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Touch It

Luke 24:36b-48

The Rev. Jon Roberts

18 April

2021

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. 37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”[b] 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

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Christ appearing to the apostles, William Blake, 1795

There are some things in life, we just wouldn’t dare to touch. [1]

In our world today, there are plenty of things we either would not want to touch or be touched by; no matter if you “double-dog dared us.” That is an old sandlot adage for an epic challenge to do something you normally would not. Here are a few phobias, just to start the conversation, to which someone may have dared you to touch. Papyrophobia is the fear of paper and the possibility of being cut by it. There is hardly anything worse than a paper cut, especially those envelopes that you lick and the glue can get into the cut. Boy, does that hurt. Don’t touch that. Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth. That’s an odd one, but some people get anxious about food getting stuck in their mouths. Styrophobia is caused by the sound of styrofoam rubbing together and the touch of it, especially on a cold day, may lead to Electrophobia with the fear of static shock. Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders, like those that can go crawling up your leg. Pyrophobia is the fear of fire, specifically being burned. The candles lit this morning may make some feel nervous. Mysophobia is a prevalent one in our world today. Otherwise known as Germaphobia, it is the fear of being invaded by bacteria or viruses to which we have no control. Haphephobia is the fear of being touched. Deeper seeded, is something like Pistanthropia; the fear of intimacy and the anxiety of being abandoned. This is the one I want you to hold, as it is directed to the Gospel for today.

Speaking of sandlot dares, where boys will be boys, there was a book published in 1973 by Thomas Rockwell titled, “How to eat fried worms.” It later became popular and made into a movie. The plot is a good but gross one. Little Billy Foster moves with his family to a new town and this made him nervous. He had a weak stomach during such times and he would often run off to the restroom or not take a chance by pushing away food. There was obvious anxiety about going to school on the first day and being the new kid on the block. Sure enough he was singled out by the school bully and his initiation into acceptance, you ask? Not only did he have to touch worms, he was dared to eat them; several as a matter of fact over the course of a week. If he could not overcome his fears he would never be accepted, scorned to death, or worse, never really grow up. Boys have for generations lived up to the epic challenge when someone “double dog dares you,” to do something where peer pressure among children is displayed at its worst. Eventually, Billy is the heroine of the story as he gets the last worm down the hatch and became the coolest kid in school, according to their standards. We are certainly not hear to approve this behavior, nor to gross out the congregation. This is an example of boys being boys, and we make excuses but this is more than simple tomfoolery, over what children may do. At the heart of the story it points to an obvious truth to which will not deceive. Sometimes, in order for us to overcome our fear we simply have to touch it.

We are all children of God, and as children we should not be deceived by others. Some dares are there to reveal our inadequacies and fears to make others stronger, and exploit the weak. Other dares are challenges, there to strengthen our resolve. When hearing the story today, one wonders if Jesus was dared by the enemy, the great bully Satan before his disciples. He did so to show them how to overcome something to which they were greatly afraid. Several things actually. What types of fears did the disciples of Jesus have a hard time overcoming? Were they not the ones who pulled back when Jesus touched the leper? Jesus did it. He touched him and he did not die. What about the time he dared to sit by the Syro-Phoenecian woman? She was unclean and socially it was irresponsible to talk to her, but Jesus did it. He talked to her. He even went so far as to touch the corpse of his friend Lazarus. That was unheard of.
Did they not have fear of losing respect by the elders or their families for following a rabbi who had no credentials, seminary training or belonging to an established family? At times did they really think he could overcome the insults and mocking? Probably, but they followed. They watched. They were amazed and yet wanted to see more dares being thrown at him. Why were they afraid of being with Jesus during his crucifixion? Did they see themselves hanging from a cross. Eleven of them should have, or some other equivalent. Where would they dare to go after his death? Probably they wanted to run away, far away from their fears. We find them huddled in this upper room today in the Gospel according to St. Luke?
Jesus knew they were afraid, so he entered with those words, “Peace be with you.” He dares them to speak the truth by asking, “Why are you so frightened?” “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost” (paraphrased). Can you imagine? Jaws dropped. Eyes wide. Heartbeats could be heard. Like a bunch of school boys who had no words to speak. He shows them he is in the flesh by asking for something to eat. It does not pass through him, like a ghost. The food is digested and it is found satisfying to the one who was in hideous form only three days ago. Then, he notices what they are staring at. They are looking at the punctures on his wrists where he took the nails. “You want to touch them? Come here. What are you afraid of?” That disciple who went first was Thomas. He wanted to touch and once that happened he was made whole.

That is the power of Jesus. In a short while in our liturgy we will exchange the Peace with one another. More than an expression, a knuckle bump or a handshake, it is something we pass along to the next. We pass along the Father’s love, through the Spirit of love, through the Son of love. It helps us overcome our fears and we should never discount the power of touch. It helps us overcome the loss one feels over death and abandonment. What is it that you dare not reveal to the Savior? What is it that you hide away in your upper room, for no one to see. Whatever your phobia, whatever your fear, it cannot be more powerful than God working through you. Go ahead. Don’t be afraid. Jesus is there. Go ahead and touch.

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