Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Years ago, during the first July after our congregation built a new worship facility, someone broke into the new church. Apparently his target was the Pepsi machine in the office workroom–the only normal source of cash in the church. He broke the outer pane of glass in the workroom window. Then, finding the second pane in the double insulated window and perhaps not knowing it was also just ordinary glass, he proceeded to break into the front door. He hammered, pried and worked destructively for a long time before he finally managed to beat the dead bolt out of the door. Then he went to work on the machine itself in order to liberate the cash box. Once again, he hammered and pried, worked hard and destructively.
What did he expect to gain from all of this? Well, on the average, the machine rarely had more than $20 in it. In other words, this person defied God, risked pain, punishment, jail, even death, worked hard and long, and hatefully destroyed more than $500 worth of beautiful property in order to gain $20.
I suppose it is every pastor’s dream that people would be knocking down the door of his church in order to get in, but believe me: that is just a figure of speech! The thief made a few happy discoveries after he got into the church. (Most people do!) It had been a long time since the youth had last settled accounts, so the Pepsi machine relinquished about three times its average. He also found that the people of our church were both generous and trusting. A “coffee kitty,” containing about $15, was sitting out in plain view. Finally, with little effort, he found a penny jar from another youth project that the youth had not deposited to their account. All in all, I suppose he thought it was a great bonanza.
Now that we have an idea of what he received, let’s look at what he missed. He worked hard and long to break into the house of God and steal a few dollars. He could have walked effortlessly through the open door and received freely God’s abundant love. What a pitiful trade! He risked the anger and resentment of more than 300 people who would have gladly loved him and cared for him. He imagined that he took advantage of their trust and generosity, but he didn’t. The real advantage is in receiving, not just once but for as long as you live, the freely given love, trust and generosity of hundreds of the finest people he would ever have the opportunity to know–the children of God.
During the previous 25 years, those people joyfully gave away about $100,000 to people and purposes they thought needed it. They helped individuals and families with amounts ranging from $10 to more than $1,000. That poor soul thought he could “take” them for $20 and was probably thrilled to get maybe as much as $100. He got a momentary hundred-dollar thrill, but missed out on a lifetime of priceless joy.
I am reminded of the panhandlers who often “hit” churches to put the “touch” on them. Con-artists and burglars may succeed in putting the “touch” on us, but in the process, because of their own greed, will fail to be touched by us, or by God. The initial reaction of many of us was anger. On the following Sunday, I suggested that sorrow and pity for the poor, lonely, Godless and friendless soul was far more in order. We prayed for him that some day a little joy and light, the love of God and the wonderful fellowship of God’s people might be a part of his life.
Two possible Gospel lessons are suggested for this Sunday. The first is divided into two parts, with a section omitted. The second is that omitted section. Together, the two lessons contain 23 verses. Apparently, some people thought that was too many verses to read on a Sunday, or that the two stories were unrelated. There is no doubt that one story interrupts the other, but I see a very interesting connection between the two.
Both stories are “touching” stories in more ways than one. The 23 verses begin with a synagogue ruler named Jairus falling at Jesus’ feet and pleading: “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Jesus went with him, but while they were walking, a woman sneaked up in the crowd behind them and touched Jesus’ clothing.
Mark describes this woman as having suffered for 12 years from some kind of bleeding ailment. She had exhausted all her belongings on helplessly ignorant physicians, but her condition had only grown worse. Mark also inserted a fantastic little line that she had “heard about Jesus.” That may not seem like much, but it gave her great expectations and faith. She believed that if she could just touch His clothing she would be healed–and she was!
It may only be a side note here, but this illness would have marked her as ceremonially “unclean.” She chose not to defile Jesus by touching His person, and anxiously pursued her healing by the mere touch of His clothing. In reality, she believed that she would be touched by Him in the process, and that is what mattered.
When the healing touch occurred, Jesus turned around and asked, “Who touched my clothing?” The disciples jumped at the obvious and asked, “You see this whole crowd pressing on you and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” Jesus didn’t bother to answer. The woman approached Him and, like Jairus, fell at His feet. Then He proclaimed what half of humanity should be longing to hear, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” The other half of
￼us need Him to say, “Son….”
While Jesus was still talking to her, some people came from Jairus’ house to tell him not to bother Jesus any more because it was already too late–the girl was dead. Jesus overheard and told Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” When the fivesome of Peter, James, John, Jairus and Jesus arrived at the house, the wailers and whiners were hard at it. Jesus told them that the girl wasn’t dead, but merely asleep, and they laughed at Him. Jesus sent the whiners-turned-laughers out the door. Then He took the little girl’s hand–Jairus had requested that He put His hands on her–and He said, “Little girl, get up.” Twice within a matter of minutes, the touch of Jesus made new persons out of sick and dead ones.
The wonder of Christmas is revealed all over again. Almighty God humbled Himself to take on human flesh and blood, bone and skin, physically touching sinful and dead people. He is still doing that today. He touches us with His body and blood–given and shed for us. He touches us through His Word and through the touch of His brothers and sisters–fellow children of His Father.
Foolish people who want to put the touch on Him for evil and deadly purposes are loved and forgiven by Him. Even those who choose to put an evil touch on His house and His people are so near to the greatest opportunity of all–to be touched by Him. Years ago, the church thief could brag, “I broke into the house of God and God didn’t lay a hand on me.” He was right. Cry for him, for he was right.
Think again about Mark’s little line that the sick woman had “heard about Jesus.” Who do you know that has never heard about Jesus in a meaningful enough way that they might anxiously seek His touch? All over the world, sick and dying people have not “heard about Jesus.” Where does God want you to serve in His mission? Whether in your home, your neighborhood or halfway around the world, those of us who have heard must tell the Good News about Jesus to those who haven’t heard.
When God in Christ touches faith in a person, absolutely anything can happen. What do we expect to happen? I’m sorry to say that most people do not expect much. They are not exactly breaking down the doors of churches to get in and make it happen. No, doors and windows are broken for 20 bucks, or perhaps the wild expectation of a possible 100. My first impression is that a person has to be “touched in the head” to go to such lengths and take such risks even for thousands of dollars. Actually, such a person has never been touched in the heart.
Back to my question–what do we expect? Sixty percent of church members in this country expect so little to happen at worship this Sunday that they won’t bother to show up and walk through the unlocked door. Maybe they are right! Perhaps very little happens for those who expect very little or nothing. If the sick lady in the Gospel lesson had their expectations, she would have gone away empty and unhealed. She had great expectations and great faith. I intend to learn from her and I urge you to do the same thing. Go to church this Sunday. Go, expecting Jesus to touch you. I promise that He wants to! Go, believing that His touch makes great and beautiful changes. Then go out and tell somebody else!
A little girl came running back into her classroom well after school was out and shouted: “Teacher! The boys are waiting outside the front door and kissing all the girls!” It had been a long day, and the weary teacher suggested, “Then just go out the side door.” “Oh, no!” replied the tattletale, “Then they would miss me!” Jesus is waiting inside the door–don’t let Him miss you.