First Congregational Church
October 7, 2018
20th Sunday after Pentecost, World Communion Sunday
“The Arms and Hands of Faith”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A man went to visit his doctor. "Doc, my arm hurts bad. Can you check it out please?" the man pleads. The doctor rolls up the man's sleeve and suddenly hears the arm talk. "Hello, Doctor," says the arm. "Could you lend me twenty bucks please? I'm desperate!"
"Aha!'' says the doctor. ''I see the problem. Your arm is broke!"
Our scripture passage for his morning is perhaps one of the top five best known. It's most likely one resonated with us children, and it is easily linked to the song, Jesus loves me - imagination-wise. As comforting as the 23rd Psalm, as innocent as the story of Jesus's birth, our passage for this morning is as appropriate for this World Communion Sunday as we can get without the mention of food or beverage.
Mark 10:13-16 The Little Children and Jesus
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Thank you, Mary. I wish we had the time to go around to each one here to find out what it was that stood out for or to you as you heard the passage. It would be equally interesting to be able to record those insights for future reference, that we could compare and contrast future insights and relevances with those of today. In the interest of time, you are stuck with mine.
It was the arms and the hands. Jesus laid his hands on the children. He took them into his arms and blessed them with his hands. I wonder how many of those children, most likely the littler ones, reached up their hands at the ends of pudgy baby arms, wanting Jesus to pick them up, for whatever reason inspired them to do so.
For the newer folks among us, or for those who didn’t know, I have this fascination with hands: the wrinkles, the veins, the knuckles and the directions that they grow, each in their own, individually unique ways. And then there are all the things that our hands have done - from changing diapers to writing checks, holding doors to holding other hands, shooting guns to spreading salves, woodworking to fabric working, cleaning and polishing, digging and feeding - our hands - and the lack of hands - have huge impacts on our lives.
Jesus didn’t just bless with his hands: he healed, he hugged, he upset tables. And through each of the million things he did with his hands, God flowed through them, God to the people in Jesus’ surroundings, through the centuries, to us.
In yesterday’s reading of a book called, Jesus Calling, there was this image, God’s message to all of us through the hands of the books writer, Sarah Young.
“Sometimes I lead you up a high mountain with only My hand to support you. The higher you climb, the more spectacular the view becomes; also, the more keenly you sense your separation from the world with all its problems. This frees you to experience exuberantly the joyous reality of My Presence. Give yourself fully to these Glory-moments, awash in dazzling Light. I will eventually lead you down the mountain, back into community with others. Let My Light continue shine within you as you walk among people again.”
It can be comforting, imagining yourself crawling up into God’s lap like children into Jesus’ lap - Just as it can be for God wrapping arms around you, like Jesus holding the children. Sometimes, when the path is tough, it’s good to know that God has our hand and will lead us - even with just that “limited” channel of guidance.
The beauty of this idea about arms and hands on this particular Sunday is that it is not just the vertical ability of our arms and hands, but their horizontal abilities, too. In a few moments, a plate will be passed to you, from arms and hands to your arms and hands. Younger hands, older hands, shaky hands and sturdy hands, calloused hands and smooth hands; the bread and the cup weaving between all of them and us.
And the obvious point of a World Communion Sunday is that this idea of one-to-one, hand-to-hand love from God to us is not merely about us - but about all 2.5 billion of us: Catholic Christians, Eastern Orthodox, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Reformed, Pentecostalists, and of course, Congregationalists, to mention just a few. The bread and the cup have been or will be shared in the Pakistan and Poland, Brazil and Belarus, Serbia and Spain, Uganda and Uruguay, South Africa and South Dakota.
The bread and cup we share will look, taste and feel different from group to group, country to country, small country church to mega church. The words of institution, the words that Jesus used on his last night with his disciples will be, are being, have been already uttered this day in more languages than any of us can imagine, sometimes with the aid of a microphone, sometimes in hushed whispers in places where speaking them any louder will land you in jail, if not worse.
Some of those receiving the body and blood of Christ will be handsome people with lives that look good on the outside, others will be people hard to look at: those at risk, powerless, weak, unsure, those who have been wronged and broken, clinging to any thread of hope that makes sense at that moment. Christ gave this meal, this tradition, this sacrament to the highly intelligent, the mentally challenged and all those between, those who do well, those who fail, the lazy and ambitious, the loving and the unloving, the contented and discontented, the free and the imprisoned.
It matters not whether any of us are married, single or divorced, veterans or non-veterans, our ethnic origins or our status or standing. The sure and the skeptics, the passionate and the indifferent, the wise and the fools are all welcome to this table - this cup and this bread because they have been given to us as a gift, the most personal and precious gift God could give us - part of God’s self, part of the earth, regardless of time and place, only and ever able to be taken and shared involving hands and arms.
It is offered, to be received, not with great theological or philosophical debate, but simple faith, even if it’s as small as a mustard seed, as a gesture of God reaching to us and us reaching to God as we reach to each other. The elements are holy because God has given them to us, but otherwise, are as common and as fundamental to any life on this planet. Perhaps it is the sharing - in and of itself - at least on this particular day - that adds to this a holy meal.
As we use the next moments to prepare our hearts for this simple, complex and holy dining experience, let us be reminded of that hand of God, leading each of us to that high mountain of joyous reality of God’s presence, next to you as all those around the world that celebrate with us, reminding all of us of God’s enormously individual love for all God’s children.
Let us pray. Holy Mystery, Protector, Redeemer and Sustainer, we are grateful for the love that you bestow on us, so freely, so lavishly, so purely. We confess that our arms and hands sometimes get tired, sometimes our hearts becoming tired to the point of not even wanting to reach for your hand. In this time today, and even more so in our reflection on it in the coming week, help each of us to recognize your reflection in the eyes of those you send our way. Help us just to look, even when the person behind those eyes may not look like how we think we look, to see the love that comes from you through them. And thank you for your Son, who sees not only our eyes, but our hearts, hearts often needing your love and light and feeding. For your forgiveness, your love and many, many blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.