Sunday, 29 May 2016

Can't make it to church - 29 May 2016

As a military Chaplain I often find resonance with military values in the accounts written in the Bible and often in the words Jesus Himself speaks. Today is one of those days as, in the Gospel, we find Jesus encountered some people who had been sent to Him by a Centurion whose servant was sick.

Jesus responds by setting off for the Centurion's house, but before He reaches the house the Centurion sends people out and they meet Jesus on the road. They explain that the Centurion sent the elders to make the request as he considered himself to be unworthy to encounter Jesus personally. "Don't come to my home, I'm not worthy to have you enter it," says the Centurion though his emissaries - and then comes the military resonance:

"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."

First, and foremost, the Centurion recognises the fact that Jesus is a 'man under authority' - He comes in the name of the LORD (who is the absolute God - YHWH) and secondly he realises that it only needs Jesus to issue the word and His command, like that of the Centurion in the world he occupied, carries power and authority.

No wonder Jesus is amazed, for this Roman has recognised and submitted to the higher authority of the one in whose name jesus comes and in the the authority Jesus also has. No wonder Jesus notes that he hasn't seen faith like the Centurion's 'in Israel'.

Here we have an example for us - from one who was 'far off' and yet by his actions and words was perhaps nearer than many of us we find an example and encouragement to recognise, and petition, the Lord - how we should respond and relate and live out our lives as followers of Jesus, the Christ.

Paul reflects on his call which he notes was, "Neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead,' the calling we all have as believers. This is the calling and commission all who follow the Christ have - not a parchment scroll signed by a monarch giving a commission but the commission that gives us the 'Great Commission' to go into all the world and teaching those around us to keep God's laws and to turn from their wrong ways (being baptised) to live in the fulness and freedom of God's love.

What encouraging words - what a wonderful promise - what a fantastic calling and commission we have. How can we top this, this morning?

Well I have to point to Elijah (another of my heroes) as he encounters the followers of Baal and challenges them and their god to a contest. "If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him,' he says. So Elijah sets up the stuff to carry out a bit of worship of the true God - this comes in the shape of some wood and a bull for the burnt offering (a thought: burnt offering = holocaust, which is why many of us prefer 'shoah' when it come to speaking of the Jews who were murdered in the Nazi camps).

The followers of Baal shout and scream, the get in a right tizzy, but no fire.
So, helpfully, Elijah calls on them to shout louder, "Perhaps your God is on the loo and can't hear you, " he tells them! And yet not a spark.

So it's now Elijah's turn and, to make things a bit more even, he orders the wood to be drenched and then says to God, "All your!' And whoosh, the wood, the bull, the water, the stones, the dust - everything vanishes in a flash of fire.

So today, when you look at those who follow the false gods of the age come before you - remember that we have a God who indeed does 'answer by fire'.

So here we are called by the God who answers by fire - what more do we need to know to take us onwards into life?

The Collect
God of truth, help us to keep your law of love and to walk in ways of wisdom, that we may find true life in Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

1 Kings 18.20-39
So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’ All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is on the toilet, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’

This is big and dramatic!
Galatians 1.1-12
Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead - and all the members of God’s family who are with me: To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

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.

Post Communion
Eternal Father, we thank you for nourishing us with these heavenly gifts: may our communion strengthen us in faith, build us up in hope, and make us grow in love; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

and this isn't!

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