Being and Bearing God for One Another

by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

March 14, 2021

Video of Entire Service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/3713793488656939 

Scripture: Luke 24:33-43

I learned many things that profoundly changed the way I looked at God and humanity while I was in seminary. There were a lot of moments where there was just this profound deepening of my understanding of who God is with us and for us – and what it means for us to be made in the image of God.

One of those moments was when I first read a theologian named Nancy Eiesland. She wrote a book titled The Disabled God. In it, she pointed out that, as we heard in our scripture today, even after the resurrection, after this miraculous movement from death to life, Jesus showed his friends his still-wounded hands and feet in the Gospel of Luke. In the Gospel of John, it is reported that he showed them his wounded hands and side. 

In both instances, Jesus did this to demonstrate to his disciples that it was really him. These wounds were how they knew that it really was Jesus! This theologian, Nancy Eiesland, pointed out this truth:  he was not any less Jesus because he was wounded. He was not any less God incarnate because he was what we would call disabled. He was fully God-with-us even with the wounds in his hands and in his side. This did not stop him in any way from being the God who saves, the God we could know in this human person, the God who was and is Love Incarnate.

People with disabilities are not any less able to reveal the Christ who lives within us than any other person. In fact, the cultural ideal that we have in our heads of the young, able-bodied, physically perfect person rarely exists, and it is always temporary. This is one thing that seems obvious now, but that I learned in that class in seminary as well.  We are all temporarily able-bodied. We almost all experience injury, illness, and the physical decline of our bodies over the course of our lives.

I find it to be a phenomenal, moving truth that the risen Christ is a person with a disability. There was no need for bodily perfection for him to fully and wholly embody the presence of God. And since Christ is in us, it is the same for us. There is no need for bodily perfection for us to embody the presence of God. We do not need to be physically perfect to be God for one another. We do not need to be mentally perfect to be God for one another. We all have physical and mental and emotional struggles, and we fully and vibrantly and wonderfully bear the image of God with these imperfections – just like the physically disabled Risen Christ.

I just think that’s phenomenal. It’s awesome. Every one of us, with all our human frailties, our abilities and disabilities, embodies the God whose name and nature is love.

Many of you know, because I wrote about it in this week’s email, that I had a week encountering the truth of the frailty of our human bodies. My dad had a pretty severe stroke on Tuesday morning. By the time I was in the airport ready to fly home on Tuesday evening, I already had a list of people praying for me: every person I had to tell so that they could help cover some church things while I was gone, two clergy colleagues who happened to be in Zoom meeting with me when I got the call from my brother, church family who were gathered for the Tuesday small group that afternoon, the handful of friends who I texted asking for prayer. The Holy Spirit, I think, also moved my clergy friend Berniece – who spells her name just like my Mom Berniece. Well, she reached out to say hello on Facebook messenger as I sat in the airport, so I asked Pastor Berniece to be in charge of especially praying for my mom. While I was scared and teary, the prayers of that community of saints carried me home.

photo of cookies and post it note from neighbors

 

The next few days brought a sometimes-overwhelming flood of love from so many more people. I want to show you this picture. Mom and Dad’s neighbors, who they don’t know super well, saw the ambulance at the house on Tuesday, and dropped off these cookies. I’m not sure if you can read the note but it says, “Here’s some hugs, sugar cookies, and kisses. We thought you could use some extras right now. (from) your neighbors.” I mean, they didn’t even know what was going on, I had literally never met them, but they showed God’s love by just dropping off some cookies and a little note. 

Through the week, the prayer circle just kept expanding and expanding…when I would tell people, they would volunteer to pray, and then they started volunteering others prayers. “I’ll ask my mom to pray for your dad, too!” “My circle at church is praying for you!” Without even asking, the prayers kept coming. The circle kept expanding. With every new person who was praying, I felt the grief I was carrying grow lighter. When texting Megan Hobbs about the Thursday night book group, she shared with me an AA saying, “We divide the sadness and multiply the joy.” It was spot on.

God showed up in so many other ways. God showed up in Linda, the RV sales lady, who responded with so much kindness when my mom told her why they might not be ordering that new RV just yet. God showed up in Shannon, the nurse gifted with so much compassion that even her question of “how are you doing?” caused my eyes to well up and my voice to break. God was there when she didn’t look away or panic at my tears but just waited with tenderness until I could talk again. God was there with the nurse who rushed me to be by my dad’s side before he had a heart test, an act of compassion that gave me the chance to hear him say “I love you” for the first time since the stroke…and right before I had to head back to Omaha. 

God was there in my dad’s presence, in the effort it took for him to say those words, in him as he starts the long journey of recovery. God was there in my brother’s support and my mom’s steadfast commitment and maybe most of all in the ways we held each other up when it was all too much for one of us to bear.

The truth is that this life is all too much for any one of us to bear alone. The truth is that whoever we are, we all have strengths and frailties, abilities and disabilities. The truth is also that we all bear the image of God, and we all can share God’s presence with each other.

I could say more, but in honor of my dad, whose only advice about sermons to me is always “don’t make it too long,” I will end there. Maybe all this sermon needed to say, in fact, was this:

Thanks be to God we don’t have to journey alone.

Thank you for being my community of saints.  

Thanks be to God for the gift of one another.

Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

 [1] What was your reaction to theologian Nancy Eiesland’s image of The Disabled God? What is appealing about that image for you? What is challenging about that image for you?

[2] Think and share as you are comfortable about how you have experienced disability throughout your life (even if temporary). What are some ways you are still able to share God’s love with others even though you may be less physically or cognitively able than you used to be? Do you think having experienced disability has made you any more or less able to show compassion to others?

[3] Pastor Chris shares her journey of receiving God’s love from so many people during a family health crisis. Think about a time that you or someone you loved experienced a health crisis. Who showed you God’s love during that time?

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