“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
- John 14:8-14 (NRSV)
Have you ever seen Jesus? I remember the experience of growing up in a moderately conservative christian church and community where this question would have been asked. It came from a perspective that enticed more of a spiritual inkling or evangelistic premise to it; the idea was that if your spirits were set right, on good terms, or having accepted the gospel message of God’s love through Jesus Christ into your life, then spiritually, you were set to one day spend all eternity with God in the Kingdom of Heaven. The christian faith in its personal experience of being lived out has particular implications to individual as well as collective narratives; however, there is also a universal or holistic side that still maintains personal context, while stretching us beyond our vision of faith.
An image that can help us in this journey of faith can be found in John 14. The setting is the upper room and the people gathered together are Jesus with his disciples. They have been together celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem before Jesus’ departure from them. Jesus is teaching about his return to God and the coming of God’s Kingdom. He responds to a disciple’s question of the way to the Kingdom as “I am the way, the truth, & the life…” (vs. 6). As he speaks of his soon approaching departure from his disciples, Jesus assures them that he will not leave them alone. The Holy Spirit is coming to be present with you. The original language of this scripture text translates into English termed names such as Counselor, Advocate, and Comforter. The context of this text also implies that Jesus himself has served as these roles for and with the disciples up to this point. Though he will no longer be with them in person, Jesus promises them that through the Holy Spirit, his ministry and mission will continue.
The ongoing work of Jesus following his death and resurrection has and continues to take place through the faithfulness of his disciples. These “followers of Jesus” are human beings like you and I who have made a conscious decision to accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord in our lives. This decision implies not only the work of the Spirit within and among us, but also, the physical manifestation of The Spiritual Kingdom of God lived out by all who seek and serve the Lord in a world that is struggling with human societies of oppression, hate, discrimination, prejudice, injustice, and violence.
While the United States faces injustice towards racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and ageism, “ableism” is often forgotten or unnoticed; this is the unjust and inhumane treatment of people with disabilities. I have what is called, “low vision.” I lost a part of my eyesight when I was about 17 years old and in high school. Physicians diagnosed me with a “vision impairment.” They did not diagnose me with a “disability.” The medical model within disability studies tells me that I have an impairment that allows me to physically see life blurry. Since my team of doctors did not say that I am “blind” or “disabled,” how do I get labeled as such? The answer lies in the reality that I live in a world that is not constructed to naturally accommodate or provide creative accessibility for an individual like myself to freely live and experience all the fair attributes and qualities of life that other people are able to experience.
This is the social context in which the Holy Spirit guides The Church and followers of Jesus to serve as advocates, educators, and awareness raisers to the mission and ministry of Christ, which includes the healing and wholeness of individuals into the family of faith community. Christ’s call to discipleship welcomes us to encounter the risen Lord and the Spirit that dwells within us as well as that who moves among and outside the four walls of The Church. The life issues that play a role in the struggle for human dignity, justice, and freedom for people with disabilities are not simply an individual’s issue or problem, they are society’s problem to deal with together. They are The Church’s problem as well.
As a living faith community in the world, The Church is called to give attention to the cares and gifts of its membership. This is inclusive, but not exclusive to people with disabilities. As The Church of the Brethren today, we must be open to discern the work of the Spirit in the lives of people who are touched by various kinds of ability, including “disability.” We must not exclude them from giving and serving opportunities, no matter how big or small. The struggle to dismantle Ableism continues. Though The Church may play a role in advocating for the rights and freedom of people with disabilities in mainstream society, as a social institution we must be conscious and aware to not participate in the oppressive state of treatment towards “disability”, whether in action or attitude.
There are many barriers that have been constructed in visible and invisible forms. As The Church, we serve as a spiritual community, as well as a social organization. This means that our “vision” must provide us with sight beyond sight. As The Church, “we see Jesus.” We see God’s Kingdom. We serve as instruments of God’s promised shalom. We proclaim and present in pastoral, as well as prophetic terms, the presence of Christ in the world. As some will suggest, “our vision may be blurred or low, but we are still able to see Jesus. It just may not be the way you see Jesus.”
By Mark Pickens