VITAMIN – T: A WORLD IN NEED OF A HUG
A Pastoral Message based on Matthew 8:1-4 offered to St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, on September 12, 2021
Living God, thank you for touching people through us. Amen.
Can we talk about the elephant in the room?
There are emotions and desires on our hearts today.
There are truths and perspectives in our minds.
There are values and visions embedded in our spirits.
And to be completely honest, there is a great deal floating between our hearts, minds, & spirits that cannot settle into a comfortable place these days.
As I listen to you, this is a common experience for all of us during these pandemic months. Heart stuff, mind stuff and spirit stuff causing us to be unsettled.
We are not accustomed to living with this much unsettledness for this long.
As we remember the violent terrorism of 9/11 twenty years ago, our hearts are full of emotions. Our vulnerability is close; our resolve to deconstruct evil and invest in a better world is palpable. We recall how, in the midst of that desolation and ruin, people united to move toward each other. Part of our unsettledness in this pandemic is that we have no unity or common enemy.
Today, we are living with some anxiety and fear, a lot of faith, and a great deal of commitment. Frustration rises and falls as COVID-19 has become COVID-21. We are tired of being careful while being hopeful, resilient, flexible and visionary.
Although we understand some of our current realities, others are incomprehensible to us. In addition to the pandemic, we are confronting evils of systemic racism, economic injustice, viral ignorance, mean-spiritedness, hyper-partisan politics, and generational tensions. And amidst these significant challenges, people in roles of service often serve only themselves.
Some of you have discussed with me your disgust at how so many “Christians” are acting today. For many people looking at the Church from the outside, the term, ‘Christian,’ is a filthy word. They view Christians to be ignorant racists who denounce science, deny truth, and abuse justice. Pretenders, heretics, and deceivers mask the religion of Jesus with an overlay of delusion.
However, beloved, you are not blaspheming the name of Christ.
You are following Jesus, serving the needs of persons he described as ‘the least of these.’
You are contributing to healing in this fractured world.
In a world where everyone is told to not touch one another, you are touching lives.
So, I ask you again, Church; Can we talk about the elephant in the room?
Today, I need to remind you followers of Jesus how you are serving this world of separation. In the world of Jesus, people were told to stay apart for all kinds of reasons. In that world, no other disease created more separation than did leprosy. Lepers could not be touched – even by family members. Leprosy began with small ulcers on the skin’s surface followed by eyebrows falling out, eyeballs becoming frozen in place, vocal chords decaying and breathing becoming shallow. The person suffering from Leprosy would gradually lose sensation in the limbs, experience a decay of all muscles and nerves, and eventually lose fingers and toes. As soon as a person was diagnosed with leprosy, they were banished from human society; They were to never be touched.
A person could suffer from this disease for more than 20 years. Wherever they went, if anyone passed by them, the leper was to cry out, “unclean.” The historian Josephus reported that lepers were treated as if they were dead.
It was against the law code to get closer than four cubits – or six feet – to someone with leprosy. They could have invented the original stickers telling people to ‘stand 6 feet apart.’ Here, once again, Jesus went beyond boundaries of the law code to express compassion. In today’s scripture, we find an amazing phrase that would have shocked Matthew’s first readers.
“Jesus reached out his hand and TOUCHED the leper.”
Are you familiar with Vitamin T?
Physicians Atul Gawande and Abraham Verghese have recently suggested the importance of ‘Vitamin T’ – the essential need for human touch. Research bears this out every day.
This past week, as I visited with Don Swofford and Betty Fuller in the hospital, it was important to them and to me that we touched one another. Don gave me a fist bump. Betty held my hand.
Of course, human touch must be expressed responsibly, respectfully and with accountability. People who have been victimized, abused or traumatized may be less receptive to touch. Yet, Vitamin T reduces stress and contributes to neuro-plasticity; a rewiring of the brain. Touch increases happiness, resets biorhythms and boosts immune systems. Touch can make a child feel safe. One mother recently discovered that when her young child is acting out or pitching a tantrum, the parent asks, “Do you need a hug?” The hug lasts for 30 seconds to a minute and brings rest. One evening, the child approached the mother with these words, “Mom, I need a hug.”
Don’t we all?
One of our young parents was quarantined with COVID a few weeks ago. He tells how he and his preschool daughter gave one another virtual or air hugs from a distance. Psychotherapist Virginia Satir says we need 12 hugs a day for healthy living.
OUR WORLD NEEDS A HUG!!!
You are hugging the world as the people of God. By your financial gifts to our Global Mission Offering, you are:
- Providing new lives for hundreds of children in Nyarweng, South Sudan.
- Protecting some of the poorest people in the world against COVID-19.
- Preparing for Afghan refugees who will build new lives in Charlotte.
In recent days, you have made sandwiches for the hungry and homeless. You have provided Baby Bundles for newborns entering the world without financial resources. You have collaborated with NCCBF to provide help to flood victims in Haywood County. You have participated with Alliance of Baptists to provide help for people in New Orleans. You have replaced a roof on the school in Nyarweng, South Sudan after tornado damage. You are sheltering persons and families who are living through seasons of homelessness. You are care-fronting racism, and bias against LGBTQ+ persons, immigrants and refugees. By wearing face coverings, you are caring for the lambs and the vulnerable in this flock. You have packed backpacks so children can have healthy diets over the weekend. You have given school uniforms to children living in poverty. You are creating safe and sacred space for people who have been ostracized and scorned. You are offering kindness, forgiveness and patience; sharing joys and sorrows; investing in friendship and trust; sending notes of encouragement and affirmation; making phone calls; letting other people know that you really see them, hear them and know them; communicating vision and hope; doing small things as you think about the needs of other people; remembering a significant day; praying for people and staying in touch with them; respecting and accepting persons who have been hurt and devalued; offering words of blessing; asking someone a question that let’s them know you really care about them; saying, “thank you; ”laughing with one another and sharing tears; partaking in meaningful stories and memories; reading and discussing the same book / podcast / show; and finding out what someone needs and providing it without them knowing it was you.
Yes, there are emotions and desires on our hearts today. There are truths and perspectives in our minds. There are values and visions embedded in our spirits. And to be completely honest, there is a great deal of unsettledness floating within us. This past week, I have spoken with more than fifty members of our church. I have also spoken with several leaders in our community. And I have spoken with ministers in other churches in our city, our state and in other states.
In every conversation, one truth prevails: We all need Vitamin T.
We all need to be touched by people who care.
We are following Jesus in this world that needs a hug. We are being told to ‘Stay Apart.’ But, we are choosing to put a twist to this phrase. We are choosing to Stay A Part of Our Church’s Ministry by Serving Together. Amen.