God’s Work, Our Hands
November 26, 2017/Pastor Richard Holmer/ Christ the King/ First Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24/Second Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23/Gospel : Matthew 25: 31-46
I shared with the children about the many ways we use our hands to communicate. I want to follow that train of thought a bit further. Week after week I get to observe so many pairs of hands gathered around this table. I marvel at the variety of hands – and what they say about each person. There are small, young hands with tender skin, and sometimes a scratch or a band aid. Old hands with wrinkles and age spots (like mine). Elegant hands, with polished nails. Hard working hands, with callouses and creases, and perhaps some scars. Trembling hands. Hands that are strong and steady. Hands gnarled by time and arthritis. Hands with wedding rings that have been worn for decades. Our hands reveal something about each of us. All our hands come to this table empty, and all reach out to receive the same gracious blessing. Hands express our wide diversity, and our common need for God: our personal uniqueness, and our unity in Christ.
I got to thinking about hands in some other ways: The usually unseen hands that prepare this altar for worship, and clean up afterward. The talented hands that direct our choirs, and hold the handbells and brass instruments and guitars and drumsticks, and play the organ and piano, leading us in praise and worship. The hands that are extended each Sunday to share the wondrous peace of our Lord. The hands that held candles on All Saints Sunday, recalling those who have died, hands that will hold other candles on Christmas Eve, celebrating a miraculous birth. Hands that lovingly hold the infants who are to be baptized (like Brynlee Mae). Hands that are dipped in the water of this font, coming and going, recalling they too are baptized children of God. Hands that made the coffee we will enjoy after worship today. Hands clapping in acclamation on Confirmation Sunday, thanking God for the faith of young Christians. Hands of children, held in a circle out in our Memorial Garden on All Saints Sunday. Hands joined in a circle as we pray the Lord’s Prayer at the close of each council meeting.
It is remarkable how versatile and expressive our hands can be. These many hands continue to serve and to bless after the service is over, and in other places. I see the hands that prepare and serve monthly meals for our friends at PADS, and other hands that do the same for the teachers and staff at the Katzenmaier School in North Chicago. Hands that sew quilts for Lutheran World Relief, and make teddy bears for Lutheran Social Services. Hands that swing hammers and wield paint brushes, providing housing through Habitat for Humanity and on mission trips. Hands that assemble school kits and health kits for children in far off places. Hands that hold a book for a student learning to read. Hands that wash the dishes and put away the tables and chairs after a church dinner. Hands that carry all the items for the Family Care Closet. Hands that repair all the things that need fixing around this building. Hands that stock the shelves at the Cool Food Pantry. Hands that write the checks that sustain so many vital ministries.
Hands have been the image for our Stewardship emphasis this year: Love Gives. Love is an open hand, not the back of a hand or a fist. Love offers a helping hand, a healing hand, a hand up, never a closed hand.
After the funeral service for my sister-in-law, Linda, last summer I had a conversation with a family friend. He shared a lasting memory he has of Linda. His young son was in the Intensive Care Unit at Central DuPage Hospital, and his prognosis was uncertain. Don was a single parent at that time, and the combination of concern for his son and a sense of utter helplessness filled his heart with anxiety. Linda was a nurse at the ICU, and Don described how on an evening when he was sitting at his son’s bedside, restless and worried, Linda came and simply placed her hand on his shoulder. No words were spoken, just the reassuring warmth of the touch of a caring friend. He’ll never forget it.
Love gives hope, with the touch of a hand. In today’s gospel, Jesus describes what loving and open hands do: they prepare food for those who are hungry; they offer a cool glass of water to those who are thirsty; they stretch out in welcome to a stranger; they offer clothing and shelter to those who are homeless; they provide a comforting, healing touch to those who are sick. These are the works of faithful hands, hands like yours. These are the hands God sees and blesses.
It was a terrible thing when they nailed Jesus’ hands to the cross. They wounded and immobilized the loving hands that had blessed so many. These were the hands that fed 5,000 hungry people; that took children in his arms and blessed them; that healed a blind man; that washed the feet of his disciples; that took Jairus’ dead daughter by the hand and restored her to life; that broke the bread at the Last Supper; the scarred hands that convinced doubting Thomas to believe. How awful to pound nails through such hands!
Our hands are not nailed down, but sometimes we sit on them. These great tools for blessing and serving can be left idle. You and I can choose to sit on our hands, or you can raise your hand and say “Here I am Lord, send me.” We can put our hands to work; serving all the people God loves. And when we do, Jesus will say: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
“God’s work, our hands” is a motto used by our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and it fits today’s Gospel. Psalm 145 speaks of the gracious goodness of God: “You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.” (Ps 145:17). We aim to follow that example, and so we pray, in the words of Psalm 90: “Let the favor of God be upon us, and prosper the work of our hands, O prosper the work of our hands!” (Ps 90:17)
At the close of our service today, I am going to ask you to do something different. After communion, after our empty hands have been filled with the bread of life, I will invite you all to join your hands together for the closing benediction (we can do this!) I will raise my hand, as a sign of God’s blessing. And I ask you to join your hands together, as a visible sign of faith and holy community. And as you respond with an affirming “Amen,” I invite you to raise up your joined hands as a sign of thanksgiving to God.Amen