The Hands

Once in a small village in Germany, during the 15th century, there were two brothers. Both loved to draw and paint and when both were older they wanted to study to become artists. The brothers knew their parents wouldn’t be able to afford to send them to art school so they reached an arrangement. The younger brother agreed to work while the older brother went to school. Then when the older brother graduated an artist, he would work while the younger brother went to school. So it was that Albrecht Dürer went to art school for 5 years while his younger brother worked tirelessly in the mines to pay for his education.

When Albrecht returned home from his studies, everyone in the house greeted him warmly and was excited to see what great art he would produce. But he said, “No, I have made a promise. I will work until my brother has gone through school.” Just then, Albrecht noticed his brother crying.

“What’s wrong?”, he asked, “Are you not excited to begin your studies?”

Albrecht’s younger brother held up his hands. They were swollen and crooked from years of hard manual labor. “Brother,” he said, “I have worked my fingers to the bone so you could study art under the great masters. So much so that my hands are bent and arthritic. They can no longer hold a paint brush or a pencil without shaking. You will have to make great art for the both us.”

Albrecht Dürer would certainly go on to make great art, but the piece he is perhaps the most famous for is a drawing he did of his brother’s hands: swollen and bent, held palm to palm in a posture of worship. He titled it “hands” but to the world, they are known as “the praying hands.”

There’s an old Irish blessing that says, “May you bear the wounds of love…” In the case of Albrecht Dürer’s brother, those wounds were physical… literal marks of self-sacrificial love. What follower of Jesus can hear this story and not think of Jesus’ own scarred hands? True love is an act of self-sacrifice. In ways great and small, we deny our own desires and ambitions to make room for the desires and ambitions of those we love. To be a disciple is to walk in the way of self-sacrificial love after the example of Christ who emptied himself and took on the very nature of a servant. When we do this, we bear upon our selves the wounds of love and discover the blessing and healing that does from being marked by grace.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Walk Out

Once a new Pastor decided after much prayer to preach a dicey sermon on a hot button issue. He felt really led to speak on the topic but he didn’t want to offend anyone in the congregation so he spent the entire evening before crafting his language to make sure he worded his position in a way that might be least offensive to the parties involved. He also made sure he pulled every scripture he could think of to support his position so there could be no doubt that his sermon was Biblical. Furthermore, he peppered the entire sermon with quotes from contemporary theologians as well as the great Christian thinkers of antiquity. When the young pastor went to bed, he felt good about the sermon he had prepared.

Sunday morning, however, his nerves were getting the best of him and he was really second guessing himself. He had only been the Pastor of this congregation for a few months and he really didn’t know what side they would come down on. When the time came to preach, though, the Pastor powered through. As he spoke, he gained his footing and started to feel more and more at ease. Until, halfway through the sermon, a man named Frank abruptly stood up, left his pew, and marched straight down the center aisle and out the door. Frank was one of the pillars of the Church, a man whose opinion everybody respected, so the Pastor was nervous and flustered through the rest of the entire sermon.

After Church was over, the pastor stood at the back door and shook hands with members of the congregation as they left. Each one politely told him it was a good service and went to their cars.  At last, Frank’s wife came through the line and shook the Pastor’s hand. Pale, and hardly able to speak, the pastor managed to get out, “I hope I didn’t say anything to offend your husband.”

The woman smiled and said, “Oh dear. No one must have told you. Frank has been a sleep walker ever since he was a boy.”  

This is a funny joke but it contains a serious question for us to ponder: are we ever so worried about offending people that we put them to sleep? Those of us in ministry are always caught between wanting to challenge the faithful and wanting to promote unity. Being decisive without being divisive. I personally think this is a healthy tension and that one can be pulled too far in either direction but there does come a time when we are called to clearly and forcefully state the truth. If we spend all our time worrying about how every little thing we say may be perceived, we risk making sleepwalkers instead of disciples.