Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world! Amen.
I read an article recently about an accident in Stockholm, Sweden. A woman there was injured as she rushed to catch a streetcar. She stumbled in front of the moving train and was caught beneath it. While she wasn’t seriously injured, she was trapped, and the police had to send for a crane to lift the streetcar off of her.
While waiting for the crane, a crowd of people gathered. One man pushed through the crowd, crawled beneath the car, and said to the woman, “Take my hand.” As she took his hand she felt the nearness and warmth of the stranger. This calmed her and prevented her from going into shock.
After the crane arrived and the woman was released, she said, “I never thought an outstretched hand could mean so much.”
One outstretched hand can mean a lot to someone who is need.
Our Gospel lesson today is about the reaching out of hands in a way that brings healing and wholeness to a man who had been deaf and mute for his entire life. First, the friends of this man reached out their hands together in order to guide him to Jesus, so that in turn, Jesus would have a chance to reach out his hand. And when Jesus reaches out his hands, the man is healed, and his life is changed.
To better understand this story, I think it might be helpful to break it down and look at the 3 sets of characters: The friends, the man and Jesus.
First, the friends: These were guys who clearly loved their buddy, the one who couldn’t hear or speak. They loved him enough that when they heard Jesus was going to be in the area, and the word on the street was that Jesus could heal, they brought him to this traveling rabbi.
These friends had a dream, a vision for their friend in need. They believed that if they could just get him to Jesus, Jesus would heal him and his life would be one where he could enjoy the sounds of God’s creation, where he could speak to others in conversation; a dream where this man would no longer have to talk by signs but he would understand everything and would be understood.
Ultimately they did this because they had faith in Jesus. They had heard stories of him, and in their hearing they believed that this man Jesus could heal their friend. They had faith, they had trust.
What can their faith teach us? Today, we are like them. We are the hands of Christ that reach out to the ones suffering from the brokenness of this world. We reach out a hand of tenderness, of kindness, of compassion, of healing to all those who are experiencing the burden of suffering in any form, be that death, sickness, broken relationships, whatever.
We are the ones who reach out our hand so that others might experience and know the love of Christ. And let’s be honest, we live in a world that desperately needs to experience healing. Every time we watch the news, we see evidence of our own brokenness.
- Our nation is experiencing a racial tension that can feel like it is tearing us apart. We need reconciliation, repentance and forgiveness. Our nation needs healing.
- In Europe, there is a refugee crisis of immense proportions. And it’s easy to just hear the numbers until you see the disturbing images, like the one of the 3-year-old boy found on that Turkish beach. That image haunts me. Our world needs healing.
- In our own community, there is poverty and hunger. We don’t see it because it can seem hidden from us. But it is there. Our community needs healing.
The group of friends in our Gospel story reminds us that this is our work. Christ reaches out, and we are his hands. Jesus works through us to bring healing. This is the work of the church.
Now let’s talk about the deaf man for a moment. Can you imagine what was going through his mind? He too, I imagine, also had to believe that Jesus could heal him or he wouldn’t have come. Then Jesus beckons him to come to one side, to be alone with him. Standing there in front of Jesus the man could feel Jesus touch his ears, touch his tongue, and could see Jesus look toward heaven, then say the word: “Ephphatha,” which means “be opened.” And immediately, he hears. He’s never heard before. All of a sudden, all sorts of sounds were invading his ears; voices, birds. Can you imagine hearing for the very first time? How overwhelming must that have been?
Then knowing that he could speak? What would he say? He looked at Jesus. How could he express his gratitude and the overwhelming feelings inside him? What could he say?
I can imagine all he could do was stand there in shock as his senses were being overwhelmed. I can imagine the tears streaming down his face. Then he saw one of his friends running toward him and the next thing he knew he was being hugged, and his friend was explaining: “This is Jesus”.
From his friends he received the faith to trust in the power of Jesus to heal him. And from the touch of Jesus, he received grace, love, healing, hearing and speech.
