Transcribed from the sermon preached February 9, 2014
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: I Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 19, 13-15, Matthew 14: 22-36,
Take a moment and look at your hands. Hands are amazing. I usually get a massage on my post Christmas vacation. I noticed as the masseuses went from my forearm down to my fingers that all sorts of memories, feelings and emotions seemed to be squeezing out my fingertips. It got me thinking about our hands, about how they carry symbolic power, memories of pain and joy, hope and anxiety from various parts of our life. Hands are often connected to our intellectual work and capacity through writing and creating. They are a sign of beauty and strength, of age and they bear the wear and tear of living. There are writers’ hands, nurses’ hands and doctors’ hands, dancers’ hands, musicians’ hands, lovers’ hands and workingman’s hands.
There are the gorgeous long gloves and hands of Audrey Hepburn in breakfast at Tiffany’s, or the man melting come-hither hand gesture of Marilyn Monroe. I admire workingmen’s hands, the roughness and strength, the sure sign that they earned a living. My mom’s brothers were farmers and cowboys, with rough, dirty and powerful hands. When they would kneel down and pick up soil: it was a thing of beauty. There was nothing fancy about their handshake, just straightforward; strength, honor and respect.
There are political hands: the statue of liberty holding her hand high with torch; Uncle Sam: the I want you point; Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It” fist; the hippy Peace sign co-opted by Richard Nixon; the defiant and triumphant Black Power fist salute at the 1968 Olympics; the power, order, readiness and discipline of the military salute. On Facebook recently there was an old photo of German dockworkers giving the Nazi Salute, and one lone man in the middle standing defiantly with his arms crossed.
Imagine a little babies hand, the softness, the sweet baby smell, the grip around your finger, the vulnerability, the reaching out. We are biologically programmed to reach out and grab stuff, and that is why I lost three pair of glasses while playing with Nick and Kevin. Before I could think, they had yanked my glasses off my face and snapped them in two. Then there is Sienna’s age, the motor age, and we reach down and help them walk, or drag them along trying to keep them picking up old gum.
My early memories of my mother tend to be of her empathy and understanding, her motherly love and acceptance, sometimes her mother-bear anger. I tend to remember her whole body, her hug, her cheek, her breast, her presence, her warmth. It is my father’s hand that looms large in my memory. My father was teaching me to swim in the ocean. I was a strong swimmer with lots of confidence so when my feet came off the ground I swam like crazy. I was in a rip tide and when I lifted my head up to see how far I had gone, I saw that I hadn’t moved. I became afraid. My father saw that that like Peter, I lost my confidence and faith in my ability to swim and I reached out for his large hand. I got spanked a couple of times by those hands.
I remember him praising or encouraging me with a pat on the head and a tussle of my hair, or a pat on the back that was powerful enough to push my little body forward a bit. Another time my father took my sister and I, and a bunch of friends up to the canyon golf course to hike in the canyons and look for golf balls that had been shanked into the bushes. We would gather balls, take them up and clean them at the ball washer, and sell them back to the golfers. I was intensely hunting golf balls and didn’t notice that everyone else had climbed out of the canyon. I yelled out and nobody answered. I rushed around yelling, but nothing. I climbed up top but didn’t see anyone. I yelled, still nothing. I started to cry. Finally I heard my dad yelling. I ran toward his voice and into his hands. He tried to joke it off but quickly realized that my crying was for real, so he picked me up in his hands and lifted me up onto his shoulders. He held my legs with his hands. I was found and safe and riding high. Maybe it isn’t your father, but we all need somebody to hold our hand, to pat us on the back.
Hands can communicate creativity, trust, love and support, and so it is quite natural that we imagine God’s hands. There is Michael Angelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting of God’s creating hand reaching out to Adam. The image has gone out of favor because it is an example of Western Culture’s imperialistic and ethnocentric image of a white male God. But the painting is still magnificent, beautiful, powerful. It puts to image what we feel and imagine in our heart, a spirit that creates and reaches out to us.
God is revealed to us in spirit and no eye has seen. We can think and reason all we want but we still have to open our heart and allow our rational mind to let go of its grip to sense and feel the hand of God. The Psalm proclaims when we are born, the midwife hands of God draw us forth. When our faith falters and we are sure we are going to drown, the hand of God reaches in to save us. With loving care, God welcomes us and pats us on the head. No doubt, hands, or the lack of hands can be a source of pain. We need trusting loving touch and when it is absent, or when it breaks trust and when it is not loving, we can be hurt. At the orphanage in Guatemala, a doctor came by and it was my job to take a little orphan girl to see him. But something had happened to her when her parents were murdered, and the word doctor terrified her. Someone using the doctor label had done something horribly wrong or painful to her.
We may get angry or feel threatened and strike with our hands. In greed or desperation, we grab, grasp and steal away with our hands. The thought of hands may invoke grief at the hands that are no longer there in our lives, the hands that are no longer capable of doing what they once could. A divorce or death may have taken supporting hands away. An accident, disease or age may take away the function of our hands.
Yet the Spirit of God touches us, heals us, welcomes us home. My friend Roger Crawford, a former professional tennis player was born with only two fingers on one hand and one on another. He tells the story of feeling ashamed of his hands, of wanting to hide them in his pockets. And his mother patted him on the back and said, Roger, take your hands out of your pockets, stand up tall, and be proud of who you are. His mother took his hand in hers and they walked tall. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.
It was a joy to see that little orphan from Columbia bust out of the crowd and rush toward Pope Francis. The pope, so controlled, so protected, so ritually ordered, so pompous. The pope’s helpers tried to get the boy to leave but Pope Francis just patted him on the head and allowed him to sit in the papal seat. Let the children come, says Jesus. We fall short of the glory of God, and yet God reaches out to us through Christ. The hands of Christ come to heal where hands have broken, to join hands long divided, to lift up where we have lost our grip, to open where we have been closed, to lead when we are lost, to be that loving and trusting touch where we feel fear and shame, to wash when we have been made unclean, to give all when all has been taken, to rise up to life when death nails us down.
Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit. What powerful lines! Jesus hands are nailed to the cross, bleeding to death. He has lived his life to the full, committed to love and forgiveness for all. He has remained faithful to God and the result is that evil and sin in the world nails him to the cross to die. Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit. It shows both power and integrity, and humility and trust. Someday our hands will grow cold. The hands of those who have held us will grow cold.
And yet Jesus trusts that his Spirit, our spirit will not grow cold, it will not be lost, but we will be held, loved, supported and nurtured in the warm and gracious hands of the eternal God. And so we too face each day and our last with the power and humility of faith, saying Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.
Now, let us press our hands together before our heart, bow our heads and pray.