“Yes, I Can”
Sermon for Disability Awareness Sunday: October 21, 2018
“Yes, I can!” When I was in third grade, my teacher nominated me for and presented me with a “Yes I Can” award. These awards are still being given in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). Since 1982, the CEC has recognized the accomplishments of thousands of students. My nine-year-old-self felt proud to be celebrated for my accomplishments by my teacher … and my thirty-year-old-self knows that saying “Yes, I can” is more complex than those three words might convey.
I have observed congregations saying this too, “Yes we can!” – yes we are welcoming and inclusive, yes we have a ramp into our sanctuary, yes we have accommodated Johnny who has autism into our Sunday School program … isn’t that enough?? The work of ministry with people with disabilities can be advertised as a simple checklist: this plus this equals full inclusion. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good checklist - they are wonderful resources. And I love that congregations celebrate they are a place where everybody belongs and everybody serves. Though, ministry and discipleship with all people, with and without disabilities, is more complex than those three words and checklists might convey.
I think the complexity of discipleship is what Jesus is trying to get across to James, John, and the other disciples. This is Jesus’ third prediction of his death, what his ministry will cost; though the disciples still are not able to take in what he’s trying to get across – discipleship and ministry is more than saying “Yes, I can.”
Similar to their last discussion about who is the greatest of them all, they now are wondering about their own calling and about where they will end up – hoping they’ll be in positions of power and glory, like Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. To ensure this end, in fact, they tell Jesus, “I am able.” It sounds a lot like, “We will do everything in order to guarantee that!” Despite earlier rebukes over greatness—taking up one’s cross, receiving a child—they are still scheming for positions of privilege. They are imperfect, as we are imperfect, and remain with Jesus. He does not excuse them nor does he reject them for being ambitious and selfish.
Rather, Jesus transforms everything. Right and left of the cross will be two thieves, with the one who defended Jesus entering God’s kingdom alongside Jesus. While his title “King of the Jews” is overhead, Jesus is mocked with a crown of thorns. Jesus affirms gifts given to the disciples at baptism but assert these are not for coming glory or privilege. Instead, these gifts are to live in the way of humility, service, and solidarity of suffering. This is the only way to follow him. This is the only way to say, “Yes, I can follow Jesus.”
Jesus redefines, again, what it means to be first and great in God’s kingdom – a servant, those on the bottom of the social ladder, those without honour or reward. It challenges our own and society’s own standards of success and greatness with God’s love for those on the margins of society, those offering lives with humility and vulnerability.
In this interaction with the disciples, Jesus says that following him is not as simple as walking along behind him and will not be their automatic entry into the prestige positions in heaven. As author, theologian, and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined the term, there is a “cost of discipleship”, discipleship demands Christians have more work in serving God, not less. The ministry of discipleship is not undertaken for the aim of glory, but rather done in service for and with one another resulting as a gift for God, for oneself, and for the world. It is a ministry pursued with love, vulnerability, and service as Jesus so beautifully demonstrated and taught throughout his life.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending my first Leadership Training event for Disability Concerns in both the CRC and RCA denominations. It was wonderful for me to be in spaces where people “get” my disability and are not afraid of my leadership. It was wonderful to see people bring their experiences and ideas of ministry with people with disabilities, and generate new ideas together. It felt exciting to be with folks passionate about discipleship with all peoples. It was beautiful being with “people on the margins” and knowing God’s kingdom is for us, as well as others whom our world considers to be “the last and the least”. And it was refreshing hearing people speak about the call and the complexities of saying, “Yes, I can” when it comes to ministry offered with love, vulnerability, and service as we all follow Jesus.
When it came time for advocates to talk together about goals and plans for their ministry upon returning home, Rev. Beverly Sullivant, a member of the Advisory Committee / Guiding Coalition for Disability Concerns, suggested these actions for ministry with people with disabilities (and their families). These actions, or acts of discipleship, lay behind the words of saying, “Yes, ‘I can’:”
- I – Identify/Inform
- C – Communicate/Clarify
- A – Advocacy
- N – Networking
I invite you to consider how your congregation acts out ministry with people with disabilities and their families. Perhaps you live out “Yes, I can” through identifying a child’s needs and informing their Sunday School teachers, communicating and clarifying information on the accommodations made or needed for physical accessibility so all might know and understand, supporting the voice of a person with a disability who is advocating for the opportunity to offer leadership (on committees, in worship, etc.), or networking so that people with and without disabilities are known in your congregation. These are only a few examples of acts of discipleship. I celebrate the ways your congregation is saying “Yes, I/we can” be a place where all belong and all serve, a place where all are undertaken the ministry of costly discipleship! And I urge you to continue, especially when the ministry stretches you to places of dis-ease, places of vulnerability. It is in this way, we are saying “Yes I can” to Jesus as he seeks God’s will on earth.
As Jesus and the disciples were talking, Jesus walked ahead of them knowing they were going to face his final days in Jerusalem. He does not go there with uncertainty, but with trust that God journeys with him. Jesus served God to the point of death, the brokenness of the world poured out on the cross. Once again, Jesus demonstrates vulnerability in the cross, the complexity of saying “I can / I will” and even when he is tempted to seek another way, he prays with these words, “Yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). May we all seek to live out God’s will with everybody in community. Amen.
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