Friday, October 4, 2013

Sermon: "Faith Connections"

Sermon: "Faith Connections"
II Timothy 1:1-14

(I wished I had reread this sermon earlier in the week. In some ways it helps set up the blog post I want to write about the two ALS events this past weekend - in my hometown: The Putnam County ALS Golf and Walk Benefit; and in Columbus: the annual Walk to Defeat ALS for the ALS Association Central and Southern Ohio Chapter. There was a lot of touching physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But, we'll get to that in another post.)

A mother had a long - hard - rotten day and it was time for her three-year-old daughter, Abigail, to go to bed. The mother got herself through the story - the song - the drink of water - and the back rub. Finally, she said to her daughter: "Abigail, you know I could sure use a big hug." And so, Abigail wrapper her little arms as far around her mother as they would go and gave her what the two of them called a "Super Hug." The mother told Abigail how wonderful the hug was, how it was exactly the hug she needed, and how it was the best hug ever. Then she asked her if she had any more to give.

Abigail very seriously replied, "I have more mom. I get them from my heart."

And the mother asked, "What?"

And Abigail restated it, "I have hugs in my heart."

And the mother asked, "Well, could I have another one? I could sure use another if you have enough."

And Abigail replied, "Sure you can, mom. I can always grow more hugs in my heart."

Dr. Virginia Satir wrote in "Family Happiness is Homemade": "Hugging can be vital for your emotional well-being. Everybody feels skin hunger throughout their lives, and unless that hunger is satisfied by touching, there's a vital void in the emotional make-up that's going to cause deep unhappiness. We all know that babies thrive on frequent stroking. Well, adults are no different. When they are not patted on the hand, embraced around the shoulder or hugged, they withdraw into themselves. I prescribe four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth." (1)

There's no question we're living in a confusing and difficult time when it comes to touching. A lot of people have been scarred by acts of inappropriate touching. We need to be in ministry with those who've been abused by such forms of inappropriate touching. We need to be understanding and patient with them - we need to be careful how and when we touch them - we need to protect persons from inappropriate touching - we need to support efforts to educate  people about what is inappropriate touching - we need to seek treatment for and lock-up persons who inappropriately touch to be sure. (My own denomination has for a number of years required every clergy person to attend a Clergy Boundaries Training (Sexual Ethics) course because of violations in both my denomination and others. In fact, my clergy friends are currently engaged in this necessary and vital time of clarification and reflection.)

While it is vitally important that the inappropriate/illegal/abusive forms of touching be addressed/defined/spelled out/corrected, it also is important that we consider the reality that people are also being damaged because of a lack of appropriate touching. We dare not let the abusers abuse us more by letting them dictate, take away from us, something that is a necessary aspect of our human nature - that is so necessary for our growth as humans - so vital to our existence. We must learn to appropriately touch again.

Human touch has always been regarded in the church as a method or symbol of power being imparted. When Jesus touched people they were healed. Some of the most significant moments in the life of the Christian journey are noted with a touch: baptism, confirmation, ordination, anointing with oil. In the portion of Paul's second letter to Timothy we are considering, Paul is reminding Timothy of his having laid his hands on him and thus instilling in him the gift of God. "Remember the power, the love, the self-discipline from God that filled you when I touched you. It's still within you, Tim. Fan the flame of God's gift in you again."

It's important to remember that this portion of Paul's second letter to Timothy was written while he was imprisoned for the second time in Rome - at a time in his life when he had begun to face the reality that the end of his ministry and possibly the end of his life was near - when he was feeling particularly cut off physically from those people and churches he had nurtured in the faith. It is because of Paul's circumstances that I think it's important to talk about the importance and appropriateness of touching, both the physical and the emotional kind, in the life of the church. One of my favorite resources is Ann Weem's Reaching for Rainbows. One of the chapters in her resource is "Touch in Church." I'd like to share it with you. It's longer than most quotes.

