Sermon – A Sensical God – Touch
Exodus 30:22-29; John 9:1-15
July 17, 2022
- What does it mean that God works in and through our touch
As you have probably heard, the latest variant of Covid, Omicron BA.5, has caused a real trouble for us lately as infections have jumped, again, since July 4. Sadly, hospitalizations are also up, again. This whole pandemic experience has given us much more than we ever bargained for, more than we could have expected, and left a blotch on our shared history forever.
One of the most difficult aspects of this has been how it has isolated people. Even young people are suffering depression in record numbers according to a recent report that I heard on the radio. That is probably no surprise to you. How we have suffered isolation after isolation is a horrible and tremendous travesty. It is against our very human nature to live separate. The only way this is even conceivable as a good is in the case of significant, infectious illness, so I understand why we have done this. Nevertheless, it has been brutal to distance ourselves from others. You have probably heard the research about what happens to babies who are not touched in their earliest days. They do not live without tangible human nurture. It is something that stays with us through life. As you can also well imagine, those who are cut off from others in nursing homes can also suffer from lack of positive touch. Isolation can end your life. In the past, I made it a point to go around and hold hands with all of the residents present when I conducted devotionals at skilled care facilities, but that has not been an option for the recent years. It makes me sad. Maybe you have felt some of the pain of this distance that we have been forced to endure. We have felt “out of touch” as a more troubling, literal reality – “out” “of touch.”
Today, we are visiting the power of touch. It can be a powerful tool for God’s love. We need touch except for maybe being “touched in the head.” Do people still say that? I am not even sure why I know that expression. Maybe that makes me a little touched myself. Regardless, I must thank Bill Hendley for challenging me to offer a sermon series on the senses. Once I started digging, it became profoundly and beautifully obvious how God really uses ALL of our senses to express God’s wonder, God’s glory, and God’s love. The Bible speaks directly to the use of the senses in the presence of God, and we will work our way through them all. I find this interesting.
For the first day, we are focusing on the sense of touch which seems acutely appropriate in the suffering of these pandemic years. So many of us have become starved for good, healthy, loving touch. It is important to us to be touched because that is a reminder that we matter, that we exist. It is a reminder that we are important enough to make contact. You may have said you feel touched when someone does something especially nice for you, but have you ever considered how God speaks to us through touch?
The passages I picked for today both have strong messages about touch, but they just tap the surface of how God’s love embraces us. The Exodus passage describes Moses setting up the priestly order and its things and duties. There had never been priests before or religious tools or clothes or buildings. This was all new, and what I loved about this passage, as they are learning what the job entails, is they hear how once they are consecrated, once they are made holy as priests, what THEY touch also becomes holy. They spread the presence of God’s holiness through the gift of touch. What an amazing thing to learn!
We do not have priests today as they did back then. No one is offering animals or making those kinds of sacrifices. Also, one of our very important reformed church ideas is that we are a priesthood of all believers. We don’t have certain people marked off as the only ones who can be holy or who can carry out the ministry of God. In fact, we are all given that grace and can carry out God’s service. We are made holy in God’s Spirit as we are in Christ, and we are all God’s priests today. Imagine how big or how powerful an idea it is to share God’s holiness by touching things, especially people. In this way, touch expresses the love language that does not use words. Healthy, loving, compassionate touch is sharing God’s goodness in a deep and meaningful way. When we dare to connect with others, we give what we have to others and share God’s heart.
Sadly, through the generations, people also took this idea the other direction and tried to NOT touch those who might make us unclean. The Bible sets this notion, too. This is the backdrop of the parable of the Good Samaritan and why the priest and the Levite both go to the other side of the road when they see someone who MIGHT be dead in the gutter. They don’t want any risk of touching something that might be dead which would make them unclean. Then, the one who is already unclean being the foreigner, the Samaritan, touches the man, dresses his wounds, and gives him to good care. He actually shared the spirit of God’s holiness in his willingness to touch.
Jesus gives us this fascinating and curious story of healing in John’s Gospel. I don’t think this particular story shows up anywhere else, and it is strange because Jesus does not just touch the blind man. He could have just told the man he was healed. He could have tapped the man on the head or even just covered the man’s eyes for a second to remove the blindness, but Jesus goes overboard in this very physical, expressive moment. It is shocking, humble touch. He spits in the dust to make mud and then smears the mud in the man’s eyes. It sounds disgusting how descriptive it is. I wonder if at least part of the idea is to emphasize how much Jesus was willing to do for our healing, how much he was willing to touch those who were broken or unclean. Jesus was not just going to made medicinal clay, but he applied it to the man’s face.
The ultimate example of this is a leper. Remembering how much we need to be touched to be loved, to be reminded that we are loved, to be reminded that we are still alive, the living hell would be the disease that cuts you off from all touch. It is bad enough to have the disease. Both ancient leprosy and modern leprosy (even though they were not exactly the same disease) made you untouchable. Contracting leprosy made you the essentially walking dead. You would have had to wear a bell to alert people that you were coming so that everyone could clear out and avoid you. You were a pariah and to be shunned by everyone, except for Jesus. He touched. He healed, again, by TOUCHING people, expressing God’s holiness through physical, tangible connection.
The one time I have been to a leper colony, I was very aware of how close I was to the people. These were all men in India sitting around us conspicuously missing body parts – fingers, hands, toes, feet, and more, and I was scared to touch them. No one was asking me to. They may not have wanted a touch considering how stigmatized they were. They might have been afraid for me to touch them for my sake, but that just speaks to how broken all of this is. The ones who most need good touch are the ones we are least likely to touch.
The ugly, the sick, the unwanted, the broken need healing touch, loving touch, reminding touch, holy touch more than anyone else. They need to know that someone loves them, and that someone is standing in for God.
God understands this best of all: Jesus as the Son of God did not descend from the heavens on a cloud or pop up in the middle of a busy marketplace in a ray of sunshine or emerge from a whirlwind. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He literally became touch so that he could touch as one of us. This is incarnational love. Every time you embody love in a physical, tangible way, you are doing the same and giving incarnational love. God’s love brought Jesus to us in the flesh. As we minister in God’s name as the children of God, we are also being God’s love in the flesh. Just imagine how many people Jesus must have touched. We only have a few described in the Bible. Huge crowds of people flocked to see him. At least some had the idea that if they just touched Jesus, they would be healed, and that happened. But the real gift was his willingness to touch us as one of us. He did not love us from a distance but hand in hand.
The early Christians laid on hands for healing, anointed with oil, shared a holy kiss, turned the other cheek, washed in Baptism, ate together, and embraced when they followed Jesus honestly and truthfully. May their example inspire us in our own study, conversation, and reflection.
While we must be careful about our health and safety, there are still plenty of ways that we can reach out to our neighbor, the one who is hurting, the one who is alone and needs good touch. We cannot be afraid to grasp God’s goodness between. We cannot be afraid to dignify the life of the one we need to love. You may have known times when you just needed someone to comfort you, to remind you that you matter, to connect with you with a good touch. It hurts when we do know know those things. The blessing of God has been placed in our hands to share. We have been given God’s very holiness to extend to God’s children. We are a people of touch to show the world how real God’s love is but not from a distance. Touch is from God.
To God be the glory. Amen.