ON 29TH JUNE 2003.
SHOULD WE TOUCH?”
us draw near, we who are weary and burdened with troubles.
us call out to God in our distress.
us make our lament know to the One whose loving touch brings wholeness and
us draw near, we who hope against hope for healing and release.
us hear Jesus proclaiming hope to us and to all with the words, “Do not fear;
us draw near, we who jump for joy in God’s presence.
us rejoice in the abundance of life, eager and generous in sharing.
souls wait for God, more than those who watch for the morning!
we pray, you may like to touch the parts of your body mentioned in the prayer,
reflecting on how this part of your body can be used to bring hurt or healing.)
and merciful God,
us as we confess what we have done and how we have hurt others.
we use our hands to strike out, to tear up, and to destroy, forgive us.
us to use our hands in friendship and care.
we use our eyes to look away from our fear and the fear of others,
when we look upon others with dislike, distrust or hatred, forgive us.
us to use our eyes in friendship and care.
we fail to use our mouths to ask boldly for your help, or to speak on behalf of
others, forgive us.
us to use our mouths in friendship and care.
we use our ears to listen only to those who are close to us, forgive us.
us to use our ears in friendship and care.
we close our hearts to you, O God, forgive us.
us to open our hearts, and to serve others in friendship and care.
hands are at work for God’s realm;
feet know the way towards love;
mouths call boldly on the grace of God;
ears listen to the cries of the world;
our hearts trust in God’s mercy.
us go as forgiven people,
bring hope and healing to the world. Amen.
TOUCH AND BAD TOUCH”
are many ways in which we touch people and are touched by people.
you have unpleasant memories of being jostled in a crowd, particularly back when
you were a small child.
planning a visit to Thailand I was warned to be careful not to touch anyone’s
head, even to ruffle the hair of a child. Such
an act is deeply offensive to Thai people.
between people as we talk is often determined by cultural norms.
People in rural Western Australia like to keep greater amounts of
physical distance between them than is possible in crowded cities.
may be some people we don’t like touching, and we don’t like them to touch
us, for a variety of reasons.
I worked in the Pharmacy, after consulting about children with head lice, I
often felt my own head was itchy for several minutes after the contact.
you imagine how Jesus felt after being touched by the woman in the crowd, and
the way Jesus touched the dead girl? Consider
the taboos against such contact. Menstruating women were seen as unclean.
To touch a dead body was to become polluted, unfit for worship.
Jesus understood things very differently, obviously.
Samuel 1:1, 17-27
the face of personal pain, we bring our laments to God.
the face of the pain and suffering of others, we are to share and care:
Corinthians 8: 7-15.
Sorrow knows no season. We have just listened to Biblical examples of people bringing their deep pain to God, so God could touch the pain. David cried out of the depth of his sorrow for the loss of Saul and Jonathan. Paul shared his deep concern for the Christians in Jerusalem with his friends in Corinth, and asked them to give sacrificially in solidarity and love. Jairus brought his fear for his daughter’s life to Jesus, and the chronically ill woman touched him with her agony. But, we often don’t want to do this. Oh, we might sprinkle references to painful reality in our worship service, but nothing to take away the impression that we are like a beer commercial -- all young, healthy and having a great time. After all, we want people to come back next Sunday. If we dwell on the oppression of the Christians in Jerusalem, we might be labelled “bleeding heart liberals.” If we pause at the side of the children whose father was gunned to death in the car seat in front of them, we might appear soft on crime. If we identify with people who are sick day after day -- even for twelve years -- we might seem to belie the healing power of Christ. To mourn the death of a loved one for months or perhaps years is right out -- not in public worship. Too often church is the place where we smile and act as if everything is right with the world, and with us. We erect a protective wall around ourselves so no one, not even God, can touch our pain. Almost all of us do this. If grief is still painful and raw, we may stay at home rather than “making a fool of ourselves” by weeping in church. As I talked last week of my coming move to Hobart, I made sure it was at the end of the service, so I wouldn’t spoil our happiness at our 26th Anniversary. And I try to focus on the positive aspects of God’s call, rather than dissolving in tears at the thought of saying goodbye to all you my friends. That is how I have been taught to behave. Don’t make a fuss. And I know most of you are the same! You have talked to me about it, or you have kept your troubles to yourselves, because you don’t want to burden others, or appear weak, or seem to question God’s providence! So, where do people go with their grief? With their loss and with their bodies of death? To a beer commercial? To a beer?
