“Hiding in Plain Sight” is a sermon prepared by Pastor John Valentine for our worship video on the weekend of February 7, 2021. It’s the 5th Sunday of the Epiphany Season and the text for the week in Luke 7:1-17.
“Hiding in Plain Sight”
Epiphany 5 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 7:1-17 February 7, 2021
“HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT”
“Hiding in plain sight.”
You ever heard that phrase before??
• It’s a phrase which someone in our house occasionally uses to tell me where I might find my car keys ... or my church keys ... or my mask! ... as I’m headed out the door.
• It’s a phrase which ... no doubt ... some pundit will use to explain why whichever team actually does win the Super Bowl did win the Super Bowl ... why it should have been obvious ... if only we’d paid attention.
Things do ... at least on occasion ... “hide in plain sight” ... don’t they???
We just overlook them ... don’t notice them ...
Until they hit us square between the eyes ...
And find ourselves saying “Why didn’t I ever notice that before?”
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Truth be told ... I had one of those “hiding in plain sight” moments earlier this week when I began to contemplate the text of this morning’s Bible lesson.
You see ... the first part of that reading was about a certain Roman centurion who sends a message to Jesus asking Jesus to help an ailing slave of his.
It’s this great story about a man who seems to exhibit more faith and trust in Jesus than anyone else on the planet ...
And leaves Jesus saying “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
It’s a story I’ve preached on at least a dozen times before.
Then again ... the second part of the lesson recounts the resuscitation of the widow’s son near the town of Nain.
That one too is a great story ... about a widow woman in the midst of her grief ... and how it is that Jesus brings the boy back to life.
And ... in the process ... bringing glory to God and new-found appreciation to Jesus.
It too is a story upon which I’ve preached a number of times before.
But here’s the curious thing.
I’ve always preached on each of those stories as a stand-alone unit ... reading the story of the Roman centurion and his faith one week and the story of the grieving widow the next.
But what ... pray-tell ... do these stories say ... and what do they reveal ... if we approach the two of them together as we did in this week’s reading?
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You see ... after studying them this week ... I’m increasingly convinced that Luke very much intended that those stories should be seen as a single unit of text.
That they are bookends that are meant to be sold in pairs ... each supporting ... and in a certain way ... needing and relying on the other in order to be fully understood.
I mean ...
If you put these two stories back to back ... you begin to realize ... in a certain way ... that they couldn’t be more different:
• The first of them is a story in which Jesus focuses his attention on the needs of a man ...
The second one sees Jesus focusing on the needs of a woman.
• The man is described as being a centurion ... which means he’s a Roman ... an alien ...
The woman is a Jew ... from a town in the Jewish heartland that was the Galilean countryside.
• Religiously ... they couldn’t be more different either ... for the woman is doing everything she can to keep to the proper Jewish burial laws laid down in Leviticus ...
While the centurion man couldn’t have kept to the Jewish law even if he had wanted to.
But the list is bigger than just that:
• He is powerful ... the primary enforcer of Roman political authority in the region ...
She is powerless.
• He is wealthy ... owning at least one slave ...
She is destitute. You see ... in a world wherein women weren’t much allowed to work outside the home ... she’d already lost her husband ...who was to be her source of funds during his working years ... and her only son ... who was her only potential source of support once his dad had died.
We ... for our part ... may not be able to wrap our hearts and minds around what it means to have absolutely NO power ... NO money ... NO leg to stand on ...
That’s exactly what the widow-woman of Nain has ... or more correctly ... doesn’t have.
This man ... the centurion ... and this woman ... the widow .... couldn’t be further apart by whatever social metric you might choose to measure them!
But that’s not the only measure by which these two stories from Luke ... chapter seven ... are bookends.
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In the first story ... the centurion comes looking for Jesus ...
In the second story ... Jesus just happens to appear.
In the first story ... there’s this group of outsiders who try to make the case to Jesus as to why he should do something to help the ailing slave ...
