The Great Reversal


[Image description: A brown, sandy pathway is centered with green grass, trees, and a fence on either side. The pathway leads toward a large, yellow-orange full moon on the horizon. The sky behind the moon is black.]

This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, MI and was focused upon Luke 6:17-26. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God…

Mother Teresa used to say, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”

We long for peace… Peace of every kind…

And we do belong to one another… but have we forgotten?

How easy it is to forget… And yet God is always beckoning us back into this belonging, this Sacred Belonging rooted in connection with God, with our neighbors, and with the earth. God calls us to this again and again. And we find blessedness there — Blessedness in this larger form of Belonging.

As Jesus traveled around Galilee and Judea, he was surrounded by crowds. Large crowds. Sometimes, the crowds were so big and so pressing in their needs, that they began to press in upon him. There were times that he would find creative ways to step aside just a bit and work with nature so that he could address them collectively — getting into Simon Peter’s boat and pushing it out into the water, climbing up the Mount of Olives and letting it serve as a natural amphitheater, or here, coming down from a mountain where he and his disciples had been praying and standing on a level place to address the people.

In all of these moments, Jesus spoke to them all at once, and I wonder… As the members of these crowd stood or sat side by side, listening in the same direction, breathing in the same direction, and dreaming in the same direction… I wonder… did they remember once more that they belong to one another? Did they experience an invitation into that larger, Sacred Belonging? With God? With neighbors? With the earth? Did Jesus step away just a bit and turn them toward one another? Did he turn them toward a larger vision? A vision that could invigorate their own lives?

Biblical scholars call this section of the Gospel of Luke, The Sermon on the Plain. It’s very similar to the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in the Gospel of Matthew, but in Luke, it has its own unique telling. It’s possible that Jesus gave the same address, a very memorable one in his life and teaching, and Matthew and Luke recorded it differently, at the Mount of Olives and here, on a plain, and with different nuances.

But it’s also possible that these teachings of Jesus were a frequent address as he traveled. These teachings might have been one of his primary stump speeches, so to speak. He may have spoken them many times to different crowds, and as the disciples traveled along with him, they may have come to internalize these words. They may have come to a recognition that they belonged to the vision within them.

The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain both begin with words of blessedness. We might remember the opening words in Matthew which we called the Beatitudes —

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,

and many more words of blessings.

But here, in the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is much more direct:

Blessed are you who are poor —

not blessed are the poor, but blessed are you who are poor; not blessed are the poor in spirit, but blessed are you who are poor, poor right now —

for yours is the kingdom of God —

not for theirs is the kingdom of God, but for yours is the kingdom of God — yours, yes, right now.

These blessings are direct and for the people who seek belonging into this vision. They are present for those who find themselves suddenly held within the belonging of this vision.

And here, in the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is much more direct with something Matthew does not include. He has a list of woes:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what the ancestors did to the false prophets.

These might be… harder to hear. And yet, do they cast some people —perhaps some of us — out of this larger Sacred Belonging? With God? With neighbors? And with the earth? Or…. do these words also call us right back in?

What is Jesus doing here? Of course, we can’t fully know, but I wonder if we might consider a few things. Jesus grew up as a recipient of scriptures from the Hebrew Bible which today are often called apocalyptic literature. These include scriptures from the prophets that speak about final things… about a sacred, final future when God will cosmically and dramatically liberate the poor and disenfranchised, destroying their enemies and every single force that seeks to oppress them. These scriptures are written from the perspective of those who are abused and humiliated, who need to proclaim the strength of a truly Liberating God toward a liberation that is truly longed for and deserved.

It is a Great Reversal of fortunes. Is that what Jesus is lifting up here?


But I also notice that these woes don’t really have cosmic, dramatic judgment attached. They don’t say, “Woe to you who are rich, for the moon will turn to blood and you will have fear and trembling on the great, final Day of the Lord.” They don’t say that.

No, they say things like, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

You sought riches, and you gained them on the backs of others, and you have them. And they make you impoverished in a totally different way.

They’ve separated you — or they give the illusion of separation to you, perhaps also giving the illusion of superiority to you, and from there, perhaps turning you against your neighbors so that you oppress them, and they do not have what they need.

You sought riches, and you’ve received your consolation.

You’re not living in alignment with this better vision, this transformative vision of the Kingdom of God.

The sun, moon, and stars are not falling out of the heavens here, but we shouldn’t underestimate these words of woe.

As Mother Teresa used to say, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”

The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke have their different nuances here in these words of blessing. But there’s one thing in common, one thing we could easily miss. I missed it for many years when I read these passages: In the midst of this great crowd — in both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain — Jesus doesn’t begin by addressing the crowd as a whole. Instead, he addresses his disciples directly while the rest of the crowd watches.

