A moment for the tangible

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Tangible:  Perceptible by touch.

I have to admit, though the thoughts in my head are plentiful, I have found putting them into words very difficult lately. Hoping for some kind of clarity or inspiration, I have spent a great deal of time in scripture and prayer and still, radio silence.

What am I longing to have? It hit me this morning. I am longing for something tangible, perhaps in the form of clear answers or a visible sign. Maybe that is what you are longing for too.

Toilet paper is tangible. Perhaps the borderline crazy paper product purchases are signs that others are also seeking something tangible.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he 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.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:24-29

I’ve heard and read this story so many times it has almost become cliche. And yet, it comes to mind again, as a powerful message of Christ’s compassion amid fear and doubt, and his desire to offer tangible evidence to a fearful group.

In the passage before Christ appears to Thomas, the disciples have hidden away, with the doors locked, for fear of the Jewish leaders. We, similarly, are hidden away confined to our homes, keeping the outside world out, keeping to ourselves, and perhaps somewhat fearfully.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.     John 20:19-21

Peace may not be, by definition, tangible, but I can certainly feel it as I read this scripture.  I can close my eyes and sense the change in the room where the disciples were.  I then can feel the essence of the place I am in altered.

If we again back up in the scriptures, we will be with Mary, who, upon seeing Christ did not recognize him until he called her name.  Then there was no holding her back.

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”  John 20:18

The visible Christ may not visit us as he did those whose stories are told in the scriptures, but we can be the tangible Christ to others.  In this time, when leaving our homes poses a threat to ourselves and others, we can still reach out in tangible and safe ways.

We can make the phone call to someone we haven’t talked with in a while.

We can dust off that stationary that has been sitting idle and send a tangible note of care and concern. 

 We can take a few groceries and drop them off on the doorstep of someone we know could use them.  

We may not be able to touch the hands of our neighbors, but we can still touch their hearts with compassion and peace.

A moment with Job

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Are you afraid of the dark?  I am.  Silly, but it is true.  I don’t like turning off the lights at night.  My vision changes in the dark, and I often see things entirely differently and usually not in a good way.  So, in my room, I have several electronics that keep me from being in total darkness.  My alarm clock and my phone charger both give off enough light to keep me feeling ok.

Reading the scriptures about Job feels a lot like being in the dark.  I am a bit afraid of his story.   I have glanced through it, but not willing to look too hard.  For this Sunday’s teaching though, I needed to look deeper.  What I needed was to move into the darkness of it all to understand it better.  Job was a man who was “Blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” Job 1:1.  He lived a life of wealth and prosperity.  And yet, God wages a bet with Satan regarding Job and suddenly he is found alone, wanting, and in poor health.  For thirty-six chapters we witness the suffering of Job.  Thirty-six chapters!  His conversations with God, his friends, and family offering no relief.  Why was his agony so long?  Why was it so harsh?  The God of my understanding does not play with our lives. Therefore I know he must have had a profound purpose.

In the Gospel of Mark we witness another kind of darkness.  A man named Bartimaeus is blind and begging by the roadside.  As Jesus and his disciples walk by, he calls out to Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Though the crowd tries to hush him, he cries out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”  In the span of one paragraph, Jesus hears him and heals him saying “Go your faith has made you well.”  This seems utterly unfair to me when read alongside Job’s story.  And yet, once again, the God of my understanding would have a profound purpose for this man as well.

This truth for me is realized in the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  He had a distressing youth.  As a young boy, he suffered from polio.  Then, at the age of 15, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He noticed that almost all of the patients who started to hemorrhage and cough up blood ended up being wheeled out to the morgue.  When he began coughing up blood, he spoke to God and said.  “God, if you want, if this is curtains for me, Then it’s okay.”  He was surprised by the calm and peace that came over him.  He turned 87 this month.   In 2016 in The Book of Joy, he speaks of death, saying,

“Because God is God, because God is infinite, because none of us who are creatures will ever fathom the infinitude that is God, heaven is going to be forever a place of new discovery.”  The Archbishop’s eyes were transfixed, his gaze distant.  “I would say, ‘Oh, God, you’re so beautiful.’ And I will call, I will call, ‘Come, come and see,’ and this other one will say, ‘Have you seen just how beautiful God is?'” p. 162

Perhaps these stories bound together by dark times are also bound together by the prayers that they have offered and the light that they have shared.  I can only imagine the prayers of intercession the Archbishop has offered on behalf of others in his lifetime.  And how many times he would have shared his vision of the beauty of God.

Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, whose sight was restored in an instant, followed Christ and the apostles whose next destination was to Jerusalem where the progression toward the cross begins.  Perhaps his eyes were opened so that he could see clearly as Christ offered himself for the sins of others.  Maybe he went on to share with others what he saw.

And Job, well Job allowed his suffering to transform his faith. He spoke with God and agreed to listen better.  As a result, he grew even closer to God.  He saw people differently.  He had compassion for the friends who had thrown accusations at him.  And after offering prayers for his friends, his fortunes were restored and doubled.  We know he saw the world differently when he broke social ground, by naming his daughters and giving them an inheritance along with their brothers.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;  Job 42:4-5  (NRSV)

Are you in the dark?  Do you feel afraid?

Speak with God.  He listens.

Allow Him to give you a new vision of things.

Perhaps you need to see a friend differently.

Perhaps you need a new vision for your future.

Perhaps you need to see God for the first time.

Speak, God listens.  Listen, God speaks.