Indispensable.

I started to write a post about being indispensable. Nancy suggested it.

She missed a training event the other week. It was about becoming indispensable. She had too much to do at work.

But at the moment, I’m too tired to write that essay, to explore what it means dispensable and indispensable, disposable, irreplaceable and replaceable. I’d talk about the differences between being part of an organization and part of a team and part of a family. I’d reflect on the difference between being a cog and being a person.

I’d talk about all the people I see in a day at the hospital, each of which could be replaced in our beds, our scanners, our systems. None of whom can be replaced in the hearts and minds of the people who love them and hate them, the people who begat or befriended them, the people who are formed by interaction with them.

I’d talk about what it means to have roles filled by different people, but how people can never be filled in by simply describing their roles.

jar fiveI would talk about what it means to be created in the image of God, to be gifted in different ways, to be called by name to follow Jesus like he individually called the twelve. I would reflect on the way we are described as an interdependent body, or even as a hand-shaped temple, with each stone individually quarried and fitted. I’d think about how we are described as clay pots, cracked from external wear and internal pressures but still carrying the treasure of the light of God.

And I would look at you and say, “Regardless of whether any people notice, you are indispensable in the heart of the One who made you.”

But I’m too tired to unpack that.

Forgiven.


“What are you asking God?” I said.

I ask that question often when I’m in slow conversations with people. I don’t mean that I’m bored and so I toss out an odd question to shake things up. I mean the kind of conversation where I’ve left room for the other person to talk. And then we’ve conversed. And somehow the person has said, “I’m praying often.”

And I say, gently and curiously, “What are you asking God?”

Because I want to know. Sometimes I can tell God I agree with their request. Sometimes I can help them see the answers. Sometimes I can suggest additional things to ask about.

This time I was able to be part of the answer.

“I’m telling him that I’m sorry and I’m asking for forgiveness. I’m asking for this problem to be cleared up.” The second part was familiar to me. Lots of us are asking for problems to be cleared up. The first part, though, I don’t hear as much. But at that moment I knew what to do.

“Frannie,” I said, though I used her real name. I looked right into her eyes. “Frannie, your sins are forgiven.”

And then both of us had tears.

I was following along with the words Jesus said to the disciples the night Thomas wasn’t with them.  “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven;” Jesus said.  “If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

What this woman needed to hear, with a face she could see and a voice she could hear, were the words Jesus said often to people who were ill. “Your sins are forgiven.”

I wished I could give her the other words He often said: “stand up and walk.” But in this moment there was much healing.

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Photo by Megin

More on Thomas

(Part two of a message from April 23, based on John 20:19-31. See part one.)

And we say, “But what about Thomas’ statement when he heard about the night?” He says, “unless I see his hands and side, and I touch him, I won’t believe.”

That’s the sure sign of a doubter, right?

IMG_0166May I ask a question? Who is he doubting? Jesus? Or is he doubting Peter? The man who had said he would stick with Jesus and then denied him. Is he doubting Nathaniel, who had been the original doubter of Jesus? Is he doubting the word of a bunch of guys who are never recorded as saying anything at all?

Thomas had no reason to trust these guys who talked to him about seeing the hands and side of Jesus. So when he says, “unless I see” he’s not doubting Jesus, not necessarily. But he is doubting them. He’s wanting the same evidence that they say they received.

And Jesus knew. Because Jesus loved Thomas. Jesus wanted him to believe, to trust. So a week or so later, Jesus gave Thomas the evidence that he wanted. Jesus appeared. He offered his hands. And Thomas believed. He didn’t even have to touch.

Because he was known by Jesus, I think. The person who had called him by name years before. The person who had fed him, taught him, walked with him, died in front of him, was alive and calling him by name. With gentle scolding and clear conversation.

Some of us resonate with Thomas.

We are active people, willing to move ahead, even in risky times. We, or I should say, “you”, don’t much care about the resisters, about the opposition, about those who are making threats. You are practical people, aware that if you die, you die, because everyone does some time.

But you have questions. You’d love to have the kind of evidence that other people say they have. Just once, you’d like to hear a voice from heaven like other people claim to have. Just once, you’d like to see the evidence of Jesus that other people claim they have.

