January 20, 2019
“From Age to Age the Same”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isaiah 46:3-4)
You’re been on a tour before, right? I spoke to some folks who had gone to Scotland and they got a tour of history – thousands of years of history. This past summer I went on a beach tour in Tybee Island, Georgia. We saw where the ghost crabs hide and looked for things that you don’t see when you’re not paying attention. I still remember the awful smell of shoes at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. – knowing that those who once wore them were all gassed to death at a Concentration Camp during the Second World War.
Tours educate you and stimulate you. They expand your mind and they tug at your heart. There was a guy called Dave who took a tour and he was never the same again. Dave was a active church member and had taken a few years of Seminary training before he decided to go into a different calling. The tour he took was at the Good Shepherd Home of the West in central California. 270 adults and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities lived at that facility.
He began the tour with a number of others but it was hard for him to look at the various residents. They weren’t like him. The term they used back then was that they were ‘retarded’ or “slow”. They could do very little on their own. They needed a great deal of help from others just to do the basic things of life. Dave wrote about his feelings, “Where was God in these people who just could not function the way I understood people were supposed to function? I dropped out of the tour and just went outside to wait until everyone finished so then we could drive home and, hopefully, I could get them out of my mind.”
The tour that day went from a tour of seeing the disabled to a tour of Dave seeing himself. And it wasn’t very pretty. He wanted to run away. He didn’t want to see anyone who wasn’t up to his standard. You may remember St. Paul talking about the church as a body. “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.” (I Corinthians 12:22-14)
Eventually Dave saw how shallow he was. He didn’t want to see the weaker parts or the less honorable ones or those that were unpresentable. He wanted to see the strong, capable, pretty and handsome but he saw something less than that and he didn’t know how to handle that.
But something amazing happened to Dave. He writes, “As I was sitting there, a young lady, maybe in her early teens, came and sat down beside me. She just sat there for a while and then turned and asked me why I was so sad. Before I could think of an answer she said, ‘Don’t you know Jesus?’ What was I supposed to say? I could go through all the stuff I learned in Sunday school, confirmation class, and three years of pre-seminary preparation, but that didn’t seem appropriate. How could someone that I was so much smarter than be putting me in a position where I didn’t have an answer about my faith? I’ll admit, I just stumbled with an answer that didn’t satisfy her or me. She moved a little closer and put her little hand on my shoulder and said, ‘That’s okay. Jesus loves you even if you don’t know how to love Him.’”
That changed the tour, that changed Dave. His arrogant, prideful, smarter-than-you way was crushed. He had a disability as well and it included blindness and deafness of mind and spirit and now he knew it. But at that moment he saw grace from her and from God. “Jesus loves you even if you don’t know how to love Him.” Dave needed to be made well in his mind and soul, with his thoughts and attitudes, and God used a young girl with a disability she didn’t choose, to help Dave with a disability that he did choose.
That changed Dave. And that changes us. Today I want you to treasure life as much as God treasures life. Sometimes life isn’t pretty. Not everyone gets their picture on the cover of a magazine. Sometimes folks are very limited in the things that they can do in life. Do you know someone who is handicapped, disabled, ‘slow’? It is time to take a tour and see where our heart is and where God’s heart is.
In the parable of the “The Great Banquet” (Luke 14:15-24) the King tells his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame…compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:21,23)
That is God’s heart. When Matthew was called to be a follower of Jesus, the heart of God was shown. Many disagreed that a person with such disabilities would be called to be in the inner circle of Jesus. After all Matthew was a sinner, and everyone knew that. Jesus said of all this, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31)
Age to age the same. When God says, “I am the Lord. I change not.” (Malachi 3:6a) that is wonderful news. We can count on Him to show us mercy, to forgive all our sins, even the ones of looking away from another. He then puts us on a new path and gives us a new heart. His faithfulness to us doesn’t ever diminish. Whoever we are, whatever our limitations and whatever our sins may be – “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
Because we are treasured so dearly by God we can see all of life as His gift. When Psalm 139 tells us, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (verse 14a) He means you. And me. And them. And God instructs us how to treasure the life of everyone, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
One of the great joys that I have is being the one to place into your hands the very bread of life, Jesus Christ, in Holy Communion. At the late service, at the end of the line because his family sits in back, is Jamie Schmitt. Jamie will be 25 in April and he has special needs. When he comes to Communion in his Nuggets, Rockies or Broncos clothing he doesn’t leave communion without giving me a hug and telling me that he loves me. What a gift I receive! What joy he brings to me! He helps me know the great things in life!!
Taken a tour lately? Take one with God directing you, allowing you to see His hand in everyone you see, allowing you to see that always and everywhere He is present. Amen!!
(The thoughts in this sermon come from a sermon written by Rev. Steve Leinhos, Ministry Consultant for Bethesda Lutheran Communities)