the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 17

2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-21

Alternative Scriptures

Exodus 16:1-15
Psalm 78:19-25
Revelation 2:12-17

Eating the Bread of Angels

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only one of Jesus' miracles that is attested to in all four gospels. John's version of the story is the one that we remember most often because here Andrew brings forward a young boy who has come out to hear Jesus and had enough forethought to bring his own lunch, five barley loaves and two fish. He offers his lunch to Jesus to feed the multitude.

We preachers like to use this little boy as the prototype, the poster child if you will, for self sacrifice and for giving of our substance to the service of the Lord. It is a very good theme when preaching stewardship, tithing and giving to the church.

Jesus puts Philip to the test by asking him how he intended to feed all these people. John tells us parenthetically that Jesus already knew what he was going to do and his question was a test. It was a test of Faith. Faced with an impossible task and no resources, Philip did not have the faith required to respond to the call of Jesus to feed the multitude.

Perhaps John is remembering another story that only he tells us. After the resurrection, Jesus meets the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Gallilee. He is grilling fish on an open fire. As the disciples eat the food that Jesus has prepared for them, He askes Peter, "Do you Love Me?" He asks Peter three times. Three times Peter insists, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love Thee." And three times Jesus tells Peter to "Feed My Sheep."

The calling and testing of Philip, the response of the little boy to Jesus' need for resources, the challenge to Peter, they are all object lessons for us to hear the call of Jesus to "Feed His Sheep." That calling is echoed by the Apostle Paul in the 5th chapter of 2 Corinthians, when he tells us that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. In addition to Stewardship and heeding the call of God, we have a good text for preaching about Missions.

But the Feeding of the 5,000 recalls to our minds another story told over and over by the Jews. A story of God and His people at the very beginning of their covenant together. It is a story of God's unyielding, undying love for us, His people, and His concern for our every need. We read this story in our Old Testament reading from the 16th chapter of Exodus .

God had heard the cry of anguish of his people suffering under the yoke of slavery in Egypt. He had raised up a prophet and a shepherd, Moses, to face down Pharoah and deliver the people out of their slavery.

But slavery is easy and freedom is hard. It is so easy to let someone else supply all we need and it is so hard when we are placed in a position of having to provide for our needs on our own enterprise.

Almost immediately the Israelites began to complain. "Why has the Lord brought us out of Egypt where we had three square meals a day, in to a wilderness where there is no food and no water? Has He brought us out here to die? We ought to go back to Pharoah." The Psalmist puts it like this: "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?"

God heard the grumbling of His people even as he hears the grumbling of His people today. No matter what He did for the Israelites it was never enough. No matter what He has done for us it is never enough because we do not have Faith that He will be there for us.

Three times, God answered the grumbling of the Israelites. In Massah he instructed Moses to strike the rock and out poured water to quench their thirst. Jesus is the Living water offerred to the woman at the well. He sent quail to provide the people with meat. And he sent the manna from heaven for them to use like flour to make bread. Jesus said, "take, eat, this is my body that was broken for you.

The Psalmist goes on to say the people "had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power. Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; he rained down on them the grain of heaven."

God hears our grumbling, he hears our prayers and petitions. He intends to answer each and every one in a way that follows his divine plan for us. But He wants us to believe that He will do so. He wants us to have the kind of Faith that knows that whatever He does, will be the best for us.

But we want things our way. If God doesn't give us what we want in the way we want it, we say "Why doesn't God answer prayer?" Or, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

God brought the people out of slavery in Egypt. But he could not take them immediately to the promised land. They weren't ready. They had to be tested and tried in the desert wilderness of Sinai for 40 years. An entire generation had to pass away so that a new generation could shake off the bonds of the mentality of slavery and put on the mentality of Faith in God.

Do you not know that God tests us and tries us in the desert wilderness? John the Baptist tells us in the very beginning of the Gospel that "One is coming more powerful than I and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granery; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

God loves us so much that He was willing to become man in the form of His Son, Jesus. And He loves us so much that He was willing to die a horrible death for us. Should we not also believe that He loves us enough to provide the things we need?

The Psalmist completes his message to us with these words: "Mortals ate of the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance." Won't you hear, and believe?

