Archive for the ‘Disability and Accessibility’ Category

'I choose you' photo (c) 2009, Quan Ha - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

To be chosen and called a friend by Jesus is a wondrous thing.  Here is a sermon on John 15:9-17 that I wrote in the spring of 2009:

I Choose You!

A Sermon on John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

I wonder what is going to happen to Susan Boyle.  I wonder who will turn out to be her true friends.  About a month ago, Susan auditioned for the British reality TV series called “Britain’s Got Talent,” and within hours her appearance and her performance were being talked about all over the world.  She was an instant celebrity.

This happened because when Susan walked out onto the stage, the judges and the audience were obviously already judging her and rejecting her because of her appearance and her manner.  She is a middle-aged woman with a thick waist.  Her hair was a mess, and she wore a beige lace dress that resembled what a mother-of-the bride might have worn in the 1960s.  Her manner was, well, awkward—it provoked laughter and pity in the audience.  Susan has never been married, and she even said that she had never been kissed, which may or may not be true.  They also laughed when Susan said she wanted to be a professional singer.  Did any of you all see this on TV or online?  The judges and the audience had made up their minds: this one was a reject.

But then Susan opened her mouth, and out came a soaring, powerful voice.  She poured her heart into a song called “I Dreamed A Dream,” a song filled with disappointed longing for a better life.  It blew the judges and the audience away.  They didn’t expect someone who looked like Susan to have a talent like that.  Instantly, people went crazy about her, wanting to talk to her.  Even Oprah.  But I wonder. Will any true friends come to Susan out of this, people who will truly care for her as a friend, not just use her?  Time will tell who the real friends are.

Jesus’ disciples would soon find out who their real friends were.  Some would be put out of their synagogue congregations because they clung to Jesus.  Some would even be put out of their families.  Imagine it:  “If you don’t stop this Jesus foolishness, then you are no longer a member of this family!”  Rejection awaited many of Jesus’ disciples out in the larger world.  Romans, for example, wondered what was wrong with those Christians.  Why couldn’t they at least pretend to go along with giving homage to Caesar?  “Christians make bad citizens, that’s what,” they declared.

Knowing what his disciples were going to face in the days, months and years ahead, Jesus said many things to them to prepare them.  On the night before he was betrayed, he went over many important promises, like this one from John 14: I’m not going to leave you orphaned.  I’m coming to you.

In today’s lesson, Jesus made some things abundantly clear to them: You are not slaves.  You are not hired people.  You don’t just work for me and try to please me and do what I want.  I don’t want you for what I can get out of you.  I don’t call you servants any longer.  Servants aren’t in on what the master is doing.  I call you friends.  I have told you, let you in on everything my Father has told me.  You are my friends.  And the Greek word Jesus uses there means “loved ones.”  You are my loved ones.  I chose you.  Friends prove themselves by laying their lives down for each other.  I lay my life down for you.  You are chosen and cherished. (more…)

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Jesus Appears to Thomas, 1990 (13)

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Why does the risen Lord still bear the marks of the wounds?  And why do they comfort us?  Here is a sermon that attempts to answer those questions.

Emmanuel Forever!
A Sermon on Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-31

Wouldn’t a resurrection body by definition be better than new?  If I were the one raising Jesus from the dead, I’d give him a body that was better than new.  I’d fill in all the tissue that was chewed up by nail and thorn, and I’d knit the great gash in his side back together.  I’d wash away all the dried blood and smooth away every mark of the whip.  I’d cover all the wounds with skin like a newborn baby’s.  Then I’d ease away all the soreness and stiffness.  I would put all Jesus’ wounds into the past.  I would give Jesus a body that was perfectly whole in every way.  A body that can go through walls should by definition be perfectly whole.

But the God who did raise Jesus from the dead had other ideas.  When the risen Lord appeared among his followers on Easter evening, he greeted them with a reassuring word of peace.  But then Jesus pushed back his clothes, and there all those wounds were, still deep, and still red.  He insisted that his followers see and touch.

Yep, that certainly did confirm that Jesus was the same one who had died on Friday.  Yep, the wounds were in the right place.  This wasn’t an imposter.  But why couldn’t Jesus experience complete relief in the resurrection?  To know it was him and to know he wasn’t a ghost, wouldn’t it have been enough for his followers just to see his face and touch whole, unwounded flesh?  Wouldn’t it be enough just to see him eat the fish they offered?  Why wasn’t the pain and the woundedness finished when Jesus drew his last breath on Friday?  It would have been such a blessing to get the pain over with then.

But many do not receive that blessing.  Their pain is not over with in a matter of hours or days.  (more…)

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'Hole in roof_0733' photo (c) 2007, James Emery - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In Mark 2 we read about a small congregation of friends who were eager to bring someone into the house where Jesus was.   Getting through the barriers required an act of demolition:digging a person-sized hole through the roof. 

