Sunday, January 10, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "Christ Has No Hands But Yours"

Mark 8:22-25

22 Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him. 23 Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.” 25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly. (Common English Bible)

“A Mount Rushmore of the Soul: Who Influences Your Faith?” Week One

The scene is a somber one, one that you have likely seen before: a casket, draped in an American flag, is being moved in and out of the trunk of a hearse by six impeccably-clad pallbearers in formal dress and white gloves.  We’ve all seen this portrait before, of a veteran or a soldier being given their final farewell from this earth.

But as your gaze climbs upward from the casket itself, you would see that these pallbearers, while crisply attired and formal to a fault, are teenagers.  High school students from a Jesuit school in Detroit, whose office arranges with a nearby funeral home these sets of youthful honor guards for homeless veterans throughout the city.

Even for a fully-grown person, attempting to maneuver a wooden casket carrying a body is no small task, even with the aid of a cart.  Add in the stiffness of a suit and starched shirt, the heat of the summer sun, and the white gloves, and it isn’t something you would particularly relish doing.

But these boys do, because of what it means to both them and to the other witnesses.  The funeral director puts itrightly: “Their service to the less fortunate honors the dignity of individuals who are mostly out of the view of our society.”

Being out of view comes from a variety of causes—sometimes we want to remain out of sight.  But many times we do not, and the blindness is a willful one, as is so often the case when it comes to the most marginalized people in our world: homeless veterans, refugees, the actively addicted, and more.

And that causes us great difficulties when it comes to actually then healing the world, as the church is meant to do, because when we ourselves are blind, giving sight to another is no easy feat.  And even when our vision might be restored, it sometimes only comes back just a little bit, as this man’s vision did in Mark 8, before Jesus fully heals him—and, in so doing, potentially fully heals us as well.

This is a new sermon series for a new year, although the genesis of this series came in the middle of 2015, when I posted on Facebook to ask folks what the Mount Rushmore of their faith would be—which four writers, pastors, theologians, etc. are the ones who have shaped their faith the most?

Once my (genuinely beloved) atheist friends had had their fun, I got an amazing array of responses to that question, with some names that were repeated several times: C.S. Lewis, Paul Tillich, Hildegard of Bingen, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all of whom would have made a great reserve squad if, you know, Mount Rushmore had a bench (I suspect that would have added a number of years to its construction).  But when I limited myself to four, the four that I eventually settled upon were St. Teresa of Avila, Soren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Nelson Mandela.

This sermon series, then, will take each of them and offer one sermon each on how they revealed God’s presence, truth, and love to a broken world in sore need of the message they had to offer, beginning today with St. Teresa of Avila.  By the time we finish talk about all four of them, we will be ready to enter February and the church season of Lent, which is amazing to think since we just finished celebrating Christmas!

St. Teresa of Avila was a 16th century Carmelite nun, theologian, and mystic who claimed visions of both Jesus and Mary, and who wrote prolifically on her meditation and prayer life, writing firstly:

Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing make you afraid
All things are passing
God alone never changes
Patience gains all things
If you have God you will want for nothing
God alone suffices

And even more famous is this passage, which is widely attributed to St. Teresa:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion
Of Christ is to look out on a hurting world
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless now

It is, fundamentally, a theology of incarnation.  The body of Christ no longer exists in the earthly form of a dirt poor, homeless, traveling carpenter, no—the body of Christ is *your* body.  It is *my* body.  It is *our* body, as a church.  And it is precisely because of that reality that St. Teresa’s first passage makes sense—nothing should disturb us, nothing should make us afraid, because God alone never changes, and God’s hands are our hands.  God’s eyes are our eyes.  God’s feet, our feet.

It is perhaps difficult, even disturbing for us to countenance that ours might actually be the hands and feet of Christ.  After all, we may well be like Peter, who upon being introduced to Jesus in Luke, shouted out, “Away from me, for I am a sinner!”  And we might well echo that cry in our own view of ourselves: I am a humble, broken sinner, what on earth could this Jesus possibly want with me?

More than we could possibly imagine is the answer.

Jesus sees this blind man on the way to Bethsaida, and Jesus heals him not once, but twice—the first laying on of hands only restores the man’s vision partway, so that he can fuzzily see shapes, but the shapes aren’t correct—to him, people look like moving trees!  While comical, it’s something I get—without my own eyeglasses, people don’t look like people to me, they look like blurry blobs of flesh-colored Flubber…albeit usually not quite so energetic or frenetic.

Quite simply, he lacks the 20/20 vision that we take as standard.  So Jesus lays hands on him a second time, and his vision becomes clear as day.

Sometimes, the first encounter with God isn’t enough—sometimes, God has to reach out to us a second time to fully take effect the change that God wants in us.

And there is nothing wrong with that.  There really, truly isn’t.  The key is, to make sure that we have the patience to try again and again and again in reaching out to and serving others in return.

Because sometimes, it takes more than one attempt.  And other times, we know that deep down, there will always be another situation in which our reaching out will be called for.

Like the Jesuit high school students in Detroit in their mission as pallbearers for the shelterless soldiers among us.  Until we get our act together and support the reintegration of soldiers into civilian life, there will continue to be legions of homeless veterans among us, crying out for help like the friends of the blind man, and dying sooner than they should.

In truth, that is an example of how our vision requires a second healing from Jesus, a second laying on of hands, if ours are truly to be the eyes and hands of Christ in a hurting world.

We look at these children carrying these grown men and women into the ground, and we would be forgiven for seeing them as mature adults—because our vision is still blurred.

We look at people around the country, around the world, and we do not see them as having the same worth as us—because our vision is still blurred.

But then divine hands are laid upon us, and our vision is cleared.

Only now, today, those hands are not the hands of the bodily Jesus of 2,000 years ago, they are the hands of a loved one, of a friend, of a neighbor, reaching out to steady a shoulder, wrap an arm around the back, or to simply lift up a chin.

Far too often, those hands are used for far less loving, and far more violent things.  I know it.  You know it.  Domestic violence, beatings, assault…it is a cruel, bitter thing to realize that something that can and should be used as a tool to heal is instead used as a weapon of war.

Which is all the more reason, then, to reclaim the hands of Christ.  To reclaim the eyes of Christ.  To reclaim the voice of Christ.

Christ has now no body on earth but yours.

What a great, terrible, wonderful, painful, awe-inspiring responsibility.

May we prove to be just the tiniest bit worthy of this great thing to which we have been called by the One who created us.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
January 10, 2015

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