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 16

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Begging for the Touch of the Master

The metaphor of shepherd and sheep is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the relationship between God and his agents and the people of Israel.

Israel was lost, without a shepherd, enslaved to the oppressive Egyptian kings. God raised up a shepherd, Moses, to lead the people, like a flock of sheep, out of Egypt and into the wilderness of Sinai.

For over four hundred years during the period of the judges, God did not raise up a permanent shepherd to guide his flock. Only in times of great calamity did he do so, preferring himself to be the shepherd of his flock. But the people cried out to God and to Samuel to give them a king, a visible shepherd, to bring order to their land and lead them against their enemies. Someone to raise up an army to defend the sheep against the wolves. The king was God's annointed, the Messiah, the Christos. And the quintessential king was the shepherd boy, David.

Like Joseph before him, David was God's favored one. And David loved his Lord. It was David who wrote of the many ways God had delivered him out of the hands of the enemy. It was David who penned the great words of comfort: "The Lord is my shepherd..." The bond between God and David was so strong that God promised David an endless line of kings to rule over the house of Israel.

Ah, but there was only one David. Except for Hezekiah and Josiah, his great grandson, there was no king in Judah who loved the Lord. The other kings made political marriages with the peoples of foreign lands. They brought the worship of foreign gods to Jerusalem and the Temple. Finally, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel began to prophesy Israel's destruction. And when they did so, they used the metaphor of shepherd and sheep.

In our scripture this morning we read Jeremiah's words: "Woe to the shepherds (the kings) who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" "It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings."

And the prophecy became a reality. At the hand of Nebechadnezar and the Babylonians, the kings of Jerusalem were dethroned and taken into captivity. Many of the people also were taken into exile in a foreign land.

But God did not leave the people without a promise. "The days are coming when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety."

However, since Zedekiah was taken into captivity in 587 BCE, there has been no king to take the throne over Israel. Instead the people remained scattered except for a few who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple. They were ruled over by governors, whose allegiance was to some foreign king or emperor.

Even though no king appeared, the hope was kept alive in the hearts of the people. When Zechariah, the priest who was the father of John the Baptist, spoke for the first time at the birth of his son, he said: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David...And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way."

When God determined to act in history, it was through a young woman, not much more than a child, who was a descendant of David, God's first annointed. And Mary gave birth to a son who whould be the savior of the world.

When Jesus came on the scene, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, it was a message that the people were hungry for. Everywhere Jesus went, he was surrounded by people. He taught them, he fed them, he healed them. But most of all he gave them hope. Hope in the salvation of God.

The crowds were so intense that he had to go out onto a mountain at night to pray. All of his day was spent ministering to the crowds. He could not get any rest. He sent his disciples out in teams of two to carry his message and his hope to more people. When they returned, they too were exhausted. Jesus tried to get them off into a deserted place for rest and recuperation. But everywhere they went the crowds would get there before them. They got into the boat at the shore of the sea of Gallilee, but even then the people ran around the lake and met them on the other side.

As tired as Jesus was, when he stepped off the boat and went ashore, "he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." Later, they got into the boat and went in another direction but "When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak."

They begged for the touch of the Master. How many today still beg for the touch of the Master? How many people in the world are sick without a doctor or medicine. How many children go to bed hungry at night not knowing if the next day will bring anything to eat? How many? They are begging for someone to reach out and touch them, to provide for their needs both physical, mental and spiritual.

People in our land are like sheep without a shepherd. How many have gone after other gods like wealth, power, popularity only to be left abandoned by gods who had no real power to save. How many young people have given their lives to the service of some illicit drug. A drug that promises all the pleasure a person could want. And how many lives have been ruined because the drug is a fickle giver. It demands one's every attention and gives only brief pleasure in return. The pursuit of the high takes all the resources of a family and leaves nothing to show. Children grow up with parents in jail or absent because they stay high all the time. Children are born into the world already additcted to a drug their mother was taking during pregnancy.