He seems to make a division, and he puts an emphasis of the disciples. It isn’t the kind of separation that turns the gathered body against one another, Instead, it is a separation that invites. It is a separation that calls. It is a separation that beckons to us, saying,

“Come over here. Come to this blessedness. Come this Sacred Belonging. Come to your neighbors. Be gathered into this fullness. Follow me into this way of life. This is the way… not your riches, or your full bellies, or your too often shallow laughter, or your great reputations. Leave your trust in these. Come over here where there is life… where God is transformative, where neighbors matter and belong and have what they need — including from your riches. Come over here into a vision where the earth is filled with flourishing people and all of creation is transformed. Come over here.”

This is Sacred Belonging. This is our invitation.

The Great Reversal is likely much more than a flip-flop of fortunes. It is an invitation to remember again that we belong to one another — yes, right this moment –and we’re invited into very blessing of that vision.

Renee Roederer

#AccessIsLove: God Is Disabled

sorrowful mystery

[This painting is entitled, ‘Crocifissione”(”Crucifixion”) by Gerardo Dottori and is in the Vatican Museum. Image description: Jesus is hanging on the cross with his head tilted to the left side. The cross and his body are shades of blue in front of a red background. There is a beam of light coming down in the shape of the triangle, lighting his body and two women who are kneeling at the foot of the cross. One is looking up and to the left. The other is looking down and to the right.]

Today, we close a five-part series entitled #AccessIsLove. This series is part of the larger #AccessIsLove campaign initiated by Mia Mingus, Sandy Ho, and Alice Wong, three disabled activists who invite us to frame accessibility as an act of love and a priority for moral inclusion — not an afterthought, not a burden, and not an inconvenience to be avoided. Each day this week, we’ve extended that conversation to discuss issues of accessibility in churches, and we’ve explored accessibility from a variety of angles.

A Proclamation

I want to close this series with a theological claim we can make from the Christian tradition:

God is Disabled.

Yes. This is the beautiful proclamation of Nancy L. Eiseland in her book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability.

God is Disabled.

One day, while searching for something in the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary library, I remember discovering Nancy Eiseland’s book. I was a student in my mid-20s, and I decided to check it out and give it a read. I’m so glad I did, because it moved me deeply. It has stayed with me all these years.

God is Disabled.

Nancy Eiesland, herself a disabled theologian, resists the ways that disability has been framed and defined throughout history — as inherently flawed, equated with human sin, or not fully human. She names the grave injustices that have been done to disabled people through these theological and cultural understandings

Instead, Nancy Eiseland proclaims Jesus to be God-With-Us as he endures trauma, injury, and disfigurement during the crucifixion.

Jesus — God-With-Us — becomes Disabled.

And when hope surprises on the third day, the resurrected Jesus appears still bearing the wounds of the crucifixion. These have not been removed. Jesus is revealed to be the Disabled God. Likewise, he reveals true, full personhood. Disability is included in what it means to be fully human. And people with disabilities bear the image of God.

Nancy Eiseland writes,

“In the resurrected Jesus Christ, they [the disciples] saw not the suffering servant for whom the last and most important word was tragedy and sin, but the disabled God who embodied both impaired hands and feet and pierced side and the imago Dei [or image of God]. Paradoxically, in the very act commonly understood as the transcendence of physical life, God is revealed as tangible, bearing the representation of the body reshaped by injustice and sin into the fullness of the Godhead. (pp. 99-100)”

— and —

“In presenting his impaired hands and feet to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God. Jesus, the resurrected Savior, calls for his frightened companions to recognize in the marks of impairment their own connection with God, their own salvation. In so doing, this disabled God is also the revealer of a new humanity. The disabled God is not only the One from heaven but the revelation of true personhood, underscoring the reality that full personhood is fully compatible with the experience of disability. (p. 100)”

In Christian theology,

Disability is part of the identity of God, and
Disabled people are bearers of the image of God,
Fully human,
Fully worthy,
Fully included.

So how will we view one another, and how will we include one another? Access Is Love.

Share the Love!

I want to thank you for following along with this series this week.

As we close, here as some ways to take action and add support:

1) I recommend continuing the #AccessIsLove conversation in your church and in other communities that are important to you. Sometimes, we haven’t begun to consider certain accessibility needs. Other times, if we’re honest, we haven’t really prioritized accessibility in the first place. How can our communities commit to full inclusion and access?

2) Would you consider adding a contribution of support?

