Get Real, Men
Note the comma in the sermon title. The sermon is "Get Real, Men." Not "Get Real Men." I've preached this text that way before on Fathers' Day. I've used the centurion as an example of a man among men, as an admonition for men to be men. It's fitting for Fathers Day, and real men are needed in our day, everyday. But something was missing in that sermon. Real men weren't but real Law and Gospel were. That's why this time the title is "Get Real, Men."
Get real, men. There are crises that we can't handle. That's the setting for this text. Chapter 6 ends with Jesus putting before the people the fact that the crisis of death would come upon all people, men and women. The dark, cold river of death would burst upon every person. There was no way to stop it. No way to slow it. As relentless as the flood waters in Houston were that is how relentless death is.
Chapter 6 ends with the crisis of death in general; chapter 7 opens with the crisis of death in the life of the centurion. Centurions were no strangers to death serving as leaders in the Roman legions. They were regarded as men among men there. They were the equivalent of a sergeant major today. Polyibus, a first century B.C. Roman historian, described the qualifications of a centurion: They are not to be so much "seekers after death as men who can command, steady in action, and reliable; they ought not to be overanxious to rush into a fight; but when hard pressed they must be ready to hold their ground and die at their posts." The centurion in our text had faced death many times before, but here a dear servant of his lay dying, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Get real, men. There will come a crisis into your life that you will not be able to handle. It may be a disease leading to your death, or it may be a sickness leading to the death of someone you love. It may not even be death that will bring the crisis. There are other things less than death that can throw your life into crisis. What are you going to do then? Think your manliness, your machoness, your muscles will get you through it? Maybe this time they will. Maybe next time they will, but a time is coming when they won't. Real men have broken before. The disciples lose it completely when their boat begins to sink. Peter cries in panic when he began to sink beneath the waves. Jacob, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all broke. We are fools if we think we won't.
So get real, men, there are crises in life we are no match for, and like the centurion we have heard about Jesus and know He is for such times. But like the centurion, we ought to get real about our sins. The Jewish elders the centurion sent to Jesus aren't realistic about his sins. They tell Jesus, literally, that he is worthy of Jesus' help because he built their synagogue. But what does the centurion say about himself? He says he's not fit for Jesus to come under his roof, and he himself is unworthy to come to Jesus.
You think the centurion is exaggerating, don't you? Get real, men about sin and guilt. They are greater and heavier than you can imagine, but when the real crisis comes, the one you can't handle, you will see your sin and guilt for what they are: damning, soul destroying, worthy of God's harshest judgement. You will remember then how you didn't call upon God in times past. How you lived by your wits and ability not God's grace. How you slept through sermons and fell asleep in your prayers. How you always meant to get serious about religion. How you were content to let your wife or mom or some other women be the religious one. You will see painfully that this poem, written by a woman, is true for you, "In the world's great field of battle/ In the bivouac of life/ You will find the Christian soldier/ Represented by his wife."
Now, however, in this overwhelming crisis it might be your wife who is sick, who is dying, who needs help. You'll feel like the biggest hypocrite on earth, men are sensitive to that sort of thing, if you pray now. You haven't prayed in years, and you're going to start now because your back is up against the wall? How can you pray to Jesus when the only use you've had for His name lately is as a way to punctuate your exclamations? Now that all of hell is howling outside your door, you do believe. You do believe in sin, death and the power of the devil. You do believe there is a judgment day, a day of reckoning, a day when it counts for nothing that you've been a real man. You do believe you desperately need help, but who are you to pray to Jesus?
The centurion must have had all these thoughts. He can't bring himself to personally go to Jesus. He sends Jewish elders. And he doesn't dream of Jesus coming to him. The centurion felt just as unworthy and worthless as you are going to feel when real crisis comes flooding into your life. All his reason, all his logic, all his sense of right and wrong told him as they are going to tell you, that he had no right to ask Jesus anything. But still the centurion sent for Jesus. How could he do that? Because not only did the centurion get real about his sins, he got real about God's grace. He confessed God's grace louder than he did his own sins.
How do I know this? Because even though he knew his sins and his unworthiness, he still sent for Jesus. He couldn't have been relying on his fitness or worthiness to ask Jesus because he plainly says he has none. He knows he doesn't deserve Jesus' help but he asks anyway. He knows that Jesus' willingness is greater than his sins otherwise he wouldn't have asked Him to help.
