How to motivate a church to be radically generous?
How to inspire people to pick up and then fill up thousands of shoe boxes with Operation Christmas Child?
How to put in “only human” language the idea of “to whom much is given, much is required”?
Those question were in my mind in conceiving and designing “Human Touch,” a sermon with this bottom line: You’re touched locally so you can touch globally.
In the early 1900s, Dr. Emmet Holt, at the time one of the leading pediatricians in the US (the Dr. Spock of his gen) decided that American parents were spoiling their children by cuddling and touching them too much. Good parents of that time noticed his advice and began what they called the “hands-off” approach to raising kids. That may have been the way you was raised. The problem was that just a few years after Dr. Holt’s methods became popular, doctors began reporting a dramatic increase in the number of infant deaths . . . especially in babies who appeared otherwise healthy. It turns out that a clear “failure to thrive” happens when young children don’t have enough human contact through physical touch. Subsequent studies about touch deprivation in orphanages in countries like Russia and China have proved the point time and again. To touch is to live and to live is to touch. There is something “only human” about touching & being touched.
And it’s really striking when you think about touch fits into the strategy of what we do at GSUMC. We touch every seat in this room in prayer at 7:30 a.m. At our Healing Services (AV), we touch and pray over ppl and their requests. At our Sam’s Feet Foot Washing experiences we touch ppl in some of their most vulnerable locales – feet! – as a way of replicating what Jesus did (AV). We even call our BTH ministry “high touch, low threat” and if no one is there, we’ll touch the house & pray! We might have touched your house! Over and over, we use this intimate yet appropriate means of human touch to invite all ppl into a living rel w/ Jesus Christ. And I say this as a guy with some personal space issues!
Chances are you’ve been touched here. But you know as well as I do that to be “touched” goes far beyond the physical. Like one of my favorite ppl in the whole world will come up to me after a good Sunday & in her deep Southern accent: “that was so touchin’” Yes! You know what I’m saying. You’re touched by a song. Touched by images. And have you noticed how when you combine music with visual the touch is that much more profound? Sometimes you get touched by your emotions & Hollywood really knows how to manipulate you – like I cannot watch that closing scene from Hope Floats w/o bawling & I never lived through a divorce! Then other times the touch is directly from the Holy Spirit – not always pleasant or comforting but more like a jolt from above. And I quite believe that the Spirit often uses physical touch to convey his spiritual touch. He is hands on!
And it’s been going on a long time. In the opening scene of the book of Jeremiah – a prophet writing and speaking in about 600 BC and addressing a culture in the midst of total disintegration – we read this in 1:9:
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.
Ah, the touch on the lips. The same thing happens to Isaiah in 6:7: READ. And look at this pattern in Jesus’ ministry: READ Matthew 8:3, 9:21, 9:29-30. So the repetition communicates EVERYTHING to us: human touch conveys divine love. God employs this tactile, divine spirit to human skin touch. And so the question becomes why? When we talk about Only Human, when we consider what it all means on this OCC kick-off Sunday, why so much divine spirit touching human skin? And that’s a question that takes us back into the Jeremiah story.
Look at Jeremiah 1:5a:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
See that? Set apart in the womb. You combine that with Psalm 139 and the beautiful truth emerges that the womb is the home of a person who is known to God and wanted by God. I am overwhelmed by the prenatal love & care & touch . . . and grieved at how what God carefully knits together Planned Parenthood carelessly shreds apart. What God forms, PP sells. What God creates, man destroys. God help us. But for you, who were allowed to be born! . . . even if you weren’t wanted by your parents, you were wanted by God. And here Jeremiah was not only wanted, but set apart, chosen, ELECT! It’s funny – some Xns speak of the elect or the chosen (the Frozen Chosen). And we are. BUT ELECT DOES NOT EQUAL ELITE! We (& Jeremiah before us) are chosen for sacrifice not privilege. For responsibility not rest.
And then look at 1:5c:
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Ah, from backward, disintegrating hovel of a land a message will be broadcast to all the nations and Jeremiah is the one to do it?! Unlikely, improbable, impossible. But look at 1:10 if you doubt that that concept is the core of Jeremiah’s entire calling:
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Again, nations. You who are just a local yokel from a disintegrating country have a message that’s gonna touch lands all over the world. You’re going to tell God’s truth to the nations. And the realized that it has HAPPENED. How do I know? We’re talking about it and him today! 2600 years later! Against all odds Jeremiah is still talked about and his words still penetrate lands all across the globe.
