Three years ago, Trinity celebrated the inauguration of a new form of ministry, made possible by a generous contribution of one of our members, called Stephen Ministry. Today we enjoy the contribution of 10 Stephen Ministers who minister to people struggling with spiritual pain. Recently, I was reminded that Stephen Ministers are people committed to be physically present for people of our community. In discussing a new tool purchased by the church for videoconferencing, our Stephen Ministers declined using the service because “it was much better to talk face to face.” So it is, indeed! I thought to myself. Stephen Ministers pray with their care receivers, laugh and cry with them, listen to whatever they want and need to talk about (always committed to guarding confidentiality!) but uphold them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are PHYSICALLY present with them. That’s not something so easily taken for granted in this virtual, on-line world in which we live. The following story is one I’ve shared before, but it is appropriate as we think of the Savior who came to serve us with the hands of God…the One through whom we are empowered and privileged to do the same. I think of it as I say a prayer of thanks today for all of our Stephen Ministers and their ministry of presence, among us:
“Every day as I used to go to work, I would pass an unusual statue. It was a statue of Jesus with no arms. It stood at the top of the second floor row of offices where some of the faculty at Japan Lutheran College would go to work. Students and faculty would pass it all the time. Why would such an unusual depiction of Jesus be placed there? You can imagine that the question would be easily formed in the minds of many students, some of whom were learning about Christianity but did not yet know a lot about Jesus. I myself used to wonder, when I first started working there, if the statue had at one time fallen to the ground and lost its arms in an unfortunate tumble. Jesus did many things with his hands: heal the sick, touch the untouchable, break bread and pray to the God of heaven. But Jesus with no arms? It didn’t seem to make sense. Then one day I heard the college president at that time, Naozumi Eto, explain: “The statue of Christ with no arms speaks to our hearts in a voice that can be heard only quietly and almost imperceptibly: ‘You are my hands. With those hands you can join hands with the neighbor who is by your side. You can put your arms around shoulder of the person who is trembling in solitude and give them a hug. Most importantly, you can put those hands together and pray for whatever you need.’”
As we celebrate our church’s involvement in Stephen Ministries this week, consider receiving the care of a Stephen Minister for yourself or someone you love. But even if you don’t receive the care of a Stephen Minister yourself, take this opportunity to join me in giving thanks for our Stephen Ministers and the unseen work that they perform. The Lord who suffered and died for us, has purchased us. We are not our own. Let’s all glorify God with our bodies...the hands, feet, and lips of the indwelling Christ...as we bring the physically present God to one another.