In the second story ... Jesus is moved to compassion simply by what he observes at the scene.
In the first story ... the centurion makes his appeal and makes a request ...
The woman in the second story does no such thing ... maybe because she’s too busy bawling her eyes out.
The centurion’s driving emotion is compassion for one who is living ...
The widow’s driving emotion is grief for one who is dead.
The centurion is lauded for his confident faith in Jesus ... and it’s assumed that that was the reason that this particular slave was healed ...
The widow exhibits ... by all appearances at least ... no faith at all.
But ... at the end of the day ... both the centurion’s slave and the widow’s son experience this restoration which only Jesus can bring.
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So what’s the point of all this????
Or ... more importantly maybe ... What is Luke’s point in all this????
What is Luke trying to show us and tell us about Jesus by pairing these stories as a single pair of bookends??
WHAT TRUTH IS LUKE HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT???
Maybe it’s just this:
That ... when the Kingdom of God breaks into the world ... it breaks in with such explosiveness ... such power ... that it decimates every last one of our cultural barriers and boundaries!
That human categories simply can’t withstand the wallop which the Kingdom of God seems to pack.
You see ... fifteen or twenty years after this story took place ... Saint Paul wrote some amazing words about how ... “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free” ...
It’s a beautiful assertion about what the Kingdom of God looks like.
But what we have in these two stories about the centurion and his slave and the widow in the town of Nain is Jesus giving us a living example of the fact that “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free” ...
That human categories and subcategories collapse in the presence of the Kingdom of God.
It may well be that ... in this world in which we live ... there is an operative need of human categories ... and we may call that “reality” ... by our perception of things ...
But let’s be clear ... in the Kingdom of God ... that Kingdom which is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching and living and dying ....
• There are no nationalities ...
• No races ...
• No ethnicities ...
• There are no classes ... upper, lower, middle ...
• There are no statuses under the law ... legal or illegal or resident alien or refugee ...
• Or genders or sexualities ...
• Or languages ...
• Or political party affiliations ...
• Or ANY of those other things by which we seem so eager to sub-divide ourselves and categorize our neighbors these days.
For ... in the Kingdom of God ... to borrow a phrase with which Saint Paul once pleaded with the Christians in the city of Corinth ... “All belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
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Anybody recall the movie “Places in the Heart”???
It was that movie starring Sally Fields that told the story of a young woman ... widowed within the first few minutes of the film ... as she struggles against principalities and powers of evil incarnate in everyday life of her small central-Texas town during the 1930s.
And it’s about how all these forces work to take away the only thing her husband has left to her and her two small children ... a small cotton farm. And how she attempts to soldier on in the face of lynchings, brutality, infidelity, racism, duplicity and greed
In some ways it’s a tough, tough movie to watch ... but the closing scene of the film is a communion service in the local church.
At first the camera shows you a few of the good folk in town.
Next ... some of the not-so-good.
Then the banker and others who conspired to take away the farm.
The camera continues to move through the congregation along with the cups of wine.
There is the faithful black farmhand who helped bring in the crop so the widow might pay her mortgage.
Next to him ... the blind boarder.
The plate passes to the children, then to their mother. She is seated next to her late husband.
As you are trying to take this in ... the plate moves to the young man who shot her husband.
They commune ... and each responds: “The Peace of God.”
And all are gathered at table ... to share the bread and cup of salvation.
And then suddenly it dawns on the viewer that this is more than Sunday morning; this is the Kingdom ... the Kingdom of which Christ taught ... the Kingdom for which he lived and died ...
It’s NOT a human point of view.
It’s a God’s-eye view ... literally ... of this community in which that movie is set.
For that is the truth that Luke is hiding in plain sight.
That ... “In Christ ....... there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free” ... for we all belong to Christ ... and Christ belongs to God.
And for which we can only ever say “Thanks be to God!”