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The Blessing of Touch
May 15, 1988

GENESIS 48:8-16, MARK 10:13-16

"And Jesus blessed them." Jesus blessed the children. What does Blessing mean? What did Jesus do? What did Jesus say? Last Sunday I began a series of four sermons on an important biblical ritual which we need to rediscover in our modern day. I am indebted to the book, The Blessing, by Gary Smalley and John Trent. Last Sunday we looked at Esau whose brother, Jacob, stole their fatherís blessing. The act of blessing was so important that Esau broke into tears and cried, "Bless me, even me, O my father!" We then looked at two modern examples of how important a fatherís and a motherís blessing is to the children.

Today we begin looking at what is involved in the Blessing. What are the characteristics of the Blessing? From our Bible lessons this morning, we learn that one characteristic of Blessing is touch. The Blessing is physically communicated. "Jesus took the children in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." Jesus embraced the children, hugged them, put his hands upon their heads, and blessed them. What he probably said will be discussed in next weekís sermon. What is important for us to see, and often overlook, is that Jesus touched the children.

In last weekís lesson, when Isaac mistook Jacob for Esau and blessed him, the Blessing also began with touching. Isaac said, "Come close and kiss me, my son." Now Jacob was not a child, nor was he a youth, he was probably about 40 years old. Kissing and embracing grown children were acceptable practices in biblical days, and, in fact, the Blessing began with embracing.

The Old Testament Lesson this morning is the dramatic climax of Jacobís reunion with his son, Joseph. The Joseph story is certainly one of the most dramatic and entertaining stories in the Bible. When you relax this afternoon, take out the Bible and read it in Genesis, beginning with chapter 37. It is one of my favorite stories to tell in camp, and the children, as well as the adults, are captivated. Jacob, the same one who stole the blessing, had twelve sons, but the two youngest he loved the best because they were Rachelís children. Jacob played favorites with Joseph and Benjamin. One day Joseph was given a brightly colored coat, which caused considerable jealousy among his brothers. They threw him in a pit, tore his coat, sold him into slavery, and went home and told their father that wild animals had killed Joseph.

Joseph was taken to Egypt where he interpreted dreams and, respected for his wisdom, became prime minister. One of his acts was to store grain during seven years of plenty, in order to be ready for seven years of famine. During the time of famine, Josephís brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. Through some fascinating subterfuge and game playing, Joseph, without letting them know who he was, forced them to bring their father, Jacob, to Egypt. There Joseph revealed himself to his father and brothers.

The lesson read this morning is the emotional scene where Jacob meets his grandsons, Josephís two boys. When Jacob heard that Joseph had two sons, he said, "Bring them to me and I will bless them." Grandpa Jacob had words to say in the Blessing, which we will look at in later sermons, but notice how the Blessing began. Grandpa Jacob kissed them and embraced them. Then, he laid his hands upon them. With one hand on one grandsonís head, and the other hand on the other boyís head, Jacob gave them the Blessing.

The laying on of hands has become ritualized in the church. We have retained some elements of the Blessing in church rituals, although we have lost it in our homes and family relationships. You are touched at least three times along your faith journey. Some of us are touched four times. First, you are touched at your baptism. If you are an infant, the minister takes you in his/her arms as did Jesus with the children, and baptizes you. The second time you are touched is at Confirmation. Next week, when we receive the youth confirmation class into membership, they will be confirmed in the faith by the laying on of hands. In the ancient tradition which comes to us from the Bible, we will lay hands on their hands, and pronounce words of confirmation or Blessing.

The third time many of you have been or will be touched in church is at your wedding. At the dramatic moment when you are pronounced husband and wife (and notice, in United Methodist ceremonies you never hear "man and wife," nor do you hear "husband and woman",) the minister asks the couple to join hands and then the minister lays his/her hand on the couplesí hands.

The fourth time of touching in the church is ordination. When a person becomes a minister, he/she is ordained in an impressive ceremony at Annual Conference. This coming June, two young persons from our church will be ordained as deacons and received into probationary membership as clergy: Wayne Price and Vince Mixie. The ceremony will be held in Sacramento on Saturday, June 18, at the Civic Auditorium. The Bishop ordains persons into ministry by laying her hands on their heads.