They are begging for the touch of the Master. But the Master has sent us in his stead. If they are to be touched by the Master, it will have to be by people like you and me. It is so easy for us to sit back in our relative comfort and ease and say "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill." But it is not so easy to bring peace where there is no peace, to provide warmth where there is no shelter, or to provide food where there is only hunger. To do that we have to get up off our couches and turn off the TV or the video game, we have to leave the golf clubs at home and we have to go to places where there is dirt and filth and disease.

Not everyone has the stomach for it. Not everyone has the disposition or the constitution to do it. Not everyone has the calling from God to do it. But we all can help. We all have a calling from God to do all that we can to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and mercy to the broken hearted. We must do more than we are doing. We must be ambassadors for Christ and ministers of reconciliation. How will you answer the call of God in your life? How will you answer the people who are begging for the touch of the Master?

However you answer the call be sure that your blessings will be far greater than the cost to your pocket book.

Thanks be to God.

Let us Pray
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and grant us peace in our day.
Keep us from drifting about without aim.
Gather us together and make us
shepherds to one another,
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming in glory
of our Shepherd and Savior Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
both now and for evermore.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

...from Seeds of Contemplation

by Thomas Merton

Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.

This is no new idea. Christ in the parable of the sower long ago told us that "The seed is the word of God." We often think this applies only to the word of the Gospel as formally preached in churches on Sundays (if indeed it is preached in churches any more!). But every expression of the will of God is in some sense a "word" of God and therefore a "seed" of new life. The ever-changing reality in the midst of which we live should awaken us to the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God. By this I do not mean continuous "talk," or a frivolously conversational form of affective prayer prayer which is sometimes cultivated in convents, but a dialogue of love and choice. A dialogue of deep wills.

In all the situations of life the "will of God" comes to us not merely as an external dictate of impersonal law but above all as an interior invitation of personal love. Too often the conventional conception of "God's will" as a sphinx-like and arbitrary force bearing down upon us with implacable hostility, leads men to lose faith in God they cannot find it possible to love. Such a view of the divine will drives human weakness to despair and one wonders if it is not, itself, often the expression of a despair too intolerable to be admitted to conscious consideration. These arbitrary "dictates" of a domineering and insensible Father are more often seeds of hatred than of love. If that is our concept of the will of God, we cannot possibly seek the obscure and intimate mystery of the encounter that takes place in contemplation. We will desire only to fly as far as possible from Him and hide from His Face forever. So much depends on our idea of God! Yet no idea of Him, however pure and perfect, is adequate to express Him as He really is. Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.

We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good. His inscrutable love seeks our awakening. True, since this awakening implies a kind of death to our exterior self, we will dread His coming in proportion as we are identified with this exterior self and attached to it. But when we understand the dialectic of life and death we will learn to take the risks implied by faith, to make the choices that deliver us from our routine self and open to us the door of a new being, a new reality.

The mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas, and the will that is the captive of its own desire cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and a supernatural desire. For how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with another and opposite desire? God cannot plant His liberty in me because I am a prisoner and I do not even desire to be free. I love my captivity and I imprison myself in the desire for the things that I hate, and I have hardened my heart against true love. I must learn therefore to leet go of the familiar and the usual and consent to what is new and unknown to me. I must learn to "leave myself" in order to find myself by yielding to the love of God. If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of His life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest.

For it is God's love that warms me in the sun and God's love that sends the cold rain. It is God's love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God that feeds me also by hunger and fasting. It is the love of God that sends the winter days wh en I am cold and sick, and the hot summer when I labor and my clothes are full of sweat: but it is God Who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood. His love spreads the shade of the sycamore over my head and sends the water-boy along the edge of the wheat field with a bucket from the spring, while the laborers are resting and the mules stand under the tree.

It is God's love that speaks to me in the birds and streams; but also behind the clamor of the city God speaks to me in His judgements, and all these things are seeds sent to me from His will.

If these seeds would take root in my liberty, and if His will would grow from my freedom, I would become the love that He is, and my harvest would be His glory and my own joy.

And I would grow together with thousands and millions of other freedoms into the gold of one huge field praising God, loaded with increase, loaded with wheat. If in all things I consider only the heat and cold, the food or the hunger, the sickness or labor, the beauty or pleasure, the success and failure or the material good or evil my works have won for my own will, I will find only emptiness and not happiness. I shall not be fed, I shall not be full. For my food is the will of Him Who mad me and Who made all things in order to give Himself to me through them.

