August 5, 2018 – “Surprises”

Today’s text is from Matthew 8:5-13. You can listen to the sermon here.

What does it take to surprise you? I know it doesn’t take much to surprise me – or at least, it doesn’t take much to startle me. Just the other day I opened a door in my basement to be greeted by a little mouse. Now, that’s surprising because A) I have a cat – who apparently is too busy sleeping on the job – and B) I never invited this mouse to live with me. I’m surprised – but I suppose more or less startled – because it has no business being there 

Now, I’m sure the answer to, “What does it take to surprise you?” changes across our lifetimes – as we move from being innocent and ignorant to perhaps simply less innocent and less ignorant – but surprises still happen. 

The refrigerator stops working. A job goes away. You bought cabbage instead of lettuce. Loved ones die. A noise scares you. A corporation commits fraud. You find a mouse in the basement. A house is taken away. 

There’s plenty of ways we can be surprised – because there are plenty of things that we don’t expect to happen – both large and small. And that’s basically all a surprise is. They’re simply things that either we never saw coming or didn’t think we’d ever see. 

And perhaps that’s the key. We didn’t expect it to happen. We never even gave it a thought or a chance or a possibility. The surprise happens because we had taken reality and thrown it into a box of possibilities. We took reality and said that only certainly things could happen – or at least in our mind pretended that only certainly things had a good chance of happening – and everything else was simply left outside of our box – hidden away from view – sometimes even forgotten. 

And that’s when we’re surprised. Because suddenly something that wasn’t even a possibility not only shows up in our lives – but shows up as the present reality! 

Well, this morning we’re in good company with being surprised and amazed because it turns out Jesus could be surprised, too. Surprised by the faith of a Roman official. Now, we’re told next to nothing about this centurion. We’re told nothing about how he’s lived his life leading up to this moment. We’re told nothing about any good or bad deeds he’s done, whether or not he has any belief in God – whether he has any belief that Jesus might be the promised Messiah. 

And when the story ends we’re left wondering all these same questions: Does the centurion – this Roman official – believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior once his servant is healed? Does he convert to Judaism? Does he become a follower of Jesus? Or did he simply hear that this Jesus of Nazareth had supposedly been performing miracles – and his servant was in need of one of those – so he figured he might as well ask and see what happened? 

That’s my surprise in this text from Matthew. My amazement happens before most of the story even begins. Again, starting from verse 5: “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’” 

Shall I come and heal him? For Jesus there isn’t a shred or fragment of a doubt that he’s going to perform this healing. Now, the text tells us that the centurion asked Jesus for help – but that’s not what we actually hear. We simply hear the centurion state his situation to Jesus. He finds Jesus and simply says, “Lord – I have a paralyzed servant at home.” Jesus simply stares back and says, “Okay. Let’s go heal him.” 

Really? It’s that easy? He hadn’t even asked for anything yet and here Jesus is already offering an answer – honestly, he’s recklessly offering grace and mercy and healing and love for nothing at this point. The centurion will get to his confession of faith – and maybe Jesus could see that coming – but with the text that we have in front of us we’re not told that so for the moment I want to dwell in this amazing statement from Jesus. 

Your servant is suffering? Let’s heal them. They’re paralyzed? I can fix that. Let’s go. It’s almost as if Jesus is throwing up his hands to stop the centurion from going ahead with his speech about authority and systems of power and how an organizational chart works to interrupt and say – “Wait, you said someone was suffering? I’ll heal them. Don’t worry about the rest.” 

That’s surprising. And I think the surprise comes when we dig deeper. So, let’s unpack that statement more from Jesus. Again – erase the rest of the text from your mind this morning – it’s important, but for now erase everything except the beginning. Just let it be the first three verses in your head. “The centurion says, ‘My servant is suffering.’ Jesus says, ‘Want me to heal them?’” 

There was no faith check from Jesus at this point to make sure this centurion and their servant were worthy of such a healing. No requirement that certain confessions of faith be confessed. No system of beliefs held by the centurion that gave him the credentials to receive such a favor from Jesus. 

And yet, Jesus heals. Jesus does what Jesus always does: Loves and serves the world with reckless abandon. Loves and serves the world without regard for societal or cultural norms or expectations. Love and serves the world because that’s what Jesus does. 

Jesus takes this surprising encounter and simply carries on with the task at hand: Serve. Love. Repeat. No exceptions. 

This isn’t easy. I’m still surprised all the time at where I see God show up in the people, places, events, and things around me. And perhaps you experience the same thing from time to time. That God will show up in the most surprising of situations, the most unexpected of people, the most ordinary places, the strangest events. 

And yet, that’s God. It’s a God who encourages us to shatter our expectations. A God who empowers us to bring all the people, places, events – every possibility into the set of expectations we have in front of us – into the box of possibilities we’ve assigned to our lives and the life of the world around us. 

Because we cannot simply be prepared for every situation, every circumstance, every person that we meet. And so, in the midst of our amazement and surprise – in the midst of the people and world barging into our set of expectations for how life is supposed to go – in the midst of it all – Serve. Love. And repeat. 

Serve. Love. Repeat. Because you never know when or where Jesus will show up next. But, it’ll probably be where you least expect it. Because we follow a truly radical God. A God who hears the cries for justice, peace, mercy, forgiveness, and love and simply shows up – no questions asked. 

A God in Jesus Christ who serves and loves you.