Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Stretch out your hand."

The following is a sermon preached at CDSP on September 11 by Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, professor of early and medieval church history. I felt strongly that it be heard beyond our chapel, and asked permission to post it here.

Let us use our power to heal.

Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
Monday of Proper 18, Year Two
Church Divinity School of the Pacific

I Cor. 5.1-8
Ps. 5
Luke 6.6-11

Jesus said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” (Luke 6.10)

Hands are powerful things in the Bible.

They are signs of action and strength.

The scriptures say when God’s hand is stretched out it destroys enemies and shelters the faithful.

Throughout the Bible, with outstretched right hands, people swear oaths, take up swords and act.

The outstretched right hand is a sign of vitality and power.

So when Jesus comes upon this man with a withered right hand, he sees someone who in very real terms in that time and place lacks strength and power.

And Jesus says to this man, “Stretch out your hand.”

Stretch out that hand that has left you diminished, that hand which has left you less than your complete self.

But what does this command by Jesus have to do with the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th?

How does this gospel story speak to the horror and fear and anger and confusion and grief felt that day?

There are no set readings for such a commemoration in our prayer book, no liturgical calendar has yet established this as a day to observe.

But as an American, speaking here mostly to other Americans, I think this text is appropriate for today.

I ask you this question, five years after 9/11, “How have we stretched out our hands and how are they shriveled?”

In the aftermath of 9/11, many cried, “Stretch out your hand.”

And stretch out our hand we did.

As a nation we stretched out our hand and attacked Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And we stretched out our hand again, rounding up suspected terrorists at home and abroad.

And we stretched out our hand again, limiting civil liberties in favor of security.

And we stretched out our hand again, secretly rendering without trial suspected terrorists to countries where they would be tortured.

And we stretched out our hand again, invading Iraq under the fevered specter of mushroom clouds, and mobile weapons labs, and nerve gas, and never-ending waves of terror.

Look where stretching out our hand has gotten us – Guantanomo Bay, shock and awe, Abu Ghraib, a fruitless war begun for reasons that we know now were wisps of fog, with the death of over 2660 American soldiers, the wounding of over 19,000 more, and at least 42,000 Iraqi civilians killed.

This nation asked for a righteous hand to be stretched out in order to feel safe, but do we?

Did we fight to take our shoes off in airports and to fearfully glance a second time on airplanes at any who looks brown and suspicious?

Did we cry for revenge so as many Americans could die in wars after 9/11 as on that terrible day?

Five years later, we have to admit that when America stretched forth its hand, we lost so much and gained so little.

In stretching forth our hand in righteous anger, we have drawn it back to find it withered and strangely powerless.

As a nation we have been reduced and our moral authority rooted in human rights and democracy shriveled.

And what about those of us gathered here?

What has become of us as Christians?

How do we speak the gospel in times like this?

The events of 9/11 spurred many of us to work even more for justice and reconciliation.

For some of us, those events opened our hearts to God’s call.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling to speak.

We find the words of our faith used for purposes of violence and division, not healing and salvation.

And so some of us have found it better not to speak at all.

Not only our hand but our tongue is withered.

But Jesus says to us as a nation and as Christians, “Stretch out your hand.”

Stretch out your hand, not to destroy but to heal.

Remember the gospel lesson you heard today.

Prior to the healing of the hand there is an argument between Jesus and other religious leaders over whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.

Jesus gives an answer that is consistent with the Jewish tradition.

Like many other rabbis before and after him, Jesus declared that the word of God is something to live by, not to die by.

God’s law gives life, it does not diminish it.

God desires the healing of our hands, not that they stay withered.

So if you are like me, and find yourself burdened with sorrow as you reflect on where we have gone as a country in the five years since 9/11, remember that we have been given words to live by, not to die by.

As we search for words to live by in the face of the death we find around us, listen to Paul:

“Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5.8)

How do we respond to the evil of terrorism and to the malice infesting our national and global life?

Paul says with a new bread.

For us this new bread is Christ who brings in the reign of God, which is irrepressible in how it works towards a world where love and justice are the bywords of all people and systems.

Let’s feast on this bread of truth, this true bread, our Jesus.

And after eating, by the power of the Spirit do the reconciling work given us by Christ.

Go and say to others, “Stretch out your hands.”

Say it to those near and far, to those in power and those without power.

Say it to those working for peace and justice, and to those who make war and are unjust.

Say it to those who will listen and those who will not.

Say it so they will also stretch out their hands and receive the healing bread of Jesus.

But first, come and eat our true bread.


Lorna said...

interesting. rather political ... not that that's a bad thing, but unusual (at least here in Finland) I guess. This isn't really what I expected ...

Anonymous said...

if only more churches would preach
a message like this.

our country has a vocal crowd of
right-wing apocalyptic christians
who seek a "clash of civilizations."

may the Believers be empowered to
critique the false idols of

peace, dan.