Romans 15:1-6

Last year, Jenna and Jillian Thistlebate were welcomed into the world in Akron, Ohio. The twins were mono, mono twins, meaning they shared the same placenta and amniotic fluids, complicating their birth, but they were born healthy.

What made the twins famous was the picture of them holding hands immediately after birth. Their mom Sarah said, “It was remarkable. I think half of the OR was crying.”

Ten months later, Jenna and Jillian are still holding hands and they not only remind us of the special bond between twins, but as children they remind us of something fundamental about being human: we need each other.

We learn that as children while playing in the sandbox.

As children we learned to hold an adult’s hand to cross the street or when we were in a crowd.

We held hands because we felt loved and we were not ashamed that we were dependent on this adult for love.

We held hands because we were afraid. We held hands so we would not get lost or separated.

At school we held hands with other children. How else can you make a circle but to hold hands and back up? We held hands and made a line as we went to the lunchroom, like a pack of elephants joined by trunks and tails.

We held hands with friends and walked on the playground and thought nothing of it. It was as natural as running and jumping. We held hands when we played Red Rover, Red Rover. You can’t play that game any more, can you? What a shame.

When children hold hands it is an innocent thing. It is something many of us have lost, but why does it have to be that way?

I still notice that some people hold hands.

I see big tough football players holding hands sometimes as they form a huddle, as linemen form their splits, as team captains make their way to midfield to meet their opponents and take the coin toss.

I saw children holding hands with Soccer players last year as the World Cup took place in Brazil and teams were introduced to the spectators.

I see people who are in love holding hands at school, in the park, at a restaurant, at the beach, or walking down the sidewalk.

I see people holding hands during times of grief as they share words of comfort and care.

I see people holding hands during times of crisis and emergencies. One person may be leading another person to a place of safety or helping that person cope because he or she is very afraid.

I see people holding hands during times of prayer as they are joined together in unity in adoration of God, confession their sins, thanking God for their blessings, and asking God for His help.

All of these people are communicating at least one basic truth in their handholding: “We need each other. We are not self-sufficient.”

God did not make us to be self-sufficient. While singleness can be a gift, as we see with Jesus and the Apostle Paul, God didn’t make us to be alone. Woman was made for Adam to cure his loneliness. When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” God didn’t mean that every man had to have a wife or every woman a husband. However, God was saying that we are not self-sufficient. God did not give us everything we need to flourish. God intended for us to be social creatures, to participate in the giving and receiving of ourselves for the greater good.

So, when we find the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau in Genesis, we find the story interesting from the beginning, not because the twins were born holding hands, but because Jacob’s hand was grasping Esau’s heel, as if he were trying to pull him back into the birth canal.

Ironically, this competitive imagery played itself out years later as Jacob laid claim to Esau’s birthright and his blessing. In doing so, he said to his brother through his actions, “I don’t need you. I’ve got what I want. I don’t care what happens to you.”

Then he left home. He had to. His brother was so angry for tricking him out of these things that Esau was going to kill him.

As we move beyond the first couple of years in life, we go through a rude awakening and repositioning of self. Eventually, we can no longer get the adults to fetch us food every time we cry. We learn that if we whine and complain that instead of getting what we want, we might actually get what we don’t want. We learn that there are others to consider beside ourselves.

As we move into the sandbox years we are taught that the other person matters.
The sooner we learn this and the sooner we develop a spirit that denies ourselves and follows the patterns Jesus has asked us to follow, the sooner we become his disciples and find peace. Until then, our world tends to revolve around our wants, desires, and prejudices and we will find a troubled soul.

There wasn’t much handholding going on in the Church of Rome. Spiritually, they were not a World Cup church, with the spiritually mature holding the hands of the young inexperienced Christians. Instead, those who were strong in their faith allowed the weak to struggle. If they did help out, they didn’t go out of the way to do so. Only if it were convenient, they might step in and help people weak in their faith.

Paul wanted people strong in the faith to stop looking at their faith as a means to achieve status. Instead, he argued that the proper response from them was service.