David was about to experience the loneliness at the top. He was king without rival now, but he lamented the death of his rival. There was shade for him from the heat of public life beneath the shield of Saul, even when it turned against him. Now there was nothing but the glare of the expectations of a million citizens. “How the mighty have fallen,” and one day he would fall too.
“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (1 Samuel 1:26) There is so much human anguish beneath this sentence; I find it painful to look beneath. “Passing the love of women”!? What does one do with such a love, doomed as David’s was? Those who dare to pass sentence on homosexuals need to listen to the depth of David’s grief here, too!
Uncomfortable thoughts! Paul can be expected to give us comfort in our prejudices! But what is this? Shame on you, Paul, for suggesting that my bounty today might be an obligation to respond to my brother’s poverty! I got this money the hard way. I’m going to have some fun. I’ve earned it. Community is only important as the setting for enterprise. The very idea that resources ought to flow to the point of human need, where is your devotion to God and Country? Where is your faith in free enterprise, in free trade, the market economy?
Well, if Paul is no comfort to me, as I
try to keep a stiff upper lip and a firm grasp on my possessions, physical and
spiritual, surely Jesus will support my efforts?
“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’" (Mark 5:34) Was it only after twelve years of illness that she had faith, or was Jesus referring to her faith over the twelve years? Jesus says that her faith has made her well, but then adds his blessing, “be healed of your disease.” Is this just poetic parallelism, or is more implied? Is there a distinction between “well” and “healed”? Her faith has made her well. Jesus’ power has healed her. Can one be well and not healed? How does this stack up with the “miraculous faith healings” I watched on morning TV this week, when after 4 am I could no longer sleep? By prayer a woman was healed of crippling osteoporosis, another of cancer and a third stood up out of her wheel chair. And the adoring crowd put large sums of money in the offering plates, as the preacher strutted the stage in apparent pride and joy! Is it only that I have never been touched by God in that way, that makes me sceptical? Or is it that my knowledge of God from Scripture does not paint for me a picture of a God who leaves folk writhing on the ground, or acting through a man who seems to enjoy the adoration and praise of the crowds? Jesus himself withdrew from the crowds, and told the parents of the young girl to “tell no one what has happened.”
If you are not Jairus, and your child has died . . . If you called upon Jesus day and night both before and after the child’s death, what does the story of Jairus say to you? What does the preacher’s rush to celebrate the faith of Jairus and the power of Jesus elicit in you? The world rushes to instant gratification. Is there instant gratification in Jesus? If there were -- if we could convince the world that there were, we could have the world; but what does it profit a person to gain the whole world at the cost of his own soul? There was instant gratification for Jairus in the context of this story, but we don’t know how long the girl lived beyond that day. We don’t know if her life was joyous or tragic. This isn’t a story about a family that got lucky. This is a story confessing Jesus as the Lord of life. It is Jairus’ relation to God in Jesus, it is the daughter’s relation to God in Jesus, and it is our relation to God in Jesus that is crucial here!
If I was looking for the return of my child when I called upon the name of Jesus, and what I got was Jesus, am I disappointed?
Has God touched your life? Celebrate this! In
my experience, such a touch comes more often at moments of despair and turmoil,
not lifting the pain, but walking with me through it. It is the God who comes to me with nail scared hands, saying
“Put your finger here, place your hand in my side!
Lo, I am with you always!” This
is the God whose touch is peace, even in the midst of pain.
"Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! . . . I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Psalm 130: 1-2, 5-6)
May God touch each one of our lives this morning.
May we go in peace. Amen.
I am indebted to Roland McGregor, Pastor, Asbury United Methodist Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA for much of the structure of this sermon.