May 26, 2019–Circumstances are not Crippling

Posted on May 21, 2019 by faithlens

inspired by Sylvia Alloway, Grenada Hills, CA 

Warm-up Question

  • When you hear the words “made well,” what comes to mind?
  • Have you or anyone you’ve known lived with a disability?
  •  The website for ELCA Disability Ministries notes, “All of us are disabled in some way as we stand before God.” How might we relate with a person with a disability in ways that honor their gifts and our own?
  • What motivates us to help another person, their need or our desire to to feel good about helping?

Circumstances are not Crippling

Most people have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada, the woman who’s arms and legs entered paralysis at 17 after breaking her neck in a diving accident. It is hard to imagine how a young athlete could deal with the fact that she was not going to be healed, but famously, Joni did. Rather than being physically healed, she learned to paint by holding the brush in her mouth. She founded “Joni and Friends,” a ministry that helps persons with disabilities and their families reach independence, physically, financially, and spiritually. 

Does that mean that Joni is spiritually more confident and that her disability no longer leads her to experience sadness or uncertainty?  Not at all. In a meditation she wrote on the 50th anniversary of her accident she confesses her early despair and the ways she tried dealing with it: drinking and socializing with “dark companions” – and how the memory of those days still haunts her. The efforts of Christian friends, who studied the Bible with her, included her in their social events, and shared words of wisdom with her, saw Joni as a person with many gifts to offer the world and helped her see them in herself as well.

God does not allow personal suffering because he likes giving people pain. Yet God can miraculously bring beautiful results from difficult life circumstances, strength from weakness, and joy from sorrow. The trouble-free lives we sometimes wish we could live would only hinder us from becoming the strong, dedicated people our loving God wants us to be.  Most importantly, God is with us on our life journey through all our days, difficult or easy.

Discussion Questions

  • Who are the people in your life who have helped you along your journey?
  • What might have happened to Joni’s life if other Christians had done nothing but tell her to cheer up or assure her that “All things work together for good to those who love God,” rather than becoming a part of her life?
  • Joni’s experience gave her the desire to help others with similar life experiences. Has anyone ever helped you through a hard time and how did they help you? Or have you have helped another person through a hard time and what did you do?
  • Can you think of a way that God has turned a disappointment in your life or someone else’s life into an unexpected gift? What happened?

Sixth Sunday of Easter 

Acts 16:9-15

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29

John 5:1-9

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The man in today’s Gospel lesson from John 5, may have felt like giving up. His paralysis is said to have lasted 38 years.  His disability had become a way of life.  We may think he had a right to his self-pity, but what good would come from that?  Jesus came and asked him if he wanted to get well. 

What was his response? “Oh, yes!” “Absolutely!” “More than anything!”  No. He answers with all the excuses he has been rehearsing for years for why he can not get in the pool, and not be healed, including blaming others.

Jesus sometimes healed people based on faith, their recognition of their need for him. But not this time. Jesus interrupts the man’s sense of not belonging with a strong command. “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” The man needed more than a healing of his body, a holistic healing was called for.  He takes his first positive action in 38 years. He gets up. He obeys Jesus’ command and he confidently walks.

Few people experience a life-long disability like Joni’s.  Yet we all have things we believe we are not capable of.  Joni’s friends encouraged Joni and she in turn has helped other people.  Yes it takes courage and sometimes there is risk. Our world would be a better place if we followed Jesus’ example and helped each other walk “well.”  And if we do this, the result might just be miraculous.

Discussion Questions

  • What stood out the most for you in the scripture?
  • How were you challenged?
  • Do we ask someone before we help, as Jesus did?
  • Why do you think Jesus healed the paralyzed man, despite disbelief?
  • We don’t have Jesus’ miraculous powers, but we can promote and receive healing alongside others. Share some ways in which we can do this.

Activity Suggestions

  • Ask students to create a challenge/s in which a friend or stranger might need help and someone else provides that help. Then act it out for the group. 
  • Ask for situations in which a person with a disability might invite help from, or provide help to, someone else.
  • Give each person a marker and paper plate/or piece of construction paper. Have them write their name in the center.  Take up the plates/papers and redistribute. Ask each person to write positive words of encouragement or a gift/s they see in that person.

Closing Prayer

Dear God, we don’t always understand why you allow your people to experience pain or the inability to change.  It is hard to suffer or watch our loved ones suffer.  Give us the assurance that you are always with us even as we endure difficult times in our lives. Help us to see the needs of others and share your love with them and bring to our attention examples of those who shine with joy even in their sorrows. Give us strength to follow these examples and give you praise for what you are able to “make well” in each and all of us.  Amen.

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