Sheepscott Community Church February 27, 2011
Isaiah 49: 8-16a
1 Cor. 12: 12-20; 27
Matthew 20: 29-34
The Hands of Christ: Part II
I heard Rev. Peter Beck, rector of Christchurch Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, on the radio on Wednesday. He said, “This earthquake is not an act of God. It’s the natural result of living on a still evolving planet, and we had the bad fortune to be on the fault line. The act of God is how we reach out to each other and help each other.” It’s no less true for us here in Sheepscot, where an ice storm or an additional foot of heavy wet snow that knocks out power isn’t an act of God, but rather a weather-related phenomenon. The act of God is how we reach out to help each other, and during Jon’s and my time in Sheepscot, I’ve seen that outreach again and again. And I don’t doubt that after we leave, life in Sheepscot will continue as it always has––people helping one another through hard times, celebrating the good times, and coming together to worship and thank God through it all.
At least twice during my time here, I have alluded to the TV show “Joan of Arcadia,” which had a two-year run on CBS some years ago. The teenaged Joan had an unusual gift of seeing and talking with God under a number of guises. My favorite episode was one where God appeared as an old woman sitting on a bench waiting for a bus. As in all other episodes, God charged Joan to work out a problem that God presented to her. At the end of that particular episode, Joan again encountered God as the old woman on the same bench and poured out her troubled heart about all the things that had gone wrong while she was trying to solve the problem. Her best friend was not speaking to her, her family couldn’t understand her actions, and she felt alone and completely misunderstood. After a long pause, God said to her, “So, what are you going to do next?”
And that is the question I think God is asking you as a congregation: What are you going to do next?
When I was asking God for some sign that I was really understanding correctly that it was time to leave Sheepscott Community Church––it seemed counterintuitive and didn’t line up with my commitment––the reading 1 Corinthians 3: 10 came into my mind. When I looked it up and read it, I had the complete assurance I had sought that I was hearing right. The verse was, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.” That spoke to me and was what I needed to go forward and speak to Cindy and the Board about my decision. Otherwise, I don’t think I could have done it.
Why I’m telling you this is that I want you to know it was a difficult decision, and that I am as sure as I can be in these matters that this is of God for this church. And what about this listening. What does that mean? I have spoken before about the intimate relationship God wants to have with each of us by, in, and through his Spirit. God is a living God who wants us to listen to him deeply and often, so that we come to recognize what we can call God’s voice. An audible voice? Probably not, but an impression of words, a thought or a feeling in response to our concerns of the hour, whether expressed or unexpressed.
What a surprise: My plan was not the whole plan of the living God for this church. It’s time for something else, someone else. You remember Jesus saying in John 16: 7: ”I tell you the sober truth: it is much better for you that I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete”––the Holy Spirit––”will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send him to you.” Am I suggesting that Hal Tucker is the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, and I myself the sending second person of the Trinity? Well no, but I am telling you that it is better that I go because I believe that is God’s direction for God’s purposes at this time.
By the way, I hadn’t known that First Corinthians 3:10, which I alluded to earlier and which came to me iun answer to prayer, was part of the lectionary reading for last Sunday, when Hal and I were doing our joint service, but God knew. I as part of this church have worked to lay a foundation as others have done before me, and now Hal and the church will build on it. You see? We’re not in charge of this evolving drama; we only have parts to play, and that’s what I’d like to talk about next. As God asked Joan of Arcadia, seemingly paying little or no attention to her crying out about all her problems, “So, what are you going to do next?”
