SCRIPTURES – 1 Kings 8:22-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10; Ps. 86
“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Luke 7
How interesting it is that, on this Memorial Day weekend when we remember those members of the military who gave their lives in service to our nation, we hear the story of an army officer whose words caused Jesus to marvel. I had a similar experience myself last Sunday afternoon. I was at the Shea/Magrath Memorial at the beach in Norwalk along with a number of national, state, and local dignitaries. We were there for a memorial ceremony, for which I was giving the opening and closing prayers. The special guest speaker for this memorial was recently retired Major General (2 star) Peter M. Aylward. When he stepped up to the podium, he began by saying:
“There are two who gave their lives for you. The first is Jesus Christ. The second is the member of the military who died in service to our country. Jesus died to save your soul. The military members we honor today died to preserve your freedom in this life.”
When I heard this, I marveled. Several years ago I declined an invitation to give the opening and closing prayers for this event because I was told that I could not mention Jesus. This year I was assured that I could pray as I wished. I wonder if anyone knew what General Aylword was going to say?!
Today there are many efforts to control speech and to force the acceptance and embracing of others by laws and threats of punishment. The end result, I believe, is that the respect for and honoring of others and the frank and open discussion of ideas and differences has declined. How important, then, are such ceremonies as was observed at the Shea/Magrath Memorial last weekend and which will be observed in countless communities across our nation today and tomorrow! They help to promote respect and bind us together in this world. But, how much more important it is to honor God through the proclamation of Christ. As Gen. Aylword said, this is for the eternal salvation of your soul.
As our country honors her war dead this weekend, we see that honor is a central focus of our readings today. Who is worthy of God, of being honored by Him?
Before the fabulous new temple that he had built for God’s honor, Solomon prays: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you. Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”
And, the Roman centurion sends friends to say to Jesus, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”
Each of these men had the honor of people. Solomon was a king, one of Israel’s greatest kings. The centurion was a Roman army officer in charge of 100 men. He had the confidence of his superiors and the high regard of Roman society. He even had the respect and thanks of the Jewish Elders. Each of these men, however, were more concerned with God’s judgment, with what He thought of them.
Can you hope, even expect, to be honored by God when you stand before Him in the final judgment? Seeing as none of us knows when we will die and face God, a better question is: do you have God’s honor now?
We are tempted to look at ourselves and what we have done to find reasons to be honored. Surely you have at least done more honorable things than dishonorable things! Well, consider Solomon. He was a man known for his great wisdom. The temple that he designed and built for God was wondrous. He used pure white limestone and choice cedar imported from Lebanon. Its walls, columns, altars and implements were covered with gold, silver, and bronze. It had ornate tapestries and carvings. It took seven years to build, and the expense in materials and labor was incredible. And yet, he admits that it is not a fit dwelling place for God. Much more is needed to gain God’s honor!
What, after all, are any of our works compared to God’s? He made the oceans with their depths; the mountain peaks of the Rockies, the Andes, the Alps, and the Himalayas; beautiful underground crystal caverns; and countless stars and galaxies. He filled this world of His with incredible and diverse creatures; the greatest of which is man. Our brain alone is a marvel that is vastly beyond any creation of ours!
Would you hold before God your works of faith, your sacrifices for others? Well, how do they compare with His work of giving His Son to pay for your sins and the sins of the whole world by dying for you? And besides, you could not do anything if God had not given you the ability to do so. Plus, even in the best of our works there lie the sins of pride, envy, and disappointment when we are not sufficiently recognized and honored.
There is one thing, and one thing alone, that pleases God and for which He will honor you: and that is faith. The centurion’s faith led Jesus to marvel and praise him above all others in Israel; and so, I suppose, above His apostles and even His mother. How great is faith! It gains God’s ears, Solomon says, and draws His eyes to you. It leads Christ Himself to marvel. It, and it alone, is our worthiness before God.
Ah; but what is faith? It is not some general belief that there is a power out there somewhere that is somehow behind everything and may (hopefully!) or may not be personally involved in your life. It is not mere hopefulness for help in this life and something better after this life. Faith is certainty and confidence.
In spite of the fact that you are unworthy. We’re never worthy of God: not when we’re born (which is why we baptized Marco! He was born sinful!); not because of our ancestry or heritage; not because of anything we do. We are unworthy sinners! True faith is admitting this to God, not hiding it or downplaying it.
Because God bends down to the lowly and the sinful. He is pleased to be their God and Savior. You can be certain of this because of Jesus. God sent His Son to us not only to be one of us; He came to help and serve the unworthy who had no claim on Him, and then offer up His life to save us all!
And, faith holds to His words. “But say the word, and let my servant be healed,” says the centurion to Jesus. He knows that His words have authority. Christ’s words are His presence to help and save. Hold to them in faith as the centurion did, and you will have Christ Himself with you to save you.
This is the faith that Christ Himself honors, and which He will praise before His Father in the final judgment: the faith that humbly looks to God, and not self; the faith that holds to Jesus alone and believes His words to be, not only true, but His powerful presence to save.
General Aylword was bold to proclaim Jesus before governmental officials and average citizens assembled on the beach in Norwalk. Perhaps he did so because Jesus was bold to marvel at the faith of an army officer and declare it to be greater than the faith of any in Israel; but especially he did so because Jesus was bold to lay down His life for our salvation. Honor your Savior with your confident faith in Him and your faithful hearing and believing of His Word, and you can be certain that He will honor you with His help in your every need! To the praise and honor of His name. Amen.