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Real and Amazing faith!

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Galatians 1:1-12 & Luke 7:1-10
Trinity 2
(2-6-13)

Are there sometimes conversations where you don’t understand what the other person, possibly a doctor, car mechanic or computer technician’s, is saying because they’re using words that are beyond you? Could even be a vicar! Unfortunately there are words we hear often that are never really explained. One of them could be ‘faith’? Christians say ‘have faith’ but what does the word really mean?

In that passage from Luke’s Gospel Jesus is literally amazed by the faith of the centurion. Twice in the Gospels we’re told that Jesus was amazed (marvelled). Here at the faith of a Gentile; and in Nazareth, at the unbelief of the Jews (Mark 6:6). The only other person Jesus commended for having “great faith” was a Gentile woman whose daughter He delivered from a demon. Here Jesus is using this man as a model for what faith looks like. Let’s see what we can learn from him.

Firstly, although he’s a man with power and authority he doesn’t feel able to approach Jesus directly but goes via some Jewish elders. They’re happy to represent him to Jesus. They know he’s a good guy, he’s helped build a synagogue in Capernaum. He ‘deserves’ a miracle. Do we sometimes appeal to God because we feel He owes us. We’re nice, law-abiding, churchgoing folk who give to charity, we even pray and read our Bibles. Surely we deserve something?

The centurion didn’t think like that. He sent others because he knew of his own unworthiness in comparison to the greatness of Christ. He saw himself as he really was and knew he deserved nothing. Its a great hindrance to faith, approaching God as if we’re equals entering into a negotiation. Even on our best days we’re only really doing what we should and appealing to God on grounds of what we deserve is like a murderer asking for release because he’s always given up his train seat for old ladies.

The centurion saw a parallel between the way he commanded soldiers and the way Jesus commanded diseases. Both the centurion and Jesus only had to say the word and things happened. He knew that if Jesus said the word his servant would be healed. He asks with total faith in the greatness of Christ’s power and authority.

We don’t see too much of this nowadays. Little respect is shown for authority, people are arrogant, knowing ‘their rights’. Power lies in the strength of the individual. But, like it or not, we weren’t actually created with ‘rights’ and God does have overall power and authority. Respect for God is diminishing. It can be difficult to stand firm in our faith, acknowledging our weakness and God’s greatness.

If we do have faith we should show respect for His authority:

Forgiving those who’ve hurt us.

  • Befriending someone who’s not treated us well.
  • Helping others with the resources we’ve been given.
  • Telling the truth even if it makes us look bad.
  • Testifying of Him to family and friends.
  • Fulfilling obligations even when there’s other things we’d rather do.
  • Remaining sexually pure.
  • Not using His name as a profanity or meaningless expression.
  • Do what the Bible says even when its inconvenient.

Are you adjusting those commands to fit your lifestyle rather than adjusting your lifestyle to fit them? Are you looking for excuses why they shouldn’t apply to you? They’re a good test to check if we’re submitting to God’s authority & commands or trying to edit/revise them according to our preferences!

Sadly many see God’s Word as a book of wise sayings rather than the revelation of God’s heart and will for us. Many use the Bible like a catalogue: picking and choosing things which might be helpful in life. For some, Jesus is like a life coach, cheering us on to reach our goals rather than leading and guiding us. No longer the Saviour of the world who died for our sins. The focus of everything today is on us - the consumer.

The centurion’s story shows that Jesus wants followers who wholeheartedly trust and follow Him, submitting to God’s authority over their lives. People who trust His sacrifice for their sin, His directions for their lives, and His wisdom over all circumstances. This type of faith requires us to put God first and self last because we recognize His greatness and what we’re like in comparison.

Psalm 8 says: O Lord, our Sovereign how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens . . .  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.

That might seem meaningless to many today. We’re our own power and authority - and if we’re not science is. Finding people of faith is remarkably hard today. But, remember that Jesus marvelled at the faith of the centurion which was all the more remarkable because he was a soldier, trained to be self-sufficient and reliant on his power and authority. Sounds similar to today doesn’t it? And there’s more: he was a Gentile whose background was pagan, he had other gods to worship: those of ancient Rome or the Baal’s for instance.