My chief care should not be to find pleasure or success, health or life or money or rest or even things like virtue and wisdom—still less their opposites, pain, failure, sickness, death. But in all that happens, my one desire and my one joy should be to know: "Here is the thing that God has willed for me. In this His love is found, and in accepting this I can give back His love to Him and give myself with it to Him. For in giving myself I shall find Him and He is life everlasting."

By consenting to His will with joy and doing it with gladness, I have His love in my heart, because my will is now the same as His love and I am on the way to becoming what He is, Who is Love. And by accepting all things from Him I receive His joy into my soul, not because things are what they are but because God is Who He is, and His love has willed my joy in them all.

How am I to know the will of God? Even where there is no other more explicit claim on my obedience, such as a legitimate command, the very nature of each situation usually bears written into itself some indication of God's will. For whatever is demanded by truth, by justice, by mercy, or by love must surely be taken to be willed by God. To consent to His will is, then, to consent to be true, or to speak truth, or at least to seek it. To obey Him is to respond to His will expressed in the need of another person, or at least to respect the rights of others. For the right of another man is the expression of God's love and God's will. In demanding that I respect the rights of another God is not merely asking me to conform to some abstract, arbitrary law: He is enabling me to share, as His son, in His own care for my brother. No man who ignores the rights and needs of others can hope to walk in the light of contemplation, because his way has turned aside from truth, from compassion and therefore from God.

The requirements of a work to be done can be understood as the will of God. If I am supposed to hoe a garden or make a table, then I will be obeying God if I am true to the task I am performing. To do the work carefully and well, with love and respect for the nature of my task and with due attention to its purpose, is to unite myself to God's will in my work. In this way I become His instrument. He works through me. When I act as His instrument my labor cannot become an obstacle to contemplation, even though it may temporarily so occupy my mind that I cannot engage in it while I am actually doing my job. Yet my work itself will purify and pacify my mind and dispose me for contemplation.

Unnatural, frantic, anxious work, work done under pressure of greed or fear or any other inordinate passion, cannot properly speaking be dedicated to God, because God never wills such work directly. He may permit that through no fault of our own we may have to work madly and distractedly, due to our sins, and the sins of the society in which we live. In that case we must tolerate it and make the best of what we cannot avoid. But let us not be blind to the distinction between sound, healthy work and unnatural toil.

In any case, we should always seek to conform to the logos or truth of the duty before us, the work to be done, or our own God-given nature. Contemplative obedience and abandonment to the will of God can never mean a cultivated indifference to the natural values implanted by Him in human life and work. Insensitivity must not be confused with detachment. The contemplative must certainly be detached, but he can never allow himself to become insensible to true human values, whether in society, in other men or in himself. If he does so, then his contemplation stands condemned as vitiated in its very root.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 15

Amos 7:12-15
Psalm 85:9-14
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Tomorrow is my eighth anniversary as pastor of Hope Memorial Baptist Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia. We will have a covered dish dinner following our worship service. My sermon tomorrow will be a sermon in song with my trusty guitar. Pray for us as we pray for all of you.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 14

Can You Hear Christ's Message and His Mission?

How we relate to Jesus affects how we hear his message and how we hear his message affects the way we carry out his mission.

Mark is the first to tell the story of Jesus' return to his hometown. After gaining noteriety in the surrounding area of Gallilee as a teacher and a healer, Jesus decides to take his good news to his friends and relatives.

When Jesus was at home in Nazareth, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath as we presume he did as a young boy. This time he stood up to read and began to teach the peole. It was appropriate for a rabbi with a following as Jesus had to teach in the synagogue wherever he traveled. Jesus had done so in Capernaum, where he also performed great miracles.

But the people at home didn't know him as a rabbi, a teacher of wisdom and a performer if great miracles. They were too familiar with him to take him seriously as a prophet bearing good news from God.

They thought they already knew Jesus. They had watched him grow up, the mysterious child of Mary with no father. He was the Carpenter wasn't he? He made things with his hands. He was no philosopher, no teacher. Where did he get all of this?

