Archive for August, 2017

Psalm 26:1-7

August 30, 2017

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;

I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds. Psalm 26:1-7

Somewhere along the way we come across the crazy idea that life is supposed to be fair. It is a crazy idea. Life isn’t fair any more than all trees should be evergreens or all people should be a certain color. God creates diversity, not sameness. If anything is fair along the way, it is because we decided to apply the concept we call “fairness” to that particular situation.

Floods teach us that life isn’t fair. Floods expose the geographical realities imposed on us by gravity. We made about 160 calls to families in our church today and again I was reminded of how fundamentally unfair life is. Many told us that the water came within inches of entering their home but they came out dry. Others said that theirs was the only home on the block not to flood. That isn’t fair but it isn’t supposed to be fair. It is what it is.

My daughter lives in my old house. When Allison hit Houston back in 2001 I got about two inches of water in half of the house. I had to tear out the carpet and install tile. It was a nice upgrade. This time my daughter lost a car they just bought last week and had over 4 feet of water in the house. It will probably be days before we can even get to it to start cleaning it up. Kelley and I weren’t hurt at all. Our street didn’t even flood. That isn’t fair. But it is what it is.

The Psalmist invites God to “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.” Disasters like this flood are truly a time of testing. Testing not as in trying to get all the answers right but testing as in removing the impurities from metal, exposing the depths of our character.

I read about things like people looting, or cutting in line for food at shelters, or making things difficult for volunteers and first responders, or second guessing political leaders who are truly trying to do their best, or people scamming those hit by floodwaters, and it makes me angry. I wonder what happened in the lives of people to twist their characters into something cruel and greedy and self-centered. Something that just gives in to sin rather than fights against it. Something that just doesn’t care anymore. Something that can use but no longer love.

I think about the conversations I had yesterday with people from our church. Those who were flooded and lost nearly everything told me “it’s just stuff, we’ll be OK”. Those who came out dry told me, “Just let me know what we can do to help.” A leader of our Stewardship Committee spent Monday and Tuesday helping the Bellaire Fire Department rescue people. He walked alongside his kayak bringing senior citizens to safety. He told me “it was scary when the water was over my head and I couldn’t touch.” THAT is Christian character in action.

Yes, trials do test our faith. Sometimes we come out wanting. Sometimes we need the witness of others to kick us in the pants and get us into the game. And sometimes we are brought to a place where we realize that we really do believe “it’s just stuff.” We fight against sin with love.

The storm is largely over. At least for us in Houston. Now the recovery begins. Like just about every injury in life, the recovery takes a whole lot longer. It isn’t fair, it just is what it is. And God will see us through.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, when our patience wears thin, give us struggles to make us wait. When we recognize our blessings, challenge us to share. Use us, as your hands and arms and feet, to lift up those who have been beaten down. Test our faith and see us through. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Psalm 46:1-5

August 29, 2017

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalm 46:1-5

Tuesday morning in Houston and the worst of the storm isn’t over yet. The movement has been from fear to misery. The volume of water and the extent of the flooding is beyond imaginable. The primary shelter for the city was designed to accommodate 5000 people. This morning there are over 9000 people there. That is just one of dozens of shelters. Soon they will all be full.

A disaster like this reminds us how dependent we are on one another for the simple basics of everyday life. Not just now but always.

This morning a mother was interviewed at a local shelter. She was rescued from her home along with four little children, her son and her nephews. The rescue crew had to leave the other men behind as their initial focus is on children, the elderly, and those with special needs. The mom showed us the little bottles of prepackaged formula available at the shelter – she said that her son alone would drink four of them at a time. All four children would need several diapers a day. Thousands of families are just like her.

No one in this city will be untouched by this storm. Every family will either be flooded or will have close family or friends who are flooded. It will take a long time before we get back to the normal rhythms of life.

Psalm 46 reminds us that God is a very present help in trouble. People are experiencing that all over town. Courageous volunteers using boats to rescue people from homes. Police officers, firemen, National Guardsmen. Neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers. God is present in all of that. It is the sort of thing that we talk about all the time in church but we don’t know it until we know it. We know it when we need it.

