41 - The Centurion, July 10, 2011

Romans 6:18-23

Matthew 8:15-23

“Only say the word, and my servant will be healed,” says the centurion to the Savior. And then he goes on to qualify his meaning: “For I, too,” he says, “am a man under authority, and I have soldiers under me. I say to this one, Go, and he goes, and to this one, Come, and he comes, and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.” The centurion is talking about submission and obedience to those in authority over you. He himself, he says, is under authority; i.e., he himself must answer to the officer who is above him, even as he expects obedience from his servants who are under him. In this context of military submission and obedience, the centurion says to the Savior, “Only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

And St Paul writes to the Roman Christians this morning, “Having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Before, you presented your members as slaves to uncleanness, and to what is not holy. Now, present yourselves as slaves to righteousness.” Here, too, the note we hear is of obedience. In the Gospel, we see how the centurion’s deferential obedience to the word of the Savior brings about the healing of his servant. In St Paul’s epistle to the Romans, we learn that making ourselves slaves to righteousness, i.e., submitting ourselves in obedience to the righteousness, the holiness of God, has the fruit of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Submitting ourselves in obedience to what is not holy or clean or of God – which is to be disobedient to God – has as its fruit death.

In our Scripture readings this morning, then, we learn the power of obedience. We learn that we cannot live except as a slave, obedient either to God and His righteousness, or to the evil one and his uncleanness. Either we are eating from the tree of good and evil in disobedience of the commandments of God, or we are eating from the Tree of Life in obedience to the commandments of God. The power of obedience is such that if we are obedient to the word of God, we will be healed of all our sin, of all that is making us dark, confused, depressed, angry. And beyond that besides, we will be given the gift of eternal life. We will be healed of death, the fruit of our disobedience.

As we come away from Pentecost and commemorate different groups of saints each Sunday, I read the Scripture lessons of these Sunday mornings as instructions on how we can become saints; i.e. holy as God is holy, having received in the sacraments of the Church the Heavenly Spirit. In this morning’s Scripture lessons, I hear the Church teaching us on the critical importance of obedience to the Church as to Christ, for the Church is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all; and in her word of teaching and preaching, we are hearing the word of Christ Himself, words that Christ Himself receives from the Father.

Obedience to God is critical because it heals and raises us up so that we are granted to become partakers of God Himself in His own uncreated life. Obedience to God is so healing because obedience is the expression of love. God is love. And, He made us in His own image. He made us in love, so that the principle of our being is love. When we obey the word of God, we are presenting our members as slaves to the love of God. And, if we do as He commands us, we will be doing deeds of love – not human, sentimental love, but divine love. We will be speaking words of love, the love of God. And as we love God in whose image we are made, we become aligned with the principle of our being. We become whole, we become sane, balanced, healthy psychologically, mentally, physically and spiritually.

If we are not presenting ourselves in obedience to the word of God as slaves of God, then who or what are we submitting to? What is the law, what is the philosophy, the view of reality that is our master, that is shaping and influencing how we think about ourselves, about others, about meaning, and that is guiding us in our conduct, in our words and in the choices we make on how we are going to spend our life in this world? Here, I’m simply repeating the point I hear St Paul making: we are by nature slaves. We are not our own masters. We exist as servants of some master. Either we are presenting ourselves as slaves to God or to some other master that is not God. And, only obedience to the word of God makes us well, makes us whole and holy, and raises us up to life, for the word of God is the word of divine love, and the love of God is the principle of our being.

Consider the power of obedience. Even God is obedient. That is to say, God the Son is obedient to God the Father. In His obedience to the Father, the Son brought the world into being by His word. Again, in His obedience to the Father, the Son became flesh and dwelt among us. And, in the flesh, He was obedient even to the point of death on the Cross, and in that obedience on the Cross, He destroyed death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs. In other words, the obedience of the Son of God brought about the recreation of the world. Indeed, it “finished” the creation of the world; it completed and perfected the creation of the world, for by His obedience, the Son of Man loved God as God had loved man, and so God and man were united in love in the mystery of Christ. The creation that was brought into being from out of nothing in the mystery of God’s love was made complete. It became perfect, for it is now united to God in the love of God and man through the mystery of the blessed Panagia and her Son and our God, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Word of God who was obedient to the Father and brought the world into being and then delivered us from the consequences of our disobedience to God is the word that we receive in the Church. We receive that word in the Scriptures of the Church, in the prayers of the Church, in the doctrines of the Church and in the preaching of the Church and finally, above all, in the mysteries, the sacraments of the Church. We hear that word with our ears. It sows a vision of reality that our minds can dwell on and that can guide us in the choices we make on how to spend our life in this world. And, finally, above all, we eat and drink that word in the joy of Holy Eucharist. How can we receive this word of God, this word of the Church, this word that is the word of obedience to God, if we are not practicing obedience to God; if we are living as our own masters? How can we receive this word of God that is by its very essence the love of God if we are not working to repent and to turn our love around so that we are presenting ourselves as slaves to the God who is the Father of that word that we receive in the Church?

Is it not so that the more we love God, the more His Son needs only to “say the word” and we will do it, simply because He said it. We will do it because we love Him as He has loved us. We will hang on His every word. We will seek out His Word. We will pray all the more earnestly to Him, “Lord, teach me Thy statutes, make me to understand Thy commandments, make me to know Thy precepts.” And, as we receive His word in our minds and our hearts so that they become our master – they and not ourselves, not the wisdom of our own opinions, our own ideas, but Him who alone is the Wisdom of God – the saints of the Church bear witness to us that we will begin to become well. The mark of our recovery from our former life of disobedience is the love for Christ that begins to grow within us, and the desire to love Christ more; and with that love for Christ there will be a joy, a peace and a serenity that are the marks of the uncreated life of God. It is the witness to us, say the saints, that even now we are being granted to become partakers of God in the joy of His own eternal, uncreated life. There is joy in that life because it is a life of communion, a fellowship of lover and beloved. That love and that joy that begin to grow in us as make ourselves obedient to the word of God bear witness to us of the healing and life-creating power of the cross of Christ. In the love of Christ, let us resolve to unite ourselves to Christ, to take up our cross by practicing obedience to His word, to His Holy commandments, that as we are united to Him in a death like His, so we may be united to Him in a Resurrection like His, a union of love, joy and peace in the eternal, uncreated life of God. Amen.