— First and foremost, I recommend supporting and amplifying the work of Mia Mingus, Sandy Ho, and Alice Wong, the three disabled activists who initiated the #AccessIsLove campaign. Check out their suggested accessibility actions, and contribute financially to their vision by purchasing some swag. I’m going to buy a shirt later today.

I also sent a donation this week to Annie Segarra who did some lovely teaching for us and others in two Youtube videos. Grateful for her contributions.

— I spent slightly more than 20 hours this week crafting, curating, and writing this series, and I did so with a lot of joy. This has been a very meaningful process for me personally. The majority of my writing, chaplaincy work, community formation, and community organizing is uncompensated labor.

Did you learn something helpful? Will you be using this series to initiate conversation? Would you consider making a donation of any size? If that’s something you’d like to do, you can do that here.

And my writing is always free and truly a labor of love. So that remains true too.

Thanks for following and adding yourselves to the conversation!

Renee Roederer

This post is part of series called #AccessIsLove. You can find the other pieces here:

#AccessIsLove: Inaccessible Church Buildings
#AccessIsLove: Changing Ableist Language in Churches
#AccessIsLove: Invisible Disabilities in Church Communities
#AccessIsLove: Neuro and Sensory Diversity in Churches

#AccessIsLove: Neuro and Sensory Diversity in Churches


color brain

[I found this image in a piece by Wayne Deakin, entitled, Meet the Invisible Minority: Why My Autism and Neurodiversity Are Gifts to the Industry. I recommend reading it. Image Description: On a white background, a human brain is viewed from above. The brain is drawn with black lines, and colorful splotches of red, green, blue, yellow, and purple are present in the center of the brain, moving outward onto the white background.]

As I’ve shared throughout the week, Disability Activists have recently launched a campaign on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook called #AccessIsLove, framing accessibility as an act of love and a priority for moral inclusion — not an afterthought, not a burden, and not an inconvenience to be avoided. Throughout this week, I am writing about issues of accessibility in churches, and as I do so, I want to spotlight the perspectives of disabled people and communities impacted by inaccessibility. Today, I want to spotlight the autistic community and people with sensory-processing diversity. (I also recommend following these folks on social media).

The Gift of Being Oneself

I want to begin with this beautiful TED Talk by Rosie King, an autistic speaker who shares, “I wouldn’t trade my autism and my imagination for the world.”

Rosie King: How Autism Freed Me to Be Myself

Rosie King says, “But if you think about it, what is normal? What does it mean? Imagine if that was the best compliment you ever received: ‘Wow, you are really normal.’ But compliments are, ‘You are extraordinary,’ or ‘You step outside the box.’ It’s, ‘You’re amazing.’ So if people want to be these things, why are so many people striving to be normal? Why are people pouring their brilliant, individual light into a mold? People are so afraid of variety, that they try and force everyone, even people who don’t want to or can’t, to become normal.”


“I’m going to leave you with one question: If we can’t get inside the person’s minds, no matter if they’re autistic or not, instead of punishing anything that strays from normal, why not celebrate uniqueness and cheer every time someone unleashes their imagination?”

The Gift of Being Ourselves in Community

Congregations, like all communal spaces, have community members with phenomenal gifts of imagination, a variety of communication styles, and unique ways of processing sensory information. When we privilege only a few limited ways to experience, communicate, or process information, we become inaccessible to those who do so differently. We may become exclusionary or discriminatory as well, stigmatizing those who communicate and process in ways that are different from ‘the norm.’

When we are accessible, however, we consider the unique gifts and needs of the people in our community, both uplifting and accommodating a variety of ways to participate, contribute, lead, belong, and receive care from one another.

— I would like to spotlight this video series, entitled, Creating an Autism-friendly Church. It was created by autistic community members in Asheville and faculty and students from The University North Carolina, Asheville. It includes includes four short videos with suggestions of ways to create “inclusive, religious environments for autistic and neurodiverse church members.”

— The Rev. Leanne Masters is the pastor of Southern Heights Presbyterian Church in Lincoln Nebraska. Together, she and the members of the congregation have become advocates for autistic children and adults, seeking to create an inclusive environment in their worship space. They have created an adaptive bulletin which features pictorial icons, giving a visual order to the worship service and inviting participation. And they provide weighted lap blankets to people who may find them calming, particularly those who have sensory-processing sensitivities. You can read about this here: Adaptive Worship Bulletin ‘Shows’ As Well as Tells.

— The Rev. Katy Stenta is the pastor of New Covenant Church in Albany, NY. Together, they have started a new worshipping community called Trailpraisers designed to provide an experiential worship service that includes the participation and leadership of people who communicate and process sensory information in a variety of ways.

Happy Valentines Day: Share the Love!

