between them and total disaster.

Like the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Grace Church, who for decades ministered to folks here and abroad, may we continue to reach out to those who need hope and help. Amen.

Pentecost 2 Proper 4C RCL May 29, 2016

1 Kings 18:20-21. (22-29), 30-39
Psalm 96
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

We are now in what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time.” Our vestments turn to green, the color of spring and summer growth, and we settle in for that long season until the coming of Advent.

Our first reading is a dramatic turning point in the history of God’s people.  King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel is married to the famous Queen Jezebel, who is a princess of Sidon, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea. James D. Newsome of Columbia Theological Seminary, tells us that a rich merchant class who had close ties with people in the cities of Tyre and Sidon formed a kind of oligarchy over the northern kingdom of Israel and “enriched itself off the produce of the land. often at the expense of the northern Israel peasantry.”  (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 362.)

Newsome points out that these people modeled themselves after their coastal friends in Phoenicia and worshipped Baal, a fertility god of Canaan and Phoenicia.The royal court and the upper classes were greedy and corrupt, and as usual, those at the bottom suffered most.

Scholars tell us that it is around 970 B.C. E. Morality and religious life have declined so much that there is only one prophet of God remaining, the great prophet Elijah, and there are four hundred fifty prophets of Baal.  Elijah is trying to call people back to the worship of God.

He proposes that he and the prophets of Baal will each be given a bull. He allows the prophets of Baal to choose which bull they will have, and they set up their sacrifice very carefully and call upon Baal, but nothing happens. Then Elijah sets up his sacrifice with great reverence and care. After he has prepared the sacrifice, he orders that  it be drenched in water to the point of overflowing. This insures that it will be difficult for God to set this sacrifice on fire. But, when Elijah calls on God, the fire consumes the entire sacrifice even to the point of tongues of fire licking at the water in the trench.

This makes a good story, but it is far more than that. As Newsome points out, the prophets Elijah and Elisha are concerned about two important issues—faithfulness and justice. Elijah is the only prophet of God left in the world. What courage it took for Elijah to engage in this showdown with the prophets of Baal. But Elijah has such deep faith in God that he takes this step. As Newsome writes, “Elijah risks everything, and God responds to that risk.”

Newsome writes that the essence of this text “is to be found in the prophets’ commitment to the God of Israel as the true Lord of life, in their dedication to justice, and in their compassion and intention to help people who did not have the means to help themselves.” (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 363.) Immediately after this event, Elijah has to flee for his life.

In today’s reading from his Letter to the Galatians, Paul is responding to a crisis in the life of the Galatian congregations. Some new Christians or perhaps new teachers have come into the communities of faith in Asia Minor, what we would call Turkey, and they are insisting that, as Christians, people must follow the Law of Moses, or at least, must adhere to the practice of circumcision.

Paul states that his authority comes from God, not from human authorities. He reminds them and us that our Lord gave his life to set us free. And then he tells the people how  surprised and shocked he is that they are deserting the gospel. They are allowing humans to draw them away from the good news in Christ to obedience to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.

He calls them to return to the true gospel. He reminds them that Christ did not call them to follow the letter of the law, but to follow the spirit of the law of love.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is coming into Capernaum. There is a centurion, a Roman military officer, who has a slave who is ill and close to death. Now this centurion is a powerful and wealthy officer in the Roman occupation army. But he is also someone who cares about his neighbors and supports the local synagogue. He asks some of the Jewish elders to appeal to Jesus to heal his beloved slave.

Jesus goes with them, but then the centurion sends a message to Jesus not to come. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But speak the word only, and my servant will be healed.” He has heard about Jesus, and he has sensed Jesus’ authority. Herbert O’Driscoll points out another aspect of the centurion’s reasoning, and that is that, for Jesus as a Jew to enter the centurion’s Gentile home would make Jesus ritually unclean. But the centurion does not mention this awkward issue. He simply and humbly states his own unworthiness to have Jesus as a visitor.

