Inclusion. Acceptance. Mercy. Kindness. Compassion. Love. We know that God wants it. We know that this is God’s will for the world.
Exclusion. Discrimination. Prejudice. Meanness. Indifference. Hate. We know that God disdains it. We know this is not what God wills for this world.
And we know that if we do not live like we believe that mercy always triumphs judgment, then we do not live like we really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. We do not live like we believe in the one who lived and died extending mercy to the poor and the marginalized.
We know we are not perfect. We know we are going to make mistakes in this life. Therefore, to please our God, to live as believers in our glorious Lord and Savior, if we are going to err, we have decided to to err on the side of mercy. To please our Creator, we have decided to err on the side of grace. We have chosen to err on the the side of love.
But do we know whythis pleases our God so much? Do we know whyJesus lived and died showing us that mercy always triumphs judgment? Do we know why he directed his ministry toward those who were in the most need of mercy?
I believe one word in our scripture lesson reveals the answer. It is in verse 5.
”Listen, my belovedbrothers and sisters…”
Did you hear it? Beloved. We are God’s “beloved.” God loves us. God loves us; and therefore, God wants what is best for us. God loves us and wants us to live lives that are full, whole and blessed. As the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed: “For thus says the Lord, …surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
And what is that plan? What is God’s plan to bless us?
The plan is what Jesus called the greatest commandment: that we love our neighbors as ourselves; and as the prophets, as Jesus and as the apostles like James teach us, that we love especially our poor neighbors.
Because as much as we might be tempted to believe it, as much sense as it might make to our flawed minds, James says, our hopeful future is not found by showing prejudicial treatment, extending a prejudicial welcome to our rich neighbors.
If we want to experience the promise of the Kingdom that God, if we want to experience life as God intended it, if we want to be blessed, then we need to love those that God has chosen to be heirs of that blessed Kingdom.
If we want to be blessed, we need to welcome and accept, include, those our culture disses. You know the dissed: the disenfranchised, the disrespected, the disqualified, the disheartened, the disdained, the disowned, and the disabled. For God uses those the world disses to bless us, to give us a future with hope.
This is the reason I no longer believe in using the word “disability” to describe persons who are living with blindness, deafness, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, or other syndromes.
Consider the definition of “dis” in our English dictionary: to “have a primitive, negative or reversing force.” Discredit. Disengage. Disavow. Disappoint. Distrust.
Therefore, when we call a person disabled, it is like we are saying that they have an inherently negative ability to bless us, to make our lives better, to contribute to society, to have a positive impact on our word, to build up the body of Christ, to give us a future with hope.
This is why we have historically and literally pushed them to the margins. We have institutionalized them, separated them, ostracized them. Nazi Germany euthanized them.
And by excluding them from our lives, we’ve missed our loving God’s plan to bless us.
Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite Christian writers, was a priest, an esteemed writer and brilliant teacher in prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale.
However, he says that it was a desire to follow his Lord which prompted him to leave the Ivy League to spend the rest of his life serving as a chaplain to a wonderful community of people with different emotional, mental and physical abilities in Toronto.
In one of his many books, Nouwen tells a story about Trevor, a man in that community who was dealing with such severe mental and emotional challenges that he had to be sent to a psychiatric facility for another evaluation. As the chaplain, Henri wanted to visit him, so he had his secretary call the hospital and make an appointment.
When the higher-ups in that hospital discovered that it was the infamous Henri Nouwen, the renowned author and teacher from Yale and Harvard University who was coming, they asked if they could set up a special lunch with him in the “Golden Room”—this special meeting room at the hospital. They said that if Nouwen could come and say a few words, they would like to invite some of their most respected doctors and some esteemed clergy from the community to the special luncheon.
Nouwen thought to himself, “Oh Trevor has never missed a meal! He would love that!” So he agreed.
When he arrived, they took him to the Golden Room, but Trevor was nowhere to be seen. Troubled, he asked where Trevor was.
