Hands: Healing Hands

Hands: Healing Hands
Mark 1:29-31, 40-42
Pastor Morris Brown
February 25, 2018

Have you ever noticed how many phrases in the English language refer to our “hands”? We say things like: Raise your hand. Can you lend me a hand? Look at your hands. You better watch your hands! May I see a show of hands? Hold my hand. I had the winning hand! Did you wash your hands? Give her a hand! You’ve got to hand it to him. Let’s all join hands. Hands are part of our everyday language and lives. And so, this Lenten season, we’re talking about hands. Through a worship series entitled Hands, we’re talking about some of the things Jesus did with his hands, as a way to learn some things God wants us to do with our hands.

Last week we began our series with a message called Praying Hands. We learned that Jesus used his hands to pray because he knew God would use prayer to fill him God’s power, perspective, peace and a passion to help others. And we learned that, if we make prayer a priority in our lives, God will do the same for us.

Well, today we come to the second message in this series. The title of this message is Healing Hands. That’s because the two stories we just heard from the gospel of Mark remind us that Jesus used his hands to heal. They remind us that when Jesus touched people, God used Jesus’ hands to bring wholeness to their lives.

In the first story, Jesus goes to Peter’s house. When he arrives, he is told that Peter’s mother-in-law sick, in bed with a fever. So, the scripture says, “Jesus went to her. And he took her by the hand. And when he did the fever left, and she got up to serve them.” Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law with the touch of his hand.

The second story is about a man with leprosy. Leprosy was not only a disease that made people physically ill, but often caused them to be ostracized, outcast from their community. The man in the story approaches Jesus and falls on his knees. Then he says, “If you will, you can heal me.” Jesus looked at the man. And when he did he was filled with compassion. And he reached out his hand, touched the man, and said, “I will. Be clean.” And through the touch of Jesus’ hand, the man was not only healed of his disease, but invited back into the community.

Both stories remind us that Jesus understood the importance of healing hands. He understood that when he used his hands to touch people in appropriate ways, God’s power flowed through “his hands” to bring healing into their lives. If we are to be the “hands of Christ,” we need to understand this as well. We need to understand when we touch people in appropriate ways our hands become conduits. They become conduits of God’s power that can bring healing and wholeness in their lives as well.

How does this happen? In what ways can God use the touch of “your hands” and “my hands” to bring healing and wholeness in the lives of people who cross the paths of our lives each day? Let me suggest a few ways.

First, God can use the touch of our hands to promote PHYSICAL healing and wholeness.
Now, when I say that God can use the touch of our hands for healing, I don’t mean that we should dress up in a white suit, slap people on the forehead, and say, “Be healed!” like the televangelists you see on some cable channels! What I do mean, however, is that when we touch people with our hands it can improve their physical health and aid in the healing process.

For example, in his book, Healing and the Mind, Bill Moyers tells about an interview he conducted with Dr. Rachel Nemen, the director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness. In the interview Dr. Nemen recounted two studies involving the healing power of touch. In the first study, a group of infants in a Korean orphanage were provided an extra 15 minutes of physical stimulation each day. The physical stimulation simply consisted of having orphanage workers gently rub the baby’s back. At the end of a month the health of the infants who’d received a gentle back rub was compared to those who’d received good care but no extra contact. What they discovered was that the orphans who’d received a simple back rub gained significantly more weight and had larger increases in body length and mass than the others. They also had significantly fewer cases of illness!

The second study was done with a group of nursing home residents who were suffering with Alzheimer’s. All of the patients exhibited extreme behavioral symptoms of the disease such as: restlessness, wandering, tapping and banging, constant verbalization. For a period of three months, half of the patients were treated with current drugs. In addition to the drugs, however, the other half received 5-7 minutes of therapeutic touch by a massage therapist, twice a day. At the end of the study researchers compared the behavior of both groups of Alzheimer’s patients. They found that those who had received therapeutic touch in addition to drugs showed a significant decline in adverse behavior.

Now, do these studies suggest that every sick person will get well if we touch them? Of course not! But, along with Jesus, they do remind us of the healing power of appropriate physical contact. Scientists have said that, “In order to be healthy human beings need to be touched at least seven times a day.” They have also said that “people who meaningfully touch others actually live healthier and longer lives than those who do not!” God can use the touch of our hands to promote physical healing and wholeness.

Second, God can use the touch of our hands to promote RELATIONAL healing and wholeness.
In other words, by appropriately touching a person we can strengthen our relationship with them. A warm handshake, a pat on the back, a high five, or a generous hug can deepen our connection with another person.

This is particularly true in our relationships with our spouses or our significant others.
For example, a few months ago I was doing some pre-marital counseling with a couple. As a part of my preparation I was re-reading a book I have on healthy marriages entitled, Beyond Companionship. In one chapter the authors said, “Most of us, especially men, don’t realize that one of the great keys to maintaining a healthy marriage is to incorporate ‘non-sexual touching’ into our relationship on a regular basis. Couples should hold hands with their spouse on a regular basis. This may seem a little grade school, but it’s a great way to connect.”

