Sermon: Acting the World into Wellbeing–The Differently-Abled (6/5/16)

Kim:    “Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman…”             Holly/Dan:    Not respectful….


Kim:     But that’s the title given by the editors of the NRSV, “Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman.”


Holly/Dan:   It’s not respectful.


Kim:    Okay.  Jesus Heals a Handicapped woman.       Holly/Dan:  Not respectful.


Kim:   Jesus Heals a Disabled Woman.    Holly shakes her head.


Kim:    Come on!  It’s called the Americans with Disabilities Act!  Surely “disabled” will work!


Holly shakes her head.


Kim:   Then what do I say?  I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I also don’t know what to say.


Holly/Dan:  Explains the term “differently-abled.”


Kim:    Huh.  That makes a lot of sense.  Okay.  Jesus Heals a Differently-abled Woman.  (Looks at Holly, who nods.)  10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.  Oh, that is so true.  Disabilities–differing abilities–often are sent by God to teach us lessons, right?


Holly/Dan:  Response.  (“Things just happen…  God is there waiting…”)


Kim:    So, now you’re questioning my theology?  Talk about no respect!  (To Holly)  May I continue?  (Holly nods)  She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. Oh, that poor woman.  Can you imagine only ever seeing the floor?  How did she reach anything high up?  And I’ll bet everybody stared at her.  And I’ll bet she couldn’t work.  I bet she didn’t have any family.  I’ll bet she had no social life.  I feel so sorry for her.


Holly/Dan on not pitying…the differently-abled work, date, get married, have families, play sports…


Kim —  12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. That woman must have had a lot of faith.  Faith can heal you, right?  If people just had enough faith, they wouldn’t have to deal with disabilities (differing abilities).  Holly —  Response


Our theme this summer is “Acting the World into Wellbeing.”  Each Sunday, we’ll look at a specific population and consider what it might take to act those folks into wellbeing.  If you’ve looked at the worship schedule, you’ll see two unlabeled days.  That’s so we can imagine together what other groups or issues we might like to consider.  Let me know if you have ideas.

Acting the world into wellbeing…Sounds like something we Pilgrimage folks would be all over, doesn’t it?  Act the world into wellbeing?  You betcha!  Sign us up!

But sign us up to do what, exactly?  What might acting others into wellbeing look like?

It depends on the person, right?  What will act one person into wellbeing might not have any effect—or maybe even a negative effect—on someone else.  The first step, then, in acting someone into wellbeing is learning what it will take to act them into wellbeing.

So, how do we learn what it will take to act someone else into wellbeing?  We can do research, watch videos, read books.  We can talk with people who’ve worked with those populations.  That’s what we did with the book drive.  The Missions Committee invited us to collect books for children at Argyle Elementary School because Christy Stanley used to—and will again–teach there and understands the struggles of those students.  All those are great ways to learn what it takes to act others into wellbeing.

There is another way that’s even more effective.  How might we learn what will act someone into wellbeing?  We ask the expert—the person him or herself.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Just ask someone what they need then do your best to meet the need.  How often, though, have we– other churches, well-meaning nonprofits–assumed we already knew a group’s needs and sought to meet those needs without ever stopping to ask if it’s something the people actually want or need?

I’ve just returned from songwriting camp at the Highlander Center for Research and Education.  Highlander was started by Myles Horton in 1932 at a donated homestead near Monteagle Gap in Tennessee.  In the 70s, it moved to its current location just east of Knoxville.

Growing up in the hills of Tennessee, Myles had seen coal miners struggle with unfair practices by the mining companies.  Those hard-working people had little say in their lives and little to show for their labor.  Myles established Highlander as a place for the miners and their families to come, talk together about the issues confronting them, and devise their own solutions to those problems.  That’s why the main meeting room at Highlander is designed like a yurt— it’s a circle—of rocking chairs—with a ceiling designed to amplify all voices around the circle.  In the 1930s and 40s, most of the miners and their families were so beaten down by their difficult lives they didn’t know they had the power to solve their own problems.  They assumed some experts somewhere had the solutions to their problems.  The methods they learned at Highlander empowered them to name their own issues then ask the Highlander staff to put them in touch with people and agencies that had the means to help them solve those problems.  Which makes sense.  Who knows better what wellbeing looks like than the person him or herself?

That’s why I’m inviting you all to help plan the worship services this summer.  I know Holly has worked for several years with folks who are differently-abled and has had to deal with some medical issues of her own.  She knows more than I what it takes to act the differently-abled into wellbeing.  She’s worked with and talked with and listened to lots of folks who navigate an able-bodied world as a differently-abled person.  Our little shtick a minute ago illustrated (or was meant to J) the importance of listening to those we seek to act into wellbeing.

Really, that’s our theme for the entire summer—listening.  On the whole, how would you rate people’s listening skills these days?  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, as a species, I don’t think we’ve quite lived up to our listening potential.

Early in her work as a physician, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen realized that “every illness has a story attached.  A person is given a diagnosis of cancer or diabetes or heart disease, but the details of a person’s life make every cancer or diabetes or heart disease different and every course of healing unique.”  (Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, 24)  The first step toward determining an effective course of healing is to listen.  Generously.

Here’s how Dr. Remen describes “generous listening” to her colleagues.  Generous listening isn’t about listening to analyze or figure out how to fix a problem; it’s not assessing whether or not you agree with what’s being said or whether or not you like the person who’s speaking.  The goal of generous listening is simply to learn what is true for the other person.  “In generous listening, you don’t even listen to understand why the other person feels the way they do.  It doesn’t matter why.  What matters is what’s true for this person.  And you simply receive it and respect it.”

On the day in question in today’s Gospel lesson, the leader of the synagogue didn’t listen very generously to the life of the bent-over woman Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  All he heard when the woman shouted her thanksgiving was evidence that a Sabbath rule had been broken.

Jesus reminds the man that even the most faithful Jew will untie an ox or donkey from the manger and lead it to water on the Sabbath—another breach of Sabbath law.  If you’ll break the Sabbath law for your livestock, Jesus asks, why not do the same for this woman who has suffered so long?  Jesus is inviting the synagogue leader to listen more generously, to hear more deeply the experience of the woman who hadn’t stood straight in 18 years.  He invites the man to hear that woman’s life and simply receive it and respect it.

At this year’s songwriting camp, John McCutcheon invited us to hear someone else’s life and simply receive it and respect it.  He asked us to pair up and spend ten minutes each listening to our partner tell a personal story.  Then we were to take the story and create a song.  The last night of camp, we shared our songs with the group.

I can’t vouch for the quality of the songs, but the quality of the learning?  Tremendous.

You listen differently—more generously, more deeply—when thinking about how to give voice to another person’s experience.  John encouraged us to check in with our partners as we wrote to make sure what we were writing was accurate.  When I checked in with my partner, Joan, I realized I’d made a lot of assumptions, some of them wrong.  Thankfully, she was gracious when she corrected me.  J

I’m still unpacking the experience, it was so rich and deep.  I was deeply honored the last morning of camp when Joan camp up to me and said, “You said things in the song I never would have said, because I’m a jokester.  I make a joke out of everything.  But you got below the surface.  You said things I was feeling.  Thank you.”  For my part, I was amazed at what Joan was able to do with the story I told her.  Hearing her take on my story helped me hear it in a new way.

That assignment was deeper than anything we’ve ever done at camp.  I suspect that’s because it drew us out of ourselves and into someone else’s experience.  We weren’t so concerned about rhyme or rhythm or form.  We were more concerned about honoring the person whose story we were telling.  That concern led us to listen intently.

We’ll be listening to lots of lives this summer—those who struggle with mental illness, women of the world, the imprisoned, the poor, those affected by racism…  The goal of our listening will be simply to receive and respect what we hear, to honor the dignity of every person.  And if, in the midst of our generous listening we discover ways we might act others into wellbeing, I say, let’s go for it.  Who knows?  It might even lead to some songwriting.  J


In the name of our God, who creates us redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for the wholeness of the world.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2016



About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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