Reading for Sixth Sunday of Easter
Peace be with you!
The world imposes physical, psychosocial, and spiritual boundaries on us. Stairs, hills, gates, doors, and hallways are physical boundaries, which keep us in or out of certain places. The ways in which we are welcomed or not welcomed, taught to behave, and loved or hated by others create psychosocial boundaries, which form our thoughts, opinions, and ideas about the world. Accepting one faith tradition over another—such as Christianity, Islam, or Judaism—forms spiritual boundaries of laws and beliefs in which individuals live.
People with disabilities understand physical, psychosocial, and spiritual boundaries. Physical boundaries keep people with disabilities (especially those in wheelchairs) from enjoying certain places due to step(s), steep inclines, narrow aisles, and carpet. These boundaries restrict our ability to enjoy certain places, whereas ramps, wide aisles, and tile allow us to enjoy a place without fear of tipping over steps or rugs. If a community does not welcome people with disabilities, then they will not come to the community’s events. On the other hand, if a community does its best to remove any physical boundaries in their building and is welcoming and accepting to people with disabilities, then they will come and be more willing to be involved.
Psychosocial boundaries have a lot to do with an individual’s attitude and how others welcome them into a community. If individuals with a disabilities have a low self-esteem and do not try different activities, they prevent themselves from enjoying what the world has to offer.
When it comes to spiritual boundaries, people with disabilities have been shut out of the church in the past. Since churches are not required to follow the ADA standards, physical boundaries, such as steps, narrow aisles, and a lack of space open in the worship space, prevent individuals with disabilities from even entering a church—let alone becoming a part of the community. Then, even if a church is wheelchair accessible, the members’ attitudes toward people with disabilities affect whether they will return a second time. Because of my spastic movements and my speech impairments, many people think I am cognitively disabled when they first meet me. It is not until I inform them I have a master of arts in New Testament that people will treat me like any other adult.
In The Disabled God, Nancy L. Eiesland writes, “Naming carnal sins against people with disabilities and other bodies relegated to the margins in the church and society and taking responsibility for the body practices of the church that segregate and isolate these individuals and groups is the difficult work of making real the possibility of the conversion to the disabled God. Often these processes engender conflict and tension as marginalized people seek their place in the decision-making processes of the church and make their nonconventional bodies models for ritual practice and as people who have endowed and overseen the body of the church fight to maintain control.”[i]
Within Christianity, spiritual boundaries can happen when pastors imply people are disabled due to sins of past generations or that their lack of faith prevents them from being healed. This makes individuals with disabilities feel as though they do not belong in the Christian community.
In our Scripture passage for this week, Peter addresses Cornelius and others. The Jews who are circumcised are questioning how the uncircumcised Gentiles can receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45). Before Jesus came along, Jews and Gentiles did not mix. The Jews built a spiritual boundary between the Gentiles and themselves, because they believed they were superior as God’s chosen people. In the same way, people who are not disabled have made themselves superior to individuals with disabilities in the past.
Likewise, the church makes people with disabilities think God cannot love a broken, imperfect body. Yet, Eiesland writes, “To be human is to sin…”[ii] Therefore, we are all broken and in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. Peter challenges the Jews and people without disabilities by asking, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47 NRSV).
By the grace of God, we—Jews, Gentiles, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities—are all able to receive the Holy Spirit; we are all broken and in need of grace, salvation, and love from God. And he is ready and willing to give us this grace. No one should be denied access to the Lord’s fountain and table on account of being broken. The sacraments exist precisely for broken people.
Therefore, as the Christian community, we are called to share the good news of the forgiveness, grace, and love of Jesus Christ. We need to recognize Jesus as the disabled God who was crucified for our sins. At the resurrection, we see the holes in Jesus’s hands, feet, and side. Jesus fulfills God’s promise to become human and to take on our pain and afflictions. Nancy Mairs writes, “[Jesus] died as that body and yet somehow did not die then or ever but lives on in our bodies which live in God.”[iii] This is what overthrows the spiritual boundaries from before Jesus’s time on earth and allows us to be in a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for overthrowing spiritual boundaries and allowing everyone and anyone to know you. Help us to break down physical boundaries, which prevent anyone with a physical limitation from entering the church. Help us to break down psychosocial boundaries that keep us for welcoming strangers. Lead us to welcome those different from us. Thank you for becoming human and taking on our pain and suffering. Amen.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the behavior covenant by commenting on it.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
- How can you make your church more accessible for people with disabilities?
- How do you welcome those different from you into the church?
[i] Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 109.
[ii] Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God, 70.
[iii] Quote from Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God, 99.