“Look at Your Hands” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship video for the weekend of April 18, 2021, the 3rd Sunday of Easter. The biblical text upon which it is based is Luke 24:35-53.
“Look at Your Hands”
Easter 3 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 24:35-53 April 18, 2021
“LOOK AT YOUR HANDS!”
There’s something about this week’s scripture lesson that gets me to wondering ....
What WAS ... if you grew up back in the day ....
Or IS ... if you think of yourself as still ‘growing up’ ...
• A statement that your mother would make ... or maybe
• A question that your father would ask ...
Some secret family code-phrase ... that ... when you heard it or hear it ... let you know that you were/are in deep DEEP trouble?
∙ When you heard your full given name recited in staccato fashion ... did you know that your goose was cooked?
∙ Or was perchance“Wait until your father gets home” the definitive declaration that you’d committed a major boundary violation?
∙ Or maybe did the simple question “Just what do you think that you’re doing?” let you know that you’d been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
All of those ... in a certain way ... were questions I remember pretty clearly from my childhood ... intoned by my now-sainted mom ...
But ... more than any of them ... the words which let me know my goose was cooked were these: “Young man ... look at your hands!” .... Look at your hands!
Now I’m not just quite ceratin why those were the words my mom choose to use to let me know I’d done wrong ...
∙ Maybe it was because I loved ... as a kid ... to play in the mud or the sandbox.
∙ Maybe it was because I was one of those “always into everything” sorts of kids who forever was letting my hands wander into places they ought not have been.
∙ Maybe it was simply because I was enough of a klutz that my hands always bore the traces of my guilt.
But ...whatever the reason ... the words “Young man ... look at your hands!” ... were always the linked to an observation of guilty and a precursor to impending chastisement.
+ + + + +
But ... as prevalent as it may have been in my life growing up ... guilt is not the only thing that can be perceived by looking at someone’s hands.
There’s an old Russian legend about an Emperor and an Empress who wished to honor the members of their court with a banquet.
As the story goes ... the Czar and the Czarina ... sent out invitations to this banquet and requested that the guests come to the festivities with the invitations in their hands.
But when the guests arrived at the banquet ... they were surprised to discover that the captain of the guard at the entrance didn’t look at their invitations at all.
Rather ... he examined their hands.
The guests wondered about why this was ... and they were also curious to see whom that evening would be chosen to sit as the guest of honor in the seat between the royal couple.
But ... to a person ... they were flabbergasted when an elderly scrub-woman who’d worked for most of her life keeping the palace clean was ushered up to the seat of honor.
For the captain ... having looked at the old woman’s hands ... had announced: “You ... madam ... have the proper credentials to be the guest of honor. I can see the spirit of service and loyalty written all over your hands.”
+ + + + +
Guilt was written all over my hands. Loyalty was written all over that scrub-woman’s hands.
BUT WHAT ... according to this morning’s gospel lesson ... WAS WRITTEN ALL OVER THE HANDS OF JESUS?
How did that account go?
It’s a few days after Jesus’ crucifixion ... and both his friends and his disciples are trying to sort out these reports they’ve been receiving about appearances of the risen Christ ... and what it all means.
• Some of them sort of figured that it must have been a hoax. Somebody somehow was playing a dirty trick on them amid their sorrow and their grief.
• Others of them ... Luke tells us ... assumed that what they’d seen must have been a ghost.
But then ... suddenly ... it happens. BAM! Jesus himself is standing there in their midst .. saying what? “Peace be with you!”
And then Jesus ... as if to convey the very peace that he has just orally offered to them ... says what?
“Why are you frightened? Why are you doubt-full? Look at my hands and my feet. See that it is really me. Touch me! Look at me! Does this feel like a ‘ghost’ to you?”
And it’s only then that these followers of Jesus react in a way that is probably a sermon unto itself.
They do what? They “disbelieve with joy!”
They begin to process in their hearts and minds that it is really Jesus ... and he is really alive ... and he is there with them. And they begin ... just begin ... to realize that this unbelievable news is unbelievably good news for them.
But what was it ... what was the message ... that the sight of Jesus’ hands communicated to those folks that evening?
∙ It obviously wasn’t guilt ... at least not “Look at your hands, young man” sort of guilt.
∙ And it probably wasn’t just the spirit of loyalty and service that the hands of that old scrub–woman showed.
But what was it that they saw ... and why was it that what they saw was so unbelievable?
+ + + + +
What was written all over Jesus’s hands was ... quite simply ... LOVE ... wasn’t it? UNBELIEVABLE ... AND UNBELIEVABLY GENEROUS ... LOVE.
They saw in his hands the nail-prints that had held his body to the cross ... and began to somehow realize that those nail-prints actually meant that God in fact loved the world so much that God sent his Son to die ... not for what He had done ... but for what WE have done.
You know ... I suspect ... honestly ... that many of us have trouble actually believing that God could care that much.
Sure ... we may be comfortable with the idea that there is some impersonal “First Cause” of a God out there.
But there’s something discomforting and truly UN-believable about the claim that that impersonal ... unreal ... ever-distant God “got real” in the person of Jesus and “got real” for us.
We really aren’t so sure that we want a God who cares quite that much.
+ + + + +
I’m going to trust that many of you ... over the course of your lives have been to the State of Hawaii?
But I wonder particularly how many of you have ever actually set foot on the island of Molokai?
It was the year 1873 ... when a Belgian priest was sent by his superiors to the remote island of Molokai ... to minister to the population of a leper colony that had been established there.
When Father Damien arrived on Molokai ... he immediately began to meeting each of the six-hundred-plus lepers who resided there ... in hopes of establishing friendships and relationships.
But wherever he turned ... the people of the leper colony shunned him.
Though he poured his life into his calling ... opening a chapel ... offering worship services ... pouring his heart out in service to the lepers ... it all seemed to have no effect.
And after twelve years of thankless service in that community ... he made the decision to abandon his calling and return home.
Dejectedly ... on the day of his return voyage ... he made his way back to the dock to board the ship that was to take him to Belgium.
And there he stood on the dock wringing his hands nervously as he thought of his decision and those he was leaving behind ...
When ... looking down at his hands ... he noticed that they were covered with tiny white spots ... and that they felt strangely numb ... and immediately he realized that he had contracted leprosy ...
And knowing that he’d contracted the death sentence of those among whom he served ... he realized that he could do nothing but return to the leper colony and return to his work.
But that day the most amazing thing happened.
Word traveled throughout the colony of what had happened to the priest.
And within hours ... hundreds of the lepers had gathered outside his hut to share his pain, his uncertainty and his fear.
And the next Sunday ... when he arrived at worship at his tiny chapel ... he found nearly the whole of the community was already there.
And it was there that Father Damien served until his death some three or four years later.
+ + + + +
Now ... let me ask you ... what was really different about Father Damien from the week before he’d contracted leprosy and the week after?
Did Father Damien change that much from one week to the next? Probably not. But the community’s perception of him sure did!!
∙ Because they could look at his hands and see the lengths to which he cared.
∙ Because they could look at his hands and see that he was one of them.
∙ Because they could look at his hands and see what his love for them had wrought upon himself.
EVEN AS ... IF YOU’LL BUT LOOK TO THE HANDS OF JESUS ... YOU’LL KNOW EXACTLY HOW MUCH HE CARES ... FOR YOU!