Luke 7:1-10 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
We have heard a great deal about “safe spaces” this past year. A safe space is a place on a college campus where students can relax and fully express themselves without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe.
When professors or guest speakers propose opposing viewpoints, then the students can flock to their safe spaces where everyone agrees with them and there is no opposition or hurt feelings.
Brown University in Rhode Island equipped their safe space with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music … and a video of frolicking puppies.
The safe spaces of this Millennial generation are far different from the safe spaces of those whom we remember this Memorial Day weekend. Those who fought and died to protect our freedoms. They were made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and definitely unsafe. For they found their safe spaces on beaches, in burned out buildings, and in foxholes.
Whether we are part of the Millennial generation or the Greatest generation or anywhere in between, as Christians, we find our safe spaces not in foxholes or in videos of frolicking puppies. We find out safe space right here in church. For this is the place where faith is created in baptismal waters. This is the place where our faith is fed at the Lord’s Table. This is the place where our faith is renewed as our sins are forgiven before the Lord’s altar. This is the place where our faith is strengthened as we hear God’s Word proclaimed to us from the lectern and pulpit.
The past few weeks we have started examining symbols within our church. Last week we looked at the symbols of the Trinity above the arches of the hand, crown, and dove. On Pentecost, I explained the symbolism of the processional cross. This morning I want to explain to you the power and symbolism of the lectern and the pulpit.
The word “lectern” is Latin for “to read.” The lectern is where the Scripture lessons are read for worship. We read the Scriptures in our bulletins. We hear the Scriptures as the pastor reads the lessons. We speak and sing the Scriptures back to God in the Verse of the Day and the Psalm of the Day. All of this helps to reinforce God’s Word into our ears, from our mouths, into our minds and in our hearts. Our faith grows more each time we hear, read, speak, and sing God’s Word.
The word “pulpit” means “platform” in the Latin. A raised pulpit like Epiphany’s visually displays the importance of the sermon as God’s Words is applied directly to our lives by the pastor. A large, raised pulpit like ours speaks a visual message about the authority of the Word. It underscores what the pastor says in the sermon: “What I am saying to you here is what the Lord says in His Word!”
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus instructed His followers, “Preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Martin Luther wrote, “When God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together” (Luther’s Works, Vol 53, p. 11). The Apology of the Augsburg Confession includes in its German text: “There is nothing that so attaches people to the church as good preaching” (Apology, Art 24:51). Considering what the Scriptures, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions have to say about the value of preaching, it would be strange indeed if preaching did not occupy a prominent place in Lutheran worship. Our lectern and pulpit visually proclaim to everyone who worships in this safe space that God’s Word is read, preached, and proclaimed in this church.
The Roman centurion in Capernaum also had a safe space. It was seeing, speaking to, hearing, and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The centurion is one of the unique characters in the Gospels because he was not raised as a believer. He wasn’t born into the Jewish nation. In fact, it was just the opposite. He grew up in the Roman Empire where they worshiped many false gods and had little to do with the Jewish God of the Old Testament. But somewhere along the line, God’s Word had touched the centurion’s heart and the Holy Spirit had converted him into a proselyte, a Gentile believer. As a proselyte, the centurion was not circumcised and therefore could not worship God in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. However, he was welcome to worship in a local synagogue. So he built one to worship God in.
While many the centurion’s Jewish neighbors rejected Jesus, the centurion accepted Him by faith. It is quite possible that the centurion was standing in the synagogue congregation months earlier, listening to Jesus preach and then witnessed Him driving the demon out of a possessed man.
Perhaps that event, in connection with hearing Jesus read the Scriptures from the lectern in the synagogue brought him to faith in the Lord. It was with that faith that the centurion sent some elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to heal his sick servant.
As Jesus was approaching the centurion’s home, the centurion sent some friends to say to Him, “Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth, was amazed at this centurion’s faith. In fact, Jesus told the crowd, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Do you want a stronger, deeper and greater faith? Would you like Jesus to commend you for your amazing faith? If you want a stronger faith, you need to realize how weak you are. If you want a deeper faith, you need to recognize how shallow you are. If you want a distinguished faith, you need to admit how depraved and decrepit you are. If you want a greater faith, you need to confess how lowly you are.
