John 9:1-3; Luke 14:12-14
Our focus this morning at the start of Disabilities Awareness week is to help us understand the fact that we are all differently able. We are all in one way or another handicapped. Some of us are unable to see as well as others. Some of us are unable to hear as well as others. Some of us are unable to reason as well as others. Some of us are unable to walk as well as others. Some of us are helped with glasses or hearing assists or with walkers. Some of us need more assistance, some of us don’t. Some of us will and some of us won’t. We are all differently abled.
As we spend time on these things this morning, I would like for us to do a little work together. How many of you are right handed? How many of you are left handed? Those are your primary hands – the hand you use to get much of your work done through the day. I want you to put your primary hand in your lap and to make every effort not to use it again until I tell you to. Ok?
Take out your hymnal. Turn to
#682 (God’s love for all people); #563 (driven to my knees); #473 (Be God’s Kindness); #336 (Prayer of Deliverance)
You have permission use of your primary hand again. I’d like some feedback – how was that exercise for you?
We all have limitations – emotional, physical, mental, even spiritual. Does God love us any less? Absolutely, not. Do others love us less? Our family may not, our close friends may not, but others – Yes – many do. Unless they have a heart of understanding they may mock the mentally or physically challenged and see them as weak.
Top dogs are often without heart or compassion as they distance themselves from others who are so challenged. Lack of understanding, empathy, or a fear of any weakness tends to make them blind to the humanness in the other. If you’ve watched the nightly news, you’ve seen this ridicule and mocking happening in our own country.
I came across a story this past week when I was doing research of children with Downs Syndrome. Do you remember when the word for those affected with this extra genetic chromosome were called Mongoloid? I do. I remember my mother’s friend Muriel whose son, David, was born with this syndrome in 1954. “What a shame,” was the general thinking.
At that time most people who were born with this syndrome were institutionalized. The general belief was that this was the best care society had to offer these children and that parents were not equipped to provide what they needed. These children did not thrive nor did they survive too often beyond adolescence.
Muriel was one of those rare parents who believed she could do a better job taking care of her son than any well-meaning institution. And she did. David was well-cared for and loved and visited us often. A caring brother provided ongoing love and support after their mother’s death. David lived into his late 50s.
This past week I was unloading something from my car in the apartment complex where I live. A couple was walking hand in hand by me. It was obvious to me that they both were affected with Downs Syndrome.
They were avoiding eye contact with me, perhaps concerned with how I might react to them – ignore them, laugh at them, bully them. Probably all of these things have been experienced by them.
As a habit say hello to people I see when I’m walking around outside and did the same this day. Once I said hello it was like the floodgates opened. The smiles and greetings and laughter that were directed in my way were a real blessing on this day.
The young woman introduced herself and her boyfriend to me. She was wearing the shirt that had the name of a local restaurant on it and I mentioned I had eaten there a couple of times. She asked if I was there yesterday when she worked and if I remembered her from that? “No,” I said. “It’s on your shirt.” Well, she just had the most delightful time laughing at herself saying she had forgotten she was wearing it. We wished each other a good night and they continued on their walk. What a fun exchange. So simple to do – to just say hello and let another person know they are not invisible. The warmth of that exchange still blesses me.
During research on this syndrome I came across a story that the baby food company, Gerber, was changing the face of the “perfect” baby image to a beautiful child with this syndrome. The smile of this child’s face is just so stunning and it’s hard not to smile back. Good for Gerber.
Two passages today share two different messages. But again, they remind us that Jesus spent his whole life engaging the people most of us have spent our whole life trying to avoid. In the first passage Jesus is being asked: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The general belief at the time was that something sinful in the past caused the illness in the present.
But Jesus is asking them to think differently – illness is not caused by sinfulness. Jesus brought a whole new concept and understanding of illness into the world at that time, and with it a new understanding of sinfulness, too. Yes, life is not fair that this man should be born blind, but these things happen in life. Now we have the hindsight of the science of medicine to help us understand a bit more of some of these issues and why they happen.
The second passage includes a wide invitation list to a lavish meal: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you…”
The call is to do what’s right – because it’s the right thing to do – not because we expect repayment. We go back to the Golden Rule every time – don’t we? To love one another as God loves us and to treat our neighbor as ourselves. I’d like to expand that invitation list for the banquet to include the hearing impaired, those with lifelong medical issues like cerebral palsy, or the millions today living with and fighting cancer, or MS, or diabetes, or facing some of the limitations we experience as we age. I grew up with the joke that after 30 it’s all downhill. My experience is that it is actually all uphill. Downhill is easy. Uphill is another whole challenge.
I find it interesting that Jesus included the poor in this list recognizing as he did the limitations poverty causes in life – inadequate funds for food, education, housing, as well as the inability of meeting medical, emotional and spiritual needs.
None of us are immune to these things in life and each of us needs the kindness of others. These needs do not make us weak – in fact, there is strength in knowing what we need. While science looks for cures we can provide or receive care and love and a sense of well-being, even if things don’t improve or recovery doesn’t happen. These things do not mean that God is absent or caused these things to happen to us – but that these things happen, because life happens.
Our bodies are not meant to last forever. But it is our responsibility to care for them as best we can while we can. Good sleep, healthy food, exercise of body and mind and spirit are a few ways we care for and love ourselves. From time to time through the presence of a loving spouse, family member, neighbor, friend, church community, or even a stranger, we are blessed by the living heart, and hands, of Christ in the world. Sometimes we are the living heart, and hands, of Christ in the world. Giving and receiving.
Today is the beginning of Disabilities Awareness Week. This is not a call for funds for causes of one kind or another, but a call for an on-going, intentional awareness of those around us who are fragile and in need of more than a cure. It is a call, as well, for those among us, who struggle with what it means to feel physical or mental limitations that we have never experienced before.
Compassion toward others and ourselves is our calling. “I need” are two words that are really ok to say to ourselves and out loud as well. We are all in need – may we continue to grow in the awareness of the fact that life is fragile and we are called to do the best we can and to always, always, give thanks for this gift of life. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2018