41 - Centurion and Servant, July 6, 2014

Romans 6:18-23

Matthew 8:5-13

Biblical righteousness certainly does mean ethical, legal and moral purity. But it also means to have eternal life. “Righteousness does not die,” we read in Wisdom of Solomon 1:16. So, the man who follows after righteousness follows after immortal life – here is the “fountain of immortality”! The one who is righteous attains to eternal life.

Remember that the issue with Abram, when his belief in God was reckoned to him as righteousness, was that he was as good as dead because he and Sarai had no children and they were well beyond the age of childbearing. What he believed in was God’s promise to give him a son, even though he and Sarai were as good as dead. (cf. Rom 4:19) In effect, he believed that God would raise him and his wife, Sarai, from the dead and make them alive, i.e., righteous. And so, when it says, that God reckoned Abram’s faith as righteousness (Gn 15:6) it means that Abram, who had already shown himself morally and ethically pure before God, was made by God to be as good as alive, even before Sarai had conceived Isaac.

Therefore, when St Paul speaks in this morning’s epistle of the “righteousness of faith”, we understand that he is speaking of eternal life whose essential character is ethical and moral purity in the love of God that abides forever. And, when St Paul speaks about being slaves of sin or of God, he is speaking of being a slave of death or a slave of life, a slave of grief and separation, or a slave of joy and eternal life in the love of God that abides forever.

Here is the backdrop that illumines our reading of this morning’s Gospel.

A centurion is a military man of worldly power and strength. In the ancient Empire of Rome, he was a commander of 100 troops – hence, he was called a “centurion”. And yet, for all his might, the centurion in this morning’s Gospel could not save his servant from the torment of his paralysis. Against sickness and death he was powerless.

Knowing his powerlessness, the centurion in this morning’s Gospel makes himself a slave of Christ, and his servant is healed just by the word of Christ.

There are two kinds of life: the life of the world that ends in death and grief, and the life of God that ends in eternal life and joy in the love of God that abides forever. So also, there are two kinds of power: the power of the world and the power of God. The power of the world can build great and mighty towers of babel; by its might, it can impose its will on others and make them do its bidding: “I say to my servant, do this, do that, and he does it.” But the power of the world cannot create the life of righteousness, life that does not die, life that abides in love forever. The power of the Church is manifested on the Cross of our LORD Jesus Christ, in His death by which He destroys death and gives life to those who are dead. It manifests itself in righteousness: inhumility, in self-emptying and self-denial. It is the power of God’s love that abides forever, the power that creates the world from nothing, the power that heals from every form of sickness of both soul and body, that raises up to the life of God in the Spirit of God in the love of God that abides forever. It is the power of Christ the Word of God. It is the power that is in the words of Christ, His commandments that are a light on the earth. (Isa 26:9)

We make ourselves slaves to the power of the life of the world, and we become sick unto death, out of sorts, restless, anxious, angry, fearful, depressed. We make ourselves slaves to the power of Christ’s Word and, as soon as we repent truly, a peace settles over our soul, joy and love begin to grow in our heart. Neither sickness nor death can make it go away; indeed, the peace, joy and love of God only shine more brightly in the soul that has become a slave to the power of God’s word. They are the rays of righteousness shining from the heart that has become all light in the Light of God’s love that abides forever.

Brothers and sisters, we receive this power of God’s righteousness when we confess our sins and receive the forgiveness of God. We receive this power of God’s love, joy and peace when we receive and embrace the word of the Christian Faith, the Church’s holy doctrine, with all our heart. We receive this power of God’s eternal life when we receive Christ Himself in Holy Eucharist. We are raised up from the bed of our anxiety and fear when we walk in the way of Christ’s commandments. When we do what the Church tells us to do, we become strong in the righteousness of God, the power of God’s love, joy and peace that abides forever.

Everything in the Church, since she is the Body of Christ, the crucified, risen and glorified Body of Christ, everything is filled with the power of the righteousness of Christ our Savior. The Church is the Living Temple of God and the Glory of His Holy Spirit rests upon her, filling her with the power of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Her doctrines, her sacramental and liturgical worship and her ascetic disciplines are ensouled by the Holy Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead. When we submit ourselves to the Church as slaves of Christ the LORD, when we walk daily in the commandments of Christ, folding our earthly life into her heavenly Life, incorporating her heavenly Life into our earthly life, the Holy Spirit of God rests on us, brooding over us as He did the waters of creation, and He begins to create in us a clean heart and to put in us a new and right spirit. Christ begins to dwell in us, and by His Church, by His Body, He leads us to the tomb of our death as to His Tomb, putting our death to death by His death and raising us up into the righteousness of faith, the eternal life of God that lives in the Trinitarian love of God that abides forever.

Each of us was made by God as a centurion. We were made to be the ruler of all the faculties and powers of our soul and body, so that we would say to this faculty and to that, do this, do that, come here, go there, and it would do so. But, as rulers of our souls and bodies, we were made to be slaves of God, so that we could lead all our faculties and powers in submission to the righteousness of God and so become righteous in soul and body, and so attain to the eternal life of God in the Trinitarian love of God that abides forever.

But, of course, we do not submit ourselves as slaves to God. We are slaves to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. And so, the faculties and powers of our soul and body rule over us, leading us to become unrighteous, and so we are enslaved to aging and death, and we are sick with maladies of all kinds in soul and body. In this aging process that leads to death, we exist in a state that is not natural to us; for God did not make us to die. He made us for life, in the image of His own immortality. (Wisd of Sol 2:23) And so, we are uneasy, afraid, angry, depressed.

There is in us an irreducible point where our will originates. That point is our “heart”. It is the “image of God’s own immortality” in which we were created. At that point, we are free to turn this way or that way to become slaves either of the ruler of this age and death, or of God and His eternal life in love that abides forever. The Word of God comes to us at that point of our heart and calls out to us: “Repent! Turn around to the sound of my Word and be healed in soul and body.” If we want to, we can receive that word of Christ. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, quick and powerful. It cuts to the division of soul and spirit; it discerns the thoughts and intentions of our heart. (Heb 4:12) If we receive it and submit ourselves to it as its slaves, and become obedient to it, it will heal us of all our unrighteousness, all of our sickness unto death, and in the love of God it will create in us a clean heart. It will cleanse us and make us righteous, and lead us, if we will but be obedient to it every day, every hour, every minute, to the Kingdom of Heaven and to the eternal life of God to live in the love of God that abides forever. Amen.