Today is Valentines Day, and I’d like to express my gratitude to Sandy Ho (@notyouravgho on Instagram), Mia Mingus (@mia.mingus on Instagram), and Alice Wong (@disability_visibility on Instagram). They are the people who started the #AccessIsLove campaign. If you’ve been learning from this series I’ve been creating, please check out the #AccessIsLove website where you can learn from them directly. And please provide support by giving a buying their #AccessIsLove swag. It’s great stuff!

Access Is Love — Disability Visibility

Tomorrow, we will conclude the formal #AccessIsLove series on Smuggling Grace (some lovely disability theology tomorrow) but let’s keep this conversation going!

I’m also offering some other resources below so feel free to check them out too.

Renee Roederer

This post is part of a series entitled #AccessIsLove. Feel free to check out the other pieces also:

#AccessIsLove: Inaccessible Church Buildings
#AccessIsLove: Changing Ableist Language in Churches
#AccessIsLove: Invisible Disabilities in Church Communities
#AccessIsLove: God Is Disabled

And some additional resources for your consideration:

Thoughts on ‘Differently-Abled’  — Disability activist Jocy Mon (@Jocyofthedragons on Instagram) shares why she doesn’t like disability euphemisms like ‘differently-abled.’

Video: Things Not To Say to An Autistic Person (If you need to know this ahead of time, this video includes some cursing).

Every Brain is Beautiful: The Autism Advantage by Dr. Lynda M. Ulrich

My Complicated Thoughts on Neurodiversity by Emily S. Cutler


#AccessIsLove: Invisible Disabilities in Church Communities

Invisible disability

[I found this image on Kerry Magro’s blog on a piece entitled, What I would Like People to Know About Having Autism and an Invisible Disability. I recommend reading it. Image Description: White background, black text. There is a phrase at the top which reads, “Not all disabilities look like this,” with an arrow pointing to the traditional disability symbol of someone using a wheelchair. There is a phrase below which reads, “Some look like this,” pointing to symbols of three people. Two are adults with a child in the middle holding the hands of both adults.”]

As I’ve shared throughout the week, Disability Activists have recently launched a campaign on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook called #AccessIsLove, framing accessibility as an act of love and a priority for moral inclusion — not an afterthought, not a burden, and not an inconvenience to be avoided. Throughout this week, I am writing about issues of accessibility in churches, and as I do so, I want to spotlight the perspectives of disabled people. (I also recommend following them on social media.)

Invisible Disabilities

Not all disabilities are visible.

Let’s say that again:

Not all disabilities are visible.

Many people know this, of course, but… culturally, people sometimes have a very narrow concept of what disability is, how it functions (of course, there’s a huge spectrum of how disability functions in people’s lives!) and what gets to ‘count’ as disability. It might seem as though this is merely a question of definition, but if our understandings are too narrow, we can erase people’s experiences and identities, and we are much more likely to be extremely narrow in accommodating the needs of people in our communities. This can happen, and does often happen, within the life of congregations. If we want to create churches that are fully inclusive and accessible, we should think about invisible disabilities.

When we ponder invisible disabilities, what are some important things to consider?

— We cannot tell whether someone has a disability simply by looking at them.

— Among other things, we are talking about chronic health conditions, pain disorders, mental health conditions, auto-immune disorders, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, sensory processing conditions, and more (again, let’s not be limited).

— People have a right to talk about their experiences, conditions, and identities in ways that are unique to their choosing. Some may identify as having a disability; others may not. They may use different language altogether. We should follow their lead. Some may use person-first language (“I’m a person with _______; here’s an example) and some may use identity-first language (“I’m a(n) ______ person; here’s an example). Many Deaf people capitalize the ‘D’ in Deaf to assert pride in their identity and being a member of a community that is also a culture. In short, we should follow the lead of people and mirror the language they use. If we are unsure which language people use, we can ask.

— We need to take care about how we hold and share people’s health information: 1) People have a right to share that they have a health condition or invisible disability, and people have a right to keep it private. It is their choice. 2) If someone shares this with us, it does not then give us liberty to talk about it with others without their permission. And… 3) we should not speculate in conversation with others about whether someone has a disability or a health condition. 4) We definitely should not ‘diagnose’ someone in conversation with others. In more than one congregation, I have watched people presume to ‘diagnose’ a person — and wrongly —  when they made an assumed conclusion about someone’s physical or mental health and shared this ‘conclusion’ with others. People may also attempt to ‘diagnose’ a traditionally stigmatized condition upon a person in order to dismiss that person or create suspicion about that person. (I was also once on the receiving end of this experience. It was horrible.) Let’s be clear about this: It’s ableist.

