A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, January 27, 2013
Luke 4:16-21 GNT
Writer Anne Lamott tells an old story about a man getting drunk at a bar in Alaska. The drunk is telling the bartender how he recently lost whatever faith he had had after his twin-engine plane crashed in the tundra. “Yeah,” the man says bitterly. “I lay there in the wreckage, hour after hour, nearly frozen to death, crying out for God to save me; praying for help with every ounce of my being. But God didn’t raise a finger to help me. So I’m done with the whole God charade.”
“But,” said the bartender, squinting an eye at him, “you’re here. You were saved.”
“Yeah, I’m here,” says the man. “But only because some blankety-blank Eskimo came along . . .”1
God’s intervention. The hands of God, if you will. Something to think about. It raises the question: If God intervenes, how does God intervene?
Some of you, no doubt, remember the 1972 movie, The Poseidon Adventure, the account of a cruise liner that is struck by a tidal wave and capsizes in the ocean. It is the story of ten passengers who struggle to find a way through the water that is filling up the ship to a safe place until they can be rescued. There is one scene that has stuck with me all these years. Actually, in the beginning there are two small groups of people who are trying to make their way up to the ship’s hull to safety. One group is led by a pious man who thinks they should take time to stop and pray. The other group is led by a no-nonsense, free-spirited minister, Frank Scott, played by Gene Hackman. Scott is more of a doer than a pray-er. And Scott says more or less, “You can pray if you want to, but I’m going to try to find a way out of here.” In other words, God is not going to save us. If we want to be saved, then we are going to have to do it ourselves. You have heard the old adage, “God helps those who help themselves.” Or as the book of James puts it, “Faith without works is dead.”
In my Midweek Message, I asked the question, “If God had hands, what would they be?” Mother Teresa of Calcutta leaned toward the idea that we are God’s hands for service in the world. Mother Teresa said, “We are pencils in the hand of God. . . . I am a little pencil in the hand of God who is sending a love letter to the world.” And one of Mother Teresa’s most famous prayers is, “Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them, through our hands, this day their daily bread; and by our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen.” Perhaps Mother Teresa was influenced by St. Augustine who said, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrow of men. That is what love looks like.”
The truth is, God has no hands. The only way for God to get things done in the world is through human hands, our hands. We are the hands of God to reach out and serve and make a difference in the lives of others. The power to help, the power to heal, the power to make a difference in the world is in our hands.
Jesus felt this very strongly, if we can take at face value the passage we read from Luke. He felt chosen by God to proclaim good news, and through his hands to reach out to the sick and oppressed and bring healing to a hurting world. Most would agree that Jesus played a special role on the earth. But one need not be a Jesus or Mother Teresa to be the hands of God in a hurting world. That task, I believe, in some respect falls to every person of faith. I have made mention in previous sermons of Jesus’ parable in which he says inasmuch as you minister to the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, or homeless person, it is as though you have done it unto me. Whenever we perform any act that helps alleviate human suffering or that becomes service to another human being, we in a sense become the hands of God or the hands of Christ to the world. Each of us can make a difference in the lives of others, if only we will. Isn’t that one of our primary purposes while we are on this earth? To make a difference in the lives of others and help alleviate at least a little bit of the world’s suffering?
I like something that poet Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” All of us probably have known people who felt that the world owed them everything and they just waited for the world to throw it to them. They felt they were not responsible for giving anything back. But that is not the way with those who follow the teachings of Jesus. Those of us who seek to follow the way of Jesus are the ones who throw something back at life. We use our hands to serve others with whatever gift, talent, resources, or abilities we have been given.
Some United Church members use their hands to physically serve others by moving furniture at the Ecumenical Storehouse. Others do so by pushing wheelchairs on Sunday morning at NHC nursing home. Others use their hands by volunteering at Methodist Medical Center. Still others through some community organizations like Rotary, the Lions Club, and so on. We have a dedicated core of nursery school teachers and Sunday school teachers who use their hands to teach and nurture children. Some in our congregation use their hands in the dental and medical professions as doctors and nurses. A number of our members have used their hands in mission to the people of Nicaragua. Others use their hands for Sew for Hope or the Prayer Shawl Ministry. Several members of our In Reach Committee use their hands to write 30-40 greeting cards each month to those who are hurting, and to prepare food, and to drive members to doctors’ appointments. Our musicians use their hands to play for funerals and memorial services. Some of our members use their hands to help others prepare their income tax forms. Maybe you can think of other ways that our members use their hands in service to others, and by so doing become the hands of God in the world.
Since I began with a joke, I will end with one. I owe this one to member Janet Robertson. Through heavy rains, water begins to inundate a man’s neighborhood. The water rises and this guy’s house most likely will be flooded. So he begins praying to the Lord to save him. The water is up to the front door and a neighbor comes by in a row boat and offers to take the man to safety. “Oh, no,” he says. “I have prayed, and I’ll wait on the Lord to save me.”
The water rises higher, up to the second floor and the man is hanging out a second story window. A rescue squad boat comes by and they offer to take the man to safety. “Oh, no,” he says. “I’ll wait on the Lord to save me.”
Well, the water keeps getting higher and higher, and the man is forced to stand on his roof, water swirling all around him. A helicopter sees him and hovers over his house, and lowers a rope. “Grab the rope,” they yell, “and we’ll take you to safety.” “Oh, no,” the man says. “I’ll wait on the Lord to save me.”
Well, finally the water swallows the man up and he drowns. He goes to heaven and sees God. “Lord,” he asks, “why didn’t you save me? I was waiting for you to save me.”
“What do you mean?” God replies. “I sent two boats and a helicopter!”
In the words of a Tibetan monk and teacher, “To embody the transcendent is why we are here.”2 If God does indeed have hands, they are human hands. My hands and yours. May we use our hands to make a positive difference in the world. Amen.
1Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies. New York: Anchor Books, 1999, p. 117.
2Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.