calendar May 3, 2014 in 2014 Assembly, Assembly, Bishop, Bishop messages, Faith in action, Mission

God Strengthens our Hands and Resolve

God is hard at work, strengthening our hands and our resolve. Even when we are tired, weak and worn—especially then.

Because He knows that as we heal from our broken, worn places, we gain strength from that healing, and we, in gratitude, turn to help heal others.

“This is God’s work—strengthening our hands and our resolve,” said Bishop Claire Burkat in her sermon Saturday morning. “That’s what it means in Ecclesiastes 4, which is as true for today as it was yesterday.”

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

“God’s Work. Our Hands. We’ve been talking a lot about hands and having fun with the theme,” Burkat said, holding her hands high and wiggling her fingers. “Hands are a miracle—with 27 bones, the richest source of tactile feedback in the body, and the greatest positioning capability. It’s appropriate that we use hands to describe the lives we live together with God.”

‘The Man With A Withered Hand” from on Vimeo.

Imagining losing the use of a hand, especially of a dominant hand, and all that implies. Being unable to drive, pick up a baby—clap! The Gospel of Matthew contains many examples of Jesus using his hands to heal others. Think of Peter’s mother-in-law or the leper who are healed by Jesus’ touch. Or the little girl on her deathbed who was made healthy again when Jesus took her hand.

And then there is the story of the man with the withered hand in Matthew 12:9-14, who could no longer work and provide for his family. His disabled hand prohibited him from being an effective part of the community. This story is not as familiar since it is rarely included in sermons, “but the text shifts our perspective and gives us new insights into our motto—God’s Work. Our Hands,” said Burkat.

The incident shows Jesus facing down the religious leaders who accuse his disciples of breaking the law because they have used their hands to pick grain, breaking the commandment to refrain from any work on the Sabbath.

Jesus defends his followers with his superior knowledge of religious law and Hebrew history. Later in the day, the Pharisees think they have found a way to trip Jesus up, and bring the man with the withered hand before him. “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?” they ask, testing him.

If he heals the man, they will catch him in the act of breaking the law. If Jesus doesn’t help the man, he will appear heartless or powerless to the crowd.

“Jesus told them to ‘bring it on,’” said Burkat with a chuckle. “Even if that’s not exactly what he said.

“He told the man to stretch out his hand, wanting the situation to be brought out into the open. It was as if Jesus was saying to the man and the crowd, ‘Let’s be honest about our withered hands, about the things about ourselves that do not function well, those that have been crushed or kept from growing.’”

Burkat shared several stories about people who have experienced withering in their lives—about a woman whose heart was withered from resentment when her sister didn’t help her care for their dying mother, for example.

“What is your withered hand?” she asked the congregation before her. “What is withering in your heart? What is not functioning the way God intended? How are communities struggling and cut off from others—withering?”

We all know places in our communities where people are cut off, marginalized and demonized—withering. Millions across the country suffer from broken systems, she said. Millions suffer poverty and marginalization. Think of our broken immigration system, of our prison system that is a global scandal, our disabled veterans, and our public schools, where so many children are withering from inadequate education and safety.

The Pharisees thought they had an iron grip on God’s grace. They thought they had no “withered hands, hearts or spirits.” They were cocky in their self-righteousness.

These authorities tried to trick Jesus and trap him, daring him to heal the man, much like today’s authorities, who say to the Church: “We dare you to heal. We dare you to bring the healing power of Christ to the world, to have the Church out in the open and assist with the homeless, to bring our broken pieces out in the open, to champion for the wounded in body, mind and spirit,” said Burkat.

“We can’t do everything, but each of us can do something. Pick one.”

There will be those who will do everything they can to discourage us, she added. But this is God’s work—strengthening our hands and our resolve. Ecclesiastes 4 is true. That’s what it means when we do this together—when we are “church together.”

“Intertwine our hands,” she said in conclusion. “It is God’s work to take our hands and heal our hearts, even when we are tired and weak. We are loved, and God knows that we turn in our gratitude to heal others.” – Brenda Lange