Living in a big city is a mixed bag. Surrounded by people, you seldom come across anyone you know. People come here because this is where the jobs are – and the traffic and the complexity and all of the difficulties in finding ways for millions of people to share the same spaces and resources. Then disasters strike and the city takes on a wholly different character. It is good to be reminded that God is in the midst of the city.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, though the waters rage and rain still falls, we pray this morning for your continued presence and help for those who need it the most. Unleash the force of self-giving love as people help people to get through this flood. Protect those who find themselves in shelters and those prepared to be helpful to them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 40:1-4

August 28, 2017

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. Psalm 40:1-4

The other day it occurred to me that waiting for a hurricane is like waiting to be punched in the nose in ultra-slow motion. You know it is going to come. You know it is going to very likely be very bad. There is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to stop it. All you can do is prepare the best you can – stock up on food, water, and emergency basics. Then you wait to see how bad it will be. If it is bad, it will be bad for weeks or months. Hurricane Harvey is proving the worst ever.

On Friday, for the first time in my 30 years of ministry, we canceled Sunday worship and everything else we had planned for the weekend. We all went home and we waited for it to hit. Hit it did.

Hurricanes are heartless. The damage is indiscriminate. First the wind, then the rain, then the flooding. Hurricanes expose realities that we generally are oblivious to. We don’t notice the high places in neighborhoods until every house is flooded except for those two over there. We don’t notice the work of all the civil engineers who planned for future water retention until their systems work…or fail…or threaten to fail.

We don’t pay much attention to disaster relief agencies until we need them.

Now Houston needs it all. We can trust that anyone who has ever flooded before will definitely flood again. And many who have escaped previous flooding will now have their turn.

This morning we are still waiting to see how bad it is and how bad it will be. We still have a few more days to go. Some people are still waiting to be rescued. Some people who evacuated are waiting to see when they can go home. And some people are heeding the advice of the experts – stay in place, don’t go out on the roads, and wait until the roads clear before we go anywhere.

I have already heard from people asking how they can help. Right now, all people can do is pray or donate money to others who are already in position to help. We will know more by the end of the week but, for now, we just wait.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we pray this morning for the health and well-being of all of those who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. We especially pray for the first responders and those still waiting to be taken to safer places. Give us patience and assurance that the rains will stop and the recovery will begin. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 9:9-13

August 24, 2017

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:9-13

Where in the world did anyone ever get the idea that “good” people go to church and “bad” people don’t? This idea – held in far too many hearts – requires ignoring every major Bible story that I can think of and certainly requires that we completely ignore the ministry of Jesus.

Is it possible that Christians, well-meaning and maybe even well-intentioned Christians, can hold ideas near and dear to their hearts that require them to ignore the ministry of Jesus? Yes, it seems quite possible. Sneakily, eerily, tragically, possible.

Tax collectors were universally hated in Jesus’ day. They bribed their way into their roles as collaborators to the occupying Roman powers. They extorted money from their fellow Jews as virtually everything came attached with a Roman tax…and the highest surcharges that the tax collectors could skim and get away with. They were backed up by the muscle of the Roman military. They were present even in the smallest villages.

Imagine the shock spreading through the people following Jesus when he approached Matthew’s table. Instead of criticizing him for his evil occupation, Jesus says “Follow me.” Instead of telling Jesus to shove off, Matthew immediately leaves his table behind. Now this is a surprise!

But it fits! It fits with a Biblical narrative that begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave his childhood home and travel to a distant land. And he does. God’s call to Moses, a murderer hiding out behind a flock of sheep. And Moses goes and does what God wants. David, from shepherd to king. Peter, James, John and the others, from the obscurity of fishing for fish to the notoriety of fishing for people. Paul, from Jewish supremacist to Christian missionary. A radical invitation extended to just the right misfit who then abruptly, immediately, responds.

Jesus goes beyond calling followers, he eats among friends. He moves from the immediacy of call and response to the intimacy of sharing a meal around a table. With a very mixed crowd.

Why? “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The guest list in Jesus’ mind doesn’t seem to be divided into the “good” or the “bad” but the willing and the unwilling. Between those who respond to Jesus’ invitation to come to dinner and those who prefer to eat elsewhere. Because, in the end, you gotta eat somewhere.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for the invitation to join you at your table. Thank you for reaching through the ages, through the crowds, to notice a sinner like me, call me by name, and invite me to follow. Thank you for willingness, fleeting and fickle though it be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 9:1-7

August 23, 2017

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he then said to the paralytic—’stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home.

When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. Matthew 9:1-7

At first glance it seems strange that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth upon seeing a paralyzed man carried into his presence are “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” That isn’t at all what anyone would suspect. Maybe a word of compassion or empathy? Maybe a heart-felt conversation – Tell me a bit about your suffering. What happened that put you on this bed? Instead, Jesus instantly offers a word of forgiveness. What do you think about that?

Suppose you were that man. Suppose that you suffered a debilitating stroke or were in a car accident that left you suddenly paralyzed. It is hard to imagine but it happens every day to someone, somewhere. What would you be thinking then?

I put myself in that position and I know that I’m no different than most people. I would be angry at God and angry at myself and angry at the world. And I also know that I would internalize that anger. I would be wondering what I did wrong that I would deserve such a fate. And if Jesus showed up at my hospital door I would be much more interested in being able to walk again – which I would see as a miracle – and much less interested in a word of forgiveness – which I largely have come to take for granted. Forgiveness, I would think, is easy. Walking again would be tough.

But the scribes aren’t seeing this scene from the point of view of the paralyzed man. They are just sniffing around for another gotcha! moment to hold against Jesus. Jesus goes against their theories about God. They are in their heads, protecting their theology, blind to the pain of the poor guy on the bed. Jesus is in their heads too. He sees just what is going on. So he backs up his healing words with a healing deed. “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.”

Jesus has authority because Jesus is the Author of life. He is the source and the ground of our being.

Jesus sees our reality far more deeply than we do. He sees our brokenness in mind, body, and spirit. He takes our sin from more seriously than we do. What we might want to hide and deny and run from, Jesus walks straight into. He cuts through the layers of what paralyzes us and offers a new path of wholeness. Of holiness. His voice cuts through the ages. Stand up!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we need a far deeper faith than playing theological head games. We need a much deeper trust than mouthing words can take us. We need you at the deepest levels of what separates us from you and from others. We need healing from whatever holds us back and holds us down and paralyzes us. Say the word that we might stand up. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 8:28-34

August 22, 2017

When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs.

Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood. Matthew 8:28-34

Jesus and his disciples have now crossed the Sea of Galilee, landing on the shores of the Gadarenes. We have all heard of this area – the Golan Heights – now held under Israeli control after the Six Day War in 1967. In Jesus’ day, it was Gentile territory. He didn’t belong there and had no good reason to go there. Except to do some good.

Mark (Mark 5:1-20) and Luke (Luke 8:26-39) also tell this story but Matthew shortens its telling and adds emphasis by telling us that there were two possessed men, not just one, living among the tombs. This little detail adds authority to the story because Matthew’s Jewish readers always assumed that it takes two witnesses to establish truth (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15.)

Surprisingly, these demoniacs immediately recognize Jesus as the “Son of God.” Unlike the Jewish religious leaders, the demons troubling a couple of outcast Gentiles see Jesus for who he is. But just like those same leaders, the demons recognize Jesus as a threat to their power. Here is where the story takes a surprising twist.

The demons ask Jesus that he cast them into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus does what they ask. What’s up with that? For Jews, pigs were unclean and forbidden. For Gentiles, they were bacon for breakfast and ham for dinner. For Jewish readers, Jesus killed two birds with one stone. For the local villagers, Jesus destroyed their cash crop. In the end, Jesus isn’t welcome in either place. He can’t win for losing.

Except for the healed one(s). In Mark and Luke, the healed man wants to leave with Jesus but Jesus tells him to stay at home and tell others what had happened. In Matthew, the whole village shows up to kick Jesus out of town.

Most of us realize that we care a whole lot more about what the neighbors think than we do what God thinks. We’re fine with giving Jesus our lives….as long as he keeps his fingers off our livelihoods. We follow the Golden Rule as long as it doesn’t interfere too much with the gold that rules.

Do we believe that Jesus can help people? That Jesus can heal what’s broken? Do we believe that Jesus shows up in the most surprising ways, amongst the most surprising people, to do the most surprising things? Sure, we believe that. Maybe it’s just that we are too slow to recognize that we just might be that person, and now might be the time, when we’re the ones who need healing. Do we welcome Jesus then or do we send him packing?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, so many people live their lives in the deadly grip of things that only desire their death. Mental illness, physical illness, addictions, possessed by possessions – so many powers drive us away from the wholeness and peace you would give us. Don’t lose faith in us. Keep coming at us. Don’t let us drive you out of our neighborhood. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 8:23-27

August 21, 2017

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?”

Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Matthew 8:23-27

Different people hear a story like this in different ways.

Some people just accept the story at face value. They see the story in their minds’ eye as they read. They see the waves crashing into the boat. They imagine Jesus as they have always imagined Jesus, their imagination defined by a stained glass window or an illustration in a childhood Sunday School lesson. The scene happens exactly as Matthew describes it. Jesus is roused from sleep, a bit irritated at the disciples. He yells at the wind and it stops in its tracks. Jesus, the miracle worker, can stop a storm with a single shout. Jesus is mostly divine.

Other people just don’t buy it. They want to emphasize his humanity. Human beings live at the mercy of nature. We do what we can but, at the end of the day, we just have to ride the storms of life out. They see this story as a metaphor for life and for faith. The faith they see in Jesus has more sustaining power than the fickle faith of the disciples. Jesus is a man like us. The story still has power…but it loses its magic.

And then, I suppose, there are lots of other people who either reject the story out of hand or think it suitable for children and that’s about it.

Regardless of how you see the story, storms will come in your life. From rain showers to hurricanes, no one escapes getting wet from time to time. At some point you are going to realize that your boat is very small, and the sea is very big, and the wind is much more powerful than you.

When that time comes, I want you to know that Jesus is right there in the boat with you. No matter how you see this story now, I trust it will take on a whole new meaning for you then.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we cry to you when we’re sinking. Our faith is fickle and our boats are small. When we feel overwhelmed, give us the assurance that you are stronger than the wind and the waves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 8:18-22

August 18, 2017

Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22

Our congregation is an interesting place compared to many other Lutheran congregations. Every Sunday we worship God in both English and Mandarin Chinese. Our Chinese members came to Houston to do scientific research, to teach, to work in the oil industry. Some first came to Faith to study English as a second language. Most will eventually return to China but some will seek to stay. While they are here they are discovering Christianity and finding their place in Christian community. It is a real blessing to be a part of this.

Across the world, particularly among refugees, more and more Muslims are converting to Christianity. Their reasons are varied. These new Christians are breathing new life into congregations, particularly in Europe. Skeptics argue that people are just looking for the benefits of congregational generosity, or seeking to raise the odds of eventually making it to the United States. Personally, I trust that Jesus always is present everywhere but particularly among the lost, the marginalized, and the suffering. I believe that the Holy Spirit creates Christian community and I am grateful that millions of people find hope, health, and healing as they trust that good news that Jesus is for them.

What we often fail to notice in this is the price that is paid. While China is officially increasingly tolerant of Christianity, it is still a Communist country. Those who come to faith and are baptized run the risk of losing their jobs, their privileges, even their freedoms. Those who come to faith in traditional Muslim countries, even among refugee communities, run the risk of violence or ostracism from their families and their tribes. They pay a high price for faith.

How about the rest of us? Born into the Christian faith. Baptized as infants. Free to attend worship or free to just stay home. Free to support the ministries of our congregations with our time, our talents, and our money, or free to just know that we have our name on a church roll, a nice place prepared for our weddings or our funerals. What price do we pay? What sacrifices do we make?

A scribe, a lawyer trained in the laws of Judaism, approaches Jesus with an eager willingness to follow him. “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” If Jesus was only interested in growing the number of his followers he might have been more welcoming. Instead, Jesus challenges him. It is easy to say “I’ll follow you” but it is hard to actually do it. Hard on a daily basis. Hard because following Jesus means walking a narrow path, a counter-cultural path. It is a path of rejection and suffering.

You can’t birth a new world without birthing pains.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you have called us by name and marked us with your cross. Give us the willingness to follow you on a daily basis, even when our discipleship costs us time, money, or challenges us to rethink our deeply held convictions and opinions. Even when our faith challenges us to change our behaviors and takes us beyond our comfort zones. We pray for new converts to our faith, for their safety, their continued growth, their witness to all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 8:14-17

August 16, 2017

When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Matthew 8:14-17

In the gospel of Mark, immediately after his baptism and testing in the wilderness, still in the first chapter, Jesus invites a group of disciples to follow him, heals a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue, and then heals Peter’s mother-in-law. All of that done by the 31st verse. Matthew tells the same stories but it takes him eight chapters to get there. Why?

