I was asked to preach this evening at the annual Local Preachers’ Meeting Communion Service. As someone who has not, in the grand scheme of things, been preaching all that long to be asked to do this in a brand new Meeting was both nerve-wracking and a great privilege. What follows is the text – I don’t often preach from a written text nowadays, but I was asked to be reasonably brief, so I thought it best to do so this time.
The scripture reading was the Gospel according to St Luke, Chapter 6, verses 6-11.
+May I speak in the name of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s no doubt tempting,
when hearing this reading,
to spend our time considering the Law and the Sabbath.
No doubt you’ve heard such sermons before.
you won’t this evening.
Rather I wish to briefly consider how the words of verse 10 might speak to our faith,
and in particular our worship,
which is so much a part of our particular calling as Local Preachers and Worship Leaders.
“After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored.”
“Stretch out your hand.”
Whether you hear the words as an order,
or as an invitation,
what Jesus wants of the man is undeniably a physical response.
How much of our worship,
wants a physical response?
How comfortable are we,
with physical worship?
So often as preachers and worship leaders we see our role,
or at least practice our role,
as someone who speaks
and who asks others to listen,
and on occasion sing:
we are Methodists after all!
But as this evening’s reading reminds us
the healing that Christ offers the world,
the salvation of Christ which is the Good News we proclaim,
requires not simply a listening ear
and an intellectual assent,
a physical response too.
What would your response be,
to your congregation crossing themselves at the mention of the three-fold nature of God,
or genuflecting in approaching the Table of our Lord?
Or what your response would be to a raising of arms up high during a song of praise to the Almighty?
Would they be same?
Whatever your response to individual physical acts of worship,
for that is what they all are,
surely we cannot deny that our faith in God demands a holistic response,
a response which worships God bodily,
as well as mentally?
Why is this so?
Because our response is always in relation to the physical act of God,
the act we refer to,
especially when we’ve just finished 2 years at theological college,
as the Incarnation.
To stretch out our hand is fully appropriate when we consider it is a response to the God who,
through the Son,
stretched out his arms for the world upon the cross,
and whose wounded hands and side he offered to my namesake as proof of his resurrection.
It is a response to a God who continues to call out to us,
not just through the preaching of the word
but also the celebrating of the sacraments,
which are visible, physical signs
of God’s invisible, Spirit-delivered grace.
Not just the bread and wine of the Eucharist,
and the water of Baptism,
but the oil,
the golden rings,
the laying on of hands,
of those acts many of our brothers and sisters call sacraments,
can be seen as the infinite God reaching out to us
in a way our finite selves can relate to.
And our response can surely only be fully appropriate if it,
not just in our daily lives,
where we aim to live the life of Christ,
but in our worship too.
“He did so, and his hand was restored.”
As we once again are invited to come to Christ’s Table,
to hold out our hand and receive the bread and wine become his body and blood,
I pray that we might find ourselves restored,
in body as well as mind and spirit,
and that we might then invite the Church
and the world
to stretch out its hand in a real and not just metaphorical sense
in it’s daily life, yes,
but also in its worship,
and thereby find itself restored.
+To the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
And yes, I crossed myself at both beginning and end.