Pentecost Growth Sci-Fi Style
Pentecost is a season of growth. The paraments aren't the deep green of late summer or old growth but the bright green of spring's new growth. Our text has growth sci-fi style. In science fiction space travelers regularly have one of their crew become pregnant unexpectedly bearing a baby within hours and growing through adulthood in days.
We start with the centurions first plea for Jesus to heal his beloved servant. This is not the word for heal. KJV only translates it one time that way as does the NASB. What it literally means is "bring safely through." And the form here indicates that the centurion desperately wants for this to happen but doesn't indicate that he knows Jesus can do it. The slave was about to die and the centurion just wants Jesus to help him make it through the night, so his body can do the rest.
Luke, being a doctor, is very precise in his use of medical words. He never uses the word the centurion does to mean completely heal. He uses this word as the doctors of his time did: "'To escape the dangers of disease,'" "'to get through an attack''' even at times with impaired health or injury to some part of the body (Hobart, The Medical Language of Luke, 284).
This is where we often are. We want just a little help from our friend Jesus to get by our medical, mental, spiritual crisis. Two things are at work here. First, we don't want Jesus rooting around in the rest of our lives. We know exactly what the problem is and we just need to be gotten over this particular hump. We want help with this one particular thing. As far as we're concerned that's the only problem we have. Second, all we expect from Jesus is to get through this crisis and make us somewhat better. We don't think He has more to give or that we need more from Him.
Well, it doesn't take God taking on human flesh and blood, let alone being born under the law, keeping that law, and being damned and dying to get us through a crisis. This is the Mormon understanding of how Jesus saves.' He reaches down into the pit where you are and pulls you up. This is a limited understanding of your problem. O you have one, but it is small. Sure you're in a crisis now, but if Jesus just gets you through it, you're good to go.
The next step to growth is a big one. It's like the century plants on Avenue F. With all this rain, they've grown from zero to 15 feet in weeks. The next time the centurion speaks of Jesus helping his slave, he does use the common word for heal the doctors of that day used, and he uses it in the imperative. Don't misunderstand. He's not commanding Jesus, but confessing what a word from Jesus must do. A little background will help you make the leap in growth that the centurion does.
The text says that Jesus "had finished saying all this." The "all this" is the Sermon on the Mount. The text also says "the centurion heard of Jesus." Go home and read chapter 6. It ends with the power of Jesus' words to withstand even the greatest crisis of life, Death. The centurion realizes that this Man Jesus has the power and the authority to heal by just a word. That's what he says to Jesus. There is no need for you to come to my house which would be defiling to a Jew, "But on the absolute contrary just say a word, and must be healed my dear slave."
You Lutherans have grown up singing that every single year of your life in A Mighty Fortress. You have grown up singing boldly, confidently, lustily that "one little word can fell" the old evil foe who means deadly woe, who has deep guile and great might, who has no equal on earth. One little word from Jesus and your biggest hurt must be healed, your blackest fear must be dissipated, your lowest feeling must be elevated. Understand, we're not talking brought through, gotten over the hump, enabled to live to fight another day. We're talking cured, healed today.
Confessing "he must be healed" is a huge growth spurt from "O that you should pull my slave through." But this isn't just Pentecost growth; it's sci-fi style. Science fiction is mind blowing, so allow me. Did Jesus sweat blood in Gethsemane, so you could be cured of blood cancer in this life? Was a crown of thorns jammed down on His holy head, so that your unholy head would never have clouded thoughts, sad thoughts, or fearful ones? Did Jesus go the painful, hellish path of the cross to keep people out of hospitals or out of hell? What I am saying is that there is something better than being cured, being healed. The century plant of the soul needs to grow not inches but feet until it pokes through the clouds of this life and sees life, death, sickness, disease, healing, curing, and health from above.
Ready set grow! Grow this Pentecost in a sci-fi style. You know how you mark kids' growth by lines on a doorjamb? Growth can me marked in the two words the centurion uses and one Luke uses by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Remember Luke is a medical doctor. Doctors don't use medical terms imprecisely.
