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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How to Be Extraordinary

2016-05-29 Luke 7:1-10 How to Be Extraordinary

How to be extraordinary.

Who's counted extraordinary these days?

I think of LeBron James or Steph Curry.

They're almost superhuman.

The Williams Sisters. They're extraordinary.


Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, he's definitely not ordinary.

The centurion in the scripture we read.

He was extraordinary.

Even Our Lord thought so.

"I tell you," Jesus said, "not even in Israel have I found such faith."

High praise.

But what might be even more extraordinary than the faith is the person who had it: a Roman centurion.

A soldier. An officer. A military man.

And what's maybe even more extraordinary is that we're reading about the faith of this military man... today.

We're smack in the middle of Memorial Day weekend, when our country honors and lifts up as examples the members of our military.

Today's reading from the 3-year Lectionary of Bible texts just happens to be Jesus praising the faith of a commanding soldier, a military man, honoring him, lifting him up in example.

I did not plan it, but I'll take it.

Maybe it's luck.

Maybe it's divine intervention.

How do you know?

I guess it's a matter of faith.

Faith can make you extraordinary.

No matter what country you live for, or even die for.

Faith in Jesus can take you beyond border walls.

Faith in Jesus can take you out of your Green Zone to places where luck or the Holy Spirit (or a little of each) work in remarkable ways.


Maybe it's just a Southern thing, but it seems to me a lot of philosophers drive pickup trucks.

So much of our nation's wisdom and/or opinion is glued to their bumpers and rear windows.

Sometimes it's stuck to the helmets of motorcycle riders, too.

But those are hard to read and riders get mad when you come too close.

I was behind a truck last week with a sticker that said,

"Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American Soldier. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom."

While I'm grateful beyond words for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and of the American Soldier I would not want to equate the two.

I'm pretty sure most soldiers would agree that they are not Jesus and wouldn't want to be put on that divine pedestal.

I also can think of more than two life-saving and life-sacrificing forces.

Firefighters, police,

doctors (especially those serving in places of conflict),

teachers who pass through metal detectors every day,

and precious souls like Zaevion Dobson who give their lives so that children might live.

You could also include Native Americans marched like cattle down trails of tears and African slaves owned like chattel.

Asian railroad builders, Irish mineworkers, Mexican farm labor.

Much of our economic prosperity and international freedom was and continues to be built on top of their graves.

So is it divine intervention, personal sacrifice, hard work, or luck of birth that we're able to experience salvation and enjoy freedom in this great land?

Some of each, I suspect.

We're lucky that an Italian working for Spain mistook the Caribbean for India.

But that's a little obscure for a bumper sticker.

None of this should diminish for one second the honor due our fallen soldiers this and every Memorial Day.

In fact, it ought to increase our gratitude for those who volunteer or were drafted into service of a nation so complex yet somehow still clinging by its fingernails to the ideal that "all [people] are created equal."

Created equal, with occasional bursts of extraordinary.

The Roman centurion was also a man of stature and of service to his country.

He was, the Bible says, "a man set under authority, with soldiers under [him]; [he said,] I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes…."

And as an officer in the occupying military force, he could have said the same thing to Jesus.

He could have ordered Jesus to appear at his house and heal his slave.

But he didn't.

He had the right, but he didn't exercise it.

He had the power, but he didn't use it.

In fact, he treated Jesus as higher than himself, as above his authority, with more regard even than his country and his citizenship.

Even though he didn't need to, the centurion treated Jesus as extraordinary.

And THAT caught Jesus's attention.


If we want to speak to Jesus, what do we do?

If you want to talk to God, what do you do?

You pray. Right?

You say, "Uh, Lord, if it's not too much trouble, could you…" and then you list your need.

Usually needs, plural.

That's OK.

The Bible says, "Ask, and you shall receive" (Matt 7:7).

If you don't ask, you'll never get. Right?

What is it coaches say?

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

True in basketball, soccer, and riflery.

So, if you want to talk to God, if you want to ask Jesus something, take the shot.

He might say, "No," but he could say, "Yes."

Just ask.

Just do it.

And we do.

Americans excel at just doing it.

But back in Jesus's time, you didn't just do that.

You didn't just go ask, especially if it was someone of higher social status.

There were rules, customs.

There were strict manners that had to be followed.

It's still true in so many countries, where unlike Americans, you don't just text someone, "OMG, wat up u cute."

If you look very closely at the scripture, the centurion never even MEETS Jesus.

Never speaks to him directly.

Never says anything himself.

Starting at verse 3 it says,

When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us."

The centurion asks highly regarded elders to speak on his behalf.

He's that respectful.

It goes on in verse 6.

And 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; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.

This extraordinary, long-distance display of respect and manners astounds Jesus.

You know how much the life of a Jewish rabbi was worth to the Romans?

Not much.

They put up with the Jews.

Or they crucified them as bandits.

Jews (on the other hand) considered the Roman overlords as cursed.

Romans considered Jews, if they considered them at all, potential terrorists.

Each saw the other as The Enemy.

But look closely.

Verse 5 says of the centurion, "...he loves our people."

Maybe what really caught Jesus's attention was that he heard in the report about the centurion an echo of his own sermons.

Because, remember, it was Jesus who said (in the previous chapter, you can read it yourself when you get home),

"But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

"Do to others as you would have them do to you."

(Luke 6:27-28, 31)

Here was a Roman - a dangerous, military Roman - doing unto Jesus as Jesus preached to his own disciples to do.


Look, we don't know if the centurion actually had faith, or if he was just taking a shot, hoping he might get lucky.

But he did it with respect.

And he did it with love for those everyone told him were his enemies.

And here's something else almost as remarkable.

It's really easy to skim over, but look.

Just as the centurion never meets Jesus, Jesus never goes to the house.

Jesus never goes to the house, never meets the slave who was sick.

Verse 10 says,

When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Was it Jesus's healing?

Or did the slave just fight off an infection?

The Bible doesn't say.

If you're the person who's healed, does it matter?

Jesus healed people everywhere he went.

All the time.

Jesus healing somebody was nothing unusual.

It was ordinary.

For him.

What was extraordinary, was this soldier who defied conventional wisdom.

What Jesus found so astounding was this soldier who really practiced what he - Jesus - preached,

a man who actually loved his enemy and did good to those who would have cursed him.

THAT caught Jesus's attention.



From this military leader, we see an example of remarkable faith.

We see respect.

We see hope.

We see love for people society (and commanding officers) says are supposed to be his enemy.

If you surprise Jesus, you've gotta be pretty good.

Not just "good." Faithful. Loving.

If you want to be extraordinary, these days, it's really not that complicated.

Work hard, make a lot of money, be good-looking.

Be strong. Be vigilant.

Do unto others before they do unto you.


You've got a million followers.

You've got fans.

You're famous.

You're special.

But if you want to be extraordinary the way Jesus says, the way the Bible says, it takes a little more humility.

Actually a lot more humility.

It takes respect.

It takes love.


Love for you friends, for sure.

But also love for your enemies.

You think, who's going to notice that?

Well, evidently Jesus does.

He finds it pretty amazing.

He finds it healing.

He finds it really extraordinary.

And, I think, your enemies will, too.