The centurion knows about worldly power. He is at the top of the corporate military structure. He knows about command and obedience. And he realizes that Jesus has a spiritual power beyond anything he has ever experienced. In essence, this centurion has become a follower of Jesus even as he is asking Jesus not to visit his home.

Jesus recognizes the faith of this man, and, when the messengers reach the centurion’s home, the servant has already been healed.

Our readings today remind us that ours is a God of justice and love who cares about all people. Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we are called to go beyond the letter to the spirit of the law. Most of all, we have three powerful examples of people of faith: Elijah, who as the last living prophet calls on God with total faith and receives God’s powerful response; Paul, who roots himself deeply in faith in Christ and calls us to follow the law of love; and this centurion, with his combination of privilege, compassion, humility, spiritual intuition, and deep faith, who calls upon Jesus to heal his servant. May we follow their example of faith. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 4 Proper 6C RCL June 16, 2013

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

Our opening reading today is a shocking story, yet scholars tell us that it is one of the most important accounts in the scriptures. Why is such an account placed in the Bible? Because it clearly contrasts the blatant misuse of power by Ahab and Jezebel with the faithfulness of Naboth. Many of these accounts of the ministries of Elijah and Elisha are crucial reminders to us of God’s call to all of us, especially those in power, to remain faithful to God’s values of respect for others, justice for all, compassion toward the vulnerable, and humility.

We should keep in mind that Ahab and Jezebel were terrible rulers. They lived in luxury while the poor and vulnerable scrabbled for a meager living. And, as we see from this story, their selfishness is beyond limits and they will stop at nothing in order to achieve their goals.

Naboth the Jezreelite has a vineyard which is right beside King Ahab’s palace. A vineyard in Jezreel was a prized possession.  These were the best vineyards in the land.

King Ahab comes to Naboth. He asks Naboth to give him his vineyard so that Ahab can use it for a vegetable garden. This is disrespectful and downright rude. You didn’t just tear down a vineyard and make it into a vegetable garden. Even worse, Ahab is asking Naboth to sell his inheritance. In the law, in the Book of Leviticus, people were told it was illegal to sell your family property to anyone except a member of your family. Ahab knew the law, and it was despicable of him to ask Naboth to sell the vineyard. So Naboth, who is a prime example of the faithful person, refuses to sell.

Ahab whines to his wife, Jezebel. I won’t review the details, but she sinks to the depths in her scheming to murder Naboth and get the land for Ahab. Ahab goes to claim the land, and there is Elijah to hold up God’s ethical standards and declare Ahab’s behavior as unacceptable.

Does this mean that God is vindictive and out to get people? No. This story points out that, when we act as Ahab and Jezebel act in this account, there are consequences. Those in power cannot treat people in this way and maintain any kind of spiritual health.

God calls us to treat everyone with respect, whether they are rich or poor, no matter what race or gender they are, no matter who they are. Everyone is a child of God.

Our gospel for today is on the same topic. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to his home for dinner. In comes a woman. She is referred to as a sinner. Her sin is not named.  She is not named. There is nothing in the account to suggest that she is a prostitute, as many writers have described her, and there is nothing to indicate that the woman is Mary Magdalene, who is mentioned later in the story as one of Jesus’ supporters.

In some way, this woman has gotten the label of “sinner,” and this means that, no matter who she is underneath that label, she is treated with zero respect. She has heard that Jesus is in the house, she comes in and anoints his feet with oil, weeps on his feet, and dries his feet with her hair. Maybe she has already had an encounter with Jesus in which she has experienced healing and forgiveness. Or maybe she has just heard from others about how he accepts people and heals them.

Simon is scandalized. How terrible that this sinner should do this to the teacher. But Jesus tells Simon that this woman has extended hospitality to him when Simon didn’t. And then he tells a story about a debt.  If we owe someone a lot of money and we have no way to repay and they forgive that debt. We will be grateful and love them. Or, when we feel lower than the lowest form of life and someone shows us respect, and caring, we are grateful to them and love them in return. This woman has experienced Jesus’ love and forgiveness, and she loves him back.