I have a strong suggestion for you in response to that question. And this is where the title of today’s sermon comes from. It’s part two in reference to a story Hal Tucker told last Sunday about the statue of the Christ without hands. After the aerial bombardment of a town in Germany, the town’s treasured statue of Christ had its hands blown off. The people of the town weren’t sure whether to replace the hands and finally decided not to, saying that they themselves would be the living hands of Christ in the world. What else does God have except us? Our hands, our feet, and so on, as we heard Barbara read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
But before we can be the most effective hands and feet, eyes and ears in service in, to, and as part of the Body of Christ, we need to get our act together. That’s where this morning’s readings come in. God was listening to his people in exile in Babylon 2500 years ago, as we heard in this morning’s first reading from Isaiah. He wanted them to tell him what they wanted so he might have the joy of giving it to them in fulfillment of his own promises. No less than God was listening to them, was God in Christ listening to the two blind men who shouted to Jesus in order to be heard over the noise of the crowd, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus called back. They told him they wanted to see, and he restored their sight. God is no less listening to us, the people of Sheepscott Community Church in this time of transition, and saying, What do you want me to do for you?
God can and will deliver the goods, but those who pray for the goods have to mean what they say when they pray. You can’t put in your order if you’re not ready to pay for it.
The shout of the blind men in this morning’s gospel is a kind of prayer. Sometimes instead of spoken or shouted words, prayer takes the form of wordless tears. Some of us have physical, emotional, or spiritual pain so deep and wide, that when we let ourselves feel it, all there is is tears. God will also meet us in the silence, knowing what we cannot articulate but understanding us, as God does and did, from the moment we came into being. We are, after all, engraved into the palms of his hands. Or if your faith so leads you, grab hold of Jesus’s garment with your hand, as the woman with the issue of blood in last week’s gospel did, and don’t let go. Be healed yourself and then let the power of God in Jesus pass through you into a world that needs Christ’s healing power and presence.
This is the hour. Call out to the God of the Hebrew Bible, if that is the One whose presence you feel most when you pray; or call out to Jesus, or just hang on to his garment. He will ask you, What do you want me to do for you? Then tell him: Lord, I feel like I don’t have the strength to get through another day and do all that needs to be done. Give me strength. I want to forgive, Lord, but I can’t. Help me to forgive. I’m afraid of everything, Lord, the darkness, the world situation, the economic crisis––help me not to be afraid.
A cautionary note about this sort of praying, when we are asking God for healing or to be set free from some badgering, long-standing thing like fear or pride, unforgiveness toward ourselves or another, or anger or self-centeredness or guilt, when we are praying about these kinds of things, we need to be sure that we really want to be rid of them and that we’re not just mouthing the words. God has little patience with prattlers. In my older age, I’ve noticed that occasionally things we think we want to be rid of, like judgment of others, fear, pride, unforgiveness, are actually serving us in some way, keeping us from having to do or to be different from the way we are, and so they legitimately remain. They confound a complete conversion to God’s purposes, even as they disguise themselves as earnest prayers. Watch what you say. Mean what you say. In the gospel of a few weeks ago, Jesus said, in speaking about oaths, Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. Everything else is from the evil one.
I’m going on about this because in order to serve as effectively as we might, we need to be as healthy as we can, and that means, again, body, soul, mind and spirit. And the Spirit of God in Jesus is ready and listening for our call toward healing, whatever form that call takes: words, music, silence, tears, a life grip on Jesus’s seamless garment. God will know the authenticity of the request, of the prayer made in truth and faith and will honor it with a healing, loving answer. It’s in God’s interest to do that because God wants and needs a whole people or a people on their way to being whole to minister to others. Gad wants and needs a committed surrendered people.
And so my question to you this morning: What are you going to do next, as individuals, as a church, and as a community? I recommend shouting out to Jesus for help, if you mean it, whether in words, tears, silence, music, or grasping. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.” We have to ask in faith for what we want, believing Jesus the conduit through which that help comes. It is our desire backed by faith and his power activated by that faith that bring about change. The power is in him and it’s meant for us to tap.
While trying to become better persons, we also become more effective members of the Body of Christ, looking outward as well as inward. All times of transition are times of opportunity, and the time of transition at this church is no exception. Opportunity in this context means service to the church, which is to say, each other and thereby, the community. Hal Tucker and the Board will need help. Look around and see where that help is needed, and ask what you can do. Remember the statue of the handless Christ and the challenge that is to all of us. The future of the church is in your hands, which are the hands of Christ. What are you going to do next?