Something like that happened at Morton Church in 2005.  Assisted by a few professionals, the church members completely gutted the two-story wing of the building, totally reconfigured it, and added an addition with a new kitchen and wheelchair accessible restrooms.  The whole facility is now on one level.  It was a major step towards accessibility, and we are still amazed and grateful.

Here is the sermon I preached in November 2005 when we dedicated the newly-renovated facility.  An accessible building is only half the story.  We must also let God remodel us as a people.

Making A Way
A Sermon on Mark 2:1-12
Dedication of a Building and of a People

The friends in our gospel lesson today were filled with caring, and filled with hope.  Oh, if only their friend with paralysis could see Jesus’ kind eyes, and hear his gracious, forgiving voice and receive the touch of Jesus’ healing hands!  Somehow, they were going to get him to Jesus!

The man’s needs were many, spiritual as well as physical.  He knew that, at best, most people around him pitied him.  In that day almost everybody believed that disability had to be the result of somebody’s sin, whether it was the man’s own sin, or that of his family.  It is not fun to be pitied.  It is not fun to have to let people help you.  But if the man wanted to go anywhere, that’s what he had to do.  He was fortunate to have friends of faith.  He must have had faith and hope, too, at least enough to put himself into his friends’ hands, and let them give it a try and carry him to Jesus.

“Uh oh,” the friends said as they drew near the house where Jesus was speaking.  The place was packed, wall-to-wall people.  “Excuse us.  This friend of ours really needs to see Jesus.  He really needs access.  Could you all please make a way for us to get through?”

You’d think the crowd would make a way for someone in obvious need, but they didn’t.  I don’t know why.  Maybe they just didn’t think it was important. Maybe they just didn’t want to go to the trouble of rearranging themselves.   The man could wait until Jesus had finished speaking.  He could see Jesus later.  The man and his friends consulted with one another.  What should they do?  Wait?  Come back another day?

I’ll always remember our first visit to Morton in 1990, our first interview.  John and I came in the side door of the church building, and I remember thinking, “oh, how lovely this is!”  And then we went up to the fellowship hall.  It was beautiful.  I loved it!  I had never seen a knotty pine paneled fellowship hall before.  But it was upstairs.  I wondered, “What about those stairs?  How do you help people up the stairs?”


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Medieval leper bell at the museum Ribes Viking...

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What a poignant question that is.  The reality is that sometimes we don’t receive the relief and the cures that we long for and pray for.  Here is a sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, Year B, that speaks to that question and to that reality.

The Answer Is Yes!

A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 1:18-22 and Mark 1:40-45

It is no wonder the sick man thought that Jesus’ answer might be “no.”  No was the answer he got all the time.  Leprosy, even in its mildest forms, what today we would call psoriasis, was one of those conditions that meant you were unclean: impure, unholy, unacceptable to God.  Could you live in town like normal people?  No!  Could you come into the precincts of God’s house? No!  Could you come into the fellowship of God’s people?  No!

People with leprosy had to live alone outside the town walls, wear disheveled clothes, cover their mouths and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever any normal person was near.  Work was out of the question. To survive they depended on pennies tossed at them by softhearted people.  The givers were careful not to get too close, though.  Any contact with an unclean person would render them temporarily unclean and banned from the community and the house of worship themselves.

If Jesus said “No!” to the man’s request, that would be no surprise. Jesus might be just as disgusted by the man’s condition and as wary of contamination as everyone else.  God frowned on those who were unclean—that was common knowledge.  Jesus’ answer could very well be “no!”

There are times when it’s tempting to conclude that Jesus’ answer to suffering people now is “no.”   How many times have we prayed and prayed and prayed for sick or troubled people, but we see little or no positive result?  How our hearts long for a complete cure!  How our souls beg God for help!  Yet no cure is forthcoming.  The sickness progresses, and they die.  Jesus’ answer then seems to be “No, I don’t want to heal you.  It’s not my will.”

When people develop modern equivalents of leprosy, such as HIV infection, “no” is what they often hear from the community, and even from the church.  “No, God doesn’t want to heal you,” some are quick to answer.  “Your sickness is a punishment from God.  You deserve to be sick and more.”

And then there’s the mechanical model of healing: God will say “no” to your request for healing unless you satisfy the faith requirement.  “Let’s measure your faith,” God says in this model.  “No, your faith is not quite strong enough.  The answer to your prayer is no.”