And so it becomes clear what this whole touch thing is all about. Why God goes to the trouble of touching this man’s lips so that his words would ultimately become worldwide phenomenon: You’re touched locally so you can touch globally. Because I don’t believe the whole phenomenon of people loved in the womb, of people set apart for a purpose, of people receiving the touch of God . . . . none of that stopped with Jeremiah!
See, today, God touches you by stirring you with compassion. You see an OCC video, you discover about hunger overseas, you learn about human trafficking, and your heart goes out. Your emotions get riled up and so you have been touched by God to do something to alleviate the suffering going on some other “only humans” out there.
Or God touches you by calming your fears. You come in here full of anxiety and uncertainty, you’re not sure you gonna make it, and then something gets sung or something gets said, and all of a sudden you feel love washing over you. You. Are. Loved. And it touches you. And in that being touched you then want to touch others so that others living in the same chaos can experience the same peace.
Or God touches you by jolting you into action. I knew 9 years ago when I first became aware of human trafficking: GS is being called to do something. And boy have we. My point is that he touches you in here so you can then touch out there. And my gosh, does any ministry give us a better, more tangible opportunity than this one? OCC with its gifts, its boxes, and, most importantly, its gospel opportunities? You’re touched by kids – some of whom won’t have a Xmas and more of whom have never heard of Xmas – and then you have this incredible, transformative opportunity to touch them.
And the modern world makes it so incredibly easy to do. Like tradition has it that St. Thomas – the same one who was originally Doubting Thomas – is the one who brought Xnty to India. Do you have any idea what kind of arduous trip he must have taken to get to India? It’s funny. I got to India almost every year. And I complain if I’m not in Biz Class with one of those seats that becomes a bed (AV). With a hot towel! But Thomas would be like, “You’re in a flying cylinder?! And 20 hrs later you’re in India?! It took me a year! And you have toilets?! I had to . . . Well, we don’t really want to know that one. But the point is that today it is easier than ever to You’re touched locally so you can touch globally.
And I love love love in Jeremiah how this propulsive touch is tied to the womb (1:5). His human nature. Guess what? I don’t want to appeal to your guilt in this OCC Radical Impact Project. I want to appeal to your potential! I don’t want to lord it over you. I want to unleash it from within you! Because you are human, just a little lower than angels (for now), crowned with glory, I want all you “only humans” to live up to your potential to give gospel opportunities to other “only humans.” That you don’t do it out of a sense of obligation but of a privilege. Not a have to do boxes but I get to! I believe we can blow it up in 2015 with 3500 boxes or more. Not because we’re a bunch of oppressed, guilt ridden scum of the earth but because we are a collection of liberated saints living into the fullness of what it means to be human beings! Humans who long to touch the physical lives and eternal destinies of other humans!
Because I have seen you all do some incredible things with your touch. Remember this? AV Stop Hunger Now ’14. You all packed – sorting, pouring, packing, TOUCHING – 254,000 meals in one glorious morning. Tremendous outpouring. We were part of what was called the Million Meal March. And that was about 18 months ago now. So proud of you.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I got this email out of the blue from a Presbyterian Church in Raleigh: (And show AV throughout)
Talbot – The Guatemala Mission Team from the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian church in Cary, NC has been making trips twice a year to the village of Pala in the mountains of Guatemala. We have been doing so on a regular basis since 2008. Pala is a village of Mayans, the indigenous people of Guatemala. Their isolation and low social status within the country has created a condition of poverty, very limited education, and very little hope for economic opportunities outside of being agricultural workers. The Kirk chose to “adopt” the village as an international mission initiative and began to develop a series of programs that would provide a holistic approach to issues of education, community health and economic development. One of the programs implemented was a school lunch program, in which we serve as a partner to Stop Hunger Now. For four days of week, every child attending school gets a warm and nutritious meal provided to them.
Our team was in Pala this past week and observed lunch being served to a multitude of elementary school age kids. The Stop Hunger Now food boxes were labeled as being packaged by the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church of Charlotte, NC. The purpose of this email is confirm to your congregation that the meals were ultimately delivered to the village of Pala and provided as intended.
But, I also want your congregation to understand the impact the meals are having. Having known and observed the kids over period of about 2 years in which the SHN lunch program has been in place,
I have observed that the children just look better. Their eyes are a little brighter, their hair glossier and their skin clearer. And the kids just seem happier. The teachers in the local school tell us that enrollment has increased, attendance is more consistent, student performance has improved, and behavior problems have declined.
So on behalf of the Kirk Guatemala Mission team, and I’m sure the entire Stop Hunger Now organization would feel the same, thank you for the support. For the effort it took to organize and package the meals and for the financial support you provided. It is making a difference.
Look at what all you Only Humans did!
Let’s do it again.