United Church of Christ (USA)
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Sunday, February 5, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
He was a soldier. He recounted the day it happened as though it were just yesterday. They were out on the road in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti several years ago.
At the time, the Haitian government estimated that 316,000 died, 300,000 were injured, 1,000,000 were made homeless, 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged. He said it was difficult to see the poverty and despair of the people. The struggle to survive was very real.
“The one thing we noticed,” he said as he recalled that day, “was there were children everywhere. As we were leaving an area a young boy, about five years old, stepped out into the street behind our truck and reached his hands out begging for some food.”
“One of the soldiers tossed a packet of crackers to him and out of nowhere came a horde of older children. They beat him to death – for a packet of crackers.”
“Whenever I see children being abused or neglected I think about that Haitian boy. It’s very, very difficult for me.”
It is difficult to understand what may seem like a senseless killing. The prophet Isaiah insists that despite what may befall any of us, the God who created the ends of the earth is great in strength, mighty in power. (Isaiah 40:26) To say such words in the face of such a tragedy would be of little comfort to a five year old Haitian boy crushed under the weight and violence of poverty exacerbated by a horrific disaster.
But Isaiah reminds us that we are mere “grasshoppers” to God who “sits above the circle of the earth.” (Isaiah 40:22) We scuttle about not always certain of our direction. It would seem that Isaiah hopes our lack of understanding about the nature and character of God will overwhelm us in such a way that we will find comfort in a God who cares for us despite our limitations in trying to understand the “centuries-old problem of defending the goodness and omnipotence of God in the face of the evil we see in the world.” (Verity Jones, Publisher & Editor, Disciples World, Indianapolis, Indiana, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, pages 316 & 318)
It has been said that we will never fully understand how
God works in the world, why suffering continues and evil reigns in so
many places. Perhaps the question then is not why suffering and
evil exists but what are we going to do about it. What will our
response be to the suffering and evil that we see and experience?
When Jesus began his ministry he called the disciples to follow him, announcing that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” It is the kingdom of the everlasting God of the prophet Isaiah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, the one who does not grow weary in the face of such suffering and evil.
In our reading from The Gospel According to Mark we see in the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ, the strength and power of God. We see in Jesus a response of compassion for those who suffer.
We are reminded that the first miracle took place in the synagogue where he was teaching. This occurred at the very beginning of his public ministry.
After casting out an “unclean spirit” from a man, he immediately left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon, whose mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her.” (Mark 1:31)
Jesus’ teaching and healing were a part of the same ministry. They were inseparable. Others have pointed out that there was no discrepancy between what he preached and what he practiced. (P.C. Enniss, Theologian in Residence, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta Georgia, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 332)
What makes his healing of Simon’s mother-in-law especially significant is the way in which Jesus touched her. He simply took her hand and lifted her up and her fever was gone.
That simple touch is what brought healing to her life. It might be said that in the Bible touch is a metaphor for intimacy, for presence, for relationship. (Op. cit., page 334) If there is any truth to such an understanding we see it made evident in the many, many ways that Jesus was able to touch others and restored the broken lives of so many back to wholeness.
Scientists and psychologists remind us about what happens when infants are deprived at an early age of human touch. The results in developmental skills and sociability show devastating effects.
What makes touch difficult for us today is that we have come to acknowledge that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of expressing human touch. But “the power of touch, of intimacy, of nearness, to make whole: Jesus must have understood that which we are too often too slow to comprehend.” (Op. cit., page 336)
Love not expressed, love not felt, is difficult to trust. It is said that God knew the human need for nearness. (Ibid.) Healing inevitably comes from touch - the touch of a hand, the touch of a listening ear, the touch of compassionate eyes, the touch of a word of hope and encouragement.
A young soldier saw a young five year old boy beaten to death at the hands of other children. That memory, he said, is triggered each time he notices a child being yelled at or pulled about by an adult.
For a young Haitian boy it is too late. But for a young soldier and for the many children in our lives, for them it is not too late for us to take them by the hand and to lift them up and to say: “Let the healing begin now.”
We come to the table set before us today aware that it is through the broken body of Christ that we are restored to wholeness. We come to touch once more the cup and the bread that we may be strengthened and renewed to be healers in our time.
Let us pray: Hele mai ʻoe iā makou mā o Iesū la, e hōʻikeʻike mai la i kou aloha i nā kānaka a ʻehaʻeha nui ʻoe no mākou. You come to us in Jesus, O God, revealing your love for all people and suffering pain for us and for that we give you thanks. Restore and renew us this day for we pray in his name – ma ka inoa o Iesū Kristo. Amen.