(1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43, Psalm 96:1-9, Galatians 1:1-12)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/NERYglVVews)
1After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
As we gather this weekend to remember all of our nation’s soldiers who have died fighting to protect our freedoms, I thought a military themed opening illustration for this morning’s message would be particularly appropriate. There’s an old story about Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator who was famously betrayed and killed by his close friend, Brutus, and other members of his senate. Indeed, what made his betrayal so famous was due, in large part, to his equally famous reputation in leading the Roman army as its general. The story goes that when Julius Caesar once landed on the shores of Britain with his Roman legions, he took a bold and decisive step to ensure the success of his military venture. Ordering his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, he commanded them to look down at the water below. To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the channel engulfed in flames. Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat by having all the ships set ablaze. Now that his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, there was nothing left for them to do but to advance and conquer.
What this story illustrates is more than the unconventional ways Caesar used to inspire his troops into action. His methods merely reflected a deep commitment that is expected. Caesar was deeply committed to conquering the lands of Europe, northern Africa, and West Asia. He demanded that his soldiers maintain a similar commitment to the cause of conquering foreign lands. Sometimes he took measures that would ensure such commitment like bringing his solders to an island and destroying any hope of escape. They’d either advance and conquer the island’s inhabitants or they’d die trying. Retreating to familiar lands and people was no longer an option. They were committed whether they liked it or not! Of course, Roman soldiers were trained to have strong discipline and loyalty so the gesture of destroying the ships was probably just an added reassurance for Caesar that his men wouldn’t abandon him. But at the core of the bold gesture was this idea of commitment. Both Caesar and his men were committed to expanding the Roman empire.
We hear similar commitment in our readings assigned for this morning. Like Caesar, King Solomon was deeply committed to God and expanding God’s “empire,” if you were. Solomon was loyal to God, eagerly worshipping and offering praise and thanksgiving. As he prayed in our passage from Kings, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.” Solomon knew our God and all His awesome glory and might. Solomon knew there was no other God who could compare. Solomon knew the commitment God had to His beloved people. And yet Solomon also knew that God needed to be shared with others. Those who hadn’t known God needed to get to know Him. Solomon asked God to make Himself known: “…then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.” In his praying, Solomon showed both his commitment to God and to helping others come to know God. Solomon was a committed and loyal man of God.
David further mimics Solomon’s deep commitment in his psalm assigned for this morning. He, too, sang, “declare God’s glory among the nations and God’s wonders among all peoples. For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods.” Again, we hear the faithful David singing not only of God’s greatness but also of our need to get out there and sing of God’s greatness to others. We are to “sing to the Lord, bless the name of the Lord; proclaim God’s salvation from day to day.” We are to maintain the same commitment to God as God has in us…ALL of us! Believe it or not, God’s love and mercy isn’t reserved for simply the people of Israel. God’s love and mercy is for ALL people everywhere. The Israelites were simply the first people to be in committed relationship with our Lord. This isn’t to say that God hasn’t been in committed relationship with all people throughout all time and in every place. The Israelites simply came to know our God first.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes of his commitment to God and to spreading God’s Word. Like Solomon and David before him, Paul was committed to helping others come to know the love of God. He did this by sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In his letter to the congregations of Galatia, he was concerned that the good news he had shared with them had become perverted and the people were being led astray from God’s love. Ever committed to their success, Paul reached out to caution the Galatian churches about their wayward ways.
Luke recalls an encounter that Jesus had with a Roman centurion in our gospel passage. He was an unusual centurion, torn between his commitment to the Roman empire and his commitment to Jesus. He believes in Jesus and his healing powers yet his commitment to the Roman empire doesn’t allow him to fully commit to serving Jesus. As such, he sends his servants to request Jesus’ healing for his slave. Somewhat surprisingly, Jesus accommodates the centurion’s torn commitments and heals the slave from afar. Jesus goes so far as to declare, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Jesus must have heard between the lines and understood the centurion’s true commitment to Jesus and rewarded him accordingly.
Between Julius Caesar, King Solomon, David, Paul, and the Roman centurion, we get a better understanding of the importance of commitment. They were all committed men, each to a cause and person larger than themselves. For Caesar and the centurion, that was to the Roman empire. For Solomon, David, Paul, the centurion, and Jesus himself, that was to God and God’s Word. They all help us to reflect on our own commitments. What are we committing our time and efforts to with our lives? Are we committing them to family? Career? Home? Lawn? Friends? Education? God? What do we commit ourselves to and why? We just set out on our long journey through the Pentecost season. The next season of the church year is Advent. It is a season of discipleship…of learning and walking with Jesus as we develop our faiths. It is right and fitting that we take the time to reflect on our commitments as we set out on the journey. This is a time in the church year that demands commitment from us; commitment to Jesus, commitment to understanding Jesus’ teachings, and commitment to sharing the love of Jesus to others. We need to stay committed in the long season ahead.
Keep in mind that beneath any strong commitment is a strong faith. We won’t be able to stay committed unless we also maintain a strong faith. Sure, our faith will develop over time but we have to first live by faith. We have to prioritize faith in whatever commitment we find ourselves in; family, career, home, friends, or God. Without faith, our commitments will naturally fall apart. Let us nurture our faiths, grow our faiths, and test our faiths so that we can approach our commitments with…a strong faith.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit