Sacred Soil

Shiny People
September 9, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Lectionary 23
September 9, 2012

Isaiah 35:4–7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1–10[11–13] 14–17
Mark 7:24–37

In my early twenties, I rode the bus to church every Sunday. Usually, Naomi would ride with me. She was a woman who had been blind since she was a small child. Beautiful for her passion, Naomi, wasn’t known for her social graces. Each Sunday as the bus pulled up, she would climb on and holler out my name to find where I sat. Naomi never did small talk. She always got right to the meat of any conversation, asking piercing questions full of hope, despair, and insight. The truth is, she was also a bit loud, immune to my attempts to lower the volume by speaking softer. And so we carried on these deep conversations, on the bus, at full volume… on a city bus.

One Sunday, I asked her about her blindness, what it was to grow up blind, and how it was for her now. She gave me a winding story, honestly naming how she was abused, and how she came into her own. And then, she told me how she didn’t really wish to get her sight back. I sat there a bit stunned, because, to be honest, this is precisely the thing I had wished for her. She explained that blindness was part of who she was, part of her whole being. It allowed her to see differently, to hear differently, to engage the world in her own particular way. No, if she were to wish for anything she would wish that blind children would be protected from abusers. That all children would be protected. If she were to wish anything, it would be that her unique gifts would be cherished.

I sat there quiet for a long time. The weight of her words shifted something in me as I realized that the brokenness in Naomi’s life was not because of her blindness, but all the horrible ways people abused her, excluded her.

Since then, I’ve heard this story several times from disabled folks. Wholeness doesn’t mean a cure, it means welcome and embrace, protection and honor. Though to be sure, I’m not speaking for all disabled people. Each person has their own story to tell.

I bring this up because our texts today wrestle so much with these pretty pictures we like to paint of our world. The pretty picture of able-bodied people, well off folks in our Sunday finest, proper and well formed. Shiny, like brass.

But James hollers at us (perhaps as loudly as Naomi would), “with your acts of favoritism, do you really love Jesus?” And though it makes us uncomfortable, he’s right. Still today, we are far more prone to welcome the one who is well off, rather than the one who is disheveled and outwardly suffering. Many in the disabled community feel like churches don’t really want them around—for this very reason.

And then we get these stories from Jesus. They are startling. Discomforting. Confusing. Perhaps as much so now as they were then.

In our first story, Jesus is alone with a woman. At that time, certainly a scandal. And, this woman has the nerve to speak with Jesus. Oh, and she’s a gentile, a Greek. Not a Jew—even considered a rival. But she is forward, stepping out of her proscribed place in society she begs, “Heal my daughter.” Now, this first part would have been seen as utter scandal in the 1st century. To us, because we presume more equality, well… it seems plausible. The next part, well back then, it would have been normal, but to us, well, it’s disturbing. He calls her a dog, a puppy to be exact. This was how the Jews understood their relationship with gentiles. Jesus was naming what was expected. It fit into the honor-shame paradigm, keeping the status quo, the power systems in place, keeping things in their proper order. To us today, it’s just rude and wrong. It’s never ok to call someone a dog.

She persists. And Jesus immediately responds with healing. She asks for the crumbs on the table, and he responds with a feast of love and healing.

And then he goes and does it again, breaking the taboos, this time healing a man with his own spit—and I don’t care what century you’re in. That’s just gross.

But here’s what I see in these stories—I see a God who will do anything, whatever it takes, diving into the mess of our own brokenness, breaking every rule and taboo to show us that the kingdom of God includes each one of us. I see a God whose love knows no limits.

One of my preaching professors, who is himself blind, recently said: I am legally blind. I am created in God’s image in some ways, and in others definitely not. The condition of my eyes fits both. I do not see people as you do, so I am not bound by your visual prejudices (imago Dei). I do not see people as you do, so can miss hurt or pain on people’s faces and unwittingly compound that hurt by my missed cue (not imago Dei). For me, the Reign of God is not my getting 20/20 vision; it’s living in a church and world where not seeing doesn’t matter. I suspect that, if God, in Christ, is not handicapped, God in Christ would become so if that’s what it takes to love someone who is handicapped.

Indeed. Ours is a God who will take on anything, everything to love us. Wholly and completely.

I am astounded and moved and hopeful as the church moves (in an achingly slow manner) toward sharing the Good News in a way that shows no partiality, no favoritism. In part, because I like that folks know God’s love. This is good. But honestly, I’m more interested in how we, together, might strive to seek God’s reign now, and honor, and cherish the extraordinary diversity of God’s love revealed in all of us. In the things that are “pretty,” and the things that make us uncomfortable. I believe that reaching out toward the disabled as full brothers and sisters in Christ will teach us a whole about the kingdom of God. And I long to see that day.

But that’s hard work. Hard because of our biases. As James said, we’re drawn to the shiny gold rings. But it’s also hard because I think we’re afraid. Afraid of our own brokenness, the ways in which each one of us fail to meet our own standards of beauty and ability. Our fear that somehow we will be seen as the one who is poor. And so we fight, and we fight hard, to push off any notion that we are broken, less than perfect—thereby excluding a huge part of God’s kingdom.

Martin Luther wrote, we are beggars. This is true. And he’s right. Each one of us is actually that poor person that James demanded the church welcome. Indeed, the disabled community likes to remind the able bodied that it’s only temporary. Our brokenness is true.

And yet, we know, ours is a God that is revealed in brokenness. Revealed in each beggar, in each one of us. Ours is a God that will do anything, whatever it takes to hold us close, to remind us of the promise made in these baptismal waters: you are my beloved child in whom I am pleased to dwell.

Each one of us, brothers and sisters, bound by the waters of baptism. Regardless of our gold rings, our ability. Each one of us sisters and brothers, cherished for all the beautiful ways our God is revealed in each one of us.


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