Worship Service, June 27, 2021 – Taken by the Hand
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, June 27, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “Taken by the Hand.”
You are welcome to join us in person for Indoor Worship, inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
There is an iconic scene in many movies and TV shows that you might call the “take my hand moment.” It is one of those scenes when someone has fallen off a cliff or a building and is hanging on for dear life, or perhaps they have fallen in the water and are about to take their last breath. Suddenly someone looks over the edge and says, “Take my hand.” It might be the hero or heroine, it might be a friend or loved one of the character, but in either case, the person reaches out to grab the hand of the other. It is a very dramatic moment that almost always gets the viewer’s heart racing. It almost never fails to get some kind of emotional reaction.
Why is this? I think it has to do with the way that many of us can relate to that sensation of what it would be like to be falling or almost ready to fall and what a relief it would be to know that there was someone there who could save you. The impact of the “take my hand’ scene also has to do with the symbolic power of the imagery. Most of us have not had the experience of literally hanging on the edge, but most of us at one point or the other have either emotionally or spiritually felt like we were on the edge and the idea that someone can bring us back resonates with us. It is comforting to know that there might be somebody who can pull us up when we might feel like we cannot do it ourselves.
You might say that there is a “take my hand” moment in today’s Gospel from Mark today. Jesus has just calmed the storm and now arrived safely on the other side of the lake. When he gets onto the shore a crowd begins to form and a man rushes up to Jesus. His name is Jairus and he is a leader at the local synagogue. The daughter of Jairus is very ill and he hopes that Jesus can save her. It takes a while for Jesus to make it to the house of Jairus so that by the time he gets there it appears that the girl has died. But Jesus says she is only sleeping. The scripture tells us that he takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!”
The way I imagine it, when it says that Jesus took the girl by the hand, he wasn’t just passively holding her hand. I think he was actively helping her up. I think he was talking to her to get her attention, to tell her what needed to be done, but he also knew that she could use some help—that she might not just get up on her own. When he took her by the hand he was also pulling her up, helping her to sit, to stand, to get back on her feet.
Whether we are as ill as that little girl or just feeling a little tired, sometimes it can take that extra assistance to get us up and going. As my kids began to get older and started to sleep in longer, they sometimes needed assistance getting up. Just walking into their rooms and saying, “time to get up!” often wasn’t enough. They needed a little extra prodding. My son would sleep so deeply at times that in order to wake him up I would have to go get an ice pack and then lay it on his bare leg. After a moment, the temperature would hit his body and he would suddenly begin to stir and kick off the ice pack. The method was a bit extreme, but it worked and he would make it to school on time. Are there moments when God needs to give us an extra nudge to get us going? Are there times when we are sleepwalking through life and we need God to get our attention—times when Jesus needs to help pull us out of a slump when we might be feeling kind of dead inside?
The disciple Peter once got a wake-up call when he was hit by the icy water of the Sea of Galilee. He had seen Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm and wanted to see if he could do it too. Jesus invited him out and for a while Peter was doing it! He too was walking on the water! But then he got distracted and nervous and anxious and lost his focus on Jesus. He began to sink into the cold lake water. His wake-up call was that he needed to keep his eyes on Jesus. Then came the “take me by the hand” moment. As Peter is sinking, he calls out to Jesus and the Scripture says that Jesus reached out to take Peter by the hand and pull him up out of the water. Jesus teaches, Jesus tests, Jesus invites us out onto the water, but Jesus does not abandon us. He is there to reached out if we feel like we are sinking.
This is what I love about the God we see in Jesus. Yes, God is mysterious. Yes, there is much about God that is unknown and there is much we have to figure out for ourselves while doing life in the here and now. But in Jesus we see a God who also reaches down to lift us up when we cannot get up on our own.
It reminds me of a story I once heard of a person who was walking alone in the woods and accidentally fell into a pit. No matter how hard they tried, the person could not get out of the pit on their own. They began calling out for help. A number of people heard their cries and stopped by to give their advice.
One sympathetic person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”
A judgmental person came by and said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.”