They also say, “One partner should occasionally sit with their arm around their spouse’s shoulder. This is a great way to let your spouse know they are valued. It is also a very comfortable way to sit and watch TV. Occasionally one partner may even want to offer the other partner a shoulder, back or foot massage. A massage may seem like a chore, but it can really kick up the level of connection in a relationship. Finally,” the authors said, “partners should be generous with their hugs. To be held in another person’s arms, to feel their presence around us can make us feel safe and secure.”

The point is simply this. God can use the touch of our hands to bring healing and wholeness to our most important relationships.

Third, God can use the touch of our hands to promote EMOTIONAL healing and wholeness. 
In other words, when people are struggling with situations in their lives that cause them fear or stress or confusion of some kind - the appropriate touch of another person’s hand can have an incredibly calming effect.

In fact, scientists tell us that “physical contact actually releases anti-anxiety chemicals in the brain.” I learned this 28 years ago, when I was pastoring my very first church. During my first week as the pastor, someone called to tell me that a man in the church had been admitted to the intensive care unit at the local hospital. Now, I was 26 years old and hadn’t been in a hospital since I got my tonsils out at as a kid. And, I had never ever been in the Intensive Care Unit. As you can imagine, the thought of it scared me to death, but I knew that as the pastor, I had to go. So, I made my way to the hospital and then found my church member’s room.

When I walked into the room I was shocked. There were tubes running out of his body, there were machines making all kinds of noises and to be honest with you I kind of panicked. I didn’t know what to do. So, I stood next to the bed for a few minutes. Then I said, “Mr. Cole, I’m Morris Brown, your new pastor. I’d like to say a prayer for you.” I closed my eyes, and with a trembling voice I began to mumble some kind of prayer. As I did, something very interesting happened. I suddenly felt Mr. Cole place his hand on mine. And then he began to gently pat it. And as he did, my fear and my anxiety began to subside.

When someone is afraid, when someone is dealing with a high level of stress, when someone is dealing with a situation that is worrying them to death - a gentle pat on the hand, a warm hug, a hand on the shoulder can have an incredible calming effect. God can use the touch of our hands to bring emotional healing and wholeness.

Finally, God can use the touch of our hands to promote SOCIAL healing and wholeness.
In other words, God can use the touch of our hands to break through social, economic, religious and racial barriers that tend to separate us from one another. Jesus reveals this to us this in the two gospel stories we heard this morning.

You may not know this, but when Jesus took Simon Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand, when he touched the leper on the road to Galilee, he was breaking all kinds of social barriers. You see, Jesus was a rabbi, and in ancient culture it was” taboo” for a rabbi to touch a woman especially a woman who was physically ill. To do so would make him unclean. In the same vain it was “taboo” for a rabbi to touch a leprous person – a person who was not only a physical, but a social outcast, was an unthinkable act. And yet, Jesus did it! And because Jesus touched these people, social barriers were broken and their lives were radically changed.

Most of you are probably familiar with Jackie Robinson. Jackie was the first African- American to play major league baseball. However, you are probably not familiar with the name, Larry Doby. In 1947, when he signed with the Cleveland Indians, Mr. Doby became the second African-American to play in the major leagues. During the late 1940’s and early 50’s Doby would become an all-star batter, center fielder and the first African-American to hit a home run in the World Series.

Things did not start out well for Doby, however. For example, when he walked into the locker room just after joining the team, no one would shake his hand. When he went on the field before his first game no one would throw him the ball. But, it all came to a head when he stepped up to the plate for his first at bat. Doby, who was signed for being a great hitter in the Negro Leagues, struck out on three pitches. Walking back to the dugout he was booed by fans and players alike.

As Doby later recalled, “When I walked into the dugout I was angry. I was humiliated. I was ready to quit. I didn’t want any part of breaking this racial barrier. And then it happened. As I sat there on the bench with my head in my hands, Joe Gordon, a white outfielder whose place I had taken in the lineup sat down next to me. He didn’t say anything. He simply put his arm around me, and gave me a quick squeeze and pat on the shoulder. Then he got up and walked away as the other players glared at him. It was a small act, a simple touch. But, was an act that put a crack in the racial barriers I was experiencing and gave me the strength to go on.”

God used Jesus hands to break social barriers and bring healing and wholeness to Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. God used Joe Gordon’s hands to break racial barriers that would bring healing and wholeness to Larry Doby. God can use our hands to break the barriers that tend to divide people in our city, our country and our world!

A gentle hug, a warm handshake, an arm around a shoulder, a pat on the back, a high five, a fist bump and other forms of appropriate touch have the power to bring physical, relational, emotional and social healing. So, wherever we are this week, may the touch of our hands to be the healing hands of Christ!

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Mark 1:29-31
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Mark 1:40-42
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.