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Today’s Gospel is a story about worthiness about this idea of worthiness – and about finding worth in unexpected places

. To understand why, though, we have to better understand the cast of characters. The surprising thing about the centurion is that no one expects the centurion to be worthy of Jesus’ attention. That’s why people had to vouch for him. And it’s surprising that they did. Jews & non-Jews didn’t mix. In fact – no one thinks of him as really even being human in the same way that they are. He is an outsider. And they have nothing in common. No one expects the centurion to be worthy of anything. But – it’s also true that no one expected him to have helped build the synagogue. Or to treat the Jews with anything more than contempt and disdain. The fact that he is described as “worthy” in this text is rare to begin with. So, I’d like to examine what exactly that “worth” is all about. First, we know that he is not who he should be. I mean, he is not who the world assumes him to be. More precisely – he is not who people tell him he should be. He chooses to act differently – and treat people differently. God has a purpose for him. And it’s not something the world can see immediately, just by looking at the outside of him.

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But in this story – we have two different axes of “worthy”, if you will. The first being that he is deemed worthy in the eyes of the people who speak to Jesus on his behalf. In their eyes, he is worthy because of what he does – even despite who he is. The centurion is worthy, in their eyes, because he cares for those for whom he should not care. He has proven himself to be worthy – because he honors their human dignity – their desire to pray in their own way, their desire to live in their own way and keep their own customs. Worthiness. Seeing what the world tells you isn’t there – honoring your neighbor. He chooses to act outside of the common prejudices. But…these sound like actions, right? Deeds…things. Which mean that these can’t be indicative of his internal “worth”. And surely these people couldn’t see that for themselves – in the absence of better information, they could only judge by what they saw. And what they saw were these outward markers -The fruits of his faith. So, let’s try looking at it another way… The other axis – the other way we need to think about worthiness this morning is from the eyes of God. The assumption that the centurion is not worthy – that Gentiles were not worthy – that anyone is not worthy – is a false premise to begin with. Someone – probably many someone(s) along the way – told the centurion
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that he was unworthy. Left him out. Judged him superficially. Now, for sure, he’s probably also being humble, here – and showing Jesus some reverence – which is good. But the assumption that he is unworthy is a dangerous one… As soon as we start dividing up the world – into who deserves Jesus and who doesn’t – we’ve started acting like God. Making decisions we have no authority to make. And, I believe, we start to break God’s heart. And speaking of hearts, the idea that we aren’t good enough – that we don’t deserve to be loved or to be forgiven – by God and by other people – can do serious damage to our hearts. Damage that God would rather see us not endure. So we must be mindful, especially as a church community, to constantly build people up –to pray for each other- to remind each other of God’s love for us. To call each other back from the cliff when necessary – but we must be mindful that we do not give others the idea – or the feeling – that they are not worthy. That they do not belong here. That they are not one of us – or one of Jesus’ flock. We must also learn to drown out those voices ourselves. Do not ever let the world tell you that you are not worthy. Do not let anyone – not your mother or father, sister or brother – not your teacher, coach, colleague, boss, or even you Church– tell you that you are not worthy of God’s love – of the miracle of Jesus Christ – of the
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redemption of your Savior. Not because you’ve done something for which you can’t be forgiven. Not because you’re rich or poor, not because you’re straight or not straight – not because you’ve made a mistake – or because you aren’t sure how to make a difference. Jesus chose you – chose your worth – over his own life. And that, my friends, is the only opinion that matters. You are of infinite worth – infinite value – to the God who made you. And there is nothing you can do – not even if you work really hard at it -- to change the fact that you are of infinite value to God.

As I thought about all this over the course of this week – there was one idea that I kept turning over in my head. If the centurion was alive today – who would he be? And again, there’s two different ways to think about this question. I thought first about who has been told that they aren’t worthy of Jesus. I think we could all name some groups, some people that we know who have been turned away by the church – excluded for one reason or another. More often than not, these experiences hover along the boundaries of racial, class, or gender prejudice. The most obvious example to me, this morning is people that identify as LGBTQ. In many parts of the Church universal – not just the Episcopal Church – but all of the Christian Church -4

LGBTQ people have been told time and again by the church and by society, by their parents, and people that claim to be their friends -- that they are not worthy – not good enough – not clean enough. That they have to change who they are in order to have a relationship with Jesus. That they are entirely outside the system—perhaps even less than human – underserving of the same rights and privileges as the anointed group. In many ways, these parallels are strong -- no one expected the centurion to be worthy of Jesus’ attention – because he wasn’t part of the main crowd, he wasn’t good enough – he wasn’t clean enough. And yet Jesus marveled at his faith – Jesus granted him his request -- and died for him on the cross. There is no one – no one to whom we have the right to say – you don’t belong -- you are unworthy of Jesus Christ.

But there’s also an active part of this centurion, because it’s not ONLY that he was judged and left out for un-Godly reasons… He is also the one who speaks out for one who does not have a voice. He is the one who lives outside the box – seemingly honoring everyone – instead of settling for the boundaries of prejudice. So in this case, who do you think the centurion would be if he were alive today? Who is the centurion in your life? Who plays that role? Do you marvel at their faith? For me, in my life, I think he is the activist working for new gun control laws.
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I think he is the Christian or Jewish citizen who signs a petition – hoping to allow a mosque to be built in the neighborhood…offering others the opportunity to pray in their own way. And I think he is you – every time you spend your Saturday serving at a place like Broad Street or Philabundance. Every time you look the man, sitting outside the convenience store, in the eye. Every time you vote for laws and politicians that positively affect those living in poverty. Every time you confess to someone– however quietly – that you go to church – that you have faith – and that you believe that Christ died to save everyone. Jesus marveled at the centurion because of his faith – because what the people around him described as worthiness – was in fact faith and humility. They noticed the fruits of his faith – the works he did, the signs he showed that he was different than they expected him to be…that he had been transformed – because God had a purpose for him. You, too, are called to be so transformed that you cannot help but speak up for the one who cannot speak for themself. You are called by Jesus Christ to live out your worth – to live out your faith – in his service…accepting a little more every day the knowledge that you are beloved – and of infinite worth… and then seeking to share that knowledge with others through word and action. Amen.

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