The Shannons took a welcome vacation this past week, so Leonard Armstrong served as our stand in for the sermon. Brad himself was back to lead the service and welcomed us warmly. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."
1. The Harvest Festival is coming quickly, September 11. It is an important piece of our yearly calendar, letting the community know that God's love is free. Volunteers are still needed for various tasks. And be sure to invite your friends.
2. Volunteers for the nursery and for Sunday school can sign up on the sheets in the back or the sanctuary. Thank you to all who are able to contribute their time in this manner.
After a time of worship and the offering, Brad read to us from Matthew 16:21-28. The many needs in our congregation were lifted up in prayer. Leonard then took the podium to give the message.
Leonard began by thanking us for letting him speak in the church he was carried into, which gave us a chuckle. On a more serious note he followed this with the observation that while Christian faith is an individual matter, it is something we live out together.
The springboard passage for today's message was Luke 7:1-10, the story about the faith of the centurion.
Leonard began by explaining the concept of "conversational bias" which is essentially our tendency to not understand what we are hearing or reading because of the psychological grid through which we perceive and interpret things. Sometimes this colors the way we read the Scriptures.
In this passage a centurion whose valued servant was ill and about to die sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to heal the man. Jesus headed over to the centurion's house, but while still on the way some friends of the centurion came out to relay a message to Jesus. He said that he wasn't worthy to have Jesus come to his house, but knowing that Jesus like himself was under authority, Jesus could just say the word and his servant would be healed.
Jesus was amazed at this centurion's understanding of faith. It is one of two places where Jesus was amazed, the other being an incident in which He was amazed at a lack of faith.
Centurions were part of the Roman legion, and not popular in Israel. He would have been the equivalent of a company commander in our own military, with a hundred men under him. He, being under Roman authority knew how authority worked and that Jesus was under authority.
What does authority mean? To answer this Leonard directed us to Ephesians 5:22ff, where Paul writes about the relationship between husbands and wives.
The passage is controversial, but is also used outside the manner intended. Recently Michele Bachmann was asked in an interview if she would submit to her husband while president because the Bible says to do so here. Leonard noted that a similar red herring was raised when John F. Kennedy ran for president. Would his allegiance be to America or the Pope?
We were reminded to keep the context in mind. In the Roman world it really was a man's world. Women had no rights. To a remarkable extent this passage demands that husbands love their wives. She is important. And the notion that wives respect their husbands follows. Interestingly, this difference between the genders is relevant to this day. Women want to feel loved, men want to feel respected.
The notion of submission to authority did not apply strictly to this marriage relationship, it was part of something much larger. The crusty old centurion understood this. Jesus was here under authority. And had he been acquainted with it later, he would have understood what Paul wrote in Philippians 2 about Jesus...
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Leonard, who himself spent 25 years in the military in one capacity or another, understood the nature of authority, as did that centurion whose faith so amazed Jesus. Jesus was a man under authority, and we ourselves need to be under His authority.
The sermon was seasoned with many anecdotes not conveyed here, but gave a good flavor to the "meal."