Just a Touch
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
July 8, 2018
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 American science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg. It tells the story of Roy Neary, an everyday blue-collar worker in Indiana, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO).
Encounter is to experience something or someone that is unexpected and significant and leaves an impact on you.
Over the years, Christianity has become a religion with dogma and doctrines, beliefs and confessions, polity and policies. I am not saying this is bad, this is what has allowed the faith to grow and spread. But, sometimes we focus so much on order and not as much on experience. Sometimes we focus so much on belief and not as much on practice. Sometimes we focus so much on what has been written and not as much on what is real.
And so this summer, I am doing a sermon series on the stories in the bible in which people had encounters with Jesus, up close and personal, unexpected experiences that left them forever changed. In exploring these stories, I hope that we will be touched, and through them, have our own encounters, close encounters of the Jesus kind.
We start with the story of a woman who is ill, she has been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years, and doctors have not been able to cure her; she has only gotten worse. When she heard about Jesus, who healed diseases, she believes that he can heal her. If only she can get close enough. But there is a huge crowd around him. And his disciples are keeping people in order--women and children are kept away. And because of her condition, she is unclean and is not allowed anywhere near people. She knows this all too well. But, this is her only chance. And so she boldly makes her way through the crowd, determined to get close to Jesus. Then, she courageously reaches through the crowd--between those who would keep her away. She knows what she needs--to touch him. She believes just a touch, even just a touch of the hem of his robe, and she would be healed. She trusts that he has power like no one else. And so she stretches out her hand, and she touches just the fringe of his cloak, and immediately she is healed, she is freed from her suffering.
In that instant, Jesus felt the power go out of him and so he asked, “Who touched me?”
In fear and trembling she falls down before Jesus and confesses the truth of her touch and its power to give her healing. Jesus didn’t scold her, as we might expect. He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Jesus honors her by calling her daughter and claiming her as his own beloved. Jesus commends her, tells her that her faith in reaching out and trusting was the reason that her touching him had power to heal. She was made whole simply by believing he could heal her—and daring to act on that belief.
And finally, he blesses her, inviting her to go in peace, the word here is shalom, which is all-inclusive, it means a wholistic healing of body, mind and spirit. This encounter had a powerful impact on this woman. She was forever changed because of it.
A close encounter with Jesus is powerful. People who encounter Jesus in the Bible record it and share the story of how their bodies were healed, their minds were opened, their hearts touched, their souls saved, and their lives forever changed for the good.
Through these stories, in God’s Word, we encounter Jesus, but God knew that that was not enough. God knew as humans we needed more and so God made the Word become flesh in Jesus, then we could encounter Jesus in the flesh. But, Jesus no longer lives among us in the flesh. So how can we encounter him? Jesus doesn’t walk on the earth today. Or does he?
I was thumbing through the latest Presbyterian Outlook magazine while on the elliptical machine at the YMCA, and the title of an article caught my attention: “A Priest at Every Elbow.” I read on….Author Donald McKim wrote: “The Great Baptist Theologian Carlyle Marney used the phrase “A Priest at Every Elbow.” Marney was emphasizing a key theological insight in the theology of Martin Luther and the 16th century Protestant Reformation: the priesthood of all believers. Based on his reading of the Bible, Luther proclaimed that as Christians, we are all priests. This claim shook the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church. What Luther said then became the foundation of the Reformed church today--We believe that as baptized Christians, we are called to be servants of Christ and serve neighbors as priests to each other. “The church is full of priests! Ministry is not just left up the to minister. It is up to everyone to do. The world is to experience ‘a priest at every elbow.’ Carrying out ministries of care, love and service is what Christian priests do. The ministry of the laity is the heartbeat of church congregations. Jesus Christ is the priest for us; he enables all of us to be priests to each other.”
Life is too hard to go it alone. We need one another. That’s the importance of the church--where there is a priest at every elbow. When we rub elbows with others, we are encouraged. And we encourage others. Together, our faith is strengthened, our hopes are renewed, and we are healed and freed from suffering. The true miracle in this gospel story of the sick woman is what remained healthy: her faith. Her willingness to believe she could be well again, despite all evidence to the contrary. That’s what the church helps us to hold onto--our faith--and with that, there is great power. And so, with our faith renewed, we go out into the world, to be priests at every elbow, offering healing in every hand.
After worship, a group of us are going on a Mission trip to West Virginia. We are going to work on mobile homes, repairing a roof, hanging shingles, building wheelchair ramps. We are going to build relationships with the people there. We are going to reach out and touch our neighbors, to rub elbows with others, and so doing be priests, and through our touch, pray that God will bring healing and bless us all with renewed faith, hope and love. I am trusting that in all we do, we will encounter Jesus and leave forever changed.
Jesus is alive and well in the world today--through all of his disciples, in all of us. So, wherever you find yourself this week--on a mission trip, in the doctor’s office, at work, in the grocery store, in your neighborhood, remember that you are called to be a priest to those you encounter. And whatever you do, I hope that you too will be touched, and have an encounter, a close encounter of the Jesus kind.
Thanks be to God. Amen.