Have You Left Jerusalem Yet?
Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on June 2, 2013, the Second Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is Luke 7:9, When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
The story of the Centurion in Luke 7 is part of a theme that runs throughout the gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. The Centurion is a Gentile, a foreigner in the eyes of the people of Israel, not part of their family. In the eyes of many folks in Jesus’ day, Gentiles were inferior and did not deserve to have the love of God preached to them.
Then along comes Jesus, who bursts through all that pride and prejudice, and we see the launch of the mission of Christ-centered folks to take the good news of God’s love to everyone.
It is Luke who makes sure we hear the theme of reaching out proclaimed early in the life of Jesus. At the dedication of baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, aged Simeon picks up the infant and proclaims joyously, Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss you servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
Then we fast forward to the Book of Acts and the Day of Pentecost and the tongues of fire, and people from every nation gathered in Jerusalem able to hear the good news of God’s love in their own language. Pentecost is the wonderful launch of the mission of God through believers to share the good news.
What about the Centurion in today’s gospel reading? In the gospel of Luke, this Centurion is the first Gentile that Jesus reaches out to. This unnamed Centurion, a Roman soldier, almost overwhelms Jesus with a hunger for what Jesus can provide. You remember the story. He has a beloved servant who is very sick. He recognizes Jesus as having authority over life and death issues. Some of the people of the local synagogue tell him about Jesus. He wants Jesus to heal his servant and he believes Jesus just has to say the word and this will happen. And Luke tells us the reaction of Jesus: When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
What can we learn from the story of the Centurion and the emphasis of Luke that God wants to reach out to all people, not just the selected few?
I’d like to think that the purpose statement of this congregation accurately reflects what we learn. Our purpose statement is this: We believe that the purpose of Resurrection Lutheran Church (RLC) is to Reflect the Love of Christ (RLC) by Reaching, Loving and Caring RLC).
One of the guiding principles of this congregation is a wonderful expression of how the spirit has opened up this congregation: We invite and welcome all people. We follow Jesus’ example to be boldly inclusive. “All people” means everyone….no limitations…no exceptions.
We even wrote a statement of welcome that further spells out what we mean. All are welcome regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, and so forth. You can find copies of this statement on the credenza in the narthex.
On the Day of Pentecost, the believers were given gifts for sharing the good news of Jesus. Then they had a choice. Would they make use of these gifts and go out and share the good news of Jesus with others or would they keep this good news to themselves? One preacher suggested a title for today’s sermon: Have You Left Jerusalem Yet? I might change the title a bit to “Will you put a limit on whom you will share the good news this week?”
I watched Pastor Carol this week share the good news with someone in a way that I thought was wonderful. We were at the cosmetics counter in a local department store. The young woman who waited on Carol spoke and looked different from us. She was very efficient. Then she commented on how beautiful the cross was that Carol was wearing. That was obviously an invitation and Carol talked about how she and her mother exchanged crosses and how meaningful it was to their faith in Jesus. The young woman shared that she too was a Christian.
And that was the conversation. We didn’t mention each other’s churches. This wasn’t about membership recruitment. This was simply reveling in the common bond that we have as equal members of the Body of Christ.
I pray that this week that God will present opportunities in abundance to the folks in this worship service to reflect the love of Christ by reaching, loving and caring.
Thanks be to God for loving us without reservation. Amen!