Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Worshipping a Differently-Abled Christ

Each Masters Senior at Princeton Theological Seminary is eligible to give the message during the weekday service. I gave my message on April 1. If you want to listen to the sermon or the whole service, you can. Here is the link to the sermon and the service before and after the sermon.

The passage for this sermon is John 9:1-5

Throughout my life I have been trying to understand why I have a speech impediment. Why did God do this to me? At first I thought it was a curse done to me because of past sins; just as the Disciples ask Christ about the man who is blind. Then I wondered for some time if it was a prank on me. One day, I would wake up and this impediment would be gone. Jesus would be appearing more like Buddy Jesus from the movie Dogma and He would say “April Fools!”

Most of my life, I longed for that day to be whole, to feel whole. Why God? Why am I not whole? Then throughout seminary I have tried to reconcile my speech impediment through looking at it as a gift, as Jesus seems to proclaim in John 9. Christ must have meant for this to happen. A way to use me in the world. In wrestling with this, I have come to see that this too is not true. Being a person with a disability is not a gift nor is it about sin. I have realized the reason that I have felt like an outcast has nothing to do with my relationship with Christ. The source of my pain has been the reactions of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ here on Earth.

Part of Jesus' witness in the Gospels is about restoring outcasts to their communities. The Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network contends that “The healing stories in the gospels, [like John 9] are primarily concerned with restoration of persons to their communities, not the cure of their physiological conditions.” This man who was blind was not welcome in his community and is only restored to his community after the miracle.

Furthermore, at the end of this story, Christ proclaims that people who can physically see are spirituality blind. Then the inverse must be true: People who have disabilities can be spiritually whole. This speech impediment is just a part of who I am, not a sin, not a gift. Our collective sin have been trying to reach an unrealistic perfection while living in an imperfect world.
  • Let's remember: We are asked to live faithfully, not sinlessly. 
  • Let's admit: We as humans err a lot. 
  • Let's confess: We will not be perfect as it is currently defined in the modern world. 
Lent is an ideal time to think about this restoration. The theologian Lisa Eiesland writes in Disabled God that after the resurrection in Luke, Christ appears with injuries to His hands and feet. By doing so, she claims that Jesus' disability indicates not a flawed humanity but a full humanity. 

By acknowledging this truth that we worship a God who is differently abled and yet still whole, we can admit that our faithfulness, not our perfection, bring us into the body of Christ. Therefore, the resurrection in two and a half weeks is a collective restoration for all of us. We each have different abilities and struggles. We all have gifts to offer each other and the world. 

Let me caution you all today too: People with disabilities are not here for abled body people to feel blessed or feel lucky. We are not here for others' self-realizations. We are here to be active parts of the body of Christ and to offer our own gifts and talents to the world. Attitudes of pity, judgement, and fear of people with disabilities interfere with this restoration. 

 This is the Good News! On Easter, we, as an imperfect people, will be restored back into this whole living differently-abled body of Christ.


  1. Once more, Greg, you have been not only a teacher to us on behalf of The Teacher. You are also being a Prophet in calling us to accountability (not calling attention to yourself as some Super Big-Deal to be admired). And, you are being a vessel of Grace in showing God's Loving Work in our lives and yours. I see you going deep, and inviting us to do the same.
    I value how you show the pain and the progression in your own pilgrimage of self-understanding — well within the challenge that George Fox gives in our Quaker tradition: "But what canst THOU say?" And, thankfully, you will not permit any to rest in a state of pitying, but rather point beyond to both acceptance and empowerment. And all of this I find to be GOOD News, the Gospel, the word of liberation and restoration. Very fitting for what comes to us as the word of Resurrection.
    What joyous gifs you continue to share with us! What a privilege we have to have come to know you. Please take our ongoing encouragement as well as appreciation.
    Now, can we have some of that beer you made?

  2. Greg- I love what you've written! The pastor at my wife's church made a similar comment about LGBTQ people. She said Jesus met with the social outcasts of his day and helped them, so people today should be welcoming and inclusive of today's social outcasts, including LGBTQ people.
    As a person with a disability, your words particularly spoke to me. I think disability can be a gift if it causes us to become more compassionate people and to work for equality and justice. This could be said about being a member of various other groups who have gotten the short straw in our society. -Jen C-S

  3. Fullness. Being whole or complete is a spiritual condition, not a physical nor a social one and we can only find true fullness when Jesus fills the God-shaped hole (as C.S.Lewis called it. Thank you for posting this Greg. Wish I could've heard it live at Princeton.

    May God bless & keep you & Jenn in N.C.