We shared some wonderful time around the table recently with a couple from “a ways away.” We first met when they came to stay at The Mill.
It turns out that we and they have been having many parallel conversations… about how God wants to use people with disabilities to wake up the church. And that we are passionate about the church providing “universal access” – not for the “benefit” of those “poor disabled folks,” but because the church so desperately NEEDS their participation.
They spoke of a few churches in their area talking together about why this is important and beginning to develop the ways and means to live this out. Then, they mentioned that they were calling themselves something like the “Banquet Network” – our eyes brightened. The 14th chapter of Luke shows Jesus telling a story of a big Banquet (while at a banquet himself). This story has become a central theme for us.
In case we haven’t unpacked it with you yet, here’s why it means so much to us… Jesus noticed people in social situations angling to snag “places of honor.” (Imagine!) So he says to those hosting, “When you give a banquet, don’t invite your friends, your relatives, your rich neighbors”… Instead, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”
Some people are direct enough to ask, “Why should we have to make a special effort to include people with disabilities?” Try this: Jesus tells us to.
Jesus certainly is aware that we are not naturally inclined to befriend these people. In that light, he’s commanding us to break out of our comfort zones and welcome the disadvantaged and disabled. He’s not asking us to pity “poor unfortunate souls”… he’s demanding that we change our thinking.
“…and you will be blessed.” Most “social services” models reflect a conviction that (we) “haves” have something to give to (them) “the have-nots.” This thinking can accommodate unhealthy attitudes of condescension and paternalism. God says that he has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith,” that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Welcome is not ultimately about “us” blessing “them,” but about God blessing.
“though they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” So it’s clear: Addressing the needs of people with disabilities is going to cost something – it’ll take time, finances, effort, people showing up…
Jesus challenges the legitimacy of trying to calculate “return on ministry investment” that might result from opening up access to our churches… God says, Don’t ask what can these folks give back to you or your church” because he knows that would be our first objection. This investment does pay off… but not now, not this side of glory.
“Go out at once into the streets and alleys and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” There’s an instruction given, and with a sense of urgency. So we’re challenged to move quickly. To obey involves thinking outside the “norm.” We might actually need to seek people out. Many people with disabilities have few or any non-disabled friends. It might take work to find them… because we do rather well at NOT being where they are.
“Go out to the roads and country lanes, make them come in...”. If you think this is just about a few parking places or a ramp or some fancy bathroom stalls, you’re not there yet. We can’t stay where (and as) we are and expect people with disabilities to just start showing up. Jesus commands, “Go out.” For “them” to “come in” and participate (and ultimately become “us”), we may have to do some things to make that possible.
The language of compulsion suggest providing compelling opportunities for people with disabilities to feel (and be) welcomed and accepted. There is a HUGE difference between putting up a sign reading “Everyone welcome” and actually extending “compelling welcome” to individuals with disabilities.
“…so that my house will be full.” The message is that the Body of Christ is incomplete without people with disabilities being part of it. As I’ve said before, If we’re not fostering the spiritual growth and ministry effectiveness of people with disabilities, we are actually disabling the body of Christ. After all, “the weaker members are indispensable” because “God’s power shows up best in weakness.”
So if there is a “Banquet Network” somewhere., sign me up!