Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 2, 2013
When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” — Luke 7:9
The gospel lesson this week is a healing story, but it is also a story about faith and sufficiency. This short yet powerful tale of a Gentile’s trust that his need will be met by a Jewish rabbi has much to teach us today.
Luke’s version tells us that this Gentile career soldier, a centurion, has a servant about whom he cares deeply and who has fallen ill to the point of death. We understand that this soldier, although a man of some power and whose office represents the oppressive Roman rule, is also a good man who is respected by the local Jews. He has even seen to the building of their synagogue. In this short description we find a lesson in crossing boundaries and building relationships. The centurion has gained the trust of the local community, and when he implores the elders in the community to appeal to Jesus on his behalf, they do so earnestly and willingly. They make a good enough case that Jesus follows them to the centurion’s home. Before he arrives, the centurion sends friends to stop him. What follows is important.
The friends are to tell Jesus that the centurion is not worthy to have this esteemed rabbi in his house; he is, in fact, not even worthy to approach Jesus. Instead, they are to convey the centurion’s understanding of how the world works and where authority rests: Jesus need only say the word and the healing will happen. This military man is well acquainted with authority, both with being in positions of power over others, and in being subject to the authority of others. It is astonishing simply that he trusts Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, with the healing of his slave and that he is willing to be subject to Jesus’ authority in the matter. It certainly would have taken Luke’s audience by surprise.
The story takes on even more significance when we note that the Greek work rendered as “worthy” (v. 6), á¼±ÎºÎ±Î½ÏŒÏ‚, is also translated as “sufficient.” (see 2 Cor. 12:9) This idea of “sufficiency” is an important concept for Christians to consider. In a culture that emphasizes striving for more, better, brighter, bigger, and richer, the notion of one’s “worth” can get awfully convoluted and bound up. What is sufficient? How much is enough? We know cognitively that we can’t save ourselves, but sometimes we sure do seem to be giving it a mighty fine effort. Even in the church, we fall prey to measuring worth in terms of growth, dollars, programs, and prestige.
In our effort to be “worth something” and proven “worthy” in the world’s eyes, we easily forget that our true worth is found in our relationship with Christ and our place in his body. It is Jesus’ authority, and only his authority, that provides sufficient grace, love, and hope. We are made sufficient, and we have enough in him. The Roman centurion knew that, and we should, too. In fact, we should be amazed by it, astonished by it, and grateful for it.
When we look at our lives as sufficient, at what we have as sufficient, and at God’s love and grace as sufficient to meet our daily needs and provide our daily bread, then we are freed of our slavery to this world and its false promises. We can begin to really live, to live faithfully without fear that we’ll come up empty-handed and lost. This, dear friends, is good news that we North Americans need to hear–over and over again. And yes, this is a wonderful Sunday for a stewardship sermon. Blessings on your preaching and teaching. Know that you will be given words enough and wisdom enough to meet proclaim this good news.
If you plan to preach on “sufficiency” using the gospel lesson, consider this brief video from flickspire.com (click here) called “Life is Like Coffee.” The main point? Coffee is a metaphor for life; the cups are only that which holds the life. Most of us, if offered a choice of cups, will choose the best cup possible when the point of the experience is that which goes into the cup. Each cup is sufficient for the task at hand–experiencing the pleasure of a cup of coffee (or tea!).
Consider printing pictures of various coffee cups–from the cheapest to the most expensive and elaborate. On the reverse side of each one, copy the Greek word for worthy (á¼±ÎºÎ±Î½ÏŒÏ‚ ) that can also be translated “sufficient.” Print four or six to a page and cut them individually. Spread the pictures on a table (cup side up) and invite worshipers to “choose a cup” as they come into the worship space. Use these cards as a visual aid during your sermon to talk about sufficiency. Invite each worshiper to consider how their lives are made sufficient in Christ. Then invite them to consider what prevents them from enjoying this abundant sufficiency. Challenge them to consider ridding themselves of all the “additives” that do not lead to enjoyment of life in Christ. Ask them to post this small card in a conspicuous place during the week or to carry it with them each day.
For the following Sunday (June 8), display a large drawing of a simple coffee mug and invite worshipers to write on it the things that make their life more than “sufficient” within the Body of Christ. Celebrate the responses, and perhaps even construct a wordle for your website or next newsletter.
Question: How can we make our worshiping communities places where all people are welcome to worship, share fellowship, and grow together? The Old Testament lesson from 1 Kings is a prayer of King Solomon at the temple dedication in Jerusalem requesting that God hear the prayers of all who enter in–both Jew and “foreigner.” God’s grace and mercy are for all people, yet sometimes we act like God is available only to those who look and act like us. Invite youth to share their observations about whether your community is a place of welcome, healing, and hope. Listen to them. Ask them what they think needs to change. Invite them to consider how they might inspire any needed changes. Pray together for God to be glorified in your context, for all to be welcome, and for the Spirit to equip each person to help bring about change and usher in the reign of God.
Sing a New Song
Use the first two verses of Psalm 96 for your children’s time this week. “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless the name of the LORD; proclaim God’s salvation from day to day.”
Ask how many of the children like music. Do they like to play music? Do they like to listen to music? Do they like to sing? Tell them that God’s loves to hear their songs and voices. Choose a simple children’s song you know they will be familiar with and invite them to sing it. Invite the congregation to sing along. Here’s a good one:
Praise Ye the Lord
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah,
Praise ye the Lord.
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah,
Praise ye the Lord, Praise ye the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah,
Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah,
Praise ye the Lord!
If you really want to get the blood pumping, use the stand up/sit down options where you have one group stand up for the “Hallelu’s” and the other group stand for the “Praise…” part. This is an old Sunday school, VBS, camp standard, so there may be adults in the congregation that will remember this song fondly.
Finish by reminding the children that God loves our songs of praise, and we don’t have to wait until we come to worship to sing to the Lord.
Dear God, thank you for giving us the gift of song so that we may sing to you. Help us to always bless your holy name and share your good news with all the world. Hallelujah! Amen.
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