Jesus’s Hands. Our Hands. // Offering Mercy

A sermon brought forth from Matthew 12:1-14 preached on October 17, 2021

There are many sorts of healing stories in the gospels. Some of these healing stories include Jesus speaking words or offering his touch to cure. Whether a cure could be given or not, those who encountered Jesus walked away healed. Curing has to do with the return of physical function, while healing has to do with a return to wholeness—wholeness of mind and a renewal of spirit or relationship. When Jesus heals, he brings about new creation. He shows forth the arrival of God’s Kingdom.

Through Christ, God has come to reorder the world, to make right what has gone wrong. Though the details differ, this week’s healing story proclaims the same life-giving truth. Through Christ, in Christ, God has come to restore what’s fragmented in and about us, and in and about the world.

Jesus and His disciples make their way from the grain fields toward a place of worship. It’s a Sabbath morning. As they walk into the synagogue, Jesus encounters a man with a shriveled hand. The man has come to worship.

Like everyone else there that day, he has come to extend his best in praise to God; to bring what He has to offer, that God might be glorified through him. When we come to worship, whatever it is we offer, God makes whole. But whatever we keep hidden away and unavailable to God will remain incomplete, partial, withered.

Everyone at church that day witnessed the same thing. They saw Jesus extending his healing hands until the man’s hands were healed, and being healed, could be extended, too. Everyone looking on could see as much. But what differed was the sense they made of it. There were Pharisees who saw Jesus reaching out to heal this man’s withered hand on a Sabbath day, but they didn’t see it as an act of mercy; they saw a Sabbath violation. They missed the miracle because they were caught up in all the details of Sabbath code, all the tedious calculations of Jewish law. They couldn’t see the Divine alive and at work right in front of them.

Mercy is an act of kindness and compassion extended to someone meant to relieve them of their suffering. Mercy is rare because it’s much easier for us to withdrawal, dismiss, or distance ourselves from another’s suffering out of fear, disregard, or indifference than it is to risk coming close out of kindness and generosity. When there are all the reasons in the world to walk on by, mercy extends its hands to meet another where they are to tend to their hurt and alleviate their distress.

I wonder; when you look at this Spiritual Gifts season, what is it you think you see? What sense do you make of it? Maybe in your mind, October at Tinkling Spring, or any other church for that matter, is when the pastor and other leaders ask for your donations, but instead of just asking for the thing directly, they use a whole bunch of Jesus-language to make it sound good. But even though they go to great lengths to dress it up in bible words, giving to the church really comes down to paying the bills, keeping the lights on.

In the end, maybe it’s all about calculation. Maybe it’s just one big transaction. The church needs money to keep being the church, and since you have money, we spend a month talking you into donating it. That may sound brash, but I want to set that out there because there are many who, when pressed, would describe it that way. But where is God in that? Does such an endeavor have anything to do with Christ?

Seeing the Spiritual Gifts season in such an unimaginative, transactional way is not too far from how the Pharisees made sense of Jesus’s miraculous healing of this man’s withered hand, because even though they saw the miracle with their own eyes, even though they were right there witnessing God at work, the only thing they could see was the legalities of it all. Don’t miss the miracle, friends. Jesus walks among us, mercifully reaching out his hands to bring new vitality, renewed life to those parts of our lives and our life together. He’s the Center of what’s happening here, or at least he can be if we let him.

It would be a shame if we, like the Pharisees, lost sight of Him by getting caught up in all the operating details. See, the Pharisees operated by calculation. They put the em-PHAS-is on the wrong sy-LAB-le, and we do the same if all we make out of the Spiritual Gifts season is a call to fundraise so we can keep these lights on for another year. If you ask me, I’d rather worship Jesus in the dark than lose sight of him in the light. It’s not the electricity that makes us a church.  

Churches often use the phrase “giving to God” in a way that is synonymous with “giving to the church,” but the concepts of giving to God and giving to the church are not the same. If we think that “giving to God” and “giving to the church” is the same thing, the concept of stewardship will be lost on us. What differs is the sense we make of it. 

I’m not in the business of fundraising. I’m not in business at all. I see Jesus extending his hands to us in mercy. He does so out of abundant kindness and divine generosity. The act of giving is our reaching out in response. Christ is forever calling us His. Claiming us as His own. There’s no calculation about it. Jesus is all in with us, and he wants us all in with him. There are no percentages when it comes to stewardship. When it comes to living in grateful response to God’s mercy poured upon us in Christ Jesus, there’s nothing that can be measured. What’s the price of mercy? Can we place a value upon salvation? No, there is no counting any of it.

Stewardship is our response to God's infinite love of us. There is no calculation. A life given to stewardship is a life lived in surrender. What holds you back from trusting that?

Dutch reformist, Abraham Kupyer once wrote,

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

“Jesus said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.”

Biblical stewardship is how we hand over every aspect of our life, that He may restore it, make each part just as sound as the other. The man extended his hand that he would experience healing.

It is in grasping tightly that we are confined; it is in giving with open hands that we are freed. Retracting our hands is an expression of keeping, grasping, holding onto what we think is ours to keep. It is in reaching out rather than holding back that we will know wholeness, freedom, and restoration.

Can we see giving not as a religious burden but as God’s gracious invitation to be released from fears of not enough and into a new life where Christ becomes our enough? That sounds like healing to me. When it comes to living in response to Christ, there are no calculations. We go all in because, in Christ, God went all in for us, reaching for us, he mercifully risked everything for our sake. Jesus placed sacrifice above fear, and love above indifference, His merciful hands extended on a cross that we may know what makes for real life.

Like the man with the withered hand may you come to know the One who mercifully reaches out to offer you healing and freedom. Full life. May Christ take what’s withered in us and in the world and make it whole, may Christ take what’s exhausted in us and the world and restore it, may Christ take what’s shattered in us and the world and piece it back together.

When we come to worship, whatever it is we offer, God makes whole. But whatever we keep hidden away and unavailable to God will remain incomplete, partial, weakened. Don’t miss the miracle, friends. The Divine is alive and at work right in front of us.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful! Alleluia! Amen.