"What is all this touching in church?
It used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew
and not be bothered by all this friendliness and
certainly not by touching.
I used to come to church and leave untouched.
Now I have to be nervous about what's expected of me.
I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be;
I could just ask the person next to me: How are you?
And the person could answer: Oh, just fine,
And we'd both go home...strangers who have known each other
for twenty years.
But now the minister asks us to look at each other.
I'm worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman's eyes.
Now I'm concerned, because when the minister asks us to pass the peace,
The man next to me held my hand so tightly I wondered if he had
been touched in years.
Now I'm upset because the lady next to me cried and then apologized
And said it was because I was so kind and that she needed
A friend right now.
Now I have to get involved.
Now I have to suffer when this community suffers.
Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
That man last week told me I'd never know how much I'd touched
his life.
All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be
Lord, I'm not big enough to touch and be touched!
The stretching scares me.
What if I disappoint somebody?
What if I'm too pushy?
What if I cling too much?
What if somebody ignores me?
'Pass the peace.'
'The peace of God be with you.' 'And with you.'
And mean it.
Lord, I can't resist meaning it!
I'm touched by it, I'm enveloped by it!
I find I do care about that person next to me!
I find I AM involved!
And I'm scared.
O Lord, be here beside me.
You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched!
So that I can care and be cared for!
So that I can share my life with all those others that I belong to
All this touching in church - Lord, it's changing me!" (2)

Being willing to touch and be touched, physically & emotionally, is an important aspect of being a Christian. It's the avenue through which healing happens. Physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual healing happens when we are touched by another, when we touch another - touch is a conduit of new life - it's an avenue through which God is experienced.

I like the way Leonard Sweet defines what happens when we are touched by the realities in the lives of others. He invites us to think about it through a set of questions.

* "When touched by another's suffering, do you weep?
* When touched by another's joy, do you laugh?
* When touched by another's pain, do you ache?
* When touched by another's warmth, are you comforted?
* When touched by another's coldness, are you chilled?
* When touched by another's sorrow, do you mourn?
* When touched by another's love, do you multiply that love?" (3)

What impact does being touched by another's suffering, another's joy, another's pain, another's warmth, another's coldness, another's sorrow, another's love have on you?

In one church when I shared some of the ideas in this sermon the choir director chose for the morning anthem "I Have Felt the Hand of God" by Craig Courtney. The words to Courtney's anthem are:
"I have felt the hand of God in your hand.
Holding me, you gave me strength to stand.
When I was alone, you came and met my need.
And when I lost my way, - your hand was there to lead.
Through your touch, God's hand reached out to me.
I have felt the hand of God - in your hand.
I have heard the voice of God in your voice, singing praise,
You taught me to rejoice.
Your voice of comfort caused my grief to end.
And when my faith was gone, you called me home again,
When you spoke, God's voice called out to me.
I have heard the voice of God in your voice.
I have seen the face of God in your face.
Giving all, you shared with me God's grace.
And you were faithful to guide me as I grew.
I saw your love for God and I saw God in you.
When you smiled, God's love surrounded me.
I have seen the face of God, heard the voice of God,
Felt the hand of God through you." (4)

We are indeed faith connectors for one another - that is, we bring to one another - we reveal to one another - we uncover in one another - we activate in one another - Faith - when we are touched physically or emotionally by one another. Timothy's mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, and Paul were faith connectors for him and they are for us also and we are for one another as well.

Holy Communion/the Eucharist/the Lord's Supper is one of those holy times when we celebrate our connectedness with one another "in Christ." We are reminded through the sharing with one another of a common meal - of a holy meal - that we are connected with Christ through others and with others through Christ. We are one with others - their needs, their pains, their joys are ours. We touch their lives, we touch one another's lives in a mystical but real way when we share this meal of faith. We remember and celebrate with one another how Christ has touched us, what Christ has done on our behalf.

1. Virginia Satir., Xplore Inc, 2013., accessed October 4, 2013.
2. Ann Weems, Reaching For Rainbows (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980), 35.
3. Leonard Sweet, (I have lost the source but will continue to search!).
4. Craig Courtney, "I Have Felt the Hand of God" (Columbus: Beckenhorst Press Inc., 1997).

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