In an attempt to regain some of the biblical warmth and fellowship in the church, we try to find ways to touch one another. In our church we hold hands for the Benediction. We have a monthly Healing service in the chapel following this service on the third Sunday of each month. When prayers are prayed for your physical, spiritual or emotional healing, the group lays their hands on you.

There is something energizing about the laying on of hands, something happens through touch. The Preparation for Worship meditation in the bulletin this morning is the story of the ill woman touching Jesusí robe. He was walking through a crowd of people, yet stopped and asked, "Who touched me?" The disciples were amazed. He was walking in a crowd, being bumped and shoved, how could he ask who touched him? Yet Jesus felt power leave him, when a woman in desperate need touched him. Jesus in turn healed her, again by touching. Nurses are now being trained in touching. There is something healing in massages and gentle touches.

Iíve shared this story before, but it is so appropriate here, forgive me for repeating it. A couple were being counseled by a counselor. The wife, in particular, was depressed. At one point, the counselor got up from his chair, walked over to the woman, embraced her and gave her a big kiss. The woman, surprised, opened her eyes, and glowed. "There," said the counselor, "thatís all she needs." The husband, opening his datebook, said, "Fine, I can bring her in Tuesdays and Thursdays." At the time I told that story, I challenged you husbands to give your wife a big hug and a kiss and tell her, "I love you," at least once a day. I prophesied that if that behavior was now absent in your marriage, the addition of it would change your marriage. Did you do it, and are you keeping it up?

Embracing is not only an essential part of the marriage relationship, but also in the relationship with your children. Fathers, do you hug your children at least once a day, whether they are children or teenagers? Mothers, do you hug your children at least once a day? Grandparents, do you hug your grandchildren every chance you get? A four-year-old girl became frightened late one night during a thunderstorm. She burst into her parentsí room, and jumped right in the middle of the bed, between her parents. Her father said, "Donít be scared, honey, the Lord will protect you." The little girl snuggled closer to her father and said, "I know that, Daddy, but right now I need someone with skin on!"

Young children need contact with someone with skin on; so do children at age 10, age 12; and so do teenagers. Teenagers, even though they may try to rebuff you, want to be hugged also. Underneath the display of independence, self-sufficiency, and confrontation, they want to be touched, and assured again through the Blessing of Touch they are important to you, they are wanted, they are loved. And, not only teenagers, need to have contact with someone with skin on, so do children of all ages: 20, 30, 40, 50.

It has been difficult for many American homes to include touching, especially between fathers and sons. I rarely received the Blessing of touch from my father. It just wasnít done. I received the other elements of the Blessing, but not touch. As I reared my boys, I have tried to rectify that and now, even in their adulthood, I receive and give bear hugs and kisses from my sons.

I challenge you this morning to give the Blessing of touch to your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, and to one another here in our Christian fellowship. One of the goals of my ministry is that we increasingly become a church of Blessing, a church where, through our ministries, each of us, regardless of our ages, receive the Blessing.

But, what about those persons who have missed out on the Blessing, and feel a desperate need. Perhaps in these sermons, you have come to realize that one of the motivations driving you is your need of the Blessing. Perhaps you are in search of the Blessing, and push yourself, try all kinds of groups, events, chemical aids, and perhaps you now realize what you need is a better relationship with your parents. What can you do? The book, The Blessing, is very helpful at this point. Let me just begin this morning and continue in the next two sermons.

First, donít be too hard on your parents, and donít be too hard on yourself for your own shortcomings. We all have our problems. The studies show that most of us who are parents rear our children the way we were raised, and if you feel you missed out on the Blessing, if you feel that your parents did not give you the Blessing, the chances are that your parents did not receive the Blessing themselves. It is difficult to give something you have not received or learned. When you understand how your parents were raised, that understanding may release some of the criticism, anger, hurt, disappointment, resentment you may harbor. Understanding goes a long way to help you handle your own situation.

Then, secondly, consider giving your parents the Blessing. Continued.

ã 1988 Douglas I. Norris