Get real, men about the grace of God. It is for sinners like you. God's grace is not for holy people, not for people who try their best, not for men who hold their own, but for sinners. God sent His only beloved Son into the world, not just to save women and children, but men too. When Christ Jesus picked up the sins of the world, He didn't just pick up the frilly, fluffy ones of women or the cute, cuddly ones of children. No, Jesus Christ picked up the sins of men, real men with all their wretchedness, filthiness, and stinkiness. He went to the cross suffering for the sins of men who can't forgive themselves and for the sins of men who others will not forgive. When Christ cried out from the bloody, crucifixion cross, "It is finished," He was talking about your sins too men.
That's why the centurion can say, "I'm not worthy for you to come under my roof," at the same time as he says, "Heal my servant." This strange dynamic that exists between a Christians' sense of his or hers sins and the grace of God is illustrated by the Greek Orthodox way of receiving Communion. When the pastor comes before the communicant, he or she says what the centurion says, "I'm not worthy for you O Lord to come under my roof." Do you think the pastor then passes the communicant by? Of course not! Then they are given the Body Christ gave for their sins on the cross and the Blood He shed there for their forgiveness. We are to confess our unworthiness to receive anything from our Lord at the same time as we are to be confident that He will give to us based on His worthiness.
Let me put this a way a working man can understand. In other churches I've had, men who worked as mechanics or in the oil fields, would come to the altar with their hands stained with dark lines of oil or grease. Scrub as they might those stains would never come out; they were in their very pores. They put out their stained hands for Communion, and I would place into them the very Body of Christ. And Christ didn't mind. He came into the world for the sake of oil and grease stained sinners. He is not ashamed to be found in their hands. If fact, He allowed himself to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, just so He could be placed into the hands of sinners for their forgiveness.
Get real, men about the forgiveness of God. The way to do this is to get real about the Word of God. Men wish to be taken at their word for the most part. Even though we live in an age where nothing seems binding without paperwork and lawyers, you will still hear ads about men, always men, who do business the old fashion way: by their word and a handshake. This is something men understand and value highly. The centurion was this way too. The whole text sets us up for this. It focuses on the Words of Jesus from the beginning. We're told that Jesus had finished speaking, literally, into the ears of the people, while at Capernaum the centurion was hearing concerning Jesus. He sent for Jesus to heal his slave not expecting that Jesus would actually come but that He would just speak a word of healing.
We need to get as real about the Words of Jesus as we are about are own. That's what the centurion did. He knew that he as a man was under the authority of Rome, so everything he spoke had the power of the Roman Empire behind it. He said to this soldier, "Go," and to this one, "Come," and they did it. Likewise, the centurion knew that he could say to a servant, "Do this, " and it would be done. The power of Rome was in His words. Jesus, however, is not just a man, He is God in flesh and blood. All the power of God is behind His Words. He can say to death, "Go," and it does. He can say to sickness, "Go," and it runs away. All Jesus need do is "say the word," and the centurion knows his servant would be healed.
We expect people to take us at our word, don't we men? Surely than we can and should take Jesus at His word. The centurion heard what Jesus had been preaching and teaching. He acted based on that Word. The centurion knew a servant or slave in the Roman Empire was considered just a tool. The owner could do what he liked with his slaves. He was expected to throw them out like a used up tool when they got sick or old. But this centurion loves his slave and he hears Jesus speaking of His great love for sinners, all sinners. So the centurion, himself a sinner, does the amazing thing of asking Jesus to heal another sinner, and that a slave. He acted based on Jesus' Word.
Get real about the Word of Jesus men. That's what we need to face the crisis that is surely coming upon us. If you told someone you would be there for them in a time of trouble, you would want them to believe that, depend on it, and use it. How much more the perfect Man who is God, Jesus Christ, must mean it? When you give someone your word, you regard yourself as bound by it, don't you? How much more is the God/Man bound by His Word. So when He says, "You have been born again by Water and the Word," you know He wants you to count on your Baptism. When He says, "I forgive you" through the mouth of your pastor, He wants you to be comforted by your pastor's mouth speaking forgiveness. And when He says, "This is My Body; this is My Blood for forgiveness," He wants you to use Communion against your sins just as when you say, "This is money for buying food," you want the person to use your money against hunger. You take your words seriously; we can take Jesus' words even more seriously.
That's what the centurion did, and we need men like the centurion, not so much real men like centurions were, but men who have a real Jesus. That is men who have a Jesus who graciously descends into the crises of life to deliver real people by means of His Word wrapped up in Bread and Wine, Water and Office. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost II (6-17-01) Luke 7: 1-10