The Centurion and a Bad Week

4th Sunday after Pentecost. Holy Wonderworking Unmercenaries Cyrus and John

Well, I must confess to you that my preparations for today’s sermon have been affected by the week we’ve just had. In one week we were treated, if-you-will, to a host of passions from every political, social, and religious front. We saw the aftermath of the senseless murder of 9 people in a bible study in South Carolina. Immediately the call went out to ban a flag. A flag. Thus began a serious of discussions and postings and accusations of racism or heritage. What is right? What’s the flag really stand for? Is it really offensive or do people really just want to be offended? Do we even know our own history? Whose history do we quote? If I disagree with the Confederate Battle Flag, am I besmirching our common heritage? If I think the flag should be left alone, am I glorifying slavery? Have we yet come to terms with the crimes of the Old South? Are reparations necessary? What’s the answer?

And as we were watching the hysteria building around a second “War Between the States”, we witnessed the Supreme Court decide to legalize same-sex marriage, and the vitriolic response to it. Some thought it was about time; that it was, and is, time to stop oppressing gays with religious intolerance. Some think that surely this spells the doom of our country, as if this one case cements our fate and is the catalyst for God’s abandoning of us. There were banners, and pictures, and exuberance, and slogans like “equality for all” and “love wins” and the like. I would like to take issue with this last one, and so remind us of something from the Gospel lesson today. Love most certainly did not win in any of this.

You see, in order for love to be love, it requires participation in Love Himself. Some claim to love a flag, to love equality, to love this, or that, or something else. They—we—claim “love” all the live-long day, and for the most part we haven’t got the slightest clue of what we’re talking about. Take this as an admonition, dear ones, meant for all of us. This past week, we may have said a number of things, and felt a host of feelings. We may have argued or ridiculed. We may have congratulated friends and loved ones in the wake of newly defined freedoms. We may have pontificated on various laws and histories. But in any of this, can we truly say that we loved?

We began arbitrarily taking down confederate flags and toying with the idea of digging up confederate generals. Many offered rebuttals against this reaction, and then there were talking points about how the South is still racist and a host of other things and so argument took over, and in all of this we completely forgot the fact that 9 people were shot to death while they studied the Scriptures. In South Carolina, people welcomed a young man into their spiritual home, and by all accounts treated him with dignity and respect, and he repaid that kindness with death. Is this bickering what their deaths are? Is this how we honor them? Think for a moment what should have been a Christian response to the senseless death of 9 people, and let us ask ourselves how we reacted this week.

And close on the heels of this tragedy and the ensuing madness, the Supreme Court issued an edict about same-sex marriage, and such malice, confusion, and delusion filled our screens, our ears, and our minds, that we can’t tell which way is up. Some of us will feel justified in the decision, thinking that our way of thinking is correct. This is a delusion. Some of us will feel a perverse sense of satisfaction because we were “right” in thinking our country is going to hell in a handbasket. This is also delusional.

In the midst of all this, those of us who live in Cleveland: were we aware that 6 people died in a massive car pile-up just to the south of us on Thursday night—one of whom was the band director at the school across the street from this church? Were we aware that as we were celebrating the legalization of an unfulfillable passion, or participating in a host of other, already legal, unfillable passions, that ISIS attacked a resort in Tunisia, and a mosque in Kuwait? They decapitated people with explosives, crucified teenage boys for eating during Ramadan, and filled cars with people and blew them up with grenade launchers, and drowned others in cages. Yet, we in our hubris and fawning over our own intellect and progressivism filled the airways, our minds, our mouths, and our ears with inane blather.

Did you know that in the midst of all this idolatry of theocracies and whatever gender, orientation, religion, philosophy, political party, or anything else we identify as, there are still 60 million refugees worldwide, and that number continues to rise? Orthodox priests are still missing. There are people who’ve had their children kidnapped, pressed into military service, or raped. There are people in this city who have no home or food, and we can’t get past our own self-love to pay attention.

In the Gospel reading today, the centurion’s servant is sick; paralyzed and in terrible distress. In the Greek, the word used here is βασανιζόμενος which means that his servant was tortured and tormented in his condition. In response to this affliction, the centurion humbly sought out Christ the Giver of Life and pleaded with Him to heal his beloved servant. He recognized his own position, and realized that even with his social and political status he could do nothing in his own power for his tormented servant. He could not change anyone’s state of existence. He could not heal, nor could he alleviate the torment. What he could do, however, was pray, and this is precisely what has been missing for us.

You see, when we indulge the passions, glorify those who do, or celebrate the new ways in which to indulge those passions, we cannot pray. When we judge, malign, threaten, or spend our time contriving arguments against someone else’s sins, we cannot pray. When we belittle people with whom we disagree; when we insult them for their faith, or lack thereof; when we are so filled with arrogance and pride, we cannot pray.

Love demands that we give up our pride; that we deny ourselves; that we see people as Christ sees them. There are many people on every side of every issue that are in desperate need of our prayers, our patience, and our love. They are tormented by their passions (as we all are), or they are tortured by lawless and bloodthirsty men. They are paralyzed in fear and despair. And where is the Christian? Who will act as the centurion today and bring the broken, the paralyzed, the tormented before the Physician of our souls and bodies? Who will offer them up to God? Yet we cannot pray and bring them before Christ with our argument and judgment. Nor can we bring them before Christ by celebrating their unrestrained pursuit of the passions.

All of this has been missed these past days. We have allowed ourselves to be distracted by the enemy. It is not his tactical genius that has won the day, however. After all, we were never forced to forget the afflicted and tormented. No, we chose to forget. We took our minds and hearts off of Christ and delved deep into the well of our own egos. But today is a new day. It is the Day of the Lord. The sun has risen, and we stand and worship the King of Glory. Here and now we are given the opportunity to set things right.

We are given the gift of remembrance so that we may now bring before our God the needs of the people. We can pray for the lost, the passionate, the grieving, the dead, the truly oppressed, the decision makers, the back biters, the know-it-alls, and all the rest. We can lay aside all earthly cares, and enter into the wedding feast of the Lamb with thanksgiving and intercession.

Beloved, let us repent of our negligence. Let us repent of our love of self and our pride. Let us repent that we have not offered our brothers and sisters up to Christ in intercessory prayer. Let us repent for our lack of love. Let us, today, make a fresh start, and reorient our lives towards Christ. Let us become as the centurion, and pray, so that those whom we love may be delivered from paralysis and torment.