June 29, 2003
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” He looked all around to see who had done it.

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.

Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Isaiah 52

Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake yourself from the dust, arise, O captive Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.

For thus says the Lord GOD: My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail, says the Lord, and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.”

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. As many were astonished at him- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men- so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.

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Sermon: If I Could Just Touch the Hem of His Garment

I like to take a little survey - how many here were in a situation in the last week where you joined voices with others to sing a song? Was anyone at a sporting event where you sang the national anthem -- Anyone at a graduation where you sang the school song?

For many of us, church is the one place, or certainly the most consistent place, where we sing. And although we may not think of it in this way, when we sing we fulfill a need in our souls that is deeper than we can imagine - and, perhaps more to the point of being in church, when we sing we satisfy a need that is deep in the soul of God.

When we sing we fulfill an important element of our mission as a church. Our mission statement reads:

The First Congregational Church of New Milford believes that God calls us to love one another. Accepting our diversity, we unite as a church family to praise and glorify our eternal God in worship, to proclaim the Gospel by our words and actions, and to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. This church strives to nurture, enable, support and challenge one another in our journeys of Christian faith.

When it comes to singing ability we certainly have great diversity, but even with our various talents, our songs are a key element of how we praise and glorify our eternal God in worship.

Worship is a thanksgiving we render unto God, an offering of ourselves, a glorification of the divine spirit, a gift that is pleasant in God’s sight.

And before you say, well, my voice isn’t really of the quality that gives glory or could be pleasing, think about how we respond when our little children take that big step up on the risers in front and offer us a song.

Because of where I sit I can’t always see the children, but I have an excellent view of the expressions on the faces in the congregation and I see people light up - I see the smiles, the happiness, the sheer delight that is experienced when those little ones raise their voices in song. And - this congregation can’t help but show their approval with a loud round of applause - it is spontaneous and heartfelt.

Now, why is that? Because they’re perfect?

Not at all; but their effort, their enthusiasm, their desire to do the best they can is so impressive and contagious and joyful that we can’t help but feel good and overflow with approval and appreciation.

Certainly God looks upon even the oldest among us as a child, and appreciates and approves of our desire to sing for his glory.

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy. (Psalm 149)

If our singing is a gift we give to God, it is also true that music is a gift God has given to us. I said in the beginning that when we sing we fulfill a need in our souls that is deeper than we can imagine. And this depth has more than one dimension. Music is embedded in our evolutionary past, in the melodies of birds and in the howl of wolves and in the songs and whistles of whales.

It is more ancient, even, than the emergence of life from the landscape of geology - it is an element of winds and rock, mountain top and valley. It is an expression of nature itself. Here is a translation by the Christian monk Thomas Merton of a Chinese text that predates Christ by several centuries:

When great nature sighs, we hear the winds

Which, noiseless in themselves,

Awaken voices from other beings,

Blowing on them.

From every opening

Loud voices sound. Have you not heard

This rush of tones?

There strand the overhanging wood

On the steep mountain:

Old trees with holes and cracks

Like snouts, maws, and ears,

Like beam sockets, like goblets,

Grooves in the wood, hollows full of water;

You hear mooing and roaring, whistling,

Shouts of command, grumblings,

Deep drones, sad flutes,

One call awakens another in dialogue.

Gentle winds sings timidly,

Strong ones blast on without restraint.

Then the wind dies down. The openings

Empty out their last sound.

Have you not observed how all then trembles and subsides?

The student replied, I understand:

The music of the earth sings though a thousand holes.

The music of man is made on flutes and instruments.

What makes this music of heaven?

The Master said:

Something is blowing on a thousand different holes.

Some power stands behind all this and makes the sounds die down.

What is this power?

There is something about music that touches our emotions and connects us to one another and to a higher power - something that comes under the category of “I can’t explain it but I experience it so frequently that I believe it will all my heart.” We share that experience here in church, and it takes on an added dimension when the music is created in the service of sacred story. Let me share one example with you.

This morning we read the story of the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. As Nan Tutson read: She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

Now I would like us to experience that same story, but this time as a song: If I Could Just Touch the Hem of His Garment

In a sense this song expressed a desire that we might often feel when we are in need and we enter a building like this - a place dedicated to the glory of God. God is robed in glory, and maybe, just maybe, in our worship and praise we might touch the hem of that garment of glory and be healed or lifted up or given encouragement or made whole in some holy way.

Perhaps some people find those moments with their eyes closed in silence, and others find them in the light that shines through the stained glass windows, but I find it quite often in the songs of our choir and the melodies of our musicians. Perhaps it’s in the words, in the tune, in the power or in the gentleness. Maybe it’s in the way, at the end, there is always some harmonic resolution that gives a feeling of hope that everything will turn out just fine.

And sometimes, when it’s a song familiar from childhood, sometimes it’s a connection to an almost forgotten memory, like the fragrance of lilacs in the spring.

But in the gift that the choir gives us each Sunday, we can sense the garment of glory touching us, healing us, giving voice to our faith and lifting us up into the nearer presence of God.

For all you give us, we say thank you today.
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