The centurion first wants that Jesus should pull his slave through and let the body's ability to fight the disease take over. Then knowing this Man has power and authority like no other man, he is certain that Jesus can just say a word and his slave must be healed, cured. That's where he stopped, and we probably want to as well. What higher good can this puny mind of mine think of then a person being cured of cancer, healed of crippling mental problems, restored to a health thought lost? I can't get any higher than that but the Spirit does. When the centurion's men return to him they found "the servant well." And the word indicates this state is ongoing.
Well' is really too weak of a translation. Whole,' or completely healed' go in the right direction but not far enough, perfect health' goes further but it veers toward a wrong sense of health,' Of the 12x's this word is found in the New Testament, KJV never translates well' but 6x's sound' and the rest are either be sound,' be whole,' whole,' wholesome,' be in health,' and my favorite safe and sound.' Jesus doesn't just heal for a lifetime. He makes sound. Germophobe's rejoice! Our words hygiene,' and hygienic' come from this Greek word.
This word brings us all the way home. This gets us far above our best thoughts, our earthly wisdom, even our wildest imagination. We reach this point and we have grown sci-fi style from just wanting to get by with a little help from our friend Jesus to redemption of every part of our being. We reach the hygienic point: that Jesus took on flesh and blood to scrub flesh and blood clean of Sin, of Death, and of the power of the Devil. The stench of vile sin doesn't hang about us; the rot of decomposition doesn't waft around us; the sulfurous smell of the Devil which is guilt doesn't linger in our air.
No the smell of Germ-X does. Not that stuff tainted with perfume or sticky lotion. The pure, clean, fresh smell of 62% alcohol and nothing else. Breathe deep not the gathering gloom where watch lights fade from every room, where lonely men cry for love, where senior citizens wish they were young. No breathe deep the forgiveness, life, and salvation that God took on flesh and blood in a Virgin's Womb in order to give to flesh and blood men who were sick unto death with mortal pain.
I am not telling you that I know this sick slave came out of his deathly sickness a believer, forgiven, saved. I am telling you that this is the direction the Spirit wishes you to grow. Grow out of just wanting to make it through the night of sickness, loneliness, worrisome-ness, or fearfulness. Grow out of just wanting to be healed in this life, so you can get on with the slow business of dying. Grow to wholeness, to soundness, to the hygiene of holiness and righteousness that is the New Man created in the likeness of Christ Jesus. And stop believing that it's a feeling you're after. No it's a reality you're getting.
Soundness, wholeness, holy hygiene is what your Lord wants you to grow into today, now. This is what the Prodigal Son at last came home to in the Father's house. That's what the servant tells the disgruntled elder son who doesn't even know he need's healing. The servant says, "Your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.'" This is the same word used here. In our story, which is no parable, the perfect Lamb of God carrying the sins of the world was slaughtered, sacrificed so that we could be "safe and sound."
But again we're not just talking growth, we're talking Pentecost growth and that in science fiction style. This last word not only refers to wholeness, soundness of body and soul but to sound doctrine. In fact, 7 of the 12x's it's used in the New Testament, it refers to doctrine and 2 more times it refers to faith that is whole and sound because it is rooted in sound doctrine.
This concept, sound doctrine, that virtually all but confessional churches distance themselves from, mock the possibility of, and have no desire to grow in or towards, is the real soundness that the Spirit points us to. In 2 Timothy 1 He says, "Retain the standard of sound words." In Titus 1 the Spirit says "speak the things that are fitting for sound doctrine." And in 2 Timothy the Spirit solemnly warns that "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine." And finally in 3 John the Spirit links bodily and spiritual health saying, "I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in sound health just as your souls prospers."
Science fiction growth stories usually go one of two ways. The first is rapid aging to death. Think of the scene where the body decays to ashes in seconds. The other way is they grow out of the body into pure energy and then disappear. This is the growth Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism hope for. This is not the growth we hope for or are given. No the holy hygiene we receive in Word and Sacrament cleanses us from all sins in body and soul and redeems this body and soul so that we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ to live soundly, completely, eternally in a new heaven and a new earth. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday after Pentecost (20160529); Luke 7: 1-10