Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Mark 1:30-31
Simon's mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever.  He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up.  The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

Touched

Jesus goes to Simon’s house where he finds that Simon’s mother-in-law is seriously ill with a fever.  A fever in those times could be fatal.  The gospel writer doesn’t record Jesus saying anything.  We are simply told, “He took her by the hand and the fever left her”.  She got up and made lunch for everyone.  “He took her by the hand”. No words, just his presence and a touch.

There was the man who was born blind.  Jesus makes some mud with spit and with his fingers smears it on the man’s eye and he could see.
There was the deaf man who couldn’t speak.  Jesus touched his tongue and put his fingers in his ears and commanded, “Be open!” 
He touched a man terribly disfigured with leprosy; a man no-one else would touch and said, “Be clean”. 
He took the hand of the daughter of Jairus who had just died and said, “Little girl, I say to, arise”.
When children were brought to Jesus we are told he placed his hands on them and blessed them.
When Peter sliced off the ear of one of the men who came to arrest him we are told that Jesus “touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51).
When Jesus was talking to his disciples after his resurrection he began ascending into heaven and he raised his nail pierced hands and blessed them.  It was as if he was laying his hands on each of his dear friends as he left.

So what are we to make of all this touching and taking the hands of others by Jesus.  He didn’t do it every time he healed someone but it seems that whenever he could he did.  He didn’t have to touch anyone – his voice was sufficient.  When Jesus commanded demons to come out of the man, Jesus’ voice rang out with authority and power, “Be quiet, and come out of the man!” The demon shrieked and threw the man around and finally left him.  His spoken Word was enough.  It was the same Word that had created day, night, the land and sea, and all the creatures at the beginning of time.

But as we think about the voice of God at the beginning of time we notice something else. Did God use his voice to command the first people in existence?  Something a lot more personal and special happened.  God used his hands.  He “took some soil from the ground and formed a man out of it and he breathed life into his nostrils and the man began to live” (Gen 2:7).  (The language here is the same as that of a potter moulding a pot with his hands).  And when he created the first women there is no standing back and giving a command.  He uses his hands and takes a rib from Adam and forms the woman.  We know that God doesn’t really have hands but the Genesis writer wants to convey the special relationship between God and the people he puts on the earth.  There is a connection, a closeness, something personal, a special creative work different from everything else.

At the beginning of time God reached out and moulded and touched the first people.
Jesus reached and touched those people whom God loved so dearly and yet were so broken and hurting because of what evil had done in the world.

Jesus reaches out and touches us with his healing power.
He touches us with water at our Baptism and as his children we know we are special to him.
He touches our ears with his promises that give us hope and reassurance.
When we are depressed, upset, discouraged or grieving he touches us and blesses us with his presence.  He will not abandon us in our troubles and promises that he will always be our refuge and strength in times of trouble.
He touches us with the sign of cross when our consciences trouble us.
He touches us with the body and blood of Jesus that we eat and drink in Holy Communion and we are assured that Christ is right here with us in the middle of the muck and mire of our lives.
His touch encourages us and strengthens us to deal with anything.

The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 40 is a song about the greatness of God.  It concludes with these wonderful words of reassurance and comfort telling us that even though he is the all-powerful God who “stretched out the sky like a curtain”, created the stars, and reduced powerful rulers to nothing, he is a God who touches the lives of people with his love and compassion.

Isaiah says,
Don't you know?  Haven't you heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world.
He never grows tired or weary.  No one understands his thoughts. 
He strengthens those who are weak and tired. 
Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted. 
But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. 
They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak (40:27-31).

There are times in our lives when our own strength is exhausted.  There are those times when we are either emotionally, physically or spiritually drained, or perhaps all 3 at once.  Isaiah uses words like “weary”, “tired”, “weak”, and “exhausted”.  There comes a limit to what we can endure.  Jesus talks about those who are “weak and carrying heavy-burdens”.

We can feel weary for all kinds of reasons. 
We feel weary because there is tension and uneasiness in our work place.
We are weary from some kind of illness that seems to go on and on.
We are tired and exhausted because there is some ongoing thing that is making us unhappy.
We are heavy burdened because we have fallen into temptation and we are crushed by the guilt of having given in once again. 

Isaiah is speaking to tired people.  He tells us about a God who reaches out and touches us in our tiredness and weariness.  We read,
He strengthens those who are weak and tired…. 
Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. 
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not get weary;
they will walk and not grow weak

God reaches out and touches our lives and gives us a strength that is beyond what we can muster up.  There is strength in knowing that we don't have to go it alone, that we are never forgotten or ignored!  We have a very special friend - Jesus - who watches over us at all times, care for us at all times, and who is open to having us come and speak to him in prayer at all times.

He loves us!
He forgives us!
He will stand by us!
He gives us something to hang on to and somewhere to turn even in the darkest moments!
As Isaiah said, “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.”  Or as the apostle Paul said, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

There is a short movie clip that goes like this. (You can view it at this link http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/100-Concert) 
Mum and dad are seated in an auditorium waiting for a concert to begin when they realise that their son Tommy is missing, each presuming that Tommy was with the other.  Suddenly the stage curtain rolls back revealing a little boy sitting at the grand piano playing “Twinkle twinkle little star”.  It’s Tommy. 

A man appears on stage, obviously the guest pianist for the evening, and he walks up behind Tommy.  Tommy is unaware of the man behind him and with a good deal on concentration on his face keeps playing Twinkle twinkle.  Mum and dad shrink down even further with embarrassment.  The audience is restless.  The man bends over the boy, puts his arms around the boy and says, “Don’t stop!  Keep going!” Together they play one of Mozart’s variations of “Twinkle twinkle little star” to the total delight of the audience, especially Tommy’s parents.  At the end of the piece the crowd applauds and the pianist puts his hand on Tommy’s shoulder and says, “Great job!” 

(If you watch the clip, continue here).  A lot of what happens in our lives is a lot like playing “Twinkle Twinkle little star” in a concert hall.  We’re alone on a great big stage.  Anything can go wrong at any time.  The Lord comes along and leans over and whispers in our ear, “Don’t quit.  Keep going.  I’ll help you”.  And in that moment, Jesus’ presence, his love, his touch change everything. Look at the delight on the boy’s face when he realises that together he and the master musician can make beautiful music. Just knowing that he’s there means that everything is going to be all right.  I wonder what that moment with the master musician’s arms around his shoulders and his fingers dancing on the keyboard with his and then the words of encouragement had on that boy’s life in the future.

It is true that Christ is no longer visibly present with us as in the days of the disciples, but that doesn’t mean that his touching presence is no longer here in our world.  Christ reaches out and touches people in an even greater way than when he was here with his twelve disciples.  I say that because Christ lives in us and is present with us as we reach out and touch those around us.

His touch comes through your visit to the person in a hospital bed, through your words of encouragement and prayers. 
His touch reaches out to the person loaded with all kinds of problems, and he uses your help and support to ease their anxiety and depression.
Christ touches those who are burdened with a heavy conscience as you tell them of the wonderful freeing word of the forgiveness in Christ.
His touch comes through your care for a child who needs gentle encouragement.
His touch reaches out to a colleague, a family member who needs to feel that someone cares at that moment.

If any of you have been troubled by anxiety, difficult decisions, over-powering problems and have experienced the kindness and compassion of a friend, you will know what it means to have someone reach out to you and to feel that person's concern for you and help you through your difficulties.  If that has been your experience then you have experienced the encouraging, healing touch of Jesus.

We are his hands and he reaches out to others through us and makes them whole.  God grant us the compassion and the desire to reach out and touch those in need with the love of Christ.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th February 2012
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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