the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

My Photo
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.

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.


Post a Comment

<< Home