It seems contradictory, but a great faith begins with humility.
That faith comes, not by expecting Jesus to come to us, but by humbling approaching Him. That faith comes not by demanding material blessings and physical health, but quietly sitting in pews week after week, hearing Jesus speak His Words to us from the lectern and pulpit. Our faith becomes weak as we are out in the dangerous spaces of the world as the devil, demons, governmental decrees, unchristian lawsuits, and atheistic friends attack us, our morals, and our faith. But our faith becomes stronger against all these threats as we find rest and comfort in our safe space – here in church. For it is in this place where we hear God’s Word, speak the Lord’s Scriptures back to Him, sing His praises, have His baptismal waters poured over us, and eat His sacred meal.
We come to Jesus as the centurion did – empty handed, in need, an outsider. We come to Jesus, not promoting all the great things we have done for Him this past week, but admitting all the shameful things we have done to Him and all the embarrassing things we have failed to do for Him over the past few days. We confess that we are damnable sinners, with nothing good within us. We are not worthy to have Jesus come under our roof … nor are we worthy to come under His. He comes to us, not because we are worthy, but so that He can make us worthy in Him. He comes to us, not because we are righteous, but because we are in need of His forgiveness. He comes to us, not because we are healthy, but so that He can rescue us from our eternal deathbed.
Faith – the kind the centurion had – doesn’t trust in a God who does things because we deserve them. Faith trusts that even though we are not worthy, we can be certain Jesus will save us because that’s what His Father sent Him to do. Do you see the difference? We don’t hope that we are good enough for God to love. Rather, we are confident that our worth is in Christ, who obeys His Father and dies on the cross for unworthy sinners.
“Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The centurion trusted the authority of Jesus and His Word. The centurion didn’t need for Jesus to go to his house and lay hands on his dying servant. He was being respectful of Jesus and his Jewish friends because he knew it was not right for Jesus to enter into the house of an unclean Gentile. But mainly, the centurion knew that he wasn’t worthy of the honor of having the Son of God enter his home. He desired only a word from Jesus. That would be enough. He also knew that Jesus had authority in His words. The authority to drive out demons and heal the sick. The authority to cure lepers and the lame. He had the authority of the heavenly Father behind His words – for all authority in heaven and on earth has been given Him by His Father. When Jesus spoke, it was if God Himself was speaking … and He was!
Have you ever thought about how powerful a word spoken at just the right time is? It is said that on some of the Alpine slopes at certain times in the year, guides forbid travelers to speak a word. They fear the mere tremor of the human voice will loosen snow and bring down a deadly avalanche. If that is how powerful a human voice can be, imagine how powerful the voice of Jesus is.
If you want your faith to be stronger, deeper and greater, it comes from hearing the voice of Jesus – daily, weekly, regularly, spoken, read, sung. We all need to find a safe space like the centurion did. That safe space is Jesus. It is here in church as Jesus calms your fears, forgives your sins, cleanses your conscience, encourages your Christian living, and strengthens your faith. There is authority in those words. When the pastor speaks God’s words to you from the lectern and pulpit, it is as Jesus Himself is speaking them to you … and He is!
There are some students in college who are clamoring for safe spaces. That’s because they don’t want to be challenged in their thinking. Our safe space is exactly the opposite. We come into church expecting to be challenged. We have been infected by the world’s behaviors and our sinful nature’s immorality all week. We need to have those behaviors and lack of morality challenged. We need to humbly admit our weaknesses and failures. We need to hear God point out our sins and then hear Him graciously forgive those sins.
The world is wicked and evil and dark. And it seems to becoming even more so every day. It is not a safe space for Christians. But this place is. That’s because Jesus is here. He is speaking through His servant at the lectern and from the pulpit. He is commanding and demanding, loving and forgiving, comforting and consoling. He is giving you a safe space from everything out there. A safe space where we can tell Him, “Just say the word …” Then we sit back and listen. And our faith becomes greater. Amen.