Last time I visited St Michael’s Church, in the hall opposite were the Conservative Party heavyweights. David Cameron and Zack Goldsmith. They were there to launch the final 100 days of canvassing before Election Day.
I remember seeing the outriders, the police escort and the great throng of people, as I arrived and I got terribly excited, as I thought that they had all showed up for our Deanery Synod meeting in church, but sadly not, they failed to hear the good news of our plans for West Barnet Deanery, and they failed to receive Jesus in the gift of the sacrament from the mass that night. No wonder they lost.
Clearly, there was a flurry of excitement, and I wonder it must be like to be in the midst of a world where everyone wants to be with you. What it means to be popular? I wonder too what sort of cajoling there must be to be seen to be with, or to be on the in crowd? Oh look, I’ve made it because….. Please David, look at me, please Zack, come on over and lets have a selfie, as this will make me look more important.
The company that we desire says a lot about us as individuals. We choose to spend time with others, or not as the case may be, and our choices say a lot about our own sense of identity. I wonder whether you have ever thought to yourself, no I’m not going to that because so and so will be there. Or indeed, we must get to that because so and so will be there, and we need to get to know them better. To reiterate, this is a very human way to behave- so, what do your choices and aspirations say about you?
Today’s Gospel reading from Luke is a fascinating one. Jesus has finished a series of parables, and now, towards the beginning of his ministry, it is time for some action. We hear of this centurion, a wealthy gentile person, who clearly cared for his people, especially his slaves- now this was unusual. He would have been in the court of Herod Antipas, who we know to be the emperor who ordered John the Baptists head to be cut off. Herod was therefore a fearful person, who would have been threatened by anyone mixing with Jesus of Nazareth. This Centurion is already on dodgy ground.
But still, in the face of death, things seem desperate. This gentle and humble gentile is deeply concerned, but he is not too proud to ask for help. He sends the Jewish elders to Jesus- who pleads on his behalf. Talk about an unusual mix, where the Jewish leaders speak of the centurion’s worthiness. What… he is one of them, not one of us, yet here you are almost implying that he is one of us…ahhhh,
Please, he is good to us, he loves us, he built the synagogue, and he helps us in our faith, please come and help us. We like him, therefore you ought to help him. In fact he is worthy that you would come to him and help him.
But see what takes place. The centurion is so humbled, despite his great power and wealth, that in the presence of Jesus, he is nothing. He cannot allow Jesus to come under his roof, as he doesn’t want to make Jesus ritually unclean, and indeed, he seems himself as not worthy that Jesus would come. Who am I?
Clearly there has been a moment of conversion for the centurion. He knows his own faults, and his own sins. He knows that despite his great riches, and his great deeds towards others, his love and support for his slaves, and his oversight of generosity, compared to a meeting with the face of God in Jesus Christ, he is nothing. This healing of the slave does not take place because this man had carried out great deeds of kindness towards the Jews, or because of the Jews pleading. He has not bought his salvation by his words or actions. But he has been recognised by Jesus for has great faith precisely because he knows who Jesus really is. Because he recognises that Jesus is the lord of life and death, because God in Jesus has defeated death, and brought life in all its fullness.
Each day, with the choices that we make, with the priorities that we set, our inner souls are laid bare for others to see. The Centurion recognised his need for Jesus, in order for him to thrive, despite his wealth, and despite his great generosity. So it must be with you. Welcome into your hearts daily, the gift of Jesus Christ, and daily recognise your need of him, for this is where we find life and fulfilment.
Then, in the power of this relationship, you will find your priorities towards others changing. For Jesus in this Gospel today it was a pivotal change moment, when he began to offer a new ministry to different people- non Jewish people, the Gentiles. This will have caused uproar, great controversy, and the fear of becoming ritually unclean. But, Jesus’ vision is quite clear. He came that we might have life, not that the world be condemned, but that his people might have life in all its fullness. That includes you.
And, how we need to hear and respond to this Gospel, here at St Michael’s. I am delighted by the news of growth and the welcoming of new people, because, St Michael’s has to change. Why- because Mill Hill is changing. The rapid expansion of the housing within this part of London is quite breathtaking. Ultimately, this is a renewed call for our missionary life together, with the humility of the Centurion to welcome, support and love all of those whom God is passionate to serve. Mill Hill is changing, and as the parish church, you must have an outward focus of prayer and service- and all of you being confirmed this morning at the forefront of this work. Please pray daily for the gift of humility, recognising your need for Jesus Christ, and do not condemn these changes in the area, new people, because God so loved the world that he was generous, and gave us Jesus to defeat death, to draw all things to himself, not because of duty, not because of guilt, not because of habit, but because of love.
Your job is to love- go and love the people here, show them by your words and by your example, and you love, because Jesus first loved you. Not because you are more special, or more important than anyone else, but because you know what it means to be loved, what it means to be in a relationship, with Jesus Christ, and what it means to be unworthy, yet forgiven in all things.
St Michael’s, this is your moment to love, to build up the body of Christ, and to be Christ to those around you, because God loves you unconditionally.