Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Take my hand

Isaiah 40: 28-31; Mark 1: 29-39
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
February 8, 2015


         This past Tuesday I posed some questions on Twitter and Facebook:  What sustains you?  What carries you through the tough times or when you’re just having a bad day?  Within 20 hours I got over 40 responses, from a wide spectrum of friends and family.  What was remarkable to see was people who did not know each other liking each other’s responses, creating a community of sorts whose main connection was through me, the questions I posed, and their answers.

So what sustains folks?  What carries some of us through the tough times or when we’re just having a bad day?  The responses ran the gamut:  chocolate, curiosity, commitment; actively seeking to see and to be the good in the world; music; the Jacuzzi and a fresh bar of lavender soap; nature; ritual; hope; art, creating stuff; riding the wave of emotion; distracting oneself with something good until the worst is over; having a sense of perspective; a cup of tea; writing; watching YouTube videos; exercise; animals, pets; watching sitcoms and cartoons; doodling; the Serenity Prayer; finding purpose in what we experience and learning patience; remembering to choose our battles, knowing when to step back and when to let go; keeping in mind that tomorrow will be a better day; meditation; coffee; finding a way to keep the situation simple; not taking oneself too seriously; going with the flow; getting out the bad mojo.

One friend said “Nail polish.  And Jesus.”  Andrea said “flying and Monty Python for a good laugh”.  A college friend with a wicked sense of humor said “sweet bloody revenge!”  More often than not, most people answered with some form of love:  wife, husband, spouse, partner, children, grandchildren, parents, family members, friends, pets—all the ways we feel connected and have a sense of belonging.

Only a handful listed God or Jesus or their faith as something that sustains them, that carries them through.  And I can understand that, because in this post-modern, social media, can-do, self-sufficient world, admitting publicly that we are sustained by God, that God carries us through can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed.  It means we need help, that we can’t do it alone, no matter how many tools we have in our toolbox, no matter how many different ways we have to comfort ourselves.  There are indeed days and many a night when nothing but Jesus will do.

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord

Lead me home

Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand, lifted her up, the fever left her and she began to serve them.  There’s no rest for the weary, is there?  The need for serving does not end.  Now as then, serving is a disciple’s bread and butter, the center of following Jesus.  For this reason we need to take care of ourselves, so we exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep as best as we can.  But we also need to refuel our joy, so we do things that nourish our spirit and help us feel lighter, like play and chocolate, doodling, letting our mind wander for a while, create stuff, fix things, cook something good.

How often, though, do we ask for help or allow help to be given?  In a movie or a TV show, every time there’s someone hanging from a cliff and someone extending a hand, there’s a moment when the person hanging isn’t sure whether to take the hand offered to them.  Frodo looks painfully at Sam, with Sam yelling “Don’t you let go!”  Usually these moments are employed to up the suspense.  Often there are no guarantees that the hands will reach, that the rescue will work, that either character is strong enough.  If we reach out, will someone reach back?

Church is intended to be that place, the people, the community that when we reach out, someone reaches back.  Not perfectly and not without flaws.    It’s an old saying:  The church is not a museum of saints but a hospital for sinners.  And we’re all here for healing of some sort.  Perhaps at some point in our lives someone one didn’t reach back for us.  Or they let go.  Or we were the one who couldn’t hang on, didn’t extend our hand.  But then someone, somewhere reached out a hand to us and lifted us up.  Maybe it was our spouse or partner.  Maybe it was the tiny hands of our newborn children or grandchildren.  Maybe it was a good friend or a complete stranger.  Maybe it was someone in this room.  Through the hands that we have, God reaches out.  Through the hands of others, God reaches in and lifts us up so we can serve others.

When my way grows drear,

Precious Lord, linger near

When my life is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand, precious Lord

Lead me home

What an enormous trust we place in each other and in God-in-with-us, in Jesus.  It’s not a trust to be taken lightly or for granted.  Not only that but God has entrusted us with each other and with everyone we encounter, work with, struggle against, and journey beside.  This trust that God gives asks of us a whole heart, the willingness to be vulnerable, and a degree of risk.  A tall order indeed.

And so we covenant with one another.  We do not loosely affiliate with one another.  We make promises.  We do not form a club or a gang or a clique, whose purpose is to exclude.  We call it family, we call it community, but it’s really something more.  We form a body and not just any body but Christ’s body.  The hand we extend, the hand we clasp is a forgiving hand, a merciful hand, an accepting hand, an unconditional hand.  In this covenant, this bond of love what is required is not perfection but patience.  And all of this is possible with the help of God.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. The Holy One gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  In the next chapter in Isaiah we are told “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you’.”  Or as Eugene Peterson puts it, “Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you.”

Jesus knew what it meant to wait for the Lord.  While it was still dark, he went out to a deserted place and prayed.  He waited for God to show up.  Even when the disciples came looking for him, Jesus didn’t lose it.  He knew his mission was to serve the gospel: to proclaim to all who would hear that God’s love has the power to heal, to transform, to change human lives.  Take my hand, Lord.  Lead me home.


(What a wonderful happenstance:  I sang this in my sermon, then Beyoncé sang it at the Grammys later that night.)


H. M. Stuart said...


I'd like to invite you to join us as an author in Alexandria, either as an occasional guest author or as a fully privileged Resident Author.

www aleksandreia com

Alexandria might also be the perfect place in which to write about issues and interests which may not yet be an ideal fit for your current blog.

If you think you might be interested in becoming a Resident Author, let me know and I'll forward our formal invitations for you to look over and return, if you decide to proceed.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Cynthia said...

Mr. Stuart,

Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind invitation.

I maintain this blog mainly for the purpose of communicating my weekly sermons and thoughts to my congregation and to others interested in progressive theology and social justice.

I have no desire to write any more than I do here. The ministry of my church is more than enough for me.

Thank you again.

Peace to you.