The Love Language of Physical Touch

Scripture: Luke 13:10-17
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
February 21, 2016

He sends you flowers, but what you really want is a one on one, soul to soul, heart to heart conversation.  She gives you a hug after a hard day’s work, but what you really need is a delicious home-cooked meal.  The problem isn’t your love – it’s your love language!   According to the Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages,  just as there are different languages such as Chinese, English, French, Spanish, German so, too, there are different love languages.  Your partner’s primary language may be Chinese and your primary language is English, unless you begin to learn Chinese and your partner begins to learn English, you will never learn to understand each other.  So, too it is with love languages.  We need to learn our partner/spouse, child, family member, close friend, co-workers love language in order to communicate effectively.    According to Gary Chapman, there are five primary love languages:  words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, gifts, and the act of service.

Last week, I spoke about words of affirmation. Verbal compliments are powerful communicators of love.  They are best expressed in simple, straight-forward statements of affirmation, such as:  “You look nice in that outfit.”  “This meal is soooo delicious.  Thank you for cooking tonight!”  “You are awesome! I appreciate you immensely.”  “Wow!  Your hair looks like a flock of goats!”  (from last week’s sermon on the Song of Songs).

Today, we will talk about the love language of physical touch.  Numerous research shows that babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact.  Physical touch is not just important to babies, but to teenagers, and adults, too.  Physical touch is very significant.    Holding hands, embracing, kissing, back rubs, an arm around the shoulder, a pat on the back, for lovers — sexual intimacy are all expressions of love.  For those whose love language is physical touch, those “love touches” are their emotional lifeline.

Jesus believed in the value of physical touch.  Parents, for example, brought their children to Jesus that they may be touched and blessed by him.  And Jesus would pick up the children and lays his hands upon them.  Jesus also engaged in what we call “healing touch”.  I went to a workshop last March on “Healing Touch”.  The presenter shared that one-third of the miracles in the gospel involved healing touch.  Jesus often healed people through the power of touch, serving as a vessel, allowing that Divine energy to come through him and into another.  Certainly, Jesus was on to something – for study after study shows that healing touch lowers blood pressure, decreases pain, and speeds up the healing process.  People who are exposed to healing touch in hospitals are released more quickly.

Daniella was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Loma Linda University Medical Center for the first 3 months of her earthly life, hooked up to all kinds of wires, feeding and breathing tubes.  Karen and I were living in San Diego at the time.  Every night that I did not have a church meeting we would drive up to Loma Linda from San Diego to simply hold Daniella, lay our hands upon her, and allow ourselves to be channels of divine love and radiant light.  Karen and I are huge believers in healing touch.  Karen actually has taken classes in Reiki, a form of healing touch.  Yes, touch is a hugely important language of love.

This morning we hear about one such occasion in which Jesus participated in healing touch.  Some background to our story.  It is the Sabbath.  Jesus is preaching when he notices a woman bent in half, shoulders hunched, neck bent downward.  Scripture says that she has been that way for 18 years.  Don Kistler, in his book, The Arithmetic of God, says that 18 is 6 + 6 + 6.  666 is the number of the beast, translated as bondage.  This woman is in physical bondage.  Imagine staring at people’s feet for 18 years, not able to see their faces.  Her world was without blue sky, moon, stars, mountains, trees.  Every simple chore turned into a painful and laborious project.  She could only rest in the fetal position.  She was twisted like a human pretzel.

We don’t know what was wrong with her.  Some say it was osteoporosis; others say scoliosis, but remember Luke is a physician.  Dr. Luke uses interesting words to diagnose her condition.  He doesn’t use the Greek words, malkia or nosos that would mean, “illness, disease or injury.” In verse 11, he uses the phrase “crippled by a spirit.”  In verse 12 he uses the word “infirmity” which means “weakness”.  The spirit of weakness had taken away her strength.  Her afflictions attacked the very core of her being.  It was an affliction that disfigured her, dehumanized her.  She had collapsed from the inside out.

I could be wrong, but I would like to suggest that this woman’s infirmity developed little by little.  As if pebbles were piled on her back one at a time — one failure at a time, one loss at a time, one disappointment at a time — until many years of pebbles, many years of burdened living left her “bent over”.  You know the cliché, “You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders”.  Her face is now bent to the ground — both literally and metaphorically.  She is so stuck looking down — that she can’t look up.

There is a greek word, “Ennui”.  Ennui – it means living without zeal.  Ennui – it means that the zest fizzles.  Our lightness becomes heaviness, our joyfulness becomes listlessness, our running becomes plodding, the fire in our bones becomes an ache in our joints – Ennui.

Jesus stops preaching in the middle of his sermon.  He calls this woman “forward”.  He must have spotted her through the lattice barrier that separated women from the men in the synagogues.  

Jesus reaches his hand to her in a gesture that whispers, Come to me.  You who are weary and burdened.  Come to me.  Come out from behind the lattice.  Come to the front.  Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry about what others will think.

I imagine that she may have stood frozen for a time.  After all, Jesus was asking her to go where no woman of that day was ever supposed to go — especially a woman like her, bent and crippled.  The Law of Moses strictly prohibited disfigured people from entering into the synagogue.  Yet, there is so much hope and promise, warmth and love in his presence, in his voice.

“And so she musters every tattered shred of confidence she can and takes a step.  It’s hard for her to move her legs, and every effort sends shocks of pain, but for the first time in so long there’s excitement in her heart.  She takes another step and another.  She strains to lift her head to see how much farther she has to go.  She shuffles past this one and says ‘Excuse me’ to that one.  She stops to catch her breath.  She forces another step then another…I’ve got to get to Jesus!

“I imagine Jesus moving toward her as well, his hand extended…Exhausted, she finally reaches him and falls into his embrace…He wants to look into her eyes, and so he goes to his knees.  He brushes back the hair that has hung over her like a shroud and concealed her loneliness for years and lays his hands upon her.

“‘Woman, you are set free,’ his lips whisper and her every burden is melted away.” (Bruce Marchiano, Jesus, the Man Who Loved Women:  He Treasures, Esteems and Delights in You“).  He then calls her “Daughter of Abraham”.  She is a child of the covenant; she is an heir to the promise.  She came stooped over in the shape of a question mark and leaves standing in the shape of an exclamation point!

I think we can all identify with the Bent Over woman.  Some may be in physical pain, some may be crippled by fear; others disabled by exhaustion, and still others hobbled by grief.  At some point in life, we all know what it is feels like to be spiritually bent over.  We have all struggled with ennui.

You may have come to worship this morning in the shape of a question mark, but my prayer is that you will leave in the shape of an exclamation point.  You may have crawled in, but may you walk out like the bent over woman – head held high, arms raised, praising the goodness of God.  

I understand this congregation has participated frequently in healing worship services.  I invite Bill Maury-Holmes, who has participated in those services, to come forward and lead us into a time of healing and wholeness…