One of the person’s friends walked by and said, “If you would have listened to me you wouldn’t be in that pit.”
A philosopher came by and said, “You’re pit is only a state of mind.”
A realist walked by and said, “Yes, you are really in a pit.”
An evolutionist walked by and said, “You are a rejected mutant destined to be removed from the evolutionary cycle, in other words you are going to die in the pit so you can’t produce any more pit falling offspring.”
The county inspector came by and said, “Did you have a permit to dig that pit?”
A professor gave him a lecture on the elementary principles of the pit.
A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.”
An optimist said, “Things could get better.”
A pessimist said, “Things are going to get worse.”
Finally, Jesus walked by, saw the man in the pit, took him by the hand and lifted him out.
Sometimes when people are in a pit, what they just need is a hand up. Sometimes before people can learn from their mistakes, discern a teaching, glean some wisdom or hear some advice, they first need to be lifted up out of whatever pit they are in. This is what Jesus sometimes does when he is healing people. He literally takes them by the hand and helps them up.
At other times, however, Jesus lifts someone up spiritually or emotionally through his words or attitude. This is the case in the story that happens before he heals the young girl in today’s Gospel reading. There is a woman who has had a flow of blood for years. This physical ailment would have rendered her unclean which would have separated her from many in her community causing her social and emotional harm as well as the physical pain. When she knows Jesus is coming to her area she wants to see if he can help. She has heard he has healed others. But she seems afraid to ask him directly. She seems unable to approach him. It could have been because of the crowds, but it may have been more likely because of her shame and her recognition that she was unclean and unworthy to come near him.
So the woman hides in the crowd and comes up behind Jesus. She reaches out when he isn’t looking and touches the hem of his cloak. Immediately she is healed! But Jesus knows some power has left and wants to know what has happened. Who has touched his clothes? Depending on the tone of his voice and the look on his face, the woman might have been determining whether or not she should respond. But she does admit it was her. Jesus could have been angry or offended. He could have scolded or chastised the woman. He could have sent her away, reminding her she was unclean, and taken back his power. But instead, he tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Rather than reject the woman or condemn her for her action, he lifts up her faith and gives her peace and healing. In front of all the crowds of people who had witnessed what had happened, he includes her in God’s embrace in both a practical and spiritual manner. He does not give a lengthy discourse on theology or carefully dance around all the intricacies of the religious law in order to try and justify his actions to those onlookers who might be offended. He simply clearly and directly acknowledges that she too can have faith like anyone else and that she too can have peace and healing no matter who thinks she is unclean.
Just over a year ago our congregation made the decision to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation. What this means is that we decided we were going to create a statement of welcome that specifically named that we publicly acknowledged that people who identify themselves as a part of the LGBTQ community are considered as children of God and as much a part of the community of faith as straight people. That they are loved by God for who they are and as they are.
During this process and after we became an official Reconciling in Christ congregation there have been questions and discussion on why it is important that we keep naming what that designation means. I appreciate that people are willing to talk about this and I want us to be able to ask honest questions of each other. One question has been around the thought that if are generally welcoming why do we need to keep naming that we are specifically welcoming to this particular group of LGBTQ folks. The answer is because historically they have been specifically excluded by the church so their assumption is that the church would not welcome them. Because they have been specifically excluded, they need to know directly that we would like them to feel included.
When the woman touched Jesus he could have just let it go. He could have just personally acknowledged that some power had left him and let that person be healed without anyone else being aware of it. He could have initiated a kind of “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Instead, he publicly acknowledges the woman and includes her in God’s peace. He names that she has faith like anyone else can have faith.
In Jesus we see a God who does not just stay far off residing only in complicated esoteric theories. No, we see a God who has come near, a God who reaches out to take us by the hand when we need to be lifted up. We see a God who includes those who have been excluded, who says directly to those who have been socially and spiritually harmed that you are a child of God, you have faith and can be a part of this community of faith. When we realize that this God has reached out to us with such grace, then we too are compelled to reach out to others and say, “Here, take my hand, for God will lift us up.” Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner