• Pastor John Gooding, DMin



Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and said, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.”

This is interesting and troubling because shaking hands goes back millennia as a greeting and as a symbol of openness and integrity.

Today, however, the Mayo Clinic’s Gregory Poland says, “When you extend your hand, you’re extending a bio-weapon.

Politicians are experts at “pressing flesh.” President William McKinley was an expert. The McKinley handshake would not cramp his hand and allowed him to shake as many as fifty of hands a minute. In 1901, at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. McKinley was in a greeting line when Leo C(zolgos)z approached. KcKinley noticed what he thought was a bandage on Leo’s right hand and deftly offered his left hand. Leo fired two shots from the hidden pistol. McKinley died within days of the wounds.

But that has not been the norm.

Today Covid-19, the novel virus, the Corinavirus has brought it to an end for the time being. Replaced with a elbow tap or a hacky-sack kick. No handshake and no smile!

Most importantly, a handshake and smile, are symbols of community and much more.

Ephesians 4:1-6

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

I want to talk for a few moments about unity. About the unity of the body of Christ. About our unity as a church and what unity means to us, to others and to the world.

From antiquity the open hand and biblically the legal dimension of placing one’s hand under another thigh in the presence of witnesses was a legal and binding action in business.

An open hand says, I have no weapon and no ulterior motives.

As a global standard it is often a mere photo-op but it is meant to signal good faith between strangers. It indicates a willingness to bargain in good faith. It is the epitome of a sealed deal. It is a powerful indication that you are willing to enter a relationship of cooperation in crucial matters.

It has replaced what some European nations used as a double kiss on the cheek. In Argentina the standard is a kiss on the cheek but there are rules about “who” it is permissible to kiss. For many the years of the bubonic plague brought an end to “kissing.”

A Rule

It seems true that we like things black and white and hence we make rules. We establish boundaries so we can know what’s permitted. The Rule of Benedict became the Benedictine Order of the Catholic Church.

Christianity is Relationship—not Rule

Christianity is often communicated as rules and boundaries of behavior. We can never, however forget that it is about relationship.

There are many ways to hide—handshakes can be covers

At the end of the Civil War Ulysses Grant met with Robert E. Lee. They had met only one time before during the Mexican-American war.

They met with a handshake in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s farmhouse. Grant tried to make small talk for 25 minutes before Lee brought up the reason for their meeting—the capitulation of the southern forces and the end of the war. They were clearly not friends...

There are many ways to hide—handshakes can be covers

Other famous Handshakes:

  • Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley. Presley had scribbled a note on American Airlines stationary that he wanted an audience with the president and was volunteering to become a Federal Agent in the war on drugs. A meeting was arranged and the King (not LeBron) dressed in his garb and presented Nixon with a Colt .45. A spontaneous handshake occurred and was photographed.

  • The meeting and the photo-op of Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of England, and Adolf Hitler. Hitler promptly invaded Czechoslovakia. Their “supposed” agreement and Chamberlain’s word, announcing, “Peace for our time” proved falsehoods. The famous event and picture became symbols of appeasement.

  • Many that you may remember—Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin with Jimmy Carter in 1979; Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1993; and yet there is still no peace in the Middle East.

  • One of the interesting photos was a 1963 hand shake between John F. Kennedy and the 16 year old Bill Clinton in the Boys Nation tour of the nation’s capitol.

If we Ponder the Handshake

We will find that underneath a handshake, there is a world of meaning in it. Of course it can be casual, can be meaningless. I think it is far more important considering we are talking about unity in the church.

I remember when we used to hold hands across the aisles in the opening prayer. We stopped that in another flu season. And then we said, “greet one another” following the prayer. That meant “shaking” hands.

Somehow, I think we lost something more—because what we are trying to say with a true handshake is we want to be involved in another’s life. Our holding hands across the aisle meant we wanted to be, and were, joined together in something greater than ourselves.

What is the Church?

When the Apostle Paul was trying to convey what the Church of Jesus was all about he had to struggle for a metaphor, a symbol, or a picture out of human life. Something we could grasp in our minds. He came up with two illustrations that move through the New Testament. There is one was “body” of Christ. There is one family of God

Terry’s Question:

Last night I had a theological question from another pastor. Somehow I am supposed to know the answer to questions theologians have been asking for well beyond the 2000 New Testament years.

He asked me, “How do your sort out the different “nouns” used by the New Testament in Matthew 22:37-40. He wanted to know, ”How the different dimensions of man are distinguishable from one another.” — That is, Body, Soul and Spirit.

Matthew 22:37-40 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. we cannot have a civil discussion? (140-141)

My Non-Answer:

Terry: It’s been argued over for millennia. So if you don’t sleep tonight—don’t worry a whole lot about it.

Spirit and soul are used as interchangeable nouns. In Mary’s song she uses both “My soul” and “my Spirit”—apparently saying the same thing. Jesus says in John 12 that his soul is troubled while in chapter 13 he says he is troubled in spirit.

Biblically: Man is called both body and soul, and body and spirit.

We are not to fear the one who can kill the soul but fear him who can destroy both body and spirit so that apparently there is a part of us that carries on into eternity.

But, Paul’s use in Corinthians says man is body and spirit so the casting the sinful brother into the world is for the destruction of of the flesh but the salvation of the spirit.

We are called to cleanse ourselves from sin and defilement in both our body and our spirit.

We can sin in spirit and in soul.

Paul does say we are body, soul and spirit. Three parts? Most try and make this fit with the idea of the Trinity and being made in the image of God.

We get it about the body, I think. The material part of the human life—visible, knowable through physical senses.

Mind and strength are generally found to be an exercise of the person in contemplation (mind) and action (strength).

In conclusion what the Bible emphasizes is the wholeness and unity of a person just as it emphasizes the unity and complete agreement of the Trinity.

We are the Body of Christ and Family of God

Crucial for us is the unity of the Church:

  1. The Church is the Body of Christ—not merely 100+ individuals but a whole! Not just a group of families but a connected and interconnected whole.

  2. The Church is a miracle of the wild branches being grafted into the promised Kingdom of God. Ephesians 4:4-6 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

  3. Keep the unity of the Spirit.

Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (15-16)

The Covenant

Though the handshake may be losing its “grip.” It may may not mean what it once meant, or be useful like it once was as the bond of a relationship; it is still vitally important to understand and know the relationship that establishes the church.

The Unique Dimension

I did the Boykin funeral yesterday. I tried to communicate that Christian’s were not a group of people held together by rules and regulations.

Christians are people who believe God.

It’s not people who believe “in” God or believe “there is a” God. That’s not it. Christians believe what God has said, and importantly, what God has promised. We are people of the promise! They believe to the point of committing their life to it.

Theologians and the Now and Not Yet

It is like your mother said when you spied the desert before dinner and pleaded for a taste or a piece or something you could have, like now. And your mother said, “not yet.” Or she said, “Not until ….” “Not until you clean your room,” “Not until you finish your brocolli.” “Not until you pay your room and board.” That is, theologically, not until you believe. Not until you cease to resist.

It is not a theological explanation that I like, but it works to explain a few things.

It is why we have boundaries on behavior—we are a people in a vital relationship with one another.

Willimon and Ephesians

He was excited about preaching a series from Ephesians and then reading a commentary he came to conclusion that it might not be what he wanted to do. The commentary said, Ephesians was, “Woefully lacking in larger ethical concerns.” It was primarily, the commentary said, about petty, parochial, intramural and ecclesiastical matters.

He had already noted his aversion to preaching from the letters of the New Testament because they were so “communal” in nature. Too much about love and getting along with one another. He read a passage from Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:26-32 Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Nice thought! Modest in scope and rather narrow and unworthy of a sermon.

Then he went to the church “social” committee meeting and while dozing through it he heard an argument where one member made a comment about another that was so biting and vindictive they left the meeting.

“I’ll never be on a committee again,” was the comment when pastor tried to regain the peace. He thought, here we are trying to figure out ways to invite strangers into the church and they could not even talk to each other. He returned to the meeting thoroughly “groused.”

It birthed a sermon. All sermons come from the reality of life. A sermon about how we talk to one another, how we speak about one another, how we deal with one another—it becomes a witness to the world of God, God’s nature, and the miracle of being born again.

Can you see it?

We are not just a bunch of people enjoying an Ice-Cream Social. Not a group that can pick and choose the affairs and issues of life. Christians are not people who can pick and choose what they like and dislike.

We are a covenant (not easily explained but exampled) people bound together—not by flesh and blood—but by the blood of Jesus Christ. It is more than a handshake or photo-op. It is more than a courtesy and more than a legal contract.

The church is a miracle brought about by the work of Jesus Christ on Calvary and his placing us in the church—local and universal—for his eternal purposes.

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