In addition to these points, as we consider how to have a more inclusive and accessible church for people with invisible disabilities, let’s ponder how some larger cultural frameworks and misunderstandings might impact people in our congregations also.


I’d like to spotlight another helpful video from Annie Segarra. She is an ambulatory wheelchair user — meaning that she can sometimes stand or walk for short amounts of time. She names the ways that disabled people are sometimes accused of faking their disabilities. This happens when people have a very narrow understanding of what disability is and presume to confront others. This can even lead to incidents of verbal and physical abuse.

(This week, I’ll also be compensating Annie Segarra with a donation for the use of her videos. She offers educational and emotional labor in teaching us. She also makes a living this way. Did you learn something? Want to join me in making a donation?)

And here’s another video from one of the hosts of Tru Faces on Youtube who is visually impaired and has had painful experiences of being accused of faking her disability.

How might these dynamics impact people in church communities? Some questions for us to consider:

Would someone with a disability placard be accused of faking their need if they use one of our designated parking spots and then walk unassisted into our church building? What if some people in our churches aren’t utilizing this need currently out of fear of what others might say?

If someone tells us that they need greater access, different placement, or particular technology in order to see or hear more clearly in worship, will we believe them and take that need seriously?

If our ADA non-compliant church buildings have steps with no lifts, will a person with a pain disorder feel comfortable in telling us this is inaccessible for them, or will we assume that’s only true for people who use mobility aids? (It also matters for people who use mobility aids!)

If someone tells us that they have particular dietary needs, will we prioritize those? In community meals? In communion/eucharist?

If we use particular kinds of language around food or fitness, might we inadvertently exacerbate someone’s eating disorder?

If someone tells us that our language in sermons or liturgy is triggering of past trauma, will we honor that and try to frame things differently next time?

Health Stigma

We should also keep in mind that certain health conditions additionally face a great deal of stigma in our larger culture. This may lead to some people keeping their invisible disabilities private and hidden.

Again, it is always someone’s choice to share or not, and that should be honored. But if we want to be fully inclusive and accessible in our churches, we should ask ourselves how health and disability stigma might be present in our own congregational cultures too. Might this lead to people hiding their needs for accommodation? Could those dynamics lead to people feeling isolated even in the midst of community gatherings? Might this mean that people might stay home even if they’d love to participate in worship services?

A Story That Sits With Me

If you follow this blog, you might remember that I had a very meaningful experience meeting Kurt Eichenwald last November. He has written a powerful, personal memoir called A Mind Unraveled about his experiences living with epilepsy.

I also recently heard him tell a story about a conversation he had with others at a book signing event.

He was addressing the people there and asked, “How many people here have epilepsy?”

There was a pause, and then one person raised his hand.

Kurt Eichenwald then said, “Hi, my name’s Kurt, and I have epilepsy. How many people here have epilepsy and have never told a single person in your whole life?”

Six people raised their hands.

Church Cultures: Hidden Conditions, Hidden Needs

As a person who grew up with epilepsy (which later went into remission) this story above did not surprise me at all, and yet I found it to be so telling. It makes me wonder how many people with culturally stigmatized conditions and invisible disabilities are present in our congregations but keeping their experiences and needs hidden?

(Sidenote: 1 in 26 people will have an epilepsy diagnosis at some point in their lives, and epilepsy is more common than autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease combined. I can nearly promise you that people in congregations currently have or have had epilepsy. Can they tell you?)

And what about mental health stigma? It’s a huge cultural force. How many people feel as though they are hiding in the shadows? Even within our congregations?

If health stigma exists in these directions, in broader culture, and within the life of a congregation, can members feel comfortable disclosing their conditions, invisible disabilities, and particular needs to one another? Can pastors and other ministry leaders disclose their conditions, invisible disabilities, and particular needs to their congregations? Or will there be challenging consequences for doing so?

These are crucial questions for accessibility. And Access is Love.

Thanks again for reading. We’ll have two more posts in this series this week. Anything you’d like to add? Feel free to share in the comments.

Renee Roederer

— I also want to recommend this powerful piece by Rabbi Ruth Adar, entitled, Hiding My Disability Kept Me From My Fullest Life.

— I also want to recommend an episode of Alice Wong’s incredible podcast Disability Visibility. Alice Wong is a disability activist and one of the initiators of the #AccessIsLove. That episode is called, “Disabled Fakers.” In that episode, she interviews Doron Dorfman who has done research on the “fear of the disability con,” and discusses how that impacts accessibility, an understanding of ethics, and disability rights in law.

— This post is part of a series. Feel free to check out the other pieces here:

#AccessIsLove: Inaccessible Church Buildings
#AccessIsLove: Changing Ableist Language in Churches
#AccessIsLove: Neuro and Sensory Diversity in Churches
#AccessIsLove: God Is Disabled

#AccessIsLove: Changing Ableist Language in Churches


[Image description: A graphic with a white background with a red border and black text with the words “It is all of our responsibility to think about and help create accessible spaces and community.” At the bottom, centered: #AccessIsLove]

As I shared yesterday, Disability Activists have recently launched a campaign on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook called #AccessIsLove, framing accessibility as an act of love and a priority for moral inclusion — not an afterthought, not a burden, and not an inconvenience to be avoided. Throughout this week, I plan to write about issues of accessibility in churches, and as I do so, I want to spotlight the perspectives of disabled people. (I also recommend following them on social media.)

Casual Ableist Language

I want to begin this post with an excellent video from Annie Segarra who teaches about casual ableist language. She gives a lot of examples, naming ways that people use words associated with disability and illness to make insults, create jokes, or describe something as negative. It happens so casually. And these phrases are so common that people may not even consider the ways they reveal negative associations with disability.

Casual Ableist Language in Worship

How does casual ableist language show up in worship? In sermons? In liturgy? In directions?

Maybe we’ve spoken or encountered language like,

“We are blind to our sin.”


“No matter what Jesus said, it seemed to fall on deaf ears.”

“God promised to be with them, but they were paralyzed with fear and wouldn’t move forward.”

In all of these cases, the words ‘blind,’ ‘deaf,’ and ‘paralyzed’ are used to indicate some kind of moral shortcoming.

These days, I’m also pondering how we give directions, particularly issuing invitations to stand. A lot of times, a worship service will begin with a leader saying something like, “Will all who are able, please stand,” or “I invite all who are able to rise.” I think the intention here is to indicate it’s okay to stay seated. But… there’s a negative impact: This language immediately marks and separates the community into categories of who is abled and who is disabled, and of course, abled is upheld normative.

I stopped saying this a while back, and most of the time, I’ve replaced it with something like, “I invite us to rise in body or in spirit.” But… I’m realizing this is ableist too. It still separates, and it frames abled people as bodied and disabled people as disembodied.

I appreciate these words from the Rev. Jessica Harren, and I recommend reading her entire post, A Posture of Reverence: Words Around People’s Bodies Matter, Especially tho Those with Disabilities.

“Please stand as you are comfortable.”
“Please take your posture of reverence for prayer”
“Please take your personal prayer positions”
“Please take your personal reverence positions”
“Please take your person singing positions”
“Please take a posture to support your singing aloud and stand if comfortable.”

We could also say,

We are invited to … (mirroring this language)

Let us… (mirroring this language)

Mindful of Language

Concepts shape language, and language shapes community.

There is a great deal of negativity about disability baked into our common, everyday English. So we have to pay attention to that. And our language shapes how community is formed and who upheld as valuable.

This is something we need to be conscious about. We’re going to make mistakes sometimes, and we’ll have moments when we realize we’ve been framing something negatively for a long time. But if we want to have an accessible church where every body authentically belongs, we have to be intentionally mindful of our language.

Renee Roederer

This post is part of a series. Feel free to read the other pieces too:

#AccessIsLove: Inaccessible Church Buildings
#AccessIsLove: Invisible Disabilities in Church Communities
#AccessIsLove: Neuro and Sensory Diversity in Churches
#AccessIsLove: God Is Disabled

#AccessIsLove: Inaccessible Church Buildings


[Image description: Two graphics with a white background with a red border and black text that features two quotes by @Mia.Mingus on Instagram: “Access is a practice of love when it is done in service of care, solidarity, and disability justice.” — And — “When access is a practice of love it is no longer simply about logistics and something you have to do, but something you want to do.” At the bottom, centered: #AccessIsLove]

Disability activists have recently launched a campaign on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook called #AccessIsLove, framing accessibility as an act of love and a priority for moral inclusion — not an afterthought, not a burden, and not an inconvenience to be avoided. Throughout this week, I plan to write about issues of accessibility in churches, and as I do so, I want to lift up the perspectives of disabled people. (I also recommend following them on social media.)

How do we make congregational life fully accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities? In community participation? In leadership?

IMG_9700.jpg[Image description: A graphic with a white background with a red border and black text that features a quote by @notyouravgho on Instagram: “How we understand access is also how deeply we dare to dream, create, and exist as a collective.” At the bottom, centered: #AccessIsLove]

Church Buildings and ADA Exemption

[CW in this section: Homophobic Language]

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, houses of worship and religious schools were identified as spaces exempt from compliance. As disability activists pushed for this landmark legislation, some church leaders fought and lobbied hard for a firm exemption for their own buildings. Some expressed concern about the expenses of renovations, while William Bentley Ball, a representative of the Association of Christian Schools International, became an influential voice in leading a movement to name these changes as government intrusion. He rooted his arguments in homophobia and ableism, claiming that churches, private schools, and day cares are “morally required (as a matter of clear and unconditional religious principle) to discriminate against carriers of AIDS where AIDS was incurred through immoral conduct.”