Not miracles, not healing necessarily, not everything going great.

You just want to know that God knows you. For who you are. And to you, the story of Thomas says, “just say it.” Just tell Jesus that you’d like to hear him in the way that you can know it’s him.

And I’m confident that you will. If and as you listen.

I’m a little envious of Thomas, by the way. His honesty, his perseverance, his courage. Those were things the people who knew him saw. The rest of the disciples I mean. And Jesus.

People who lack discernment may call him, and you, “doubter”.

But Jesus doesn’t. After he said to stop doubting, He calls you friend.

And maybe you are ready to take steps that Thomas didn’t at first. You can take the words of the rest of the disciples-and Thomas-that this is Jesus, died and risen. And God.

Reconsidering Thomas.

(Part one of a message from April 23, based on John 20:19-31.)

In our reading this morning, we heard about a disciple named Thomas. People who never knew him have labeled him “doubting Thomas” and he’s had to bear that label for millennia. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what his friends would have called him.

At the time he was also called Didymus. The twin. There’s no record of who his twin was. None at all. And it’s only in John that we see him as an individual. In the other gospels, he’s just one name in a list of twelve.

The night that Jesus came back from the dead, Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples.

It could be because he was antisocial.

But look at the text.

IMG_0166John writes that the disciples were together, behind locked doors, for fear of the Jewish leaders. They heard from Mary that Jesus was alive. Two of them had seen the empty tomb. But they were still afraid. They may have heard the rumors that were being spread that they had stolen the body. Getting caught would have meant trouble.

So they were meeting together, sorting it out, afraid for their lives.

That evening, only one of the disciples was brave enough to be out on his own. The only one with courage was Thomas, though it may have been a fatalistic kind of courage.

Thomas speaks two other times in John’s Gospel.

After Lazarus has died and Jesus is telling the disciples that they need to go to Bethany, they don’t want to go. They are afraid.

And Thomas says, “Let’s go. We may end up dead, but let’s go.”

He has an active, practical courage. “It may not work, but let’s just do something.”

“It may not work, but let’s just do something.”

Those aren’t the words of a passive, cynical, doubter.

They are the words of someone willing to go with Jesus, even if it means ending up dead like Lazarus.

A couple weeks later, at the meal with Jesus on Thursday night, Jesus is talking about going away so he can come back. He was talking about his death and resurrection and ascension.

And Thomas says what everyone else wanted to say: “We don’t know where you are going so how can we go?”

Actually, Thomas was the second one to say it. Peter had asked where he was going. And in the process of responding, Jesus told Peter that Peter was about to deny knowing him.

So when Jesus started talking again about leaving, everyone may have wondered what he meant but who would dare ask? If Peter got shut down, what would happen to the next person? And the next person is….Thomas.

An active practical courage.

So the night that Jesus appeared and Thomas wasn’t around, there is no reason to judge him for not being with the rest. He was out, taking care of life, moving on. An active practical courage.

Five minutes. Five years.

five yearsI talked with you last week about my spiritual formation course. If you were to take that course in a face-to-face setting, I’d start class with this assignment.

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I want to you to take five minutes to answer this question.

How would you like to be known in five years?

You can’t talk about jobs. We’ve got no control over that. We’re talking about the kind of person you want to be. If you and I were friends and in five years we met someone new, how would you want me to introduce you?

A great example of this, by the way, is Paul’s introduction of Tychicus in Colossians 4.

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, (Colossians 4:7-8 ESV)

He’s got three characteristics that Paul finds worth noting, three nouns and three adjectives. Brother, minister, servant. Beloved, faithful, fellow.

So take five minutes.

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After this time of reflection, the learners would sit in groups of 3-4 and talk with each other. Eventually, each person introduces someone else from the group using the five-year description. And when I remember, I have the introductions happen in the present tense. Not, “he wants to be” but rather, “she is.”

It’s a heart-provoking process. It starts a course that talks about how we are formed with perspective. Looking at the gap between today and five years from today give us space for thinking about what processes happen in between.

And it’s a reminder of the value of conversation and community in that process.

If you want to go along for a ride with me, try this exercise yourself. Find a couple other people, ask the question, answer it together, and let me know what you discover.