Because of Jesus, his life was forever changed. What great faith these friends had. What great faith this man was given. And as we experience the brokenness of this world, as we are led by others to see Jesus, we can learn to fully trust Him. Whatever our brokenness, Jesus meets us at our point of need, be it frustration, fear, futility, fatigue, failure, sin, guilt, sorrow, broken relationships, whatever is our burden, Jesus meets us with his grace.
In January of 1999, I lost my father to a chronic lung disease. His health had been deteriorating for a number of years, so while it wasn’t a surprise, it was a shock when it happened. I actually don’t remember a lot about those days…it’s all a kind of a blur.
I remember the kindness of friends. I remember people bringing meals over to my parent’s house. I remember some, but not much of the funeral. But I do have this one distinct memory:
I remember at the gravesite, while we stood there in the cold as the pastor led the committal service, I remember that there was a hand resting on my shoulder. It was just there. I don’t remember whose it was. I know it wasn’t Lori, she was standing next to me holding my hand. And it wasn’t a family member, they were all alongside us.
I don’t know who it was. One of my friends…one of my co-workers…I’m not sure.
But here’s what I believe: Whoever’s physical hand it was doesn’t really matter. In a moment of emotional turmoil, that hand on my shoulder…that touch… It grounded me. It prevented grief from winning…it allowed me to focus on the promises of God in the midst of my pain. Whoever’s hand it was didn’t matter, because I believe, I really believe, it was the touch of Jesus.
This leads us to our final character in the story: Jesus himself. Jesus’ concern in our Goepel was two-fold: He was concerned both for the man in need of healing; and he was concerned that people understood that he was more than a man who performed miracles; that his whole being was focused on the mission of God: to bring salvation to all of God’s people, through the cross.
I believe that this is why he instructed the people not to tell others about the miracles he had seen this day. He wanted to show the people as he neared the end of his journey to Jerusalem that these miracles were just a portion of his ministry. His mission was to bring salvation by the way of the cross. Jesus knows that while our healing is important, our salvation is essential, and the two are tied together. Healing and salvation is not either or, but is rather a both/and. Jesus heals our bodies and spirits…and our relationship with God. And if people focus too much on either of these, they might miss the message of salvation.
Jesus shows us very clearly that he wants to step in and be part of our brokenness to bring a measure of grace into it.
In the book, Girded With Truth. James Bjorge writes that “In a little town in the mountains of France there is a shrine famous for its miracles of healing. One day shortly after WW II an amputee veteran appeared at the shrine. As he hobbled painfully along the way, he overheard someone say: “That silly man! Does he think God will give him back his leg?”
The young veteran turned and replied: “No, I don’t expect God to give me back my leg. I am going to pray to God to help me to live without it.”
Healing and restoration are two different things. When Jesus reaches out to touch us, he doesn’t do so to give us what we want; he gives us what we need.
- The young veteran wasn’t seeking the restoration of his leg; he was seeking ways to live in this new reality. It was a different kind of healing. It was what he needed.
- Standing by that graveside, my father wasn’t restored to me. The touch I felt instead gave me the strength to go on. It was what I needed.
In just a few moments, we are going to experience together the sacrament…Holy Communion. I describe this time as one where Jesus reaches out and touches us; where we come into physical contact with the Holy.
Today, you might be like the man who is in need of healing. So my question for you is: What do you need? Where do you need healing? Wholeness? Where in your life do you need to experience the touch of Jesus…the same touch that healed the man who was deaf and mute?
Because today, we will experience his touch. And the touch of Jesus always brings healing…perhaps not the healing you want, but definitely the healing that you need.
Or perhaps today, you are like the friends of the man who brought him to Jesus. Who do you know who is in need of healing? How can you take them by the arm, place your hand on their shoulder and accompany them into the presence, the love and the grace of Christ, that they might experience their own healing?
Today we remember that Jesus reaches out to us. His touch brings peace, grace and healing. As people of faith, we grasp and cling to him. Because deep down, we all understand that one outstretched hand can mean a lot to someone who is need.