Continuing to Open Our Eyes to Disabilities in the Church

I awoke on Thursday morning a bit blurry eyed as I headed out to teach our Men’s Morning Bible Study but thought, “This will pass.” It didn’t. More accurately it was my right eye that was blurry and it took a quick
trip to my opthomologist to recognize something was very wrong. Having already survived a diagnoses of testicular cancer in 2000, I had a good understanding of how things worked. When specialists like a “Neuro-opthamologist clear their schedules to see you, you know something is really amiss. But when the MRI Center takes you IMMEDIATELY? You know that you don’t know anything and that is a scary place to be.

I was diagnosed with Ischemic-optic neuropathy, a swelling of the optic nerve in my right eye due to a vascular condition. Thankfully, there was no sign of a more severe condition, though we were told it could occur in the other eye. Almost exactly a year later, it struck my left eye. A trip to the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia offered us only a confirmation of the condition and no hope of healing treatment through medicine.

According to field of vision tests, I am nearly half-blind. I do maintain legal vision in my left eye so I might drive, but just barely. Suddenly, I found myself in a different world, a cloudy, unfamiliar world that I began to learn about through the internet and Vision Rehabiliation Services in Cobb County. I have worked some to learn Braille, been trained in the use of a cane, I’ve learned to navigate public transit and have received gifts of Closed Caption Video Readers. And yes, I have also been prayed for by prayer ministries and had verifiable Christian healers pray for my healing as well with no improvement.

What are we to make of this? I have had both friends and family come to me struggling with their own faith in God because of my disability and how it has changed my life. Today as you heard my story, I suspect, only because of experience, some of you wonder as did the disciples in John’s gospel:

"Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Did he or his parents sin?" (3) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Instead, he was born blind so that God could show what he can do for him. (John 9:2-3)
You may well wonder about what sins I must have committed. I have heard one preacher say, “The reason bad things happen is because people take Jesus off the throne of their heart.” And some of you are wondering about faith: my faith or the faith of those who have prayed for me.

Read carefully to the Parable Jesus tells in Luke 14:16-24 of the Parable of the Banquet…

The words of this parable have been shared for centuries. Like most Parables, we have come to see there are often times more than one interpretation, more than one meaning. Today, I want to draw your attention to what the Banquet Host tells his servant in Verse 21: “Bring back the poor, the handicapped, the blind, and the lame.”

It is not healthy who are called and it is not the rich who the hosts asks for in this third invitation. The truth in here is simple:

“In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

Healing is not a litmus test of one’s worthiness anymore than one’s health or wealth. What one has or has not does not make a seat at the table. The seat at the table of the Kingdom of God, is the seat prepared by Jesus Christ for any and all who will say, “YES!, to the invitation the host extends.

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

My disability has, pardon the pun, opened my eyes to what others face. This spring, our family spent a day at Little Five Points enjoying lunch and shopping. At one point, my son and I were walking on the sidewalk and I stepped, stumbled, and fell hard onto the sidewalk. My son was gracious to help. Me? I was hurt and embarrassed. What had happen? It has to do with what the Rev. Dr. Doug Gilreath, Pastor of Covington told me. Doug’s vision disability is far more severe than mine and has been with him since childhood. He said to me, “You have it more difficult because you do not know your limits yet.” He was right! I my vision couldn’t process all the data because I couldn’t see everything and in the end, it was a small corner of concrete that had shifted by a tree root that caused me to fall.

“In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

The parable Jesus tells the people reiterates the explicit command of verse 13. In that verse Jesus tells plainly the followers of God are to “…(13) invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. (14) Then you will be blessed because they don't have any way to pay you back.” So where do we get the idea that Kingdom of God is to be grown in the suburbs? Where did the idea come about that we need financially well to do people to grow God’s Kingdom? Is it not James who calls us out?

James 2:2-4 GW For example, two men come to your worship service. One man is wearing gold rings and fine clothes; the other man, who is poor, is wearing shabby clothes. (3) Suppose you give special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say to him, "Please have a seat." But you say to the poor man, "Stand over there," or "Sit on the floor at my feet." (4) Aren't you discriminating against people and using a corrupt standard to make judgments?

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

You need to know that the American Disabilities Act and our Book of Discipline are not a hindrance to the ministry of the Kingdom. The very model of the Kingdom that Jesus describes should have us going far beyond these laws and requirements. Simple accommodations of larger fonts on video screens, brighter lighting and large print hymnals are helpful. Ensuring wheelchair ramps are available and doors wide enough for them is not costly, it is hospitality! Making people aware and comfortable with those on various spectrums of autism or learning disabilities should be a priority. Reaching out to families in need of respite is a vital step but it also means we recognize that those with disabilities are of sacred worth and worthy of hearing the Gospel in a way that they can understand.

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

At another dinner gathering recorded in Matthew 9:11-12 it says, “…the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

What if we began to not and recognize the Gospel of Jesus is for us all and there are many who have not heard because we have not said in the language of their disability, “On behalf of Jesus, I invite you to the table?” What if we quit fearing what we don’t understand and instead ask, “How can we do this better for you?” What if we asked simply, “What do you see? What do hear? What do you feel?”

What if we believed and acted on the truth Jesus tells us, that in the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth?” Me? I believe, there would be more healing of souls and those bound by disabilities will know the truth that they too, can be made free at last.

(This is the sermon text written for the opening service of the Mission u Conference 2014 hosted by Mission Committee of the North GA Annual Conference and the United Methodist Women in Athens, GA)


  © Blogger template Webnolia by 2009

Back to TOP