by David Baer, February 5, 2017
Text: Luke 7:1-17
There’s a holiday coming up this month, and maybe you can tell me what it is. People are putting up lots of heart-shaped decorations to get ready for it…
It’s Valentines Day! What are some things you do at school to celebrate? Do you bring Valentines for others kids in your class? How do you decide who gets a Valentine?
Most of the time there’s a rule that if you bring Valentines, you have to bring one for everybody. We don’t want anyone to feel left out. But let’s imagine something… Let’s imagine you had to convince the other students in your class to give you a Valentine. Let’s imagine you had to make the case for why you deserve to get one. What would you say?
Would you remind them of how much you enjoy playing games together?
Would you talk about a time you helped them out with a problem?
Would you promise to give them a Valentine if they give you one?
It’s funny, isn’t it, to think of having to argue for why you should get a Valentine. But people do it for other things all the time.
If you want a job, you have to go to an interview and talk about why you would be a good worker.
My father is a history professor, and sometimes he needs extra money so he can take a break from teaching to learn something new. So he has to write a grant application where he explains why it’s important and what he believes he can do and learn.
My best friend in college and my best man at my wedding came to this country when he was 8 years old from China. They had to leave China they were worried my friend’s father could be put in jail for his beliefs. When they came to this country, they had to answer a lot of questions about why it wasn’t safe for them to go home, and they must have given the right answers, because they got to stay, and they became American citizens. And I’m glad too, because he’s a good friend, and he now has a beautiful family and his own business.
But you can see that so often people have to explain themselves, to say why they should receive something good. It’s part of life.
We read a story today about some people who wanted Jesus to do something good for their friend. They wanted Jesus to heal a slave who was sick, who lived in their friend’s house. Now their friend was a Roman soldier, and a lot of Jewish people didn’t like Roman soldiers. Maybe the soldier’s friends thought Jesus wouldn’t help their friend unless he knew more about him. So they told Jesus, “You should help him, because he is a really good man. He loves the Jewish people. He even helped us build our synagogue.”
Now, Jesus started to go to the soldier’s house, and he was almost there when the soldier sent someone out to stop him. The soldier told Jesus something that was a lot different than what his friends said. He didn’t tell Jesus, “You should help me because I love the Jewish people and I’ve done so much for you.” No, instead he said, “I don’t deserve to have you come to my home.” But he also said, “You don’t need to come. It’s just like when I tell the soldiers who work for me to do something. I don’t have to follow them to see. I know they’ll do it. So I know that if you just say the word, my servant will get better.” And Jesus was amazed. He said, “I’ve never seen anybody with so much faith—and he’s not even Jewish, like us!” And the soldier’s slave was healed, even though Jesus hadn’t been to his house.
The soldier didn’t try to tell Jesus why he deserved to have his servant healed. He didn’t talk about all the good things he did, or offer to do something for Jesus. Instead, he told Jesus that he wasn’t worthy, that he didn’t deserve it, but that he knew Jesus was someone who was in charge, someone who had the power to heal.
If we were to try to convince God why God should give us a Valentine, why God should love us, we would always come up short. God’s love is so precious, so beautiful, so valuable, that there’s nothing we can offer, nothing we can say or do, that can ever match it. What’s more, we often do things that aren’t very beautiful, don’t we? We make fun of others, or we don’t stand up for someone who’s being pushed around. But the amazing thing is that God loves us anyway, and because of that love, God does wonderful things for us—forgives us, makes us part of God’s family, and gives us everlasting life.
And one way that we say “thank you” to God for this love is by giving our neighbors more than they deserve too. That’s why God wants us to forgive others when they mistreat us—because God forgave us. They may not deserve to be forgiven, but because we have God’s amazing, precious love, even though we didn’t deserve it, we need to forgive the people who hurt us. And we need to be generous with others in the same way that God was generous with us.
I’m going to give each of you children a heart. And I’d like you to think of that heart as representing God’s love for you. I want you to think about God’s love the same way the Roman soldier thought about Jesus. He knew there was nothing he could say or do that would be quite as valuable, as beautiful, as precious as having Jesus come to visit him, so he didn’t try. But he did believe that Jesus could do what he promised. So I want you to receive this heart knowing that there is nothing, nothing you can do to make God love you any more or less. That’s God’s Valentine to you.
But I want you to write on it as many generous things you can think of. If you know somebody who is sick, maybe you can write them a card. Maybe you can remember to bring in a can of food for the Center for Food Action. I’m sure you can come up with many others. Just remember that being generous is about treating others the way God treats you—it’s not about whether they deserve it or not. It’s about taking the undeserved goodness that God has already shown us, and sharing it with our neighbors—neighbors who live right next door to us, and neighbors who live in faraway places across the world. And this is your Valentine to God.
And to the adults here today, let’s keep those words of the centurion on our lips: “Lord, I am not worthy…” Do you believe that? Do you act as though every blessing you have, every good thing you enjoy, that your life itself is a gift you don’t deserve and can never earn? Because out there some will try to tell you that the world is a zero-sum game, that if someone else is gaining you must be losing. But God’s kingdom is not about proving your worth, it’s not about winning something at the expense of others. The kingdom of God is not a pie where you have to scramble to cut the biggest slice. It’s a cup running over with goodness, if only we have faith to perceive it. “Lord, I am not worthy… But only speak the word….” Jesus doesn’t ask us to be worthy. He only asks for our trust in him, as someone with authority to forgive sinners, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead to life. “Only speak the word…” What wonderful things can Jesus accomplish for us, or through us, when we believe and act on what he says, in the face of everything that tries to turn us aside?
Will you join in prayer with me?
O Lord Jesus Christ, we are not worthy to receive you, and yet you count us worthy of your blessings, worthy of your leaving heaven to walk among us, worthy of your teaching and healing and feeding us, worthy of your suffering and dying for us, worthy of being raised again with you. Grant us trust in your authority, and obedience to your will, so that we might turn, filled with your grace, and love our neighbors as you love us. Amen.