Luke 10:25-37 Hands On…. 3.19.17
In one of our worship services at the NEXT conference in Kansas City, we stood and held hands around the tables we had been sitting at and sang the familiar civil rights protest song, We Shall Overcome. I was singing and swaying, as you do when you sing We Shall Overcome. And I was watching the two men across the table from us. One had a prosthetic arm with a mechanical hand. The other man had two hands, and he held that mechanical hand as we sang and swayed together. He was not afraid to touch a metal claw instead of a hand of flesh and bone. I was wondering what I would have done if I were standing next to the one handed man. I think I would have placed my hand on the man’s shoulder so he could feel the touch of my hand in companionship and solidarity as we sang those moving words which carry so much emotional weight. I would not have liked holding a metal claw and singing We shall overcome. As the tears started to sting in my eyes and the chill ran down my back, I realized what a gift the man with two hands had given—to the man with one hand, and also to me, watching and singing from across the table. He touched the piece of his neighbor which I am sure many people avoid, not only with their hands, but also with their eyes. He offered his hand in companionship and solidarity, breaking an invisible barrier that travels with the one-handed man wherever he goes. The mechanical hand could not feel the live hand. But the man’s heart could sense the meaning behind the gesture. And so could I. To me it communicated acceptance, friendship, shared commitments to justice for all who are walled out and walled in, and a connection to one another in Christ. Touch is a powerful sense.
We are continuing our Lenten journey, exploring different ways to connect with God through our senses. Remember, it is God-Sense, not nonsense. We have spent prayer time in silence, listening. We have used our eyes in prayer via movement with streamers and visual images on the screen. Perhaps you noticed a different smell as you arrived in worship this morning. There are times when a smell can connect you to a memory or to God’s Holy Spirit in a way that none of your other senses can. What characteristics of God come to your mind when your nose detects a new smell? Can you imagine your prayers wafting up like the smell in our sanctuary today, gathered by the Holy Spirit? Inhale with your nose. Pay attention.
The sense of physical touch carries power for healing and comfort and hope in ways that words spoken or written never can. Luke gives us multiple examples of the healing power of touch—the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched Jesus’ garment and was healed. The woman bathed Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil and dried them with her hair. Jesus’ touched the bread and the fish and shared it with a hungry crowd. He touches a woman bent over for 18 years and she is freed.
Touch is an important part of the story of the good Samaritan as well. This morning’s text is so famous that often I choose not to preach from it. Many of you have known it from childhood. Non Christians and non religious people know the story of the Good Samaritan. We name hospitals and clinics Good Samaritan. We even have Good Samaritan laws which protect the ones who stop to help in the time of an injury or emergency.
We can’t forget that the putting together of the words ‘good’ and ‘Samaritan’ would have been jarring to the self-important, know-it-all lawyer who was testing Jesus. And just as jarring to anyone else listening to their conversation. Samaritans were anything but good in the eyes of the Jews. Relations between Jews and Samaritans were tense, and even hostile. They typically went out of their way to avoid running into one another. The Samaritans had remained behind when the people of Israel were taken away by the Babylonians to exile, and over the decades, had developed their own styles and places of worship. When the people of Israel returned from exile, they were not welcoming or accommodating. They had no interest in rebuilding Jerusalem or the Jerusalem temple, thank you very much. The two groups became alienated from one another, and, according to the gospel of John, had nothing in common. To call a Samaritan ‘good’ was definitely not normal. It might be like asking a diehard Ravens fan to praise a Steelers football player. The lawyer, at the end of the story, can not even bring himself to utter the word, ‘Samaritan’. He correctly answers Jesus’ question about who proved to be the neighbor: the one who showed mercy. No identification as a Samaritan.
Of course, this story is important teaching on how to love neighbor by being a neighbor. Jesus is clear that there is no list of love-able neighbors which leaves some neighbors off. One simple way to share this message would be the use of the Welcome Neighbor signs we will soon have in our church yard. You all are very good at being neighbors in lots of ways. You don’t need that sermon.
Today I want to focus on the power of hands in this story. First there are the hands which hurt—the hands of the robbers who beat up the Jewish traveler and steal everything, even his clothes. And then there are the hands which refrain from touching—the hands of the priest and the Levite, the lay leader in the synagogue. That would be for us the hands of the pastor and the members of session. Hands stuck in pockets or clasped behind their backs or maybe even covering their eyes so they don’t have to look. Some people excuse them—oh, he might have been dead, and therefore unclean. The religious leaders were on their way to serve in the temple, la de da… Oh, maybe they were afraid that the man on the side of the road was a decoy, and the robbers were waiting to attack them! Others say there really was no excuse not to stop and offer their hands.
And then there are the Samaritan hands. The surprising hands. The caring hands which made all the difference in the world that day. The hands that washed the wounds and bandaged them, the hands that lifted the injured man to the donkey, and I am sure, covered his nakedness with a cloak or a cloth. The hands that dug into the pockets to pay the innkeeper for the victim’s lodging. And the same hand which shook the hand of the innkeeper, making a promise to return and pay any additional funds necessary.
I know you have been the recipient of caring, healing hands. A high five when you needed a boost. The cool hand on your burning forehead. The caring embrace at the funeral. Even just the pat on the back or the quick clasp of hands to show support when you got bad news or find yourself frustrated. The hands of the nurse, the hands of the spouse, the hands of the parent, the hands of a friend, a coach, a neighbor. Think about the power of the hands of people who have touched you in a healthy, appropriate way. You don’t have to be a big hugger (I know some of you are and some of you are not) to appreciate the physical touch of another person. Using the touch of your hands is an easy way to communicate that you care and that God cares. Your hands are the hands of Christ in the world, and they are needed to offer love, care, comfort, healing and sometimes, just presence, to those who come across your path. I love Teresa of Avila’s blessing:
“Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”
Your touch can be a reminder of God’s presence for another person, a reminder that he is not alone, a reminder that someone else cares about her. Your hands offer blessing. Your touch brings healing and hope to people bowed down by grief or baffled by depression or drowning in loneliness. God uses your hands and my hands to connect with others and to help others connect to God. The simple act of touching another person can make someone’s day, it can make them feel a part of a caring community, it can give them a glimpse of God at work.
We must always be aware of how the recipient of our touch feels about being touched. Forcing a hug or a pat on the back when that is not desired can be experienced as uncomfortable or awkward, or even perceived as harassment. That is not the kind of touch which brings healing. That is not “good touch” as children are taught to be aware of. If you are not sure, it is best to ask if it is okay to hold a hand in prayer or to give a hug or a back rub. Some people might appreciate a hug in one setting and not want one in another setting.
The good Samaritan used his hands for blessing, for healing, for caring. You can too. Open your hands for a moment. Take a good look at them. How can they be used to offer a blessing to someone else this week?