Worshipping false gods is not new. All that’s changed is their identity. Today we worship self importance, power, authority, knowledge; physical beauty/fitness; prosperity or materialism.

In the first reading St Paul says to the Galatian church: ‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all.’ He’s warning them against being victims of people who claim to have some new and superior knowledge of the faith. If we’d also had the OT reading today it would have been Elijah and the false prophets of Baal!

Worship of other god’s is alive and well: causing many a Christian to become sick and dead. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected or bowed down before the god of science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate. We have worshipped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short - lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy and that in a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes, and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save or bring happiness to the human heart. Only God is able. It is faith in Him that we must rediscover”. . . " We must remember that it’s possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and to deny the existence of God with your life."

Many have drifted from total faith in God because there’s other things to trust in. The Jews took the centurion’s request to Jesus trusting that their religion and the centurion’s good works would be acceptable to Jesus.

But the centurion knew he wasn’t worthy. Why? Was he thinking of how he’d shouted and sworn at his troops that week? Had he remembered less-than holy motives for building the synagogue for which the elders praised him? They thought he deserved Jesus’ attention and help but he knew better. He had a God-given, honest view of himself and knew he was a sinner who needed God’s help. He knew that Jesus could help like a headwaiter giving a poorly dressed diner a coat and tie to wear in order to eat at the restaurant, Jesus gives us credit for his righteousness. Covered in his blood we are worth to stand in God’s presence.

Jesus marvelled at the centurion’s faith, exclaiming that he’d not found faith like it in all of Israel. Such faith is God-given and comes from listening to God’s Word instead of believing the hype from others that we’re good people. We might be good compared to some but we’re not good compared to God. But Jesus paid for our sins and through His Spirit lives to give us help. With Jesus our problems are trivial, because He is great.

If this centurion, without spiritual instruction, had that kind of faith how much greater ours should be. We have an entire Bible and 2,000 years of church history to encourage us.

We need to respond. To accept, or reject His authority. There’s no sitting on the fence - that’s a rejection of Jesus' authority.

Some here today will have acknowledged the need of Jesus' help in their lives. Realising He’s God and He’s called them to follow him. We must continue acknowledging His authority over every area of our lives: our thoughts, words, actions, money and motivations for living before Jesus and submitting to His authority daily.

Some will have decided to follow Jesus but the relationship’s not right. Maybe pressures of life have taken His place- but life without Jesus at the centre is no life at all.

Some have never totally accepted Jesus' authority over their lives. You may know of His teaching. You think being a Christian is about trying to live a good life. But the Bible says that being a Christian is about realising you can never be good enough for God.

The centurion realised he wasn’t. We might think he was a nice chap. He respected God, the Jewish people, and cared for his slave. But only Jesus can put us right with God. Only by accepting Jesus' authority and having the faith and trust to allow Him to be boss of all of our life makes us a Christian. Showing humility about ourself, our unworthiness before God. Recognising the authority of Jesus, and the need to say "Yes, Lord I trust you." to him.

There’s a true/famous story about trust:

In 1859 Blondin became the first person to cross a high tightrope stretched across the Niagara Falls. He did it several times, with different daring feats - in a sack, on stilts, a bicycle, in the dark, carrying a stove and cooking an omelet! Once, blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow the large crowds applause was louder than the roar of the falls! Blondin asked: "Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?" Enthusiastically they shouted, "Yes, yes, yes. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!" "Okay," said Blondin, "Who will get in the wheelbarrow?" No one did!

That paints a picture of what faith is. The crowd professed belief in Blondin’s abilities, but their actions proved otherwise.

It's one thing for us to say we believe in God but it's true faith when we put our faith and trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. When did you last climb into God’s wheelbarrow? When did you last practice your faith in God? Has lack of practical faith infected your spiritual life? Do your prayers tell God what to do or your plans focus on what you can accomplish rather than trusting in His wisdom and guidance?

Let’s take time to honestly confess our lack of faith to God. He will hear us and help us. Then, whether you’re someone who’s committed yourself to Christ and kept with it, or strayed from it or someone who’s never given your life to Christ there’s a prayer in the pew sheet for you to use if you want to. Maybe for the first time or a re-commitment to faith in Jesus. Or simply to pray for guidance or those around you.

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