The sculptors come from all over the world. They gather each year in the Allegheny National Forest outside of Pittsburgh. They’ll be creating art for the whole weekend, a truckload of art. It comes off of several semi loads of white pine logs that get chipped and chiseled into statues of animals and more. Each artist gets very up close and personal with their creations. Well, at least an arm’s length and a chainsaw’s length away. That’s right. The only tool in use at the Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous is the chainsaw. That thing that’s always loud and obnoxious when a neighbor fires one up early in the morning to cut some limbs, in the hands of these masters creates some truly remarkable art.
Sculpting has always been art done up close and personal. Whether in marble or wood, with a chisel or a chainsaw, sculptors work close to their pieces to chip off and carve away unwanted portions. Thinking of the final product, the artist chisels away small shavings and big chunks. For art and beauty, things have to come off. Artists work their tools, touching and moving around their art pieces, so close and personal they smell the dampness of the stone or the musty wood.
In the gospel, Jesus shows he also gets very up close and personal with his people. “Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.” Deaf and almost completely mute this man had a hard life. Likely he felt alone. People around him moved their lips, but he heard nothing. Couldn’t even hear himself speak, which made speaking to be understood more difficult. Some people brought this struggling suffering man to Jesus for healing.
The creator took him aside, away from the crowds, and came face to face with his creation, this deaf and mostly mute man. Truth was, it was Jesus who allowed this deafness and muteness. God knit this man together in his mother’s womb. God kept this man from hearing or speaking for his entire life. To most, it looked like good things almost everyone takes for granted had been taken away from him for so long. Suddenly Jesus, the creator, sculptor of life, dealt with him personally, intimately. Working with his hands, “Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears.” I’m going to do something about the hearing. Touching the man who was probably kicked out of his community because of his handicap, moving to show what God would do for him, “Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.” Your speaking, I’m here to do something about that too. Good things would come back. But by being with him personally, Jesus was showing he didn’t need the ability to hear or speak for God to come into his life.
It’s not too much to think our lives feel like giant chunks of stone are getting chipped off when bad things happen. One smack of the world’s carving tool and, ping, there goes our job. Just like that something good, gone. Oh, it hurts too. That drive home isn’t fun. The thoughts of revenge, lawsuits, or bitterness swirl. For days playing out what went wrong. Why would they treat me that way? How could they get rid of me when there are so many others worse? What I wouldn’t give to just say my piece one last time, knowing how they treated me. That kind of sinful thinking can rot the soul. Or like little shavings of wood getting chiseled off a big block, we suffer with what we don’t have or has been lost. We don’t get the good seat in class. We complain about our lousy living conditions. We look at pictures on social media of vacations we can’t take, stuff we don’t have, or worse things we used to have but don’t anymore. Suffering comes into our life. We question, where’s the personal touch from God? Instead of getting good things from this good God, we lose things. They’re chiseled off. And it hurts. It’s personal, but not in a good way.
Jesus takes into consideration your personal needs. He knows your personal situation. With the man, “Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said…” Jesus sighs when he sees your condition. Not a sigh like he’s giving up or has nothing to offer. His is a sigh, a grown, a feeling of sorrow over what sin does to your life. A sigh, but a look to heaven to show help comes from above. Your suffering and personal situation aren’t too much for God. Jesus knows what it’s like in your position. He faced sufferings and loss too. Knew what sleeping in a less than desirable place meant. Understood near poverty barely being able to provide for himself while others got rich. Saw enemies attacking him all the time. Personally, Jesus knows exactly what you face because he carried these things for you. The prophet Isaiah says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” When you’re feeling like you can’t take it anymore, when it seems so much good has been chiseled out of your life, remember a God who loves you is doing the chiseling.
The physical things you face aren’t even your biggest need. Whatever job loss or complaints you live with, or whatever sufferings you face, dealing with them surely is a struggle. Jesus came for them. But he agonizes even more over what sin does to you, and he came to deal personally with your sin. He touches your life with his life and death in your place. With a loving caring personal touch, the God-man reaches into your life, your heart, your soul. Not fingers in your ears, not touching your tongue, but God’s Word striking your ears and chiseling away unbelief leaving faith in its place. Waters of baptism touching skin and reaching soul to carve away your sinful nature and grant you victory. Bread and wine connected intimately and personally to the body and blood of Jesus crossing your lips and filling you with hope and God’s love. These means of grace, Word of God and sacraments, are Jesus coming up close and personal to you.
As the Word of God enters your ears and eyes you’re exposed to the repeated announcement that your sins are forgiven. In my words, singing it in hymns, confessing and hearing announcement of forgiveness in worship or in private. Every page of the Bible gives the sweet message of what Jesus has done for you. Sin is chipped right out of your heart. Guilt is carved away from your soul. Personal peace from God comforts you through Christ your Savior. Jesus gets personal to touch you with his love and care right where you need it. Right where you hurt. Chiseling away what keeps you from God to bring you to God.
Christ Jesus is good at sculpting. He’s personally involved in your life. Even when what you think might be good things get chiseled away, broken off, carved away, he’s always leaving something more beautiful. He leaves you, a Christian, to beautifully show Christ to the world. When death breaks relationships apart, God doesn’t stop loving you. Pain and loss at serious diseases we face or other loved ones face seem to carve away comfort. Compare his goodness to what this life gives. Like the people after Jesus healed the blind and mute man you can say, “He has done everything well.” Heaven is God’s goodness and promises of something better. Better than anything you have or don’t have now.
Has there ever been that moment where you thought, “Aha, I see it now, God. I see what you’re doing. You have done all things well.” The best way to those moments is in hearing the voice of your Savior often. Are you making the most of every opportunity to hear that voice? To let the Word of God rush into your heart and mind to increase your faith? To participate in the sacrament when it’s offered so the grace of God and forgiveness of sins can personally come into you? To share what Jesus has done for you? When you know it looks to others like God has hurt you by chiseling something out of your life, share with them that you may not understand why. But also share you know God still loves you. And one day in heaven it won’t matter. When your life takes on suffering, remember that’s an opportunity for God’s strength. Let others see that strength flowing in you and out of you.
The art created at the Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous is always sold for charity afterward. This art created by artists working up close and personal sells for way more than might be expected of wood carved by chainsaws. Jesus got up close and personal with you, touching your life with law and gospel. Showing your sins can feel like a chainsaw cutting in. But the Word of God always chips away sin to grant forgiveness. Jesus chisels out with his personal touch that which would harm you spiritually forever. And what you’re left with is your faith in Christ, strength from God, and a trust in life everlasting that rests on Jesus. That’s the personal touch of Jesus in your life. A masterpiece for eternity.