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Touch of Grace

Every week I write a message… now that we are in Lent I am writing two messages a week… and each time I leave cuttings on the floor at the end of the project. In the entertainment business, those cuttings are called “outtakes”- those scenes and sequences that do not make the final production. Yet often those outtakes contain gems that writers hate to leave behind. How many of us have seen the ‘extended version’ of a movie, in which outtakes are included to create the fuller, richer experience? When I wrote my doctoral dissertation on J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, I poured over the extended version of those movies to glean a deeper understanding of Tolkien’s thought and Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretation. Sometimes the cuttings are too good to leave behind.
Thus is the case this week…
For Lent, we are studying The Healer. This past Sunday, our focus was on the personal, one-on-one attention Jesus gives to each one in need. The gospels record only one time when Jesus heals a group- the 10 men suffering with leprosy. Only one of the ten comes back to thank Jesus. He is the one who experiences the personal connection with Jesus. A survey of the healing stories in the gospels shows Jesus not only healing heart, mind, body, but also offering the outcast dignity. Each individual touch of grace declares: You are known… You matter… You are loved! Each touch offers an invitation to a personal relationship with Jesus. How many of us yearn for that touch of grace? Most of us grew up with the sweet children’s song:  
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…
I love that song… I love to hear our children sing that song with all their funny hand motions. But truthfully, we need more than Bible stories when we face the brokenness and isolation of this modern world. We need ‘skin’ on that love. So, I want to share two stories- two great examples- that ended up on my cutting floor last week, that are just too good to leave behind.

Meet George Shuba, a utility outfielder and left-hand pinch hitter for the Dodgers from 1948-1955. If you are scratching your head trying to remember his name, don’t be surprised. George never set any records. The three World Series runs and the one World Series win by the Dodgers during his tenure had very little to do with his skill. But on April 18, 1946, while he was playing for the Montreal Royals (the farm team for the Dodgers), George offered a touch of grace that would become known as the Handshake of the Century. On that day, Jackie Robinson played in his first major league baseball game for the Royals. Jackie was the first African-American to play in the all-white league. In the first inning, Jackie hit a three-run-homer, and when he crossed the plate, George Shuba shook his hand to congratulate him. What makes that handshake sadly significant is what did not happen that day. Customarily the teammates who are on base when a homerun is hit, wait at the plate to congratulate the hitter. But those two runners did not wait that day. Instead, they ran straight to the dugout because they refused to shake Jackie’s hand. George was in the on-deck circle waiting for his time at bat. When he saw the others run away, he stepped up to offer his hand. One simple act of grace, just a little ‘skin’ on the love… a Handshake for the Century.  

Meet Dr. Jim O’Connell, a graduate of Harvard Medical School. With that pedigree he had a world of possibilities ahead of him. Yet, Dr. Jim chose a humble path, serving for 40 years as a street doctor, caring for those who are homeless on the sidewalks, benches and under the bridges of Boston. He began this work at Pine Street Inn homeless shelter, where the nurses taught him how to soak the feet of his patients. For those living on the streets, their feet are often a source of suffering and infection. For Dr. Jim, those moments spent on his knees with the feet of another human being in his hands taught him more than all his studies at Harvard. (Perhaps you see the connection to the servant act of Jesus at the Last Supper.) Forty years later, he still travels around Boston to meet his people where they live, to offer a handshake and a healing touch. Dr. Jim offers us a word of advice:
When you see someone on the streets and they’re asking for something… the most important thing is not to look away, just look them in the eyes… If you want to give something, give them a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, but most of all, honor them and acknowledge their humanity. 
Often, Dr. Jim puts his stethoscope down and just chats. Each connection declares the grace we all need: You are known… You matter… You are loved!

Is it possible that Jesus wants to offer a touch of grace through our hands?
With you on the Savior’s mission field,  
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