Simon, on the other hand, is at the top of the social scale. That is a dangerous place to be, because it is so easy to become arrogant, to think that one is better than others, especially some like this sinner woman.  Arrogance can shut out God’s love, Jesus’ love. Simon will never be able to let God’s love into his heart because pride and arrogance shut out the love of God.

Paul is writing to the church in Galatia, in Asia Minor, what we would now call Turkey. He founded the church. But now others are coming in and saying that you have to follow the law, you have to be circumcised, before you can follow Christ. It’s amazing how we humans cling to structures that can get in the way of God’s work if they are not viewed in the correct light.

Paul is trying to find a way to get through to these people. I think he is speaking very much as the woman in today’s gospel might speak. I have met Christ, Paul is saying. I have been crucified with Christ. He now lives in me, and I live in him. My whole life is steeped in his presence and power. External laws are not a part of this equation. He himself has told us that he has come to fulfill the law. The life I live I live by faith in Jesus, not by a set of rules, although this faith includes and goes beyond that set of rules.

Here we go back to our gospel, and we see this woman, who is carrying a label and has been treated with scorn for years, exemplifying  God’s love far more deeply and clearly than the arrogant Simon will ever do unless he somehow opens up to God’s grace, which is quite unlikely, since he has everything well in hand and under control, and everything will be done his way rather than God’s way.

“Pride stands sentinel at the door of the heart and shuts out the love of God. God can only dwell with the humble and the obedient. Obedience to God’s will is the key unlocking the door to God’s kingdom. You cannot obey God to the best of your ability without in time realizing God’s love and responding to that love. The rough stone steps of obedience lead up to where the mosaic floor of love and joy is laid. Where God’s spirit is, there is your home, There is heaven for you.” So reads the meditation for April 10 in a book called Twenty-Four Hours a Day.

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Save us from arrogance. Help us to stay humble. Give us the grace to open ourselves to your love, and to love everyone as you love us.  Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 5C RCL June 9, 2013

1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Last week, we watched a dramatic battle in which God rained down fire on a burnt offering in response to the prayer of Elijah. This week, we are actually at an earlier point in the ministry of Elijah.

God calls Elijah to go to Zarephath, which is in the region of Sidon, now the coast of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea, This is the home country of Queen Jezebel, who has married King Ahab of Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel. Scholars tell us that Queen Jezebel was an ardent supporter of Baal and that her father may have been a priest of Baal. Elijah is going into the center of Baal worship. God tells Elijah that God has commanded a widow there to feed him. Let us keep in mind that widows were among the most vulnerable members of society. Without a husband or a son, they had no means of earning a livelihood and no social protection.

When Elijah arrives, the widow and her son are going to have their last meal. There has been no rain, and there is a famine. The woman says, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug.”  The phrase “As the Lord your God lives” indicates that she is a follower of Baal.

But Elijah asks her to feed him and he assures her that God will keep providing meal and oil until rain comes. By the way, scholars tell us that Baal was supposed to be in charge of sending rain. Even though she and Elijah are of different religions, she does as he asks, and God supplies meal and oil to sustain her and her son. She is completely vulnerable, yet she has no other hope of surviving. But in sheltering Elijah, a prophet of God, she is putting herself in danger.

Then the worst happens. The son dies. Elijah asks her to give him her son. Amazingly, she does. What other hope does she have? Elijah pours out his heart to God. Why have you allowed this to happen to this poor widow? He stretches himself our over the little boy’s body and begs God to give him life. We can imagine Elijah trying to breathe breath back into this boy’s body. The boy comes back to life, but scholars tell us that the restoration of her son gives the woman new life as well.  She also grows into a new faith, faith in God rather than Baal.

