April 10, 2016
Disability Awareness Sunday Message
As part of our service, we used the following video clip about a Starbucks barista and her desire to learn sign language in order to communicate with her customers.
Click here to watch the clip called "Follower."
Disability Awareness Sunday
Message given by Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund
John Knox Presbyterian Church – Indianapolis, Indiana
Sunday, April 10, 2016
17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
I am the youngest of five children. I have three brothers and one sister. Of our family of seven, five of us have doctoral degrees:
Two medical doctors
One animal doctor
One Doctor of Ministry—Me
Let’s just say that we value higher education! That’s one reason why I’m so excited to be serving on the leadership team at Christian Theological Seminary---where we educate and train people for church and community leadership.
Another thing I want to share is that of the seven of us, two of us have severe disabilities, and two more have more mild disabilities.
My dad was an animal doctor with a physical limp because as a high school football player, walking home one day he was hit by a drunk driver. My dad spent the entire next year at home in bed recovering (his mom was a surgical nurse). This disability meant he couldn’t play football anymore. But he did go onto become a successful animal doctor.
Later in my dad’s life, he developed a mental disability, a mood disorder that caused him to lose his job, his family, his home, and ultimately his life. Unfortunately, my dad’s mental or brain disability was chronic and severe, he would not cooperate with treatment options.
I used to be embarrassed about my dad’s disabilities, the limp and his disabled mind. But what I have learned over the years is that his heart was not disabled. I had judged him based on what he couldn’t do…and had forgotten of who we really was…a child of God.
My oldest brother was one of those kids who got a perfect score on the college entrance exam the ACT. He got full scholarships to college and graduate school. He married his high school sweetheart. My brother was also disabled. He was diagnosed with bipolar brain disorder in high school. Fortunately he got good medical care, medication and therapy. He also tried to keep a healthy lifestyle of rest, eating healthy and exercise.
Despite his best efforts, he still struggled with depression and with thoughts of suicide. He had a rough period where he was let go from his job teaching at a local college, and his wife divorced him. He felt he lost everything, his career and the love of his life. These two stressors contributed to a very difficult period where he was hospitalized for suicidality.
My brother, once happily married research scientists, was now seriously mentally disabled. He qualified for disability the first time he applied (which is unusual…it usually takes multiple attempts). The man who helped register my brother’s paperwork was himself physically disabled and used a wheelchair. He said to my brother, “Man, I’m the lucky one here. Everyone who looks at me can see that I’m disabled. But not you, nobody can see your disability. It’s invisible.”
The question I want to ask this morning is this: What does it mean to be disabled and a child of God?
According to the Indiana Disability Awareness resources for congregations, there are two things every Christian needs to know when it comes to disability awareness:
- We are all created in the image of God. This means we are blessed with creativity, within boundaries, and the ability to be in relationship with one another.
- Knowing that we are created in the image of God, seek to learn everyone’s creative abilities and limitations. Use these abilities to complement one another within the congregation.Beginning in 1958 and as recently as 1995, the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC) has affirmed its belief in the dignity and worth of all people. The NCCC has reaffirmed and broadened its commitment to people with disabilities based upon the following four theological statements:
Beginning in 1958 and as recently as 1995, the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC) has affirmed its belief in the dignity and worth of all people. The NCCC has reaffirmed and broadened its commitment to people with disabilities based upon the following four theological statements:
- All people are created in the image of God: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image ...’” (Genesis 1:26).
- All people are called by God: “For we are what (God) has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10).
- All people have special gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same spirit ...” (1 Corinthians 12:4).
- All people are invited to participate in God’s ministry: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Kelby Carlson, a student at Vanderbilt University, writes in a blog post called, “Crooked Healing: Disability, Vocation, and a Theology of the Cross” a theological model of disability that brings his experience as a disabled person “into dialogue with two important concepts: the evangelical doctrines of vocation and the theology of the cross."
- Doctrine of Vocation: Vocation places disability in a wider spectrum of the sacred calling. It implies that disabled people and their able-bodied counterparts are on equal spiritual footing. More than that, it suggests that disabled people can be seen as conduits for God’s grace and service rather than it only images of a broken creation in need of “fixing.”
This doctrine of vocation restores the image of God to the disabled. In response to the worry that disability is evidence of sin, one can reply precisely to the contrary. While brokenness itself is evidenced of a creation longing for release from bondage, an individual’s disability is, subversively, a venue for Christ to display his glory.
2. Theology of the Cross: [Scripture] reveals a redemptive way of looking at suffering, and consequently at disability (which, for a great majority of disabled people, involves suffering to one degree or another). Grace is seen as a means of living in and through suffering. Chronic weakness is seen as real strength. In fact, it is the only way to truly approach God in faith. Can we view this in an ecclesial way that might take account of the suffering of disabilities in the body of Christ?
Kelby wants to see the church make programmatic efforts to more systematically include people with disabilities. Such inclusion must be active rather than passive: a demonstration of Christian hospitality rather than mere “equal treatment.”
Conversely, disabled Christians can and should seek to serve the body of Christ in the unique ways God has given them in their vocation as specifically disabled. These reflections are nothing more than a starting point.
He says, “Living with a disability, offering my body as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) is my ultimate goal. It is a constant journey, guided by the Holy Spirit into continuous reliance upon the strength of God in my weakness. I pray that this essay would be one more step in articulating a path in which those with disabilities and those who know them can seek the narrow path walked by our master, Jesus.”
“Don’t You Change a Thing.” Fits within this theological understanding of vocation…we don’t have to change who we are in order for God to see value in us and to use us for creating God’s realm on earth. For God all things are possible.
In God’s eyes, living with a disability is not the issue. The issue is what you do with the life you have, with the things you have, with your time, with your money.
Are you generous with your time, with your money, with your heart?
The scripture passage today helps us focus on what is most important and Jesus says it clearly: to be of generous spirit.
Perhaps the most disabled among us are not people with physical disabilities, but people whose hearts are disabled by greed, fear, and selfishness.
In a deeply theological way, the wealthy who ignore the cries of the poor are more at risk than people with disabilities.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26
Sometimes it’s just as important to note what Jesus doesn’t say as it is to study what he does say.
Jesus doesn’t say, “how hard it will be for those who have disabilities to enter the kingdom of God!”
He doesn’t say, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who has a mental illness to enter into the kingdom of God.”
What Jesus says is that we are each children of God, rich and poor, differently abled, or temporarily abled…the real question is…how do we treat our neighbors who are in need? How do we use this one life we’ve been given?
26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.