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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Leaving Our Culture (Luke 7.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 13, 2016
Text: Luke 7:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: Piano Meditations, Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: Holy, Holy, Holy (NICEA)
Song of Praise: Revelation Song (Riddle)
Offering of Music: Have a Little Faith (Jim Terrell)
Responding in Music: Mercy (Boersma/Courtney)
Hymn of Sending: I Surrender All (SURRENDER)
Postlude: Prelude and Fugue in F Major - Royallen Wiley, organ (J.S. Bach) 

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We are continuing in our series entitled, “Things we leave behind (to follow Jesus).” Today we are going to look at the role culture and belonging play – sometimes a help, sometimes a hindrance, just as we saw last week with religion or rules.

The reason I cast this story in those terms is because it revolves around an outsider culturally – a non-Jew who nonetheless caused Jesus to marvel because of his faith and understanding. As last week, we will consider where we may have cultural blinders on that actually get in the way of seeing, hearing, and following Jesus.

A Man of Influence

We talked about tax collectors a few weeks ago. They were Jewish traitors and cronies of the Romans, extorting taxes and more from their own people with the Roman soldiers as the strong arm to back them up. The real problem, however, was the Roman Empire. Gone were the days when King David ruled Israel as a local and regional power. Those days were LONG gone. Empire after empire had ruled in the Promised Land; and in Jesus day it was the Romans. Caesar in Rome was so powerful that he ruled pretty much the known earth. His armies were nearly invincible and Israel was subject to Roman taxes, governance, laws, and soldiers.

The Romans tolerated local religion as long as the citizens recognized Caesar as “Lord” through taxes, law-keeping, and peace. But the thought of a Roman centurion, a commander of a regiment (traditionally 100 soldiers) somehow sharing the Jewish faith or being interested in the religion or God of Israel was laughable.

Except it happened. This one centurion had a slave who was dying and he sent a message through the Jewish elders asking for Jesus to come “save the life of his slave.” Now presumably these ‘elders’ overlapped a bit with the religious leaders who often gave Jesus such grief. But this was different! This was a Roman Centurion asking for their help. So they came to Jesus and earnestly implored Him for help. They said, “He is worthy for you to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” (v. 5) It is thought, by that statement, that this Centurion was indeed a “God-fearer” – a non-Jewish person interested in the God of Israel, who had evidently helped support the building of the synagogue there in Capernaum. In some ways, these details seem superfluous, because the man goes on to demonstrate his faith; but they do add interesting context and background.

So this outsider also knew enough to ask for Jesus of Nazareth. He knew enough to know that this Jesus was healing people and seemed to have the power of God. And he believed Jesus could help him.

The Faith of an Outsider

And so Jesus starts on his way with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him with an interesting message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself further, for I am not worthy for you to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you…” (vv. 6-7). We learn more about the centurion; he does not command Jesus, but seeks him in humility and with utmost respect!

But then this significant statement: “…but just say the word and my servant will be healed.” (v. 7) Sight unseen, from a distance, he believed that Jesus could heal his servant. And how did he come by this faith? Because he understood human power and authority, he could acknowledge and recognize spiritual power and authority: “For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” (v. 8) Not only did he not presume to command Jesus, but he recognized his spiritual power and authority over sickness and death.

And when Jesus heard THAT; he marveled at him. Jesus is the one amazing other people. How often do you hear of Jesus being amazed? This outsider, this non-Jew, this Roman, this soldier… amazed him. Jesus turned to the crowd following Him and said, “Not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” And almost as an afterthought, the narrator tells us the slave was healed. That ends up not being the point. The point is that an outsider recognized, through his own experience of the way things worked, that Jesus had the authority and power of God; and he trusted Jesus to heal his servant.

Leaving Our Culture: what makes a Christ-follower

So, cool story; a Roman centurion amazes Jesus. What does that have to do with me?

Last week we talked about religion… the system of rules and behavior, often good for us, that nonetheless can get in the way of us seeing, hearing, and truly following God.

In a similar way, our culture can also get in the way of trusting and following God. By “leaving our culture” I don’t mean packing up and moving to Antarctica or some remote or ‘pure’ place. What I mean is that, like God’s people in scripture, we seem to default to ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ language and perspectives and views. It’s easy to think that we’ve got a corner on God’s will and way and that people must conform to our way of things to be ‘in’ with God.

We here are predominantly southern, Presbyterian, well-off, educated, white, comfortable, Bible-belt, American Christians. It’s easy to tack on to that political perspectives, musical tastes, or any other host of cultural distinctives. But God’s a bit bigger than all that. Well, WAY bigger than all that.

What do I mean by “leaving our culture?” Well, I don’t mean moving to Antarctica. What I do mean is holding loosely to all those cultural distinctives, realizing that they are not equivalent to God’s will or preference or design. And sometimes, following God means letting go of musical preference, or political allegiance, or thinking Presbyterians have it all figured out, or [fill in the blank.]

The definition of being a Christ-follower isn’t:
  • “being American”
  • “being a Democrat”
  • “being a Republican”
  • “someone who sings traditional hymns”
  • “someone who sings praise music”
  • “someone who looks and thinks like me”
You can find Christ-followers in the strangest places. Sometimes, they are the last person you’d expect… like a Roman centurion in a sea-side Jewish town.

What defines a Christ-follower is:
  • someone who recognizes the power and authority of Jesus Christ…
  • someone who trusts God as Sovereign over all nations and cultures and peoples…
  • someone whose first allegiance is Jesus Christ, revealed in scripture and history as Savior and Lord
Do you know that Jesus? What would he have you do? Where would he have you go? What would he have you leave behind?

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