• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Get Started, Here and Now

Making Change, A New Year sermon series from Luke, Week 5 of 6

Preached February 7, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship


Context

From Advent to Easter, we are reading and preaching from the Gospel of Luke, almost chapter by chapter, in order. Caitlan and I hope you find yourself knowing this Gospel way better than before, and you see Jesus through the eyes of Luke more clearly.


Today we are on week five of a six-week mini-series from early Luke Caitlan and I called “Making Change.” We’ve been studying the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry in Luke and looking at the steps Jesus took to make change.


In Luke, Jesus’s first step in making change was to find a mentor. His second step was to prepare for resistance. His third step was to gather a team. Last week, Caitlan showed us his fourth step, lay the foundation… the purpose, priorities, and values of the group as they go forward together making change.


This week, we hear Jesus’ fifth step. Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord from…


Pray


Scripture Luke 7:1-17

7:1 After Jesus had finished all his teachings within earshot of the people, he went to Capernaum.


2 A Roman centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus, asking Jesus to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us,” 6 and Jesus went with them. But, when Jesus was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 (that’s why) I did not presume to come to you (myself). But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man who understands authority, with soldiers under me; I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”


9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.


11 Soon afterward Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Awe seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about Jesus spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.


This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)


Sermon Get Started, Here and Now

In John Paul Flintoff’s Ted Talk entitled “How to Change the World,” he recalls the frustration at the beginning of his attempt to protect the environment and prevent global warming. He wanted to make a difference. He wondered if any one person could really make a difference. He chose to start right where he was. He wouldn’t try to change national policy. He would change himself and reach out with that change to those closest to him, his neighbors, and anyone he bumped into. He didn’t bombard them with data and proof and research. He gave them tomato plants and tomato seedlings. Some started growing their own tomatoes. Some let that seed of a tomato inspire them to start a small garden and grow other foods, that they then shared with their neighbors. John’s small change right there, right then, where he was, in some small way did change his little corner of the world. They reduced their dependency on food grown far away and shipped across the country, which reduced emissions, and helped protect the planet and slow global warming.


The next step in making change happen is to start here and now. Charles Eames says it this way, “Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely, and to the best of your ability, and that way you might change the world.”


Jesus found Capernaum as his corner of the world that day. I’m sure there were thousands of needs all around that region. But, he entered Capernaum, and something arose right there, where Jesus was, right then, when Jesus came into town. A Roman centurion had a slave that was sick. He reached out to his connections in the Jewish community and asked them to ask Rabbi Jesus for his time and attention to his sick slave.


Let’s not dance over the awkwardness here. Rome gave Romans special rights and privileges and did not extend those rights or privileges to non-Romans. Roman citizens owned non-Roman people and used them as slaves. Rome controlled the military and police force and used them to protect the power and privileges of Romans over all other people. Rome expected non-Roman people to do the base jobs, the menial jobs, the service jobs that kept Rome’s economy moving, and almost all the wealth and power of that economy stayed with Rome and Romans. The non-Romans were either forced labor or were given just enough pay to keep them obedient, but never enough pay or clout or respect to be equals in society.


On this day, at this moment, with this opportunity to make change, Jesus didn’t try to change the whole system. But, he didn’t let the sin of system and structures keep him from starting the change right there, right then, with the ones life presented him.


The Roman centurion served the system and was a part of it. He owned a slave. His forces kept the non-Romans in line. But there must have been a living breathing part of him that understood some of the problems in his own culture, and he was apparently open to making change. He had helped the Jewish community of his area build their synagogue. He had compassion for his sick slave. He had enough humility to ask for help from a non-Roman. He had enough respect for Jesus and the Jewish community not to expect them to stain themselves by entering his gentile home. He had enough faith in this itinerant poor Jewish non-Roman healer to put the life of his servant into Jesus’ hands.


Jesus measures the situation and the request. This matches his purpose, to bring healing and reconciliation, justice and peace to the world’s broken community. This matches his priorities and values, to serve first the weakest, lost, suffering, and oppressed, and to guide those with power to lay down their power for service of others alongside him. So Jesus pauses what he was doing and takes this opportunity, right here, right now, to start making change.


Jesus leaves Capernaum for another town, Nain. As he enters that town, another opportunity for change presents itself. He notices a funeral procession. Death is marching by, and the people are feeling its weight and power. Much like non-Romans felt under the weight and power of Rome, hopeless, powerless, death does something similar. Death seems to have so much power, and people look upon it as if death wins, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent that.


This crowd does not ask for Jesus’ help like the centurion did. No one came or was sent to Jesus on behalf of this young man or his family. It's one thing to hope and ask for healing, and to keep looking and asking for help when someone is sick or suffering. But most people stop looking or asking for help once death arrives. Death feels like the one great change we cannot change.


Jesus measures this situation. This also matches his purpose. He wants the world to know God’s loving community of justice and peace extends through, beyond, and despite death. This matches his priorities and values. In God’s great kingdom, those who grieve will be the first to rejoice, and those who mourn will be the first to be comforted. He steps in front of them, puts his hand on the bier, the platform under the body, and the pallbearers stop. Jesus’ words and actions probably felt rude or disrespectful to the gathered crowd. But Jesus doesn’t allow the misperceptions of others to prevent him from starting making change, right here, right now. He knows life is so much more than death. He knows grief is because of love, and love always wins.


We don’t know why Jesus went to Capernaum or to Nain, what Jesus had on the agenda for those trips. We do know that when Jesus noticed the opportunity that matched his purpose and principles, he started making change, right there, right then.


The fifth step in making change is to get started, right where we are, and right now. Listen and look for anyone who needs the good change God promises. Then respond, in some small way, right there, right then, even if you aren’t sure it will make a difference. Watch for anyone who feels sure hope is gone and change is impossible, and do something right here, right now, even if you aren’t sure it will make a difference. Show your faith and trust that making good change in this world is always possible and always worth it. And if you are the person needing the change, don’t wait another minute. Find some small way, and get started.


Mother Teresa did not believe she could actually make change. There were many times in her ministry where things felt pointless, and all her effort felt wasted. Still, in reflecting with God, herself, and others, she once wrote, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” May we make ripples of change by getting started, right here, right now.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.


Benediction

Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown

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