We have a similar story in the gospel. Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd are going into the town of Nain. Perhaps they are talking and discussing the good news that Jesus is sharing. But they meet a very sad procession. The only son of a widow is being carried to be buried. The widow does not even try to ask Jesus for help. Perhaps she is overcome by grief, Perhaps she has had many experiences of being unheard and expecting nothing and having no hope. Her life is now effectively over. Without her son’s presence and help, she has no future.

Jesus immediately sees her situation. He reaches out and touches the bier. By touching a dead person he has now become defiled. But he has come to fulfill the law and to go beyond the law to the spirit. “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The young man is made whole and alive. Once again, his mother also has a new life.

God cares about the least among us. God cares about us when we feel helpless, when we are helpless. God calls us to take care of our brothers and sisters who have no means of help and no one to speak on their behalf. God’s prophet, Elijah, and God’s Son, Jesus, reach out beyond all kinds of barriers in these readings. They reach out beyond barriers of class, religion, gender, and tradition to help and to bring healing and wholeness. No situation is hopeless. No person is beyond hope.

Paul tells his story today. He is trying to find some way to get through to these people who think he is a false teacher. He was a persecutor of the Church. He was advanced in knowledge of his native faith. He was at the top of the social ladder, being a Roman citizen. But he was devoting all his energies to killing the followers of Jesus.

And then just imagine the scene. He is on the road to Damascus. He is bent on persecuting those who love Jesus. And he meets that very Jesus on the road. There is a brilliant light that makes Saul go blind. And Jesus is asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” It’s like the widow of Zarephath having to extend hospitality to a prophet of the God she does not worship, only much more immediate. Saul is blinded by the light yet he is blessed with new vision. He sees the horror of what he has been doing. His heart and life are totally transformed.

He doesn’t go to confer with the apostles, He goes to Arabia. And then, after three years, he goes to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and James, and then his ministry begins, a ministry to the Gentiles, to those who are beyond the pale, just as widows are beyond the pale, the lowest of the low.

God is turning the world upside down. Everybody matters. Everybody is loved. No one is beyond the pale.

Have you ever felt as though you didn’t matter? That’s how these widows felt. That’s what their culture told them. You don’t matter. And God and Jesus told them, Yes, you do matter. Have you ever felt as though there was absolutely no hope? Today, God and Jesus and the Spirit are telling us, there is always hope.  Have you ever felt broken beyond healing? Have you ever felt as though you might as well be dead?

God is saying, You are my beloved child, You matter to me. I need you to be with me and to my work. I will make you whole, I will give you new life, I am giving you new life. That’s what all these stories are about.

Dear God, thank you for your love, Thank you for new life in you. Thank you for hope, Thank you for making all of us beloved. Thank you for calling all of us to belong to you and to belong in your family.


Pentecost 2 Proper 4C RCL June 2, 2013

1 Kings 18:20-
Psalm 96
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:7-10

Our first reading this morning is a crucial moment in the history of God’s people. We are in the Northern Kingdom of Israel about the year 970 B. C.  Many of the people of God have turned to the worship of the fertility god, Baal. Many of the practices of Baal worship we would consider to be immoral.. At this point, Baal has 450 prophets, and the Lord God has one prophet, the faithful and courageous Elijah.

In order to show which one is the true God, Elijah proposes that two burnt offerings be set up, but no fire kindled on either offering. He generously offers to the prophets of Baal that they go first, calling on their god to set fire to the offering. Nothing happens.

Then Elijah calls the people closer to him. First, he repairs the altar of God which had been torn down. Then Elijah builds a new altar. This is so important. Elijah puts God first.

Elijah makes a trench around the altar. Then he builds the burnt offering.

Now the offering is prepared. What does Elijah do? He has the people fill huge jars with water and drench the offering. The water is flowing into the moat around the altar. The odds against this offering ever bursting into flame are extremely high.  Then Elijah prays to God.  God is God and Elijah is God’s servant doing God’s will.  All of this is to call the people back to God. The fire falls and consumes not only the offering, but all the water. And the people see that God is indeed God.