I learned about this particular history in Shannon Dingle’s excellent article, Resisting Ableism in the American Church. I recommend reading it.

Church Buildings: Still Inaccessible 30 Years Later

As a regional Chaplain, I am often invited to preach and lead worship in a variety of church spaces, filling in frequently for leaders who are away on Sunday mornings. These days, I find myself thinking quite a bit about inaccessibility as the legacy of the ADA exemption is still with us thirty years later.

— Sometimes, sanctuaries are accessible only by steps with no alternate routes into the worship space. Sanctuaries are often the central space for congregational life, as Sunday worship and larger meetings are held there. Inaccessible sanctuaries exclude people with disabilities from community participation and communal worship.

— Sometimes, entire wings of the building — often, spaces for education for children, youth, and adults — are placed on upper or lower levels in a building without an elevator or any other kind of lift. Inaccessible floors of the building exclude people with disabilities, including children, from meeting with their peers and participating in Christian Education.

— Most churches I visit, including those that are otherwise accessible for mobility, have steps leading to the chancel spaces in their sanctuaries. These chancel areas are the spaces of leadership where people preach, read scripture, choirs sing, and people make announcements. Inaccessible chancel spaces exclude people with physical disabilities from roles of leadership within a congregation.

And when it comes to leadership, I also find myself thinking… Seminaries are training disabled people who have discerned a call to serve in pastoral ministry, and yet… so many churches are inaccessible. How does this lead to a challenging call process? How does this lend itself to discrimination?

Disability activist Imani Barbarin also points out another crucial concern as well. (I recommend follwing her at Crutches&Spice and @Imani_Barbarin)


[Image description: A tweet by @Imani_Barbarin reads, “Just a note: the same inaccessible churches I referred to earlier are also used as polling stations.”]

In some places, the same challenges of inaccessibility within a congregation lead to inaccessibility in the voting process.

What Should We Do?

I do not deny that it is, of course, very expensive to renovate these buildings, and some congregations really do not have the means to do so on their own. It makes me wonder… What would be possible if there were large grants available for congregations to make renovations for physical accessibility?

I don’t have any big answers for how to fund these needed shifts. (Though let’s absolutely seek out those who do). But I do believe these are crucial, needed shifts we must prioritize. Approximately 20% of the population has a disability of some kind. If we don’t raise issues of accessibility, or if we treat accessibility concerns as a mere afterthought, we are excluding a huge portion of people — people who deserve to participate fully in our spaces and lead our communities.

And accessibility includes more than physical mobility accommodations too. So throughout the rest of the week, let’s consider accessibility from a variety of angles. Let’s keep lifting up the perspectives of disabled writers and activists, and let’s keep talking.

Here are some more pieces and tweets about inaccessible churches from disabled authors:

Shannon Dingle, “This is Why Disabled People Were So Devastated By the Christian Silence on Health Care”

Tweets about Inaccessible Church Buildings:

From Imani Barbarin

From Disability&Jesus

From DiddyTup

I appreciate you reading and engaging this post. What observations would you add? Let’s have a conversation.

Renee Roederer

This post is part of a series. Feel free to check out the other pieces too:

#AccessIsLove: Changing Ableist Language in Churches”
#AccessIsLove: Invisible Disabilities in Church Communities
#AccessIsLove: Neuro and Sensory Diversity in Churches
#AccessIsLove: God Is Disabled



[Public Domain Image]

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Saline, Michigan and was focused upon Ephesians 3:14-21 and the story that is told in Luke 5:1-11. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth…” –Ephesians 3:18

And so… what if it’s true?

What if there is a love at the heart of things? A love so large, so expansive, and so abundant that is hard to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth? A love that is truly hard to wrap our minds around, and yet a love that is an invitation — a love that is summoning us into the fullness of God, the fullness of community, and the fullness of the vision God seeks to initiate and invigorate even through us?

What if that is actually true?

What if that love is calling us… ? What if it has been calling us all along? And what if it is calling us in new ways — today? now?

This love invites us into fullness:

-This love calls us into community. This love invites us to view our neighbors and live among our neighbors through a vision of kinship — to trust that we are so deeply related that we belong to one another, and that what affects one, affects all. Perhaps today, this love invites us even more deeply into that kind of vision.

