Thanks go to Rev Katie Tupling, Diocesan Disability Advisor and Bishop Steven Croft for their materials and reflections which inspired my sermon.
Ability Sunday sermon
14 I praise you because you made me in such a wonderful way. I know how amazing that was!
15 You could see my bones grow as my body took shape, hidden in my mother’s womb.
16 You watched my body grow there. In your book you wrote about all the days planned for me before any of them had happened.
17 Your thoughts are beyond my understanding. They cannot be measured!
Hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
Luke 14:15-24 (NIV)
The Parable of the Great Banquet
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me."
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.
24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
This is the gospel of the Lord.
May I speak in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit.
Today we are celebrating Ability Sunday; a day to be reminded how each and every one of us, both disabled and non-disabled, is fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God, who knew us in our mother’s womb and formed the way we think and feel. It allows us time to reflect on and celebrate everyone’s unique gifts as wonderfully made by God and how we all enrich the church community.
We heard this message through two Bible readings this morning; psalm 139 and Luke 14. I'm going to reflect in depth on the psalm, but first let's think about what Luke is telling us.
The parable of the great banquet in Luke 14 tells us that we should be open to the community and inviting the poor, the homeless, the refugees, the downtrodden, the neglected into our church and into our homes.
In fact it says "compel them to come in, so that my house will be full" which tells us to do so much more than just invite! It tells us to meet with people and do all we can to make them want to come and accept our hospitality.
That's a challenge and a half isn't it.
Luke tells us that we should be more concerned about welcoming those who rarely get invited, than waiting for those who know they can always join the party.
He is reminding us of the importance of radical inclusiveness, making sure no one ever questions if they are invited because they know we welcome all. That we will adapt and go out of our way to enfold everyone into our church community.
My question then becomes; what does that actually look like? How do we include everyone in our church? How do we actually celebrate and make use of everyone's God given gifts.
To answer that question I'm going to reflect on psalm 139 ….
But first, a brief Introduction to the Psalms. The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 poems, prayers, hymns and meditations. There are five collections of Psalms (1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150) which have been gathered together at different times. All the psalms are addressed to God, whether they are giving thanks or asking for help.
Psalm 139 is a song, a hymn, a symphony of praise in four movements.
(This psalm is a favourite of many people, Pat included; and is the basis of many hymns and the inspiration for art.)
Psalm 139 is relevant for all, for people of every kind of ability - disabled people, autistic people, sick people, depressed people; those who are grieving, those who are stressed; people of every race and tribe, from every corner of the world.
It is a psalm that includes all, values all; telling everyone that God knows each of us and loves each of us.
This is a psalm which shows us what it means to throw a great banquet; to value every person we meet just as God values them; and never close a door or restrict an opportunity for anyone because God wants everyone included.
So what do the four movements of this psalm tell us?
Movement 1. You know me! (1-6)
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You are behind and before me, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
You know me inside out, upside down and back to front. You know every thought, every word, every action, every journey, and every resting place.
You know me God.
God knows me and you; every one of Us.
He loves me and loves each of you.
How wonderful is that!
It's a reminder of how blessed we are every single day.
And of course there may be moments or days or weeks when we don't feel very lovable. Perhaps when we make mistakes, or when our health is failing, or our memory is struggling, or our stamina reducing. But we must remember that God has made every one of us; unique, special and to be loved by him and by each other every day of our lives. No one is excluded.
God you know us and you love us, never let us doubt this. Let us love each other in the same generous way.
Movement 2. You’re everywhere! (7-12)
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
You are not only in me.
You are everywhere.
You are not a private God.
You are the God of the entire universe.
You are in every place and therefore in every person.
This second movement reminds us that God is with everyone, including those who might not feel worthy of His love. We are called as Christians to come alongside these people and show them God's love, to bring light to their darkness.
It also reminds us that God is in those places where it is hardest to find him, where we feel scared or alone.
It is easy to find God in the heavens or in familiar places or in the morning light. But God is even in the places we wish we could avoid. The sea is the symbol of chaos and danger. Darkness is the place of fear and ignorance. God is even here.
When we are in those places, when life is challenging or difficult, when we meet prejudice or cruelty or exclusion, God is with us to bring strength and comfort and order and peace. There is nowhere where God is not.
Where are the places where you feel out of touch with God? God is there.
Where can you bring light to someones darkness? Bring God to that person so they need never feel alone.
Movement 3. You made me! (13-18)
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.
You made me!
You made me!
You made me!
These words are for everyone.
Not just for those who seem fit, well and strong, but everyone.
These words relate to the words in Genesis 1: “God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good”.
You and I are part of God’s creation.
We are made perfect in God's creation.
No matter what our abilities, we all have varying abilities and strengths and weaknesses; we are part of God’s great creation.
Each of us is made to be loved.
Each of us has important gifts to share .
All of us draw love from one another.
All of us point to the grace of God individually and together.
What are the parts of you which you find most difficult to accept as wonderfully made?
What are the parts of other people which you find difficult to accept as wonderfully made?
God's creation is designed perfectly, with variation in each of us so that we can draw together as one. We are not designed to be independent beings, but to be community supporting each other and lifting each other up.
We all have inbuilt prejudices, but Jesus taught us to see everyone's goodness.
God you made us, wonderfully just as you need us; never let us feel imperfect or make anyone else feel imperfect.
Movement 4. Lead me Lord! (19-24)
All is not well in this world you have made. There is cruelty and hatred, violence and despair.
This despair and cruelty is felt disproportionately more by those with disabilities. Surveys show higher levels of loneliness, fear and depression among the disabled, elderly and sick.
What an awful situation this is in our society. An often hidden situation which we are called to put right by Jesus. So how can we ask God to lead us?
Help us to pray your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
These are powerful words of action to improve the world. And what better place to start than in our own church community.
I am so blessed that I have been supported and loved, encouraged and challenged by you all as I have come to terms with my disability. In fact it's been those of you with disabilities of your own that have supported and encouraged me the most, reminding me that God is in all of my life and calling me endlessly.
But we can not rest as a church just because we have a number of people of varying abilities in our leadership and congregation.
We still have work to do.
We need to keep on reflecting on our accessibility, improving our welcome, actively reaching out to all and encouraging everyone to use their gifts for the glory of God.
In this way we can build a truly christ-like church community. In every decision, every event and every prayer, let us be truly inclusive.
How else can we ask God to lead us?
Help us to use our gifts to build a better world.
Every one of us here will know a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour who is sick or weak, depressed or disabled, confused or chronically ill.
My challenge to us all this week is to make the time to contact that person; to share a coffee or a prayer; offer them a meal or a trip out; or invite them to church. Throw your own banquets.
Let each of us go into our daily lives and live out the reality of loving ourselves and our individual gifts, loving one another in our differences and celebrating each others' God given uniqueness in a great banquet for all.
Search my heart, O God, and lead me in your way, every day.
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