Reflecting on a Disability and Diversity Awareness Conference organized by the Women’s Council of Northern California Nevada Region I am impressed by a fantastic grace the consumes those differently abled. The differently abled reflect the image of God as they embody the profound grace filled teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Their presence radiated a love seldom experienced by many who are able bodied. Their life’s do not deny the challenges, even the frustrations of being differently abled but, and this is the most important part, they overcome those differences, thus becoming an example of the teachings of Jesus. They present the Church with the word and wisdom of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as received in Luke 12:12-14. The blessed reality for us today, that their lives are a blessing to the Church, would seem to be a far cry from theological and philosophical notions practiced by some in the Church today.
12 He, [that is Jesus Christ], said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 12:12-14)
In light of the Luke 14:12-14, the differently abled, living in a world that devalues and marginalizes them, the Church is called to be the vanguard of activism, advocacy and support in the life of the differently abled. The economics of our day, with its dictates of values regarding the worth of the body as a means to enhance stock portfolios, 401K’s and gentrification, within a so-called pretext that the blessings of God are primarily and always about economics demand that the Church be, without apology, the bulwark of divine intervention, ensuring the care and concerns for the differently abled. The Church lives out the Communion, the Last Supper or the Eucharist, as instituted by Jesus of Nazareth as it fully embraces the differently abled and the many and tremendous gifts and talents within them and their community. The position of the Church should be one of empowerment regarding the community of the Beloved and Beatitudes.
The differently abled are a reminder that the Church, emerging out of an experiential critical analysis is a divine sacred response of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to the needs of the community of the beloved, i.e., the community of the beatitudes, amidst categories of empire. It’s mission, through religious and political means, is to embrace, advocate, comfort and empower those on the margins of society, to make a better world. The Church is the embodiment of Jesus Christ. It emerges out of the life and ministry Jesus Christ, necessarily presenting the intent of Jesus himself as the only beloved son of God in relation to the world. The mission of the Church, particularly amidst this historical moment of global narratives shifting like tectonic plates, is an important discourse to engage as a matter of adherence to the most intimate of communions revealing a moral imagination at the root of the teachings of Jesus.
There is an unconditional obligation, rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, for the Church to give voice, even a significant voice to those on the margins of society. This calling, as a matter of obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, must protect it from becoming bourgeois or appeasing or gratifying those privileged, the societal norms or various and oppressive structures and hierarchies of identity whether race, gender, sexual orientation or affection, economic status, e.g. class, or privilege In accordance with Galatians 3:28-29.
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The Apostle Paul seeks to clarify the intent of the Church regarding its mission as a response to the world. His words are meant to open the eyes and prick the heart of the Church so that it might fulfill its calling. The Church must be, in the 21st century, the vanguard of advocacy for those unable to advocate for themselves, and those blinded by societal norms recognizing that the blessings which come from God come as an answer to the grace present in those on the margins of society. (Amos 5) What I am proposing is that those on the margins, i.e., the poor, the homeless, the lame, the indigent, the sick, the blind, those who suffer discrimination, those differently abled, those on the margins of society, in accordance with Luke 14:12-14, in communion with the community of beatitudes in accordance with Matthew 5:1-12, are at the center of God’s divine will. They are the ones who receive God’s divine grace and mercy without hesitation of ego or institution.
And it is for these communions that the Church exists. Apart from these communions there is no Church as brought forth by Jesus Christ. If the Church is to be the entity that fulfills the teachings of Jesus in Luke 14:12-14, then it must fully embrace, without equivocation, the text and its literal meaning. Mindful of the debate regarding whether the Bible is symbolic or literal, this particular text must be received literally if the Church is to be a firm and steadfast reality of salvation in the world today. The Church is the Church only when it exists for the care and concern of others.
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words intimate that the Church is God’s grace in the world. God’s grace, that is unmerited favor, is not partisan, bias or tribal, more so, it is sovereign, as God is sovereign. Grace is relational as it is rooted in God’s loving desire for all. Grace must live its courageous path, for in this mercy is present for all. And with this, healing manifests in all its glory, indeed its wisdom. The Church, as a matter of its existence for others, must, as an obligation to the Gospel, address the concerns of the a diverse and dynamic community. It must address concerns of constructs and systems such as Jim Crow Sr. and Jr., the Prison Industrial Complex, Healthcare, the Military Industrial Complex, an public educational system under attack by corporate raiders, Economic injustice, and the unjust death and murder of Black men and boys at the hands of a system of law enforcement born as a means to control and maintain slavery. As such, as the Church fights and struggles for justice, grounded in what Cornel West calls a “Black Prophetic Fire”, and reminiscent of Amos living in eighth century BCE Judah, as he addressed the injustice of Israel, it maintains a peculiar integrity with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Cross and to the resurrection.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Church at Ephesus.
At this moment, the forces of injustice, as described by the Apostle Paul, are implementing strategies which seek to make life more challenging, difficult and painful for many in the Church, i.e., the Body of Christ. Concerns of social justice such as the poor, healthcare, education, jobs, wages, and housing, are more and more under attack by a corporate/police state which now control many of the levers of U.S. Federal government. The Apostle Paul’s apt description begs the question, “Where does the Church, as the Body of Christ, stand amidst profound injustice and mounting misery?” Will or can the integrity of the Church to the Gospel of Jesus Christ overcome the seeming allegiance, by some, to those authorities and powers of darkness which control those more so called practical needs?
Moving forward, If the Church is to be the Church, it must grapple with the aforementioned questions. The inability or denial of some in the Church to grapple with these questions of integrity to the Gospel has caused many to fall away, to waiver, as they give homage and pay tribute, whether rhetorically or financially to the forces of injustice which twist the gospel and parade a strained contorted righteousness, daily seeking to deny authentic life in Christ for the sake of power in the political public square.
In closing the Church must once again find its first love. The Church must fall at the feet of Jesus Christ confessing its profound sins of injustice. Then and only then will a nation more and more torn asunder begin to heal.