Sermon: Pentecost IV RCL C – "Through Faith"

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “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 only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also 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 slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 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.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

The Greek God Dionysius found his old schoolmaster and foster father, the Satyr Silenus, missing.  It seems that the old satyr had been drinking wine and had wandered away drunk, later to be found by some Phrygian peasants, who carried him to their king, where he promptly proceeded to pass out in the king’s rose garden. Well.. turns out that the king recognized him and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness while Satyr entertained the king and his friends with stories and songs.  On the eleventh day, the king brought the Satyr back to Dionysus in Lydia and for a reward.. Dionysus offered the king his choice of whatever reward he wished for. The King.. asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold.

We know the king as Midas.. and Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched an oak twig and a stone; both turned to gold. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Ovid.. the author of this myth writes.. “So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold, cursed his prayer” Midas even touched his daughter and she turned into a golden statue.
Now, Midas hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard, and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus… Midas did so, and when he touched the waters, the power flowed into the river, and the river sands turned into gold. Which explained why the river Pactolus was so rich in gold…
This is of course is where we get the phrase Midas Touch… In business.. it is always a considered to be a good thing to have… but after hearing the rest of the Midas story I wonder if that is so true… even so.. folks have always wanted the ability to transform what they have into something better.. the ordinary into gold.. the average into stunning beauty.. the dead into life.. It is the eternal plague of the grass always being greener… Yet, what most discover, even if they can do all these things, they are never satisfied.  Instead of becoming happy, they become miserable in their pursuit of even more.  I remember a song by the group The The.. the lyrics:
I’ve got my sight set on you
 And someday, someday, someday, you’ll come my way.
 But when you put your arms around me
 I’ll be looking over your shoulder for something new
 ’cause I ain’t ever found peace [with some girl]
 I ain’t ever found peace with the religion of the world
 I ain’t ever found peace at the bottom of a glass

We can find ourselves in the same place… I ain’t ever found peace.. I’ve never found happiness… Why?.. because we lack the humility and we fail to give the time necessary to pursue the one thing that will bring true happiness.  Not a momentary happiness that fades with the spark of a new challenge or pursuit, but a happiness… a joy.. that endures even through the most intense of storms… a joy that comes only from God.

Wilbur Rees writes of one person who says… “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”
To say, “I want $3 worth of God” is to say, I want just enough of God to hopefully get into heaven.. but nothing more… I don’t want my life transformed… I’m not interested in serving others… my life is my own, satisfying my own purposes… “It’s all about me.”
That type of life is shallow and meaningless… and it will not bring joy.  Midas had the ability to get anything he ever wanted.. but to what end… he lost his daughter.. and he nearly lost his life… he had his gold.. and it was death.
But.. consider someone like St. Francis of Assisi who gave up everything for God.  The prayer he wrote is one of our most famous… Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; / where there is hatred, let me sow love; / where there is injury, pardon; / where there is doubt, faith; / where there is despair, hope; / where there is darkness, light; / and where there is sadness, joy.
Lord.. make me an instrument of thy peace.. Lord.. transform my life, so that I might help transform others… where there is hatred help me to transform it into love… transform me.. so that where there is doubt.. I might show faith….. This is not a shallow and meaningless life… This is a life filled with the Spirit of God.. this is a life filled with that true and lasting joy.
How do we get from one to the other?  How do we go from the shallow and meaningless to the true and lasting joy?
In our Gospel reading.. Jesus enters Capernaum.. there he is approached by some of the Jewish leaders who have been sent on an errand by the local centurion.  The centurion is a Roman commander, generally hated by the Jews because the Romans are occupying the land.  However, in this case it would appear that the centurion is someone who is liked and respected – he even built the local synagogue for the Israelites.  The centurion has a prized possession – a slave – who has fallen ill and having heard of the miracles Jesus has performed, asks if Jesus will come and heal the slave.  What struck me is how the centurion has himself introduced… For I also 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 slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.”… In a sense, the centurion has a Midas touch.  He speaks.. and whatever he desires is done, but to what purpose?  Who does it profit?… Himself.  Yet, even with all this authority, he still lacks the ability to grasp what he most desires.. which, in this case.. is the health of his prized slave…. I can say ‘go’ and they go.. I can say, ‘come’ and they come.  I can say, ‘do this’ and it is done…. However.. I can say to my slave, ‘be well’.. but his condition only becomes worse.
Yet, there apparently was something that the centurion had that Jesus had not seen in all of Israel… “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found.. such faith.”  In his knowledge, the centurion knew that he had authority, but in his wisdom, he knew that this authority – this Midas touch – extended only so far.. therefore, in his humility, he knew that he must also rely on faith… and it was this faith that gave him that which he most desired.. “When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
The Lord – unlike Midas – can take all that we are and all that we have.. all of the pursuits and worldly desires.. the good, the bad, and the ugly.. the power and authority, the addictions and shortcomings, and even our unfaithfulness and sinfulness.. he can take it all – and if we have faith.. faith as small as a mustard seed – he can take it all and say, “Behold, I make all things new.”….  How do we go from the shallow and meaningless to the true and lasting joy?  Faith.  Faith in the one true God.  Faith in His Son Jesus.  And faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Do you believe this?.. do you believe?… Through your intellect, you may answer, “No” to that question, but I don’t think you would even be here if, in your heart.. in your soul.. you couldn’t answer, “Yes.”  Therefore.. the next question is: “Will you let Him?”… Will you allow Jesus to take all that you have.. all that you are.. and all that you desire… and transform you?  Put another way, are you happy with three dollars worth of God.. or.. like St. Francis.. are you prepared to say.. “Lord make me an instrument.. Lord transform me”.. Lord – through faith – give me that true and lasting joy.”


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