In our epistle, we see that Paul is the midst of conflict. The first problem is that some people feel that, in order to join the community, people had to follow the law, which meant that they had to be circumcised.

The second issue is whether Paul is a true apostle. There are many voices,  many teachers. Then as now, there were teachers who tended to tell people what they wanted to hear.  Paul starts out by telling the people that he is “….sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Paul reminds us that God raised Jesus from the dead, in other words, that Paul is preaching from the power of the resurrection, and he is surrounded by members of a community of faith.

Paul gives his usual greeting, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” but then he adds a profound thought, “and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” What does this mean? Is everything about our present age evil? No. There are many goods things happening. But there are some things that don’t fit with centering our lives in God and Christ and the Spirit.  There are many things in our culture which can distract us from following Jesus. By his life, death, and rising again, he has freed us to follow him and given us the grace to walk that journey in faith. One thing from which he has freed us is being bound by the Mosaic law in a literal way.

Paul tells us that he is not interested in pleasing people, but in pleasing God. People pleasing can be a big distraction.  Paul is not into building an empire for himself. He is not trying to keep everyone happy; he is trying to be a faithful servant of Christ. Sometimes we have to make decisions that may not bring us great wealth or great popularity,  or great power, but those are not the values by which we are called to live.

Today’s gospel is a wonderful story of healing that tells us so much about  Jesus and about this centurion.  Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that those who served in the Roman military could be sent to a far away outpost and spend their whole lives there, reporting to a headquarters at a great distance. When this happened, they often made friends where they were serving and became part of the community. This centurion has done exactly that. His slave becomes deathly ill. Probably this slave is a highly educated Greek person who teaches the centurion’s children. The slave is a beloved member of the family. The centurion and his slave are both Gentiles.

O’Driscoll points out that the centurion knows that Jesus has just come into Capernaum and that Jesus is a healer and a Jew. If the centurion asks Jesus to help his beloved slave, this could cause problems for Jesus. Helping the slave of an occupier of the country could alienate the Jewish community. So the centurion  calls upon some of his Jewish friends to ask for Jesus’ help. They “appeal to Jesus earnestly.” They tell Jesus what a good person the centurion is.

Jesus goes with them. But now, O’Driscoll tells us, the centurion, “shows his decency and his sensitivity.  He knows that it is technically a defilement for a Jew to come under his foreign Gentile roof. So the message comes to Jesus. It avoids the ugly truth about defilement. Instead it pays a compliment. It says, very graciously, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you.’ Then in a single sentence, it expresses what the Roman has sensed in Jesus of Nazareth—an immense natural authority:  ‘Only speak the word and let my servant be healed.’”

“In all this, Jesus had missed nothing. He had become aware of the special kind of human being he was dealing with. The trust shown in him by this man astonished our Lord, and so perhaps he was moved to say a potentially dangerous thing: ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ The fact that those who surrounded him were friends of the centurion probably prevented an angry reaction. It is quite possible, however, that someone in the crowd duly noted what Jesus had said, and subsequently quietly reported it to those who were interested in gathering evidence about this man from Nazareth. This danger was never far away.”

O’Driscoll illuminates the deep connection between  Jesus and this centurion. Both were under authority, Jesus under the authority of God and the centurion under the authority of the emperor of Rome. Barriers are broken and the slave is healed.

Elijah is one prophet against 450 false prophets. Paul calls us to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Jesus and the centurion break through barriers to heal this beloved slave. Following the way of God and Jesus and the Spirit is not always  easy. It can be lonely, as it was for Elijah. It can be unpopular, as it was for Paul, It can be extremely complicated and dangerous as it was for all our heroes today. But the clarity, the rootedness, the grace, the healing, and the joy are there for us to see and for us to experience in our own lives.  May we follow these holy examples in our own lives. Amen.