March 23, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
As we enter this third week of Lent we continue our series, “Sensing the Glory of God.” We’ve been looking at stories in the gospel of Matthew through the lens of our five senses. I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to look at the display in the narthex of the items people have shared that reflect God’s glory, that demonstrate hope, abundance and courage.
This week, our sensory focus is on touch – specifically, the touch of Jesus. Our scripture reading calls our attention to three different healing stories of Jesus from the 9th chapter of Matthew, verses 18-30. Let’s open ourselves to the healing touch of Jesus as we listen to these stories:
18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.
20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well." 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well.
23 When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.
27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord." 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith let it be done to you." 30 And their eyes were opened.
The shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa had a beautiful tea bowl. When Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s tea bowl broke, he did not simply throw it away. In the 15th century, such a thing would have been unthinkable. Japanese tea ceremonies are not just about pouring and drinking tea; they are elegant and beautiful rituals of manners, of hospitality. So Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent the bowl away to have it repaired.
When the bowl was returned, it was repaired, but it was no longer beautiful. It was in one piece, but was disfigured by ugly metal staples that held it together. Ashikaga was disgusted and looked for a more pleasing way to repair the bowl. Eventually, he hit upon a solution: he added gold to resin, and filled in the cracks with gold. Not only was the tea bowl stronger, it was more beautiful than it had been before. The art of this kind of repair is called kintsukuroi – to repair with gold.
A woman came to Jesus, a woman who wanted to be healed. She did not intend to ask anything of him, but she pushed through the crowds, just to touch the hem of his garment. She touched the fringe of his cloak, and she was made well. After long years of suffering, just one touch healed her. She could return to her family, her community, to full life.
Jesus continued on his way and went to the bedside of a child who had died, a little girl. He said she was not dead, but only sleeping. They laughed at him. She had died, and the funeral was about to begin. But Jesus wouldn’t accept their point of view. He brushed past the crowds and went to the child. He took her by the hand, and told her to get up. She got up, and she was well, and she was strong, and she was alive. His touch restored her to life.
And as he left that home, two blind men approached. Take away our blindness, they asked. Restore our sight. Do you believe that I am able to do this, he asked them? Yes, Lord, they answered. He touched their eyes, and their sight was restored. One touch, and they could see, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
The touch of God in our lives – to heal, to restore, to transform -- like the touch of a potter’s hands on clay. The prophet Isaiah said, speaking to God, “We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand.” In 2nd Corinthians, chapter 4, the Apostle Paul carries the image further: “… we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
It’s an interesting thought, this idea that we are clay, shaped by God. Potters have to prepare clay, -- it’s called wedging -- to remove air bubbles, to mix it properly, to get the moisture content properly dispersed. The clay must be cut and rejoined, slammed down onto a table, pressed and turned. It’s a little like kneading bread dough – and it takes a lot of wedging – 75 to 100 times – to get clay into shape. Then, the potter rolls the clay repeatedly. Only then is the clay shaped into a vessel.
I rather like the idea of that touch of Jesus, like a potter, shaping and smoothing us, taking away the rough edges, mending the cracks and broken places with gentle, healing hands. Jesus was never afraid to touch people – even though the purity codes prohibited it- a man should not touch a woman who was not his wife, and touching the sick made a person ritually unclean. Touching the body of one who was dead was forbidden. But Jesus touched people, laid his hands on them, leaned down and held out a hand, lifted people up. He touched people particularly when he healed them.
The sensory experience of touch was somehow part of healing. This is true even now – medical and mental health professionals frequently emphasize the significance of appropriate healing touch. It isn’t anything unusual –massage, reiki, reflexology – all of them deploy the sense of touch in ways intended to be healing, or at least helpful.
Human touch is powerful – so important that babies who don’t receive it can actually die, so crucial to well-being that many nursing home workers are now trained in ways to appropriately and regularly touch residents, to hold their hands or rub their backs, to gently stroke their arms. Those of us whose work includes visiting the sick are taught the importance of taking a hand, or offering a gentle touch on the shoulder.
Of course, there are some kinds of touch that are hurtful, exploitive, unwelcome. But the touch of Jesus is never that, never as punishment, never as pain. It is the touch that heals and revives, that refreshes our vision, and reassures us. That touch also shapes us, forms us into something – someone new.
The touch of God is the touch of the potter’s hands.
It is the touch of the potter that makes a clay vessel beautiful.
It is the will of the potter that makes a clay vessel useful.
It is the skill of the potter to restore that makes a clay vessel whole.
From time to time we get dinged and chipped and maybe cracked up a bit by life. Maybe we overestimate our strength, maybe we misuse our bodies, and maybe there is nothing wrong that we have done, but something, somehow, cracks, something breaks, something comes apart. The touch of Jesus puts us back together. The potter’s hands smooth the broken places and fill them with gold, to make us even more beautiful than before. Kintsukuroi – repaired with gold.
As you came into the sanctuary this morning, you were given a small bag of clay.
That clay is just a small lump, not much to look at. Maybe that is where you have been, maybe it is where you are. Maybe you’ve never felt like a formless lump of clay, but it could be that someday you will – There may be things in your life that can’t be put back together, at least not in this life. Maybe you have felt, or feel now, like a broken vessel, a shard, in pieces.
We are clay vessels, fragile, easily damaged.
But we have this treasure in clay jars, and from the healing touch of the master’s hand, our broken places shine like gold. “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
God’s touch can put us back together, mending us, restoring us, making us stronger at the broken places, healed, golden, beautiful, more beautiful for having been broken: mended vessels, touched by Jesus, to show the glory of God.