Inked On God’s Hands

The Rev. Joseph Winston Feburary 27, 2011

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Have you ever been “inked?” Do you possess some body art that no one else can see but you and a few of your closest friends? In other words, “Do you have a tattoo?” If you happen to have one, I am sure that you have heard at least once in your life, “Why did you go off and do it?” That is what I want to know, “What did you tell Mom and Dad?” There certainly are many different reasons why you might place an indelible mark somewhere on your body. Remembering an important event in you life is cause enough for some. Here are a couple of illustrations that come to mind. You have left home for the first time and you just wanted to mark your independence from your family. Perhaps, a piece of art moved you so much that you always wanted it to be with you. These examples are some of the possible answers you
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
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could give your parents on why you now have a tattoo when you never had one before. Then there is that significant other, a special person in your life that draws you to the needle. Be honest. A new love that makes the world go around sends countless people to the design catalogs where they look for that one tattoo that says it all. “My true love” has to be a popular example. You know that the steady pillars in your life are yet another group of people that appear on arms and chests. Think of “Mom with Anchor.” Maybe, just maybe, Mom and Dad would accept those answers on why you did it. Even if you never have thought about an artist drawing something on your skin, you can see the attraction of having it done. Your inked skin is a permanent record that is always with you. Tattoos are not a new fad that is going away anytime soon. For as long as we have had people, sharp objects, and a way to make a mark last, there have been people who want to have it done. Their popularity might rise and fall with the times, but it seems like they are here to stay. Now it might be odd to think of God with tattoos and as soon as I mention it, you might become distracted and think of Popeye with the anchor drawn on his muscle bound arms, Lydia the tattooed lady from the Marx Brothers, Ray Bradbury’s book of short stories titled, “The Illustrated Man,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back,” or a thousand other examples you might come up on your own. That is a risk that I am willing to take because today’s Old Testament lesson tells you exactly that. God has tattoos. God does this because He never wants to forget you. 2

That answer is a little ahead of where the story is right now but it is so important that you need to hear it again. God never will forget you. It is a common problem, one we all share, that is affecting the people of God. They just do not see it. They cannot find God in the middle of the mess we call this world. Who can blame them? Every morning when they get up to the time they go to bed at night, they are surrounded by reasons to believe God is a liar. They are not living at home. Those that survived the war and then the forced march are now captives in a foreign land. Where is the land promised to our ancestors they ask? Clearly, the answer is, “It is not here.” Conditions are hard for prisoners of war. They always have and they always will. They have no freedoms. They live and they die at a stranger’s word. There is never enough of anything to go around. The children, I mean those who made it because without fail children are often the uncounted casualties of war, go to bed hungry at night. Why should anyone care? After all, they are the enemy and we do not want them too strong now, do we? They cry, “Where is the land of milk and honey?” No one needs to tell them, “It is not here.” You try to break your prisoners and make them into something new. This is a constant fact of war. Call it physiological warfare or propaganda if you must. You do this unless you plan to fight the same battles over and over again. They need to be “reeducated.” They must be taught your way of thinking, your way of government, and to worship your gods that gave you victory over theirs. All of their old fashioned ideas must go and if they do not, you always have the final 3

solution: killing them. Afraid to say it out loud, the prisoners whisper, “Where is our temple? Where is our God?” They believe that they already know the answer, “It is not here.” The facts seem to say; no, they appear to shout out for all to hear, “God is a liar. God is a liar. God is a liar.” The author of today’s Old Testament lesson replies to the harsh accusations brought by the prisoners with these striking words from God, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:16a).” God has a tattoo, we are told, and you are on it. Right there between the wrist of the Lord and His fingers lives all that makes you who you are. Your entire being, your complete existence, your total essence lives on His palms. This arrangement God has between you and Him does not mean that God is big and powerful while you are tiny and insignificant. Far from that. God inks you on His hands for all the same reasons you might get a tattoo. You are important to Him and He does not want to forget anything about you. This means that every time the Lord works with His hands, He is reminded of you. When He picks up a bite to eat, you flash before His eyes. You never leave God. That message that God is here and helping us right now was just as difficult to believe two thousand five hundred years ago as it is today. So, we do what comes naturally. We take things into our own hands and that is exactly what we do. If you work outside of the your home, you busy yourself from your first wak4

