During my first week of seminary, the assistant professor of homiletics – who was, strangely, a terrible preacher – gathered up my whole class and had us learn her way of preparing to preach. We were taught breathing exercises, vocal warm-ups, stretching, and all manner of other things normal people don’t do when they prepare to preach. Finally, we were supposed to find a partner to help us stretch and then massage each others shoulders, which was the final straw for many of us. My friend, now Father Ron Owen, and I, we just pretended to be following along. But our friend Bob, he had just had enough. Refusing to even pretend to acquiesce to this garbage, he declared that he would not be manhandled by people he had met hours before. His nickname – both appropriate and, I think, enviable – quickly became Don’t Touch Me Bob.
In the Safe Church classes we have to take now, we are taught not to touch people, which is somehow both utter foolishness and strangely sound advice. Touching another person can have many connotations, from loving to hating to flirty to creepy to flirty and creepy. We’ve seen way to much bad touching, criminal and evil, and not enough of the touch that blesses, heals.
“Jesus was someone people wanted to touch and be touched by. But in the case of Jesus, such touches were about far more than the people’s desire to make contact with somebody famous. Jesus’ touch was said to have healing powers.
“It makes for a great story but notice how clever Mark was in composing it. Notice especially the role played by hands. Jairus does not simply ask Jesus to come and heal his daughter, he very specifically says, “Please come and put your hands on her.” In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has already performed any number of miracles that did not involve a physical touch. Yet Jairus very carefully requests the laying on of Jesus’ hands to bring about his daughter’s restoration.”1
We continue that touch, that laying on of hands, here in Bordentown; none of us have power in ourselves to even help ourselves, more or less another, but by the power of God in Christ Jesus, we anoint the sick with a healing touch.
I especially like that Jesus went with Jairus to see his daughter; surely Jesus could have just poofed her back to life and health, but Jesus, like His Father, seems more active than that, much more personal than that. This is one reason we keep our ministries so locally focused here. No, we’re not the church equivalent of the farm-to-table movement, nor do we deny that helping those outside of our reach is right and edifying. Throughout her history, the Church in one place has helped the Church in another place, and having solidified our local ministries, we broadened our scope, through the ECW, to giving to the United Thank Offering, which concentrates its effort on behalf of people in rural Appalachia.
But in broadening our scope, we mustn’t forget that we are called first to minister to those, as Moses said, within our gates. As he said in Deuteronomy, “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
In other words, there are people right here, people we can reach out and touch, who we are morally responsible for. This is joyous work, because as Moses said, “for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.”
The Lord has indeed blessed us in all that we undertake; a common refrain around town is that no matter what is going on, ministries and public events, anywhere and anytime good is being done, Christ Church people are not only there but leading, at the same time taking responsibility and making contact, touching the hearts and souls of our brothers and sisters in Bordentown. The Lord continue to touch our hearts and souls, that we may continue to be a blessing to our neighbor.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week. http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-8b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel