St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Epiphany III : Fr Tony Hogg

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 The Gospel for today brings to our attention a ‘far off’ man. That is to say, he was ‘far off’
 from the first followers of Jesus. He was a Roman, an army man, in the army that was 
keeping the Jews down. There was no love lost between the Jews and the occupying forces;
 as indeed one would expect. Moreover, there was a whole world of difference between the 
Romans and the Jews. Yet none of these differences pinpointed by race proved to be a 
barrier. Jesus healed this Roman officer’s boy.
There are two points to note about this Roman. First, it was he who made the approach to 
Jesus across the barrier. It wasn’t the other way around. Similarly, it was the Wise Men 
who travelled afar to see the Infant Jesus, not the other way round. So the Syrophoenician 
woman came seeking on behalf of her daughter. And the Greeks approached Philip, ‘Sir, 
we would see Jesus.’ So we see that the Christian way was broken into from the outside by
  outsiders. The time came when the whole Church, took the Gospel to outsiders. This 
Roman, however, saw the truth long before. The remarkable fact is that sometimes an 
outsider can see more closely the purpose of God in the world. And Jesus did find it 
remarkable, when he said; ‘I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel…many shall 
come from the east and west and sit in the Kingdom of God.’
Secondly, we should note how the Roman officer saw into the nature of Jesus’ ministry by 
examining his own. He said to himself, ‘I have authority. I can say to this man, “Do this’, 
and to that man, “Do that”. My belief is that this Jesus can do the same. No, there is no 
need for Jesus to come in person to my house to heal my fever-tossed boy. He can simply 
say the word and the boy will be healed.’ That is to say, because of his overwhelming 
authority Christ can heal from the outside, he can heal from far off, therefore he can heal 
far off peoples. And that is the message of Epiphany. The Christian Gospel is for all 
peoples. There are no racial barriers. And so the Church, wherever it has been true to its 
Lord has been a missionary-hearted church. And, may it not be, that today, the failure of 
the church, is that it has lost that missionary zeal, as it seems afraid to stand up and join 
with this Centurion and declare absolute faith, without apology.
So this first lesson from the Gospel today, is to sweep away from our minds of any racial 
barriers to the scope of the Christian Gospel. Because in the depths of our hearts we know 
that they should not exist.
So now we move to our second lesson which we can learn this morning, and it is not so easy 
to define. It might be called the barrier of social distinction; the manual/ non-manual 
worker divide. Perhaps the financial barrier. We all know that probably every country has 
parts of society plagued by violence, gang warfare, drug-taking, robbery etc. But against 
that we read so often of the bravery of Gospel filled people and groups who are prepared to 
wear their faith on their sleeves, and go among those, who could be seen in terms of this 
Centurion as ‘far off’ people. But just as that Roman was to believe, and just as Our Lord 
was to show him, healing is possible perhaps from afar, but also near.
And our third message is how Christian denominations can be a barrier, a barrier that is, 
to the free flowing of the Spirit of Christ in a community. Whenever I am about to baptize, 
I always remind those gathered, that nowhere does it say that I am to baptize the 
child/adult into the Anglican Church of South Africa, but into the Church of God. The sad 
divisions within the Church here on earth are of man’s making, often through greed for 
personal power, or theological ignorance. However, and thank God, there have been signs 
of more openness towards unity; we do not look for, or need uniformity, but to be at peace 
with each other in brotherly love.  
The hymn ‘O Thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray’
puts it into perspective so well in verse 4. – ‘So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
May we be one with all thy Church above,
One with the saints in one unbroken peace,
One with the saints in one unbounded love;
More blessed still, in peace and love to be
One with the Trinity in Unity.’
So we can, good friends, this week take home with us a very simple but powerful message 
to sustain us, and it is this. “Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” 
We know that we can do thus, because like the centurion, we have declared
 “I am not worthy to receive you, but say the word only”, and we are healed. Amen


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