Serving and Faith Luke 7: 1-10 First St Johns May 29, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon click on above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The observance of Memorial Day is about those who have served in the United States military and have died as a result of that service. I had ancestors who fought in the Civil War. One returned home after suffering serious injury, he lived a few more years, but his life was definitely shortened by wounds in military service, therefore someone who should be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

The United States’ highest military honor is the Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s not a requirement, but the Medal of Honor is usually presented posthumously, that is the recipient died as a result of the action they took to be awarded the Medal of Honor. According to Wikipedia the Medal of Honor has been awarded to 3,471 members of our military. “The first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War for his role in the Great Locomotive Chase. The first African American recipient was William Harvey Carney who, despite being shot in the face, shoulders, arms, and legs, refused to let the American flag touch the ground. The only woman Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon.[1]” Of the number awarded there are only 76 living recipients.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to any member of the military who is so qualified. The next level are the service crosses; the Distinguished Service Cross for the Army, the Navy Cross for Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, the Air Force Cross. Interesting how our second highest military honors are crosses. The posthumous rate for the crosses is not as high as the Medal of Honor, but is still significantly high. How appropriate is it that for many who sacrificed themselves to often rescue or protect others, that they should be awarded a cross, the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us.

One particular mission in Afghanistan early in the War on Terror resulted in a few people being awarded the Navy Cross. Probably more than any time in the military history of the United States Special Forces, all branches of the military are required to have a Special Forces unit, have been utilized in the War of Terror to rescue civilian and military persons and to also perform covert U.S. operations and  to assist host countries in various military operations. There is a Special Forces prayer that is quoted in Lt Col Oliver North’s book “American Heroes in Special Operations”. The prayer is: “Almighty God, Who art the Author of Liberty and the champion of the oppressed, hear our prayer. We, the men of Special Forces, acknowledge our dependence upon Thee in the preservation of Human freedom. Go with us as we seek to defend the defenseless and to free the enslaved. May we ever remember that our nation, whose motto is “In God We Trust”, expects that we shall acquit ourselves with honor, that we may never bring shame upon our faith, our families, or our fellow men. Grant us wisdom from Thy mind, courage from Thine heart, strength from Thine arm and protection by Thine hand. It is for Thee that we do battle and to Thee belongs the victor’s crown. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. AMEN”[2]

In one of the first actions in Afghanistan, Navy SEAL Petty Officer Neal Roberts, was part of a unit to be inserted by helicopter into a mountain top area known as Takur Ghar to engage Taliban. During the approach the helicopter was hit by ground fire, engine fluids started pouring over the inside of the helicopter. Petty Officer Roberts lost his footing and went out the back of the helo: “…His buddies watched him fall about ten feet to the snowy outcropping below.” As the Chinook wheeled away from the mountain, the rest of the team watched helplessly as Roberts came under heavy enemy fire. The last they saw of him, was returning fire with his squad automatic weapon, attacking a superior force and going it all alone…”

“A drone was sent to observe and sent back video of Petty Officer Roberts fighting off the enemy for nearly an hour, first with his automatic weapon and then his sidearm until he expended all his ammunition and grenades. He was finally overrun and killed, becoming the first Navy SEAL to die in the war on terror …”[3]

I have interacted with a lot of military and also civilian public safety. They realize that they don’t work a 9-5, punch in/punch out job. They’ve seen and had to deal with situations of life and death and sometimes inhuman acts done against people. Death is a reality to most of them and unlike most people, they are very aware of their own mortality. Too often their attitude towards God, is often, like most people today, think that they’re doing good works and that will punch their ticket to heaven. Many though want to know about God, I’ve had many uplifting encounters with military and public safety people. Often they want to know how God can permit such violence and injury. This has given me the chance to talk to them about sin. God gave us free will, which means that we are free to sin and we do, quite often. For those who are not Christians they are dead in their sins, they don’t know anything other than sin. They might bargain with God and try to do works they think will earn their way. My answer is that we can’t make a bargain with God. He provided one way, Jesus! That’s a great thing. Too often I see people floundering around trying to make their own way to God and they know in their heart that it doesn’t work. We need to be in relation to God through baptism and in Jesus. Anything else is our own works and ends in failure in trying to reach up to God. But there is no mystery about it, Jesus, God the Son, told us very plainly: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Our way to God is obvious, it is not a struggle to be saved. Being saved might be a struggle, but in Jesus we are helped through our struggles and helped to maintain our faith through His grace, that we are living in His will.

In the same sense a Roman centurion is not your garden variety pushover. He had enormous power and authority. He certainly could have been U.S. special forces today. A Roman centurion could pretty much act as he felt necessary, for the most part was trusted to do what was necessary and his word would have much more influence than others. The centurion in this pericope would have been classified as a “God-fearer”, someone who was not Jewish, but who acknowledged the God of Israel as the supreme Creator, Sustainer of the universe. The Hebrew name was yirei Hashem[4]. They did not convert for various reasons, but they recognized the monotheism of the Jewish God. A Roman did not reach the level of centurion by getting involved with charlatans. Certainly an important point of this pericope was to show that Jesus’ power and authority was recognized outside of Jewish circles and was a precursor of the rest of the world recognizing Jesus as God as His disciples/apostles went out into the world. The centurion saw Jesus as having authority as the Roman did. If it was Jesus’ will to have something done Jesus had only to give the word. Chrysostom writes: “…the reason he had not brought him in [his house] was itself a sign of his great faith, even much greater than those who let the patient down through the roof. Because the centurion knew for certain that even a mere command was enough for raising the servant up, he thought it unnecessary to bring him.”[5] Chrysostom also notes: “While on previous occasions he [Jesus] had responded to the wish of supplicants, in this case he rather springs actively toward it.”[6] Obviously the Jewish leaders in Capernaum saw His authority also, they seemed to have no problem intervening with Jesus on behalf of the centurion. For those who deal with the very real world of life and death, they don’t necessarily know Christ as Savior, I’m sure the centurion would have reservations about making that level of commitment, but they usually know the real thing, their life often depends on it. Often as they go along in life they are led by God to know true salvation, again they finally see the authenticity. We honor those who have made a sacrifice for us, we continually hold our Savior Jesus in our heart and in our prayers as He who made the ultimate sacrifice for those who are His to have eternal life in the resurrection. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Medal_of_Honor_recipients

[2] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” p 8

[3] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” pp 44-45

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God-fearer

[5] Chrysostom “The Gospel of Matthew Homily” quoted in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Matthew 1-13” Manlio Simonetti p 161

[6] Ibid

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