Text: Luke 7:1-10Revised Standard Version (RSV)
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
7 After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Caper′na-um. 2 Now a centurion had a slave who was dear[a] to him, who was sick and at the point of death. 3 When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I am a man set 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 he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
Have you ever heard of the “Fulda Gap”? Most people haven’t. Wikipedia tells us that the Fulda Gap was roughly the route that Napoleon took to escape back to France after the disastrous Battle of Leipzig in October of 1813. But even before that, for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, the Fulda Gap has been a sort of East-West highway for the migration of humans and animals. Wikipedia also tells us the following: “The Fulda Gap is an area between the Hesse-Thuringian border (the former intra-German border) and Frankfurt am Main that contains two corridors of lowlands through which tanks might have driven in a surprise attack effort by the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies to gain crossing(s) of the Rhine River. Named for the town of Fulda, the Fulda Gap was strategically important during the Cold War.” A couple friends of mine, Major Craig Strand, and Major Leo Philben, were US Army tank commanders. They served in Germany during the 80s at the height of the Cold War. Their mission was to plug that gap and prevent any Soviet incursions into West Germany. It was a job with high tension and stress; they were the first line of defense for the West if the Soviets attacked. If that happened, one of them told me, their life expectancy would have been reduced to minutes. But they did not flinch; they did not blink; they did not waver. They served proudly, confidently, and well. They did indeed plug that gap.
Have you ever flown in or out of O’Hare Airport in Chicago? I have many times. But do you know why it’s named O’Hare? Here’s the story:
“World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the American fleet.
“The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was defenseless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 calibers blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.
“Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival he reported in and related the event surrounding his return.
“The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had in fact destroyed five enemy aircraft.
“This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.”
Butch O’Hare was 29 years old when he was killed.
Today we honor my friends who served with distinction, Butch O’Hare, and all those men and women who put on uniforms, placed themselves in harm’s way, and died so that we might have a long weekend that includes a day on which we can grill out with our families, or enjoy ball games, or just relax in a lounge chair on the porch or patio, without having to worry about nuisances like a suicide bomber. A day to remember those who gave their all so that we can assemble here without fear of persecution and worship God in the way we choose.
Freedom is not free. I know that many people just roll their eyes – I’ve seen people do it – when they hear that. They think it’s just a buzz phrase, a cliché, something people just say without putting any real thought behind it.
It’s no cliché, friends. Not at all. It is the truth.
One of the email lists I’m on is from “The Voice of the Martyrs,” a group that’s dedicated to assisting persecuted Christians worldwide. If you think that they don’t have much to do, think again. Here are just three examples from their website –
“A young pregnant woman named Ahanti, in India, required an emergency C-Section after being roughly shoved to the ground by a radical Hindu group for the “crime” of praying with fellow Christians.
“[Voice of the Martyrs] partner Pastor Han Chung-Ryeol, 49, was brutally murdered on Saturday, April 30, in Changbai, China. He pastored a Three-Self Church near the North Korean border and helped countless North Koreans come to know Christ.
“Uzbek prisoner Tohar Haydarov was given the disappointing news that a mid-year parole from prison “will not happen.” Fellow Christians say that the 33-year-old convert from Islam to Christianity has suffered a number of difficulties since his imprisonment in March 2010.” Again, his “crime” is having converted to Christianity from Islam.
Christians – people just like you and me – are being imprisoned, tortured, and killed around the world every single day because they believe as we do.
And the only thing between us and that kind of fate are the people like Craig, and Leo, and Butch O’Hare, and my father-in-law, Gage, my brother-in-law, Greg, and Pete Demuth, Roger Anderson, Gordy Falkofske, Gary Zielinski, and so many, many others, who stood in the gap between liberty and tyranny.
It is a frequently thankless, always dangerous, job; and yet these men and women do it willingly and gladly – for our sake.
But it is all worth it. Protecting our liberties so our faith can flourish is worth it.
Freedom is not free. It should not be taken for granted.
But neither should faith.
The Gospel lesson for today eloquently illustrates the power of faith, the power to change lives, the power of faith to turn the hearts of the people you would least expect it to affect, like that of the Roman centurion.
What, exactly, was a “centurion”? As the name indicates, he was an officer who commanded 100 soldiers. A centurion was often a man of non-noble birth who had worked his way up the ladder during a sometimes long and difficult career. They formed the backbone of the legion and were responsible for enforcing discipline. So a typical centurion was an older, grizzled veteran, a no-nonsense commander who knew his job and took no guff from those under him or around him.
He could also recognize the real thing when he saw it. And he saw it in Jesus.
And it’s clear he was “not like those other guys,” those other Romans who did their best to keep their heels on people’s necks. He had friends among the Jews, and these friends came to Jesus at his request to say, “Listen, this guy’s OK – please help him out.”
So Jesus goes with them; and then we read one of the most profound expressions of faith in the whole New Testament. The centurion’s people relay the message that the centurion did not feel worthy to have Jesus under my roof, but knew that, if Jesus but said the word, his servant would be healed.
The centurion’s faith put all of Israel to shame.
So, today, our task is twofold: 1. To honor our heroes and heroines who have died that we might live lives of faithful freedom; and 2. To live our faith in such a way that we might emulate that of the centurion and live lives worthy of the sacrifice our heroes have made and continue to make.
A wish you all a safe, thoughtful, and blessed Memorial Day!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
Wimpey, Horace, “Standing in the Gap,” http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/standing-in-the-gap-horace-wimpey-sermon-on-memorial-day-185540.asp?Page=1