He was the son of Mary who still lived in the village. His brothers and sisters were well known among the people, they could call them by name: James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. He might have been a precosious lad, but then he went off. Now he has come back with grand ideas about himself. Why he's no different from us!

Their knowledge of him was only superficial. They had only known him from afar at a time before he received his calling from God. Perhaps Mary and Jesus had known, as he was growing up that he had a special mission in life. But Mary had kept all these things hidden in her heart, didn't she?

They expected Jesus to act in a certain way prescribed by the rules of the community. He should have been home taking care of his mother. Helping with the support of such a large family: five boys and at least two sisters. Because he had gone away, deserting the care of his family, the locals could not see him as a teacher, a rabbi or a man of God.

The people of Nazareth could not hear his message. To hear his message, they had to change the way they thought about him.

Mark gives us the story in broad brush, but we have to turn to Luke's version of the story to get important details. With the rest of the story from Luke we can better understand why Jesus got the reception he did, and how we too must take care in how we receive his message and carry out his mission.

Luke 4:16-21 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
Isaiah 61:1-2
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

What a thing to say! Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing! The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, the Lord has annointed me - I am God's annointed, the messiah.

To the people of Nazareth this seemed like more than just poppycock, it seemed like blasphemy, like heresy. It is easier for us, removed some 2,000 years from this day, to hear the message than it was for the men of Nazareth.

But it is still difficult for us to hear this message. To us following Jesus is wrapped up in going to Sunday school and attending church. We meet with people who believe like we do and talk about the bible and the gospel and about missions. And then we get in our cars and go home. Like the people of Nazareth, we have to change the way we think about Jesus in order to hear his message and carry out his mission.

The Lord has sent me...on a mission.

To bring good news to the oppressed.
That good news is that God loves you. Your oppression need not be the center of your life.

To bind up the broken hearted. Jesus came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly.

To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. The jails and prisions were full of people whose only crime was poverty. They could not pay the Roman tax, or they owed debts they could not pay. Some were sold as indentured servants to pay for their debts. Some were in prision because they backed the wrong party.

To comfort all who mourn. Those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Those who mourned the loss of their good name. Those who mourned the loss their self respect.

This was Jesus' own understanding of his mission on earth. But Jesus knew his ministry would be very short. In fact, it only lasted three years. Three years! Less time than a governor serves his state. Less time than a President serves his courntry. Jesus burst on the scene and in three short years he was gone again. But John tells us that Jesus said this: my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

And as the children learned in Vacation Bible School this year, he said

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

And they learned this:

Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Jesus' mission for us is to continue the mission God gave him.

The apostle Paul tells us more about the mission Jesus has sent us on:

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 ...if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Remember he said...
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 13

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Reaching Out and Touching

Thanks to Witness Magazine and Rick Morely whose article "To Be Touched and To Touch" contributed to this sermon.

A major long distance carrier of telephone service has an entire advertising campaign built around the slogan "Reach out and touch someone."

Touching, one of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch, is a remarkable sense. Blind people are said to "see" our face, or get a mental picture of us, by touching our faces. Helen Keller went through life without her senses of sight and hearing, her only interface with the world around her was through the sense of touch. Yet, she was able to see and understand through that one sense more of the world's mysteries than you or I can with our senses of sight and hearing.

Scientists have conducted experiments with chimpanzees on the sense of touch and the depravation of touching. Baby chimps who lost their mother at birth were raised without the touch of another being. One group was raised with an inanimate surrogate mother in the form of chimpanzee. In all cases, chimps who were raised without the touch of another chimp, were retarded in their development and exhibited abnormal behavior as adults.

Indeed the sense of touch is important to us. We touch our children. We touch eachother. It is one of the ways we get to know one another. And it is one of the ways we break through and allow others to break through the boundaries of intimacy. Take, for example, a hug. When we offer a hug to someone it usually signifies a close friendly relationship. And when we withhold the offer of a hug and substitute a handshake, instead, it means that we feel more comfortable keeping a little distance between us. And, of course, the ultimate act of touching another, the embrace, is reserved for those with whom we feel most intimate. It is an act of love.

