Hands - Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (B) 2015

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In which I talk about the work of the hands, how pastors are expected to do miracles and how everyone is commissioned by Jesus.  

Please, I suggest you listen to the sermon in the link below, but feel free to browse the text notes that are added for your convenience. 

Sermon delivered at St. Mark's Lutheran Church of San Francisco. 

July 5, 2015  - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

"Hands" - Lectionary text from Mark 6:1-13

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Click here for sermon audio





Greetings to you, my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.  I hope that everyone had a wonderful independence day and that you celebrated with friends and family or were able to do what you wanted to do. Myself I helped put on a picnic at Lake Temescal Park in North Oakland, and celebrated the festivities with a lot of friends and we had a good, clean, fun time. 

While most of us had the day off, some of you may have worked, or even done some work in your yards, or housecleaning, or put to use your hands in some way or another.  

If you ask what separates human beings from most of the animal world, it is one thing that we share with our primate cousins... a pair of hands that we can grasp things with and with our arms and fingers we can communicate a wide variety of things. Combined with our intelligence, our hands enable us to use tools and craft art, operate machinery, and do the types of things that make human beings, well, human.  

We use our hands to build things, take wood and a knowledge of craftsmanship, a carpenter...like Jesus was trained...builds homes where people live, builds boats for people to travel across the sea or to catch fish for their livelihood, and to build the churches, temples and synagogues where we go worship and encounter God and commune with one another. 

We can use our hands to destroy. What other people have made we can easily unmake. Putting a sledgehammer to use on a wall because we want to open up a room in our house requires the use of both of our hands to hold the heavy thing. We use our hands for weapons as well, whether it be a sword as in Jesus' day or a firearm today, the kind that soldiers use in war, or that police use to keep the peace.  Keeping the peace with weapons designed not for peace at all but to maim or kill an opponent. And while hands can build, they can also kill. 

Jesus laid his hands on the sick and he healed them of their illnesses. Although this passage recounts that being in his hometown, Jesus could not heal many, he nevertheless healed some, in all likelihood, those that believed, and he used his hands to heal so many more throughout the gospels. By his life-giving hands people no longer suffered from their illnesses, but were made whole in their faith and went forth into the world. 

Jesus gave his disciples the power to perform miracles in the world when he sent them out. With their hands, they carried only staves, cast out demons, and cured those who were sick by anointing them with oil. It was those deeds of power that the people of Nazareth heard about and yet could not understand that their hometown boy, this son of Joseph the carpenter could have possibly be associated with.  

Indeed, for all the good things that jesus did with his hands, his the people of Nazareth still regarded him as a carpenter, as someone who fabricated buildings or boats or houses of worship, but not someone who was a leader, a prophet, someone who cast out demons, who taught the word and law of God, who carried himself with authority. Their homeboy was someone who should have been acting, doing, saying things they way that their own people where acting, doing, saying things. 

It may seem odd at first if you look at the policy that the ELCA has regarding when someone who is called into ministry, that there is a congregation that the person is from. And that congregation is one in which the person who is called into ministry, will, except in some very rare instances, off the table when it comes to the congregation where that person will be called to serve. But there is a very reasonable rationale that explains why this is the case.  

A congregation that sees someone baptized, that sees someone confirmed, that watches that person participate in youth groups and sees the trouble that person gets into as a youngster. It is generally accepted that this congregation may find it hard to see young Mary Ellen Martin as anything other than the pigtailed girl that she was twenty years ago and she will be hard pressed to do anything that resembles the gift of ministry within that context. That when Pastor Mary Ellen comes calling to deliver the Eucharist to Mrs. Betsy Lundgreen in the convalescent center, that Betsy, who taught Mary Ellen in the Sunday School class for all children from grades first through third is not going to sit there and be remembering how Mary Ellen, age seven, asked on numerous occasions why Jesus didn't ask the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to help him through his troubles.  That would make for an interesting Eucharist, would it not? 

But what is a pastor capable of, after all? We expect him or her to not only lead the planning of worship and carrying it out, which in itself is a large and involved part of their job, to visit with our homebound, to counsel individual members of their flock, but also to manage the staff, to perform various maintenance duties in and around the church.  We want our pastor to be involved in our community, to be a voice of our congregation in our city, to represent our church's interests in our neighborhood.  We want our pastor to bring new members in, to be the voice of good news to people out there who may not have experienced what a wonderful congregation we live in. 

And when we place all of those things in our pastor's hands, when we look for someone who we expect by virtue of their office to work miracles, it does not seem surprising that we would want to avoid putting the same person that our members once watch make dinosaurs out of silly putty and then stuff them up his nose. 

But just remember, that every pastor was once a seven year old child somewhere and in some generation.  I can tell you that at the age of 7 that I was enrolled in a French immersion course in Silver Spring, Maryland, that I was doing complicated math problems. But I was also still watching Sesame Street. I was unable to stop sucking my thumb and I was notorious for throwing temper tantrums over any little thing.  

And yet, before the next full moon, some other congregation somewhere is going to be voting on and may very likely be choosing this thumb-sucking tantrum-throwing seven year old to be their next pastor, with all the expectations and responsibilities that bears. And as that congregation goes through its discernment, St. Mark's will be in my prayers as you move toward your next pastor, someone who themselves will have been a seven-year-old little boy or girl somewhere, with all that that entails.  

But having said that, there is one more thing to understand about pastors. Because the hands that a pastor uses in their trade will, in fact, work miracles, by God's grace, in the interactions with their parishioners, and in their dealings out in the world.  

But their hands will no more than the miracles each and every one of you who are called to be disciples of Christ, living, breathing Christians. Each of us are called to be his workers in the world. It is in that great love that our God has for us that we too are empowered to be the living emblem of Jesus Christ in the world. Because when we live out his mission. When we, God's children, are granted his loving grace, each and every morning he sends us out into the world to do his work. Sharing the good news. Living the gospel.  

The ELCA acting motto is "God's Work, Our Hands." And each and every one of us is that Church. Whether it is in doing what his grace calls us to do, helping those who are struggling, comforting those who are dying, being witnesses to the world as to the love and kindness of our Lord, or even telling a sister or brother how God's great love for us in the suffering, death, and resurrection that he made for us, gives each and every one of us the gift of grace that equips us with this amazing faith in him to do all of those things, we are doing his work with our hands. 

And when we put these hands together in prayer, we are not just supplicating, giving obedience, or respect, but we are sharing our gratitude in being granted those gifts that he has given to us.  In forgiveness we are able to forgive others. In his love we are able to love others. We become not just ordinary people, full of fault and defect and anxiety, but people who are caring, loving, and kind to others, who look beyond our own self-interest and well-being and take on the well-being of those who are not like us.  

We become the people of God that he has meant us to be. By our hands we carry out his work. And by his grace we know that he carries us in his hands, through our lives, and into the glory of his great kingdom. 

And that, my sisters and brothers, is some very good news.  Amen.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on July 9, 2015 8:34 AM.

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