But what about people with permanent disabilities?  Is “no” the answer Jesus gives them?  It certainly is the answer humanity often gives them.  Education is just one arena where this happens.  Parents of children with severe disabilities go to the officials and plead, “Could you please provide an assistant so my child can go to school?  Could we please work out an Individualized Education Plan that will help my child learn?”

Learning is a crucial form of healing for these children and for everyone.  But consider this comment by someone in the U.S. Department of Education some years ago.  The official said that people with disabilities are inevitably morally responsible in some way for their condition.  In other words, they deserve their misfortune, and therefore it’s okay to make only a small effort to provide them an education.  That official’s comments sum up a common attitude. Some school officials and some other parents seem to wish special needs children would simply go away.  They want to say “no,” and they will say “no” if you don’t hang in there and advocate for your child.  Is God’s answer “no” too? (more…)

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English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

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There is no question.  As 1 Corinthians 12 puts it, all the members of the body of Christ are necessary for its healthy functioning, and that includes people who have disabilities.  We’re not talking about ministry TO but ministry WITH people with disabilities as disciples of Jesus together.  Here is an article excerpted from a new book entitled Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion by Mark Pinsky, published by the Alban Institute.  I’ve already read one story from the book in Alban’s journal and look forward to reading the whole book.

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basket lid

Image by Dunbar Gardens via Flickr

I appreciate the writings of Christian author Brian McLaren.  In a recent column entitled “The Church and the Solution,” he describes what he saw on a recent Sunday at his home church:

“The music was good, as usual, and the sermon was thought-provoking and inspiring, as usual. The prayers were solid and meaningful, as usual, and the people were warm and welcoming, as usual. What stood out for me was the family seated next to me, a dad, a mom, a daughter, and a son whom I didn’t recognize. Based on the boy’s movements and the attentions given him by his mother and sister, the son seemed to have some form of autism, maybe Asperger’s syndrome.

His foot and leg were bouncing almost constantly, calming only momentarily when his mother gently touched his knee, which she did every five or ten minutes. Before and after communion, he crossed himself repeatedly. He sang with more enthusiasm than musical ability, but if one must choose, that’s the one to have.

The moment that really touched me came at the offering.

He didn’t have money, but when I handed him the basket, he bowed toward it. At first I thought he was reverencing the basket as if it were an icon or some other holy thing. But then he leaned forward even more, placing the basket on his knees and nearly touching his forehead into the checks, bills, and envelopes inside. His family didn’t intervene, as if this were his normal routine. Then he sat up again and handed the basket to his mother.

Suddenly, it dawned upon me: he was putting himself in the offering basket, diving in head-first, if you will. And this must be what he does every week, his own self-made ritual.

And at that moment, I was awash in a baptism of grace.”

And a little child shall lead them.

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'The Lord's Table' photo (c) 2007, Scott Schram - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is a communion sermon that focuses on inclusivity in the body of Christ and at his table.  It is another in my series of sermons on themes related to disability.  I preached this in 2005 as our church’s new accessible fellowship hall–our dining room–was being completed.

The King’s Table
A Sermon on 2 Samuel 9 and Luke 14:1, 12-24

Mephibosheth was afraid.  He trembled when he came before King David.  The behavior of his grandfather Saul, first king of Israel, had cast shame on the whole family.  Moreover, David had done what kings predictably did: eliminate anybody who might try to claim the throne.  Mephibosheth’s fear was perfectly understandable.  But how sad that the felt he had to put himself down in so ugly a way in the king’s presence.  He referred to himself as a dead dog, an epithet meaning worse than scum.  Dead dog equals yuck!  Unclean!

Mephibosheth had had a hard time.  Now about twenty, he had been living with mobility impairment since he was five years old.  The accident had occurred when news reached the household that his father Jonathan and grandfather the king had both died in battle.  The family was in danger.  As they hurried away, Mephibosheth’s nurse dropped him.  Most likely he suffered broken bones.  Both feet were crippled.

Without any modern techniques of setting and repairing bones and treating infections, people who survived fractures often ended up with lifelong deformity and lifelong disability.  And unless their family had means, that also meant lifelong poverty.  And it meant shame.  Most folks believed that tragedies like this didn’t happen to you unless you somehow deserved it.  Religious law reinforced the shame and stigma.   For example, people with disabilities or even certain conditions we would consider minor were forbidden from serving as priests.  Only unblemished males were considered good enough to serve God in this way.  Anything less was an insult to God.

Maybe Mephibosheth was putting on an act of humility before David, hoping to protect himself.  But my hunch is that he had internalized his family’s shame, and that saw himself as others did: damaged goods, second class at best.  His very name meant “shame.” The word bosheth in Hebrew means “shame!”  That wasn’t his original name.  His original name was Meribbaal.  Baal is a word meaning “lord.”  But now his name was bosheth: shame! (more…)

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