Paul said, “Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, by asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’”

Now this is different from being that person who is always poking his/her nose in someone’s business where it doesn’t belong. “Paul called these people “busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to say” (I Tim 5:13).

Instead, Paul says that we ought to model our lives after Jesus, who took on the troubles of the troubled. Paul said that Jesus “didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.”

He took on the troubles of the troubled.

Are you willing to do that or when the troubles of the troubled are brought to you do you send them in a different direction? Many of the unsung heroes of small town America are the volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel.

It might surprise you to know that more than 85 percent of fire departments in the United States are staffed either fully or partially with volunteers. These volunteers, totaling nearly 1 million, come from all walks of life. They sacrifice time with their families, rest and sleep to respond to a range of emergencies such as rescuing victims trapped in automobiles or buildings containing hazardous materials and battling fires. These men and women are part of a tradition that pre-dates our nation’s independence.

They teach us how important it is to have a spirit of helping hands.
They take on the troubles of others. What if there were no people standing ready twenty-four/seven to reach out to us in times of trouble?

While it is true that we cannot tackle every problem of the world, God asks us to take on only those He sends us.

Paul challenges the church at Rome to lend a hand to people who lose their way. He reminds them that those times are not likely to come when it’s convenient for us. So Paul wants us to take on the attitude of a servant.

What Paul advocates for the church at Rome is harmony. He wants the members of the church to get along.

Have you noticed that when children are not getting along, you can’t make them hold hands? Children are all over each other until they are not getting along and then they are very aware of the space around them. They don’t want their friends to touch them. “She’s on my side of the car!” “He touched me!” But eventually, children start playing together and sharing again and all is forgiven.

You can’t make church people hold hands either when they don’t get along.

Paul teaches us that the gateway to harmony within the church is service. When our hands are busy serving one another, trying to meet each other’s needs, instead of making it all about me, my, and mine, the result is harmony, like the voices of a wonderful choir that are blended richly together.

People are attracted to a fellowship where people are always saying, “Where can I help?” instead of saying, “You better do things my way.”

As a church, we can do no better in looking after the good of those around us than by remembering our purpose. God has called us to “Go and Make Disciples.” The way we envision that happening here is to impassion people to follow Jesus. We can’t do that unless we are passionately following Jesus ourselves.

When we are passionately following Jesus, one question we ask is, “Where can I help?”

Each of us must seek the good of the other and we must care deeply for those who do not love Jesus enough to be a part of a church or who do not see the church as a vital avenue for ministry. Together, we must find ways to help our community discover Christ. We must choose to enter into the troubles of others in an effort to share Jesus and help them through their suffering.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he met his disciples in the Upper Room. Thomas wasn’t there.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But (Thomas) said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:24-29

The most important hand you can ever hold is the nail-scarred hand of Jesus. When we put our hands in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus and understand the significance of that experience, our lives are changed forever.

It is at that moment we understand that not even Jesus lived his life for himself, but He gave it freely for us. Part of what it means to be an impassioned follower of Jesus is to live our lives for others.

It means to reach out and hold the hands of those that we are tempted to shy away from, people who are different from us. They might be of a different race, sexual orientation, political party, or economic bracket.

However, if Jesus would hold their hands, love them and minister to them, then that means we should as well.

If we don’t offer our hands of love and care to people who do not know Jesus, how are people going to know that He loves and cares for them?

Life is more than about making a living. It’s more than about success. It’s more than about having nice things. Life is about giving ourselves away, as Jesus did. It’s about entering into the troubles of others and saying, “How can I help?” It’s about offering helping hands to those in need.

It’s about holding hands with those you love, and offering a hand to those you don’t. In doing so, we can come to love them and even learn something from them in the process.

This coming week, how are you going to use your hands to help someone you know? Will you hold the hand of someone who is grieving, someone who is afraid, someone who is celebrating, or someone who needs prayer? Will you offer your help to someone you do not like or someone you know doesn’t like you?

Perhaps you are the one who needs the guidance and strength of someone to hold your hand.

The nail-scarred hands of Jesus are offered to us all unconditionally. As the Lord offers His hands to us, he wants us to offer our hands to others.