Message: Isaiah 40-:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
About a month ago a dear friend called to tell me the wretched news that his cancer had returned. Dennis was first diagnosed with cancer over ten years ago. He beat it the first go ‘round, for which he faithfully raised up his hands in thanksgiving, over and over again. Dennis used his hands a lot. In fact, he made his living using his hands.
So, raising up his hands in thanksgiving would not be so unusual for Dennis. But now, this time the hated disease was taking over with a vengeance. We prayed on the phone. With the full support of those closest to him, Dennis went into the tender care of hospice. He called one more time just before going into hospice. His voice was weak and he fought to form his words. But, I could still hear the hope in his voice.
As we talked one final time and prayed, I envisioned Jesus reaching out his hand to clasp Dennis’ hand in his, raising him into the healing wholeness of everlasting life.
Jesus has his hands at work as he goes about his ministry of preaching, teaching, praying and healing. Everywhere he goes Jesus reigns in the kingdom of God through his prophetic preaching and teaching, his restorative praying and his miraculous healing. Jesus assuredly enfolding us into his outstretched hand is what I’d like to talk with you about today. Beheld by Jesus. In the hand of Jesus, who are we?
Are we the sick, who throughout his ministry Jesus stretches out his hand raising us from suffering to restored productivity? Cupping his hands to call out demons, are we the alienated souls Jesus returns to the beloved community? Are we the ones made free from tortured bondage as Jesus reaches to release us from imprisonment? As we turn to travel the pathway of hopefulness, is it Jesus lifting us up by his tender touch? This is our Jesus, who, from one scene to the next, one life event to the other, with hands extended urgently preaches, teaches, prays and heals through his tender embrace ushering in the kingdom of God, for our saving grace.
In today’s reading from Mark Jesus and his closest disciples, James, John, Andrew and Simon Peter, are actively occupied with his ministry along the Sea of Galilee. Following an exhaustive screaming match with some needy demons, they leave the synagogue at Capernaum. Simon Peter’s request for Jesus to visit the home of his mother-in-law is not an invitation to a refreshing meal. Nor is his invitation a retreat to quiet rest. Simon Peter has an agenda.
Simon Peter, having witnessed the power of Jesus in worship is now anxious for Jesus to do his miracle work where it hits home. His mother-in-law, who, remains nameless, is bed ridden and stricken with a near death feverish flu. Immediately upon entering the house, Jesus goes to her bedside. Taking her hand, Jesus raises her frail body from the bed. Jesus draws the fever of hurt, the fever of anger, the fever of oppression, the fever of a racked soul from her tender body. Through his tender touch, he raises her up.
Restored, her strength renewed, she immediately goes about preparing a meal, ready to serve; ready to honor her Lord and Savior. The woman puts hands, heart and feet to work.
All too often when we read this healing passage from Mark’s gospel we lapse into cultural convention. The woman, as long as she is able to walk and talk, needs to be about the business of taking care of others of fulfilling her domestic role of hospitality. Ancient writings teach us “Christ has no body but ours, no hands, no feet on earth but ours…ours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.” Peter’s mother-in-law is not living out societal norms demonstrating the role of an oppressed servant. No, stretching out her hands she is embracing the role of a faithful servant; giving of herself in grateful thanksgiving, serving as Jesus would serve. She prepares a rich feast as a sign of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all as we take hold of the hand of Christ.
Our hands at work are a sign of Christ’s healing hands at work. Our hands assist with physical healing, as we care for the sick, tend to the weak, comfort those who mourn, nurture the young and the old. But, our hands also are important tools in the voting booth. Our hands link us one to another as we march in solidarity. Our hands keep us balanced as we raise up our hands in protest against injustice, hatred and oppression. Our hands are powerful instruments of action against bigotry, misconduct and prejudice as we write letters of protest and disagreement. Our hands are the warm touch of a welcome, the intimacy of friendship and a closeness that restores, refreshes and renews.
Over the years, I came to value the hands of my friend Dennis so that I would travel miles to know the touch of his hands. My visits with Dennis were almost monthly, and like clockwork. Every time we would meet his hands were always busy at work. Dennis was my hair stylist. His vocation was truly a ministry to those who visited his salon.
During my last visit with Dennis, before the cancer put his hands at rest, I was struck by the tone, the ambiance of the salon. Throughout the afternoon, folks ventured in and out. Quiet chitter chatter floated through the air. The phone would ring out. Back and forth hurried feet would motion from hair washing tubs to cutting stations and coloring booths. But, always dominating the space were hands. Hands flying up and down, clip, clip, clipping away making God’s creation beautiful. Hands serving up a peaceful calm that so often just put my weary body to complete rest.
In the holiness of that time, how well I remember Dennis and I sharing deep conversation about our Lord and Savior. Dennis served our Lord well putting his hands to good, good work. “Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn, Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light, Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.” (Thomas A. Dorsey 1932)
Our hands are armaments, my friends. We can use our hands to hold weapons to stifle truths, shut mouths, blithely dismiss and intimidate. And, we can use our hands to warmly invite, to extend welcome and to lovingly embrace. Like Simon’s mother in law, we can use our hands to serve.
Where will we stretch out our hands to let Jesus lift us to healing, helping and serving others? Maybe it is we put our hands to good work preparing a tasty meal to nourish hungry souls. Maybe it is our hands lift a burden so another can be free. Maybe it is our hands reach into our pockets and pull out the extra buck or two to feed the stranger. Maybe it is our hands pick up the telephone to take the first step in seeking forgiveness. Maybe it is our hands caress the child lost in a world of hurt and confusion. Maybe it is our hands join with other hands and together, we get busy in be about learning from one another, breaking down walls and building up understanding and love.
Maybe it is we outstretch our hands in prayerful thanksgiving to receive this holy meal Christ prepares for us each and every week, as we simply pray, “Lord God, use these hands this week that your kingdom may be known.” Amen.