ing moment when you crawl out of bed to check your Facebook status, to the drive into work with the talk radio telling you what lies ahead, to one meeting after another, to retracting your steps back home with the news of the day in your ears, and finally back to bed but before going to sleep you tweet out one status message that describes in one hundred forty characters or less how tired you really are. If you work at home, your story sounds the same. You did not sleep well last night. The children came in too late and you waited up for them so you could make sure they make it home safe. You know they never Facebook their parents. You pull yourself out of bed and face the first task of the day, which is making sure everyone goes where they need to. You might think that someone like you would have some free time, but you do not. Now, you settle yourself down to the business of running the house. Pay the bills. Clean the clothes. Go shopping. Cook the meals. Nobody asks how you are doing. They are all too busy with their own lives to even think of you, much less text you. The day starts to draw to an end, people come back, and start making demands of you. Did you check on this? Did you get that? Is everything done? That is all they want to know. The dishes are finally done and you hope to get a bit a sleep so you can start over in the morning. You know what is going to happen? No matter at how hard you try to fill the day with work, one day your hands will stop moving. No longer will you dress yourself in the mornings. No more will your hands bring food and drink to your mouth. No sheets will you turn down at night. Now, your hands are still. They cannot work or play. They will not love or hate. They are without life, just like their owner. They can do nothing now. 5

This is what faces each and every of us: death. You are powerless and cannot change what will happen. Any hope of survival must come from outside of you. For if your hands cannot shape the world, you cannot think. For if your hands cannot hold, you cannot love. For if your hands are motionless, you cannot save yourself. God promises you that you will live. It is written there on His hands. Your life is all there: all of your hopes, all of your dreams, all of your pain, all of your suffering. There it lies, etched on God’s palms, never growing pale, never getting too weak to read, never ever removed with soap and water. With that picture of you, God will make you live again. This gift of new life that the Lord gives you is definitely not limited to your resurrection that occurs after your death. For if, it were, then this would tell you that God cannot change the world today. All this attitude gives you is yet one more case of God not telling the whole truth. It even is not right to say that your new life starts today. This statement falls into the exact same trap as before. We dare to hope that God loves you today, tomorrow, and yesterday. If this is not true, then God’s Word is nothing more than a bunch of tall tales. The author of today’s Old Testament lesson answers the problem of seeing God in all the pain and the suffering that we experience. God is here and right now, the Lord is doing what He does best. Listen to the Word of the Lord: Thus says the L ORD: In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; 6

I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out”, to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene. God is bringing life. In the middle of the Exile, the conquering power does not control God. The Lord frees His people from prison. Amid all the destruction caused by war, people go hungry. God’s chosen still eat and drink. Despite the enemy’s best attempts at wiping out every trace of hope in God, the Lord still remains. He brings people you would never expect to faith in God. Nothing at all has changed today. God is working in this place to bring life out 7

of the death that constantly surrounds us. In the middle of all the suffering brought on by the poor economy, God continues to freely give gifts you could never buy. Friends, hope, and beauty are but three examples of God’s presents that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. In this day and age, divorce is a fact of life. The reality that it is happening everywhere does not diminish the hurt that divorce causes. God heals the pain. Even when it seems like death will win the day, we already know what God has done. God raised Jesus from the dead. God will do the same for you. It will happen because the Lord has you tattooed on His hands. There are many different reasons why you might want to be inked. One is that some people want a permanent record of an important event in their life. Another is the love of art. A tattoo can be magnificent. A third example is always carrying with you that special person in your life. At your baptism, God inscribed your likeness on the palms of His hands. If you could look at your tattoo, you would see that it is beautiful, just like you. There is nothing that you can do that will make God remove you from His hands. That is how much God loves you. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”2

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Philippians 4:7.

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