Because Matthew is writing at a different time, to a different audience, for a different purpose. Matthew still wants us to hear the story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law but he wants us to see it in the context of a wider presentation of who Jesus is. For Matthew, the healing ministry of Jesus is both evidence of the truth of his teaching ministry and a sign to his Jewish readers that Jesus is the long promised Messiah. Jesus fulfills the scriptures, fulfills the prophecies, even as he fulfills the law.

Sometimes I read healing stories like this and I remember an old spiritual that I first learned when I was in grade school. A public school in North Dakota. The chorus says, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.” I would grow up to be an English major in college with an appreciation for alliteration. Linking and then rhyming words like “wounded whole” and “sin-sick soul” would stick with me forever.

Since then I have had plenty of experience with woundedness and sin-sick souls. I have had more than one mother-in-law. My life has given me an ever broader context to appreciate the hope that Jesus brings.

This story always intrigues me with the reality that there is much that we don’t know about the lives of the disciples of Jesus – their own histories, families, and futures. And we won’t ever know those things. But we’re told what we need to know. Jesus heals and people respond.

Jesus heals and the mother-in-law rises to serve them. Jesus heals and the locals bring crowds of sick and hurting people to Jesus. Jesus heals and soon the powerful will array against him.

Some things never change. And in that, we are blessed.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you don’t tell us her name but you let us know you healed her. You don’t tell us much about those first disciples but you let us know they followed you. Often they didn’t understand you and eventually they all let you down. But you didn’t let them go. Come to us in our woundedness and make us whole. Come to us where we are sin-sick and save us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 8:5-13

August 15, 2017

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man 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.”

When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. Matthew 8:5-13

One day Jesus is approached by a leper seeking healing. Today it is a Roman soldier who is concerned because his servant is sick. Isn’t life amazing? Isn’t life surprising?

We all long for good days. We want to be healthy. We want to be financially secure. We want good homes, great schools, safe streets. We want the freedom to go to the store to get what we need when we need it. We want to live in communities where people cooperate and celebrate and live and let live. We want all of that…and we live in fear that, if we have it, someone will take it away, and if we don’t have it, that someone is trying to keep it from us. So we get anxious and reactive and stressed, even when times are very good.

But then we get sick. We get sick and something happens. Something changes. Walls fall down. We focus in a strange new way and we see things in altogether strange, but beautiful, ways.

When is the last time you have been in the waiting room outside of an intensive care unit? If you’ve been there, you have watched it happen. People who would never have anything to do with one another begin to band together. They share their stories. They support one another. They get coffee and share food and console one another over bad news. They celebrate signs of hope. They cheer for tears of joy.

A Roman soldier approaches Jesus. A hated, oppressive, Roman soldier. My guess is that he didn’t want to be in Israel in the first place any more than one of our own soldiers wants to do a tour in Afghanistan. But he’s a soldier. He does what he is told to do. Sometimes what he does is cruel and heartless because war is hell and few occupied peoples welcome their occupiers with open arms. But then his servant gets sick.

I’ve been told that soldiers might begin with the idea of fighting for their country but, under fire and very soon, they are really fighting for one another. They become a band of brothers. War does that just as sickness does. So the servant really does matter to the Roman soldier and he is desperate to find help. Like the leper, he too takes a shot and seeks out Jesus.

Once again, with no shame, no blame, no judgment, seeing only the need of a sick servant and the desperation of a man who cares about another man, Jesus responds with healing love.

Jesus applauds the soldier’s faith. But what is that faith? It isn’t some kind of intellectual assent to the theological claims of Jesus. It isn’t signing on the dotted line to join a faith-based club. No, all it is is a radical surrender to the possibility that Jesus can be helpful in ways that no one else can. Helpful in ways far beyond any worldly power, worldly wealth, worldly position, or worldly class. That is faith.

Faith is the great equalizer. Luther said that we are all beggars at the foot of the cross. Sometimes we need to go to the edge – to a place of sickness, to a scene of chaos, to the cross itself – before we will realize that.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, life is so fragile. Try as we might to shield ourselves from that cold hard reality, we know we can’t. We find ourselves in places where loved ones suffer and strangers become friends and we realize that you are present, even in our darkest places. Help us trust you – your power, your compassion, your healing love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.