June 3, 2013, 3:26 PM
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Jesus is amazed. What amazes him? A Roman centurion who loves the people of Capernaum, who has built them a synagogue, who is held in high regard by those he is supposed to dominate and who cares for his slave. This is a man who, in spite of being a Roman soldier in the army occupying Israel, has treated everyone in this story with extraordinary respect and kindness and has received the same in return. Here is the Kingdom of God at work in the last place we would expect it.
Jesus never meets the centurion or his slave. The centurion simply assumes that Jesus’ authority and compassion match his own. Jesus is amazed. Nowhere, not even in Israel, has Jesus found such faith. I think it might be a mistake to think that Jesus was talking about faith in him—faith in Jesus. After all, the centurion had already built a synagogue and had real relationships with the leaders of the community. He seems to have a profound trust in goodness and a trust in Jesus’ authority as someone who works within God’s command. The centurion sends word to Jesus as one middle manager in the military to another middle manager in the spiritual realm. He has tremendous confidence in Jesus’ authority based on his own. His faith seems to be in the way that God works for good through command and action.
Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes:
God does not try.
God does not wish,
or command from afar
and hope we obey.
God says, “Light,”
and the word shines.
God wills life.
There is no command, no obedience,
nothing conveyed from there to here.
Trees put forth leaves,
earth turns green, living things blossom.
What God wills is what is
and what is most deeply becoming.
The saints live in harmony with God's energy,
trust it unfolding,
even as we will otherwise.
The healing you yearn for,
the wisdom, the peace,
these God has already spoken.
They have already begun to become.
You yourself are a word God has already said,
a word of grace,
grace that was, and is, and ever shall be.
This is in essence a healing story. In our culture, we are more likely to seek medical attention before we pray for healing. And that’s okay. We have learned a lot about the healing arts and are able to restore health in situations we never thought possible even ten years ago. But we have separated healing and wholeness from the spiritual realm and made the word salvation mean “life after death.” It has taken centuries to create that divide, but it is an unnatural division. God works in and through our bodies as much as our spirits; and God works in and through the minds of human beings that seek to provide medical care.
Several years ago, I began to study spiritual healing. I have my own story of a physical healing that has made me both curious and cautious. There are some Christian traditions that promote faith healing and some that reject medical care. There are many denominations that are suspicious of miracle claims and believe that miraculous healing ceased at about the time that the canon of scripture was closed. I think that humans are usually uncomfortable with things that we can’t explain and often our explanations do more harm than good. For instance, if the congregation has laid hands on you and prayed for healing and you are not healed in the expected way, the question becomes, “Whose faith is faulty? The sick person or those who prayed?”
The truth is that the healing miracles of Jesus happened in a number of different ways and in one case healing was not complete on the first try. Today’s story comes about the closest to our experience of intercessory prayer. We pray to God in the name of Jesus—like middle managers in the chain of command. And like middle managers in any other business, we may think we have the best idea about what should happen. Our opinion may be very short-sighted in the view of those with responsibility above us. So I have learned to simply tell God what I want and trust that God wants the best for me or the other person and knows more than I do. It’s not a great answer, but it lets me pray with a sense of spiritual confidence. I know that God is in charge and that God is good. Then I can turn my attention to joining in good and responsible behavior to the best of my ability.
The other thing that I have learned is that the Church baptizes and lays claim to lives in the name of God. We have some responsibility to be witnesses to the baptized, but we trust them to God’s life-long care. We have no control, we simply trust that God will keep the promises we make in God’s name. The same is true with communion. We cannot guarantee that people will feel fed, accepted, loved, or forgiven in the meal. We simply offer it, trusting in God’s grace. What I see missing in our worship is faithfulness to the other ministry of Jesus—healing. That is why we offer anointing with oil and prayer for healing of physical, emotional, spiritual, or relational ills. Just as in baptism and communion, we use the same words each time, trusting in the goodness of God to know what we cannot know and love us beyond our imagining. I have the same spiritual confidence in the effectiveness of healing prayer as I do in baptism and communion. Spiritual confidence comes from understanding that I am a middle manager and that I work for the God of all creation. So do you. You are also a middle manager who works for the God of all creation. Let us pray and offer forgiveness, words of healing and wholeness to all the world, trusting that we have been given the authority to speak goodness into being, the authority to speak peace into being, the authority to speak wholeness into being. And then we can act with spiritual confidence in conjunction with our prayers.