4th Lenten Service                                                                           
Rev. Andrew Ratcliffe
Psalm 139:1-6 Sermon
26 March/2 April 2014

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
166 "Saviour When In Dust To Thee"
148 "Lord Jesus Christ, My Life, My Light"
157 "There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood"
655 "I Pray Thee Dear Lord Jesus"
557 "At Even When The Sun Didst Set" 

Nervous Hands 

            TEXT:  "O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it."!

            (Ask "what makes you nervous" or use the following) Too much sitting around... Giving your first speech in front of the class... A snake that slithers out in front of you as you walk... Sitting down to play a solo recital... If you’re from a smaller community, when you first sit behind the wheel on a highway in Omaha, Kansas City, or Detroit... Asking someone out for the first time, or going out on that first date... When you’re about to do something wrong: theft, a prank, causing harm... Sitting in the principal’s office, waiting... Not only does your heart race. Not only does sweat form upon the brow. More often than not you get nervous hands.

            This week our Hand of Lent takes us to a courtyard in our Gospel Passion reading. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples and strongest advocates, closely follows after His teacher’s arrest. He stops in the courtyard as Jesus is brought in to stand before Caiaphas, the high priest, where He is falsely accused with the full intent of eliciting Jesus’ death. “Have you nothing to say?” Caiaphas asks the Christ? “Prophesy to us now; who struck you?” as they spit on Him and strike Him. Proof or not, in a few hours these Jewish leaders will lead Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, seeking him to carry out a sentence of death on this supposedly convicted Christ.

            Meanwhile Peter, only able to follow so far, remains in the courtyard. Though attempting to allude recognition, betrayed by his looks and his accent, three times he is called out for his association with Jesus. “You were with Jesus the Galilean.” “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” "Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” You can picture Peter covered in his cloak, not only warming himself, but trying to conceal his identity. You can picture him standing away from the others, sitting by himself to avoid contact. Why? They arrested his leader. They came after Jesus with club and spear. The others have fled. What’s in store for Peter if he is recognized? What fate does he face as his teacher is being tried and set up for death? I’m sure Peter responds with an irritated voice. I’m sure he turns to avoid any form of eye contact. I’m sure the entire time his heart is racing. You can easily imagine that Peter has nervous hands.

            Our text, as with the previous Wednesdays in Lent, takes us to the book of Psalms. Today we have wonderful words from Psalm 139. I love this psalm. Frequently it is referenced to highlight the sanctity of human life: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb... Your eyes saw my unformed substance.” Even then we were known by God, created by God, cherished by God. What may be hidden to us, unseen by us, is never out of the sight of God.

            Never out of the sight of the sight of God. Even though Peter was trying to conceal himself from others in the courtyard, he could not hide from Christ. “O LORD, You have searched me and know me!”  No matter where we are or what we do, the Lord knows. He is there. His grace is active. He is present. Which is good, except if your name is Peter, or when we act as Peter (as we frequently do). “Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, You know it altogether.” Sound familiar? “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34). Hands shaking as he begins to do, to say, what he knows he should not, “I do not know the man.”

            But Peter’s Saviour, our Saviour, searches the heart not to give nervous hands. Rather He calms them; He takes that anxiety away. In John 14 He says, “Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.” In I Peter 5 we are invited, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Yes, the look of Jesus convicted Peter in his sin as he then goes and weeps bitterly. Yes, our sin gives us nervous hands knowing what the result of that sin should be. But Jesus doesn’t just look to convict. He looks at you with care.

            Jesus continues on His way to the cross. He suffers the punishment of the weight of sin. He sheds His precious blood—His blood that washes, His blood that forgives, His blood that cleanses, His blood also covers. It covers Peter; it covers you. Baptized into Christ, you live each day covered in the forgiving blood of Christ. This means that as God looks at you, as He searches you, He doesn’t convict you. As He searches you He saves you. He sees Jesus, He sees His Son’s redeeming blood. He sees you a new man, a new woman, risen from a baptismal washing living daily in Christ. He leaves you, not with hands nervous from sin or fear, but with hands forgiven, strong and ready to serve.

            This Lent, and every day, the Lord is reaching out with the nail-pierced now living hands of His Son to calm our nervous hands. Hands that are strong yet loving, hands that are mighty yet caring, hands that have been pierced by the nails of the cross, are extended to you and me. May this be your comfort, your strength, your security, your calm this day and every day as you live in His hands.  Amen.