Sunday, February 2, 2020
Guest Pastor, Steve McKinley
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father through the savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was invited to preach today I suggested to Pastor Torgerson that it was some kind of an equal time ploy, that since last Sunday was youth Sunday, today could be old codger Sunday. She did not exactly deny that.
Well, I would say with all my peer group that we were young once. I was young, a first-year theological student, and when Spring Break came around, I went to my friend Jerry’s home in Randallstown, Maryland. On Sunday morning we went to church at Jerry’s home congregation, St. Paul’s Lutheran in Randallstown.
Hugo Schroeder was the senior pastor. He was a widower, his wife having died the previous fall. Hugo himself had survived two heart attacks, and had less than a year to live. Badly crippled by arthritis, he walked with a cane, sat on a high stool in the pulpit. While the congregation sympathized with his situation, there was also talk that it was time for him to retire.
Hugo did it all that day, liturgy and preaching, because, funded by Hugo from the pastor’s discretionary fund, the associate pastor was part of Dr. King’s civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery which began that very day. “If I could walk, I’d be there myself,” Hugo said. Already there was a petition drive in the congregation to oust the associate pastor for marching, and grumbling that Hugo had funded the trip. Jerry’s mother didn’t go to church with us that day. She had already signed the petition.
I don’t remember the text for Hugo’s sermon that morning, but I do remember the key point. It was one of those days, and we all have them, when he was preaching as much to himself as he was to the congregation. I can still see him, hear him now, leaning forward on his stool in the pulpit. “What do you do when you reach the end of your rope?” he said. “You tie a knot, and you hang on.”
In today’s lesson we meet two very different people who have tied a knot and are hanging on. One of them is a poor woman, impoverished by a health care system which had bled her dry without offering any relief from her suffering. Whoever heard of such a thing? Something about “pre-existing conditions.” She jostles her way through the crowd surrounding Jesus, poor, dirty, smelly, an outcast, a street person. Her knot tied, she is hanging on, and reaches out to touch Jesus.
The other hanger-on is Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, whose position tells us that he was upper crust. Jairus had a daughter who was sick, on death’s doorstep. “My little daughter,” he calls her, the words catching in his throat. The doctors are stumped, they’ve tried everything, death looms, and now Jairus has tied a knot and is hanging on. He comes to Jesus, willing to try this one last thing that might, might, save his daughter’s life.
Friends, there is a wonderful sermon drilling down to the depths of these two stories linked together, but the problem is that it is about a 45-minute sermon and were I to give it, not only would I never be invited back into this pulpit again, but also I would probably find my membership transferred to some congregation in Outer Slobbovia. So I will simplify, boil it all down to the nubbies, and shamelessly borrow from that long-ago Hugo Schroeder sermon. What do you do when you reach the end of your rope? You tie a knot and you hang on. And then add this. You seek the touch of Jesus.
The street woman. She touched Jesus. The daughter of Jairus. She was touched by Jesus. And healing happened. For both of them.
If you are looking at something deep and dark these days, if sleep doesn’t come easily, if you’re wrestling with things you don’t even feel like you can talk about, if your job is shaky, your most important relationships on shifting sands, if you’re putting on a happy face to disguise profound unhappiness inside, if the doctor’s latest words about you or somebody you love were not good…tie a knot, hang on, and seek the touch of Jesus, the touch that will bring hope to drive out fear. Hear the words, hear the promise, the promise of forgiveness, the promise of everlasting life.
Now I am not into lily-gilding. Whatever happened to that woman in the crowd who reached out to touch Jesus? Eventually she died. What happened to the daughter of Jairus? Eventually she died. Devout, faithful Christians die. Bad things happen to good people. But when we know the touch of Jesus, hear his word, share his sacrament, participate in the community, it’s okay. It’s okay, because the promise of Jesus is a promise to be with us always, to hold us close always, that in the highest and finest and holiest sense of things, it’s going to be all right. Life with Jesus never ends.
That’s a wonderful promise, and it is also a promise that can and should be written on a larger scale. Our faith life is not something that is only about “me and Jesus.” It’s “me and Jesus and the world.” We look beyond ourselves and we see fire in Australia, flooding in Indonesia, crazy storms bouncing around North America, and all the evidence clearly points to a changing climate less friendly to life of all kinds. Animosity between nations ebbs and flows but mostly flows, and that is why we pray for service people every Sunday. The political life of our nation, once built on the assumption that reasonable people can both disagree and compromise for the sake of the nation, now divides us into enemy camps unable to see the good in people on the other side and unwilling to compromise on anything, relying instead on hatred and name-calling. I come from an optimistic generation that thought we were making progress on issues like racial equality, but the last few years racists have come out of the woodwork and made it clear that we were kidding ourselves. Even for a newspaper addict like yours truly, it’s hard to pick up the paper in the morning or look at the news on-line.
But back to the theme: tie a knot, hang on, wait for the touch of Jesus. The touch of Jesus, that sees worth in every person, black, brown, yellow, red, white, native born, refugee, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Republican, Democrat. The touch of Jesus, that denies hatred and pursues the good. The touch of Jesus, that does not give up, that works to make our world safer, more just, that cares for the creation God has given us.
Ah, the touch of Jesus…but there is a catch here, and it is stated well in the beginning of a little poem I learned in Sunday School many years ago on one of those rare Sundays when I actually went to Sunday School. It says this: Christ has no hands but only our hands to do His work today.
You and me…it’s us…it’s up to us to bring the touch of Christ to our hurting world, to protect the planet, provide for the poor, promote the peace, alleviate the animosity. We are called to be peacemakers, healers of the breach, protectors, the bringers of hope to a hurting world, the touching hands of Jesus. Jesus gave his followers very simple instructions. Feed the hungry he said. Visit the prisoner he said. Support the poor he said. Protect the weak he said. Work for peace he said. Welcome the stranger he said. It ain’t rocket science. This world, God’s world, needs us to bring the touch of Christ.
Now if Pastor Aune were here today he’d be looking at his watch and clearing his throat, so it’s time to wind this up without any fancy conclusion. I will simply give the last word today to Pastor Hugo Schroeder— “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” And add for myself— “Seek the touch of Jesus or be the touch of Jesus.”
Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.