David A. Davis
February 18, 2018
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It is difficult to imagine Jesus being amazed by much anymore. This week the Jesus that fills my heart and nurtures my soul, that Jesus can’t have much to marvel at. Amazed, marveled, astonished. Those aren’t the adjectives that resonate when pondering the Risen Jesus, Son of God, Savior, Messiah, when pondering Christ cradling the world in his arms these days. The Christ who slings our humanity over his shoulder like the shepherd who left the other ninety nine and went out and found that one lost sheep. Amazed. Filled with wonder. Breathlessly in awe. No. Not now. Not this week.
Heartbroken seems more like it. 17 more. 17 more killed at school. Kids just like our kids. Alyssa. Martin. Nicholas. Jamie. Luke. Cara. Gina. Joaquin. Alaina. Meadow. Helena. Alex. Peter. Carmen. Different backgrounds. Different ethnicities. Different faiths. And then the teachers, coaches, administrators just like ours. Chris. Aaron. Scott. Wrestling. Football. Cross Country. I watched a gut-wrenching video clip of the first vigil that was held with tears in my eyes. That father whose daughter was killed, half shouting, have crying, mostly pleading, “I am broken”, he said. He is every father, every mother. Jesus must be heartbroken, just like him, just like them.
Heartbroken…and irate, and angry, and completely fed up. So much more angry than when he tossed the tables on the money changers in the temple. So much more disgusted than Moses must have been when he saw that golden calf and smashed the law tablets there at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The utterly sinful worship and idolatry of the Second Amendment. A lust for violence that infects everything in the culture from film, to video gaming, to sport, to social media. The unbelievably magnified selfishness that fuels the all about me paranoia that someone is coming to take all my guns away. Jesus must be angry. When leaders of a nation clearly going the wrong way on the crisis of gun violence continually offer a call to prayer rather than acting themselves and then act deaf to a people’s plea for help as if their hearts must be harder than Pharoah’s, whose vindictiveness leaves hundreds of thousands of our own young people who have lived in this country pretty much they’re whole lives now living in fear and hopelessness, whose professional life and election depends on money given always for self interest rather than the common good. A system so broken. Jesus has to be something other than amazed by it all, by all the brokenness. The absolute brokenness of humankind.
Truth is, Jesus is not amazed all that often in the four gospels. There is this occasion from Luke that I read to you. One other time in Mark. When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and the whole town took offense at him and Jesus said “Prophets are not without honor except in their home towns, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Mark records that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. If I did all my homework, that’s the only other time Jesus is amazed in the gospels.
The gospel writers often write of Jesus’ reaction, his thought, his emotion. Matthew tells of Jesus being moved by compassion when he saw all the crowds and the disease and the sickness. He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless. John writes of Jesus being greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved as he saw Mary and Martha weeping at the death of their brother Lazarus. When the man with the withered hand came to Jesus on the sabbath in the synagogue, Mark describes Jesus as being angry with the Pharisees because they were trying to trip him up on sabbath law and Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart toward that man in need of healing. Plenty of adjectives, emotions, reactions attributed to Jesus, just not much amazement.
This morning in Luke, Jesus finished offering that long stretch of teaching and proclamation called “the Sermon on the Plain”. Jesus then heads into Capernaum. There in Capernaum, a centurion (a Roman, gentile soldier with a rank that had him in charge of others) had a servant who as very ill and close to death. He had heard about Jesus and he knew some well-connected leaders in the Jewish synagogue. He had quite a network. So the centurion asks them to ask Jesus if Jesus would come to the house and heal the slave. The Jewish elders go to Jesus, and in a kind of unexpected way, they vouch for the centurion, for his character, for his love for the people, for all that he has done for the Jewish community in town. Jesus starts to follow them on the way to the centurion’s house. For whatever reason, maybe he was embarrassed to even ask, or he didn’t want to put Jesus out, he didn’t want put Jesus in an awkward spot religiously, or he hadn’t cleaned up his house, the centurion has some hesitation about the actual visit and he sends some other friends to interrupt that journey toward his house and to tell Jesus that he didn’t have to go the trouble to coming all the way over. Because this Gentile knew he certainly wasn’t worthy of the visit. As a military guy, he understood authority and how it works, and he knew that all Jesus had to do is say the word, and it would happen, it would be done. It was a chain of command kind of thing. When Jesus hears that, hears the message about what the centurion was thinking, hears what the centurion wants him to know, hears what the centurion believes could happen, hears that all he wants is for the servant to be healed, Luke tells us that Jesus was amazed. He was amazed at that man.