Touching was for Jesus an important way of welcoming those who otherwise were outcasts. He both touched others and allowed others to touch him, as though to say it is through touching that you receive my spirit and my power.

In our Gospel passage today, we read of two healing stories interwoven into one as Mark often does. Both events, though different, involve touching and Jesus in a way that brings about the healing nature of God.

They both were transformed from death to life.

This is pretty obvious in the case of the little girl, because she died. When Jesus went in to be with the corpse; he reached out to her, touched her, took her dead limp hand in his and told her to get up. And she did.

The move from death to life is a little harder to see in the second story, but can be uncovered with a little help from Leviticus 17:1-11, which reads:

"If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement."
Blood was such a sacred, precious, and dangerous force in Jewish belief and practice because it was what God said constituted the very life of a being.

So ... when you have a woman who has been hemorrhaging -- bleeding for twelve long years -- she has in the Jewish sense, been 'losing her very life' for those twelve years. Life has been oozing out of her -- seeping out of her. Like a toothpaste tube being slowly rolled from the bottom, she has been leaking life for a long, long time.

In fact, you could quite rightly say, in the technical Old Testament sense, that for twelve long years this woman was dying.

So when she saw Jesus walking along the road, and she squeezed her way through the crowd reaching out to touch his cloak, she was healed and the blood stopped oozing out of her. Her life stopped its flow out of her body. This unnamed woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years quite amazingly touched Jesus, and was thereby brought from death to life.

I believe that there is something to the weaving of these two very different and very much the same stories into one story. I believe this text says something very important and very profound to us, that goes far beyond the resuscitation of a twelve year old girl and the healing of a chronic illness. I believe that these miracles are God's way of saying that the little twelve year old daughter of Jairus, who died -- is us. And the woman who had the very life draining out of her for twelve years, and who was, in a biblical manner of speaking, dying -- is you and me.

What this passage says is that all of us are left for dead, all of us are dying, all of us are having the life drained out of us. All of us are limp, dead corpses waiting to be carried off -- Until! -- Until we encounter Jesus. Until we are touched by him and until we reach out to touch him.

These two intertwined stories point to the central posture of the Christian life: Christ with his arms outstretched reaching to us, and our arms outstretched reaching right back. Christ touching us, and us touching Christ. In that posture -- in that embrace -- we discover our identity as beloved, redeemed, and holy children of God.

Where we so often go wrong is the belief that our reach needs to be 'heavenward,' and God's reach is 'downward.' Since the beginning God has directed His people's embrace outward, though not always vertically. The children of Israel were asked in Deuteronomy (and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures) to reach all in need with liberal and ungrudging generosity and love. The churches of Macedonia reached out even beyond their means to touch those who desperately needed the touch of God. They knew God's loving embrace through their own outstretched, crucified, and broken arms, and those wounded arms of others who cared for them, and who they broke bread with.

Living as islands unto ourselves -- building walls to keep ourselves 'pure' and the 'infidels' out -- working tirelessly for the status quo or our own survival is the posture of fear and death, for it reaches selfishly inward to build up our ego and selfish desire for control, for power and for ease of mind.

Neil Diamond has a song entitled "Sweet Caroline," part of the lyrics are:

Where it began
I can't begin to knowin'
But then I know it's growing strong
Was in the spring
And spring became the summer
Who'd have believed you'd come along

Hands, touchin' hands
Reachin' out
Touchin' me
Touchin' you

But now I
Look at the night
And it don't seem so lonely
We fill it up with only two
And when I hurt
Hurtin' runs off my shoulders
How can I hurt when I'm with you

Warm, touchin' warm
Reachin' out
Touchin' me
Touchin' you

We must reach out and touch -- an act of blind vulnerability -- to receive Life. We must graciously allow ourselves to be touched - perhaps requiring even more vulnerability -- by other broken arms to be truly alive, and stop the hemorrhage.

Only then will we hear that welcome command: get up! And, then in that posture with souls outstretched, and fearful guards let down, we as individuals, as communities, and as a Communion, may be brought from death to life by Christ himself.

Thanks be to God.