“Oh,” said an administrator, “Trevor cannot have lunch here. Patients and staff are not allowed to have lunch together. It’s too risky. Besides, no patient has ever had lunch in the “Golden Room.”
By nature, Henri was not a confrontational person. He was meek and very gentle. However, guided by the Spirit of the God who has chosen those the world has dissed to inherit and share the Kingdom of God, the thought came to his mind: “Include Trevor. Whatever you do, you mustinclude Trevor. Trevor needs to be here.”
So, Henri swallowed hard, he turned to the administrator and said, “But the whole purpose of my coming here today was to have lunch with Trevor. So, if Trevor is not allowed to attend the lunch, I will not attend either.”
Well, the thought of missing an opportunity for a lunch with the great Henri Nouwen was too much for them to bare, so they quickly found a way for Trevor to attend.
When they all finally gathered together, what the administrators had feared came to fruition. At one point during the lunch, while Henri was talking to the person at his right, he didn’t notice that Trevor, who was seated to his left, had stood up, lifting his glass of Coca-Cola in the air.
“A toast! I will now offer a toast,” Trevor said to the group.
The administrators were embarrassed, but had this look like “we knew this was a bad idea.” Everybody in the room got quiet and very nervous. What in the world was Trevor going to say?
Then Trevor, this deeply challenged man in a room full of PhDs and clergy, started to sing, “If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass. If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass…”
No one knew what to do. It was all so awkward. Here was a man with a level of challenge and brokenness, they could not begin to understand, yet he was beaming! He was absolutely thrilled to be there. He was so happy!”
So they started to sing. Softly at first, and then louder and louder until all of the doctors and all of the clergymen and Henri Nouwen were practically shouting, “If you’re happy and you know it, raise your glass.”
Henri went on to give a talk at the luncheon, I am certain his words were brilliant, as they always were, but the moment everyone remembered, the moment that blessed them the most, the moment God spoke most clearly, was through the person they all would have said was the least likely to speak for God.[i]
In his first sermon Jesus preached it. “Blessed are the merciful.” Blessed are those who believe and live as if they know mercy triumphs judgment.
This is the reason I no longer use the word “disabled” to describe persons with different abilities.
However, I still believe in using the word “disabled.”
But, it’s not the palsy, the syndrome, or the genetic anomaly that is disabling.
It is the exclusion that disables. It is the fear and the judgment and the prejudice that disables. It’s the constant stares, the negative remarks, the looking away, the shunning and the indifference that are disabling.
We are disabled when we disable others.
Our ability is “dissed” when we are unable to see the holy worth, the divine light, and the image of God in another. Our ability is “dissed” when we are unable to recognize the many gifts and different abilities that another has been given by our loving God to bless our lives and make this world amazing.
The good news is that our God loves us and wants to bless us, not diss us. God loves us and wants us to live full lives with meaning and joy. God loves us and wants us to have a future with a hope. And God has a plan to accomplish this divine will.
This is why the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus implore us over and over again to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, especially those who we characterized as poor, poor in cash, poor in health, poor in status, and poor in ability. This is why God commands us to live lives of inclusion, acceptance, kindness, and compassion, knowing that mercy always triumphs judgment. Let us pray together.
O God, help us to do your will. Help us to live lives of inclusion. acceptance. Fill us with your mercy, kindness, compassion and love. Help us to live lives blessed by your love. Amen.
After we sing our hymn of communion, all are invited to share a meal from this table, especially those our culture dissess. We will eat and drink and be blessed and transformed together.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go now and find those the culture disenfranchises, disrespects, disqualifies, disheartens, disdains, disowns, discredits, disengages, disavows, disappoints, distrusts and disables.
Go find them and love them.
See the the holy worth, the divine light, and the image of God in them. Recognize the many gifts and different abilities that they have been given by our loving God to bless our lives and make this world amazing.