-And we discover that this love invites us into what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, what we might also call the Kin-dom of God, one translation of what Jesus was describing. This Kin-dom of God is a connected to a community of people that is seeking — imperfectly, of course — to lean into the direction of God’s vision for this world, which always includes justice, peace, dignity, and belonging. Perhaps today, this love invites us even more deeply into that kind of vision.

-And as we seek to live in this direction, imperfectly, but working at it again and again, we discover that this kinship vision is alive here in our own community at First Presbyterian Church, and that together, we are a household of faith, a household of belonging where we practice the particularity of care — care which involves really and truly knowing one another, tending to one another, including one another, encouraging one another, praying for one another as we seek God’s calling, and dreaming as we ponder what an expansion of this community might look like. Perhaps today, this love invites us even more deeply into that kind of vision.

We might say that this kind of love has been calling us all along. But there are moments when it completely takes us by surprise.

I wonder if that was true for four fishermen in 1st century Galilee. When Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John went fishing on a particular day, they were not expecting any of this. They were not expecting that a loving vision would radically invite and re-orient what their lives would become.

It’s possible that these four fishermen didn’t expect very much. This was a mundane, routine day. This was the practice of their livelihood. They likely went out in those boats with nets day after day. But also, I wonder if their trade had not been doing well overall, and if that was yet another reason not to expect very much.

In this story, Simon Peter says that he and his fellow fishermen had been out all night, and they had caught nothing. Nothing. How discouraging. It would be easy to keep expectations low.

But on this particular day, Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and a crowd was there, wanting to hear from him. In fact, the story says they were pressing in on him. And he saw these two boats, sitting there. Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and James and John, two other brothers, were standing nearby, washing nets, again after they had caught nothing.

And then, Jesus got into one of their boats. It was the boat belonging to Simon Peter, and he requested of Simon Peter, “Put out that boat a little way from the shore,” so that people could hear him but with more space and less commotion.

I wonder if Simon Peter and the others had heard of Jesus, or if this was their first encounter with him. Even if they had heard some extraordinary things, they might not have expected any of this to impact their own lives.

But Jesus wasn’t only interested in addressing that crowd there on the shore of the lake. He was interested in addressing and loving these four fishermen who were before him. After he finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Put out the boat to the deep water, and let your nets down for a catch.”

Well, this didn’t make a lot of sense… They had already caught nothing. They had already cleaned their nets. This might have been fruitless and inconvenient. But Simon Peter decides to trust just a little bit. He says, “We’ve worked all night long and have caught nothing, but if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And then they encountered a shocking amount of abundance — so many fish that they could barely pull in the nets. And their boats began sinking!

But this was just a prelude to the kind of abundance they were about to experience in following Jesus. And Jesus reinterprets this moment with an invitation, with a calling into a love that is abundant.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. For now on, you will be catching people.”

Of course, this is a bit different than the metaphor may suggest… as if this is an effort to pull people unwillingly into these large nets of entrapment! (I’ve always thought this metaphor was a bit odd.) So no, not that. But this is something deeper. This is invitation to a way of life — finding people, finding people as they are, loving them as they are, and tending to them, and being challenged by them, and together, building each other up so that this community and vision for kinship grows ever larger into abundance.

This moment was the entry point into what would follow for them. But that’s true for Jesus too. Jesus inaugurated his vision with partners, people who were participating into this vision of the Kin-dom of God. Jesus called them into this way of life. Love called them into this way of life.

And so, I wonder, how are you feeling called into this way of life now? How are we experiencing that kind of invitation at this juncture in our lives? How are we experiencing it in our collective life as a community? Where do you sense it? Where do you see it?

I imagine we could all tell stories of calling — moments when we left our nets, so to speak, to move in a deeper direction. Maybe it was a choice to belong more fully, or perhaps it was a recognition that we have come to belong even more deeply than we could have known to choose.

Maybe it involved stepping away from something — from a home, from an addiction, from from a tendency toward cynicism, from a belief that we’re not worth very much, or a belief that our body isn’t the right kind of body, or a belief that our gifts and talents aren’t really worthwhile…

toward community, toward relationship, toward neighborhood, toward calling, toward bravery, toward vitality, toward fullness, toward wholeness, toward the very God who holds it all and calls it all into being.

And so I’ll close in the way I began.

What if it is true?

What if there is a love at the heart of things? A love so large, so expansive, and so abundant that is hard to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth? A love that is truly hard to wrap our minds around, and yet a love that is an invitation — a love that is summoning us into the fullness of God, the fullness of community, and the fullness of the vision God seeks to initiate and invigorate even through us?

What if that is actually true?

Renee Roederer