That’s all it took. That’s all it took for Jesus to be amazed. No loud shout out like one of those from the demons who recognized Jesus. No strong affirmation of faith from the Gentile soldier “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner”, just a few words about command and authority. No extra effort of cutting a whole in the roof or reaching out for a garment, just a humble “no, you really don’t have to come all this way” second thought. Not much at all from the Centurion. And Jesus was amazed. The servant was healed.
When it comes to the four gospels, Jesus wasn’t amazed all that often and as it turns out, when he was amazed, it didn’t take all that much. Just the Centurion’s slight inkling, kind of half-baked notion, something other than a full formed expectation that somehow this Jesus could make that servant whole. Jesus could heal. Jesus could heal what was broken. Jesus would care for what is broken. Jesus was amazed that a far from religious, foreign, powerful, man with authority could show some sign, some intuition, some nudging inside, some belief still not put into words that Jesus and brokenness go together.
That conversation with the Centurion along the Way, it is the gospel attestation, the good news of the gospel, that this Christ send from God above, this Son of God and human brokenness, they were meant for each other. It’s not a coincidence that Jesus was astonished at the selfless, compassionate, empathetic longing for wholeness for the broken, dying, nameless, other. Hearing about the heart of the Centurion, that’s sort of, kind of like Jesus looking in the mirror. Jesus was amazed.
God, Jesus, and the brokenness of humankind. God sending Jesus smack into it all. It’s what John Calvin refers to as God’s accommodation. God in Jesus Christ coming all the way down to our humanity, all the way down to the sinful brokenness of it all. For Calvin, that’s why God through the command and promise of Christ, instituted the sacrament of communion and baptism. Because our faith itself is part of that brokenness. As Calvin writes “Our faith is slight and feeble unless it be propped up on all sides and sustained by every means, it trembles, wavers, totters and at last gives way.” So God, by God’s mercy, and in God’s infinite kindness, so comes down to us, so tempers Godself to our brokenness, that God provides this means of grace, this taste of God’s promise, this elixir of Christ’s presence. To lift us and heal us and fill us, when all is so broken.
Calvin defines a sacrament as an outward sign by which God seals in us the promise of God’s good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith. And, for Calvin, it is the chance for us, in turn, to attest to our faith. That partaking in this meal is actually an act of faith. And opportunity to attest to our faith before God, before the Savior who invites us to this Table, and indeed before the world. To attest and lift our feeble, not yet fully formed faith, our wordless, meager inkling, half-baked notion of faith, to lift our hearts before God in our eating and in our drinking. If only to show that intuition, that nudging, the longing deep within us that Jesus cares for what is broken in our lives, in our world, in our humanity. That Jesus and all this brokenness were meant for one another. That he was meant to heal all this.
Years ago after I first came to Nassau I remember a conversation with a member who wanted to express concern about communion and how we were going about it. It was actually a concern about how I was leading and inviting and directing. To be fair, it was a lovely, warm, non-critical, non-judgmental conversation. As I had always done when celebrating communion in my first congregation, I invited the congregation to hold the elements so that we might all partake together. The Nassau member wanted to point out to me that the prayer time after taking, eating, and drinking was a significant part of communion and when we partake together we sort of move on too quickly. Point well taken. In a light hearted, pastoral way, I sort of joked that you could offer the prayer before eating and drinking. “Oh, it’s not the same!” was the gentle response that came with a wave of the hand.
After this week and all the suffering and the heartbreak and anger, after the Centurion and his far from fully developed acclamation, or acknowledgment, or testimony, or prayer…after Jesus and his amazement at the slightest yearning for him to make us whole, don’t you think that eating and drinking itself is the prayer? That when nothing else comes, nothing else can be said, our eating and drinking itself is a sign of our belief, our feeble, trembling belief, that Christ comes all the way down. That Christ was made, was sent, for our brokenness.
It’s difficult to imagine Jesus being amazed by much anymore. So would you please, please, please, take and eat and drink… until he comes again.
© 2018 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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