Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, June 29, 2012

To Touch the Heart of God

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Mark 5:24b-34
July 1, 2012
© 2012

I.                David’s eloquent lament for Saul and Jonathan is all the more stunning knowing how Saul had hounded David and would have killed him if he could have. David gave no hint of animosity toward Saul, though Saul had disgraced the throne of Israel. Knowing that David could not have become king as long as Jonathan was alive, makes David’s expression of love for Jonathan exquisite irony. What profound respect David expressed for God’s anointing of Saul, for the office of king, for Saul’s humanity and their kinship as fellow Israelites!

A.           Last fall when I explained how I wanted us to listen for the voice of God in the Scripture readings suggested by the lectionary, none of us could have known that this passage would come the week of T's death. As I have pondered David’s lament, I believe God has been teaching me something about how to grieve an awkward death with dignity and respect.

B.            In national tragedies, the President becomes a secular chaplain. We may not remember the rest of the speech, but the last line of Ronald Regan’s speech on January 28, 1986 after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger still rings familiar. “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

1.              Those memorable words were actually from the first and last lines of a sonnet written by John Gillespie Magee. He was a 19 year old pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was born in Shanghai, China to missionary parents.

2.              In July 1941 he was sent to England for combat duty. In August he sent his parents a copy of his poem High Flight. In December his Spitfire plane collided with another plane, and he crashed to his death.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

C.            While David could never have imagined flying, I believe his lament for Saul and Jonathan captures the emotion of longing to touch the face of God, though God is not specifically mentioned.

II.            We who have an intimate faith relationship with God ache to go even deeper, to touch the heart of God.

A.           From the heart of God we receive love.

B.            From the heart of God power is released.

C.            Touch with faith to access the love and power of the heart of God.

III.       Mark 5:24-34 tells how a woman tried to get Jesus to heal her without being noticed by barely touching his clothes. After healing the Gadarene Demoniac, the boat with Jesus and his disciples returned to the Jewish side the Sea of Galilee. When he stepped ashore a large crowd waited for him, and Jairus the synagogue leader begged Jesus to come heal his daughter who was at the point of death. Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”32He looked all around to see who had done it.33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

A.           This large crowd was following Jesus on an urgent, life and death errand. If he did not hurry, Jairus’ daughter might die. No one noticed the woman sneak up behind Jesus to touch is cloak as discretely as possible. She has no intention of interrupting Jesus’ errand of mercy. When she touched Jesus’ cloak, immediately her hemorrhage stopped and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

1.              Almost all of the commentators I read suggested that this woman was ignorant and superstitious to think that by touching Jesus clothes she could be healed. Jesus says nothing to correct her misconception but commends her faith. I can’t help wondering if the commentators have not imposed their scientific presuppositions and missed the power of touch.

2.              Acts 5 tells how people in Jerusalem “carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them, … and they were all cured.” In Acts 19 “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul (in Ephesus),12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them.” While these do not seem to have become standard practices in the early church, they do suggest that the physical and spiritually are intricately interwoven, and the physical can open the way for the spiritual.

B.            Like the disciples, I doubt that Jesus felt the woman’s discrete touch of his cloak with the crowd pressing in on him. When she touched Jesus’ cloak, he was immediately aware that power had gone forth from him. How could he let her interrupt his response to such a pressing need?

1.              I find it curious that Jesus was so keenly aware that power had gone forth from him and so unaware of to whom it had gone. But he was aware that the faith conveyed by her touch released his power.

2.              Jesus told the woman, “Your faith has made you well.” Unlike many self-proclaimed “faith-healers,” Jesus did not take credit and say, “I have made you well.” Nevertheless, if the woman had misplaced her faith and believed that drinking water from Jerusalem’s gutters would have healed her, she would have been disappointed and probably sicker. Faith is dependent on the power that is trusted.

IV.      Touch with faith to access the love and power of the heart of God. To touch each other is to touch the heart of God, for we are all embraced in the heart of God.

A.           We will ordain Elders today by the laying on of hands. Both from the witness of the New Testament and by personal experience, I know that the Holy Spirit uses that touch to call and gift Elders for this ministry.

B.            When Candy and I first arrived in Duncanville, several of you made a point of telling us that this congregation has plenty of huggers. We hug for joy! We hug for comfort! When we hug we release love from the heart of God.

C.            Next week D and S and C will be with you. I know you and they will all be at your best. I suggest that far more important is expecting to touch the heart of God together and release God’s love and power for each other.
Ann Weems has written a poem about the power of touching in church. (Reaching for Rainbows, 1980, Westminster Press)

What is all this touching in church?
It used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew
and not be bothered by all this friendliness
and certainly not by touching.
I used to come to church and leave untouched.
Now I have to be nervous about what's expected of me.
I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be;
I could just ask the person next to me: How are you?
And the person could answer: Oh, just fine,
And we'd both go home . . . strangers who have known each other
for twenty years.
But now the minister asks us to look at each other.
I'm worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman's eyes.
Now I'm concerned,
because when the minister asks us to pass the peace,
The man next to me held my hand so tightly
I wondered if he had been touched in years.
Now I'm upset because the lady next to me cried and then apologized
And said it was because I was so kind
and that she needed
A friend right now.
Now I have to get involved.
Now I have to suffer when this community suffers.
Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
That man last week told me I'd never know how much I'd touched his life.
All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be lonely.
Lord, I'm not big enough to touch and be touched!
The stretching scares me.
What if I disappoint somebody?
What if I'm too pushy?
What if I cling too much?
What if somebody ignores me?
"Pass the peace."
"The peace of God be with you." "And with you."
And mean it.
Lord, I can't resist meaning it!

I'm touched by it, I'm enveloped by it!
I find I do care about that person next to me!
I find I am involved!
And I'm scared.
O Lord, be here beside me.
You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched!
So that I can care and be cared for!
So that I can share my life with all those others that belong to you!
All this touching in church -- Lord, it's changing me

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