There is so much in these lessons this morning, and I found it difficult to focus. For whatever reason, weakness is what kept coming up for me, so that’s what I went with.
When our son was little, he received speech, occupational, and physical therapy on a regular basis. On our second time living in Sewanee, Tennessee, I was lucky to be able to take him to one clinic that was able to provide all three. There were some really difficult moments during some of those therapies, and also some really great, celebratory moments. Anyone who says “Children with Down Syndrome are so sweet” has obviously never taken one of these kids to therapy when they didn’t want to go. Stubborn doesn’t even begin to explain it.
Anyway, Danny would have been around 2 and a half when we were at physical therapy. There was an older man there whose appointment time was the same as Danny’s for several weeks. This man was a farmer and had a hip replaced and was receiving therapy for that. He would always smile and wave at us from across the PT gym when we were going to the kids room or when we worked on stair climbing in the big gym. One day, he came over to talk to us. He and Danny exchanged a high five, and then took something out of a bag to hand to me. It was a small toy train. He said… my grandson has gotten too big for this; I cleaned it up and put new batteries in it. I thought Danny might like it. I watch him every time he’s in here, and I think… that little boy has so much to overcome and he just keeps going. If he can do it, by God, I certainly can…
That man was one of many angels and cheerleaders that have stopped by in our lives as we have worked to be parents to a child who was like no other that we knew. And, the good Lord knows we made mistakes along the way, and will probably make lots more… but… somehow, that kid connects with some people at a very deep level, despite the fact that he doesn’t speak much. In those connections, people tell me all kinds of things that surprise me; they tell me they have learned all sorts of things about Danny; most of all, they tell me they learn about love; love that is different, love that sustains through difficult times, love that is just… love.
These angels who have stopped by to be with us in whatever time they had to spend with us were true gifts; because, let me tell you, there were plenty of people who stopped by our lives who were just clueless and awful. People who didn’t understand and who judged us for all kinds of things that weren’t our fault. We were and still are making it up as we go along, trying to do the best we could with advice from people we trusted. Some days were better than others, but there are those who just refuse to try and know something about the world that is ours. Like all of us, our lives are anything but simple, and none of us know the deep hurts and deep darkness that others travel.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
When Paul teaches about Jesus, he nails it. This part of First Corinthians is so powerful. In this age of incredible technology, advances in medicine and science, it all comes down to this; Jesus is the source of all that is good and holy in our lives; when we think too highly of ourselves, somehow someone comes along to remind us that there are other values in the world – they come to remind us that life is short and the human body can be made weak in an instant… that perhaps we best look around us to see where our good fortune is coming from, lest we find ourselves in a time of prosperity on the backs of others less fortunate. We must be aware of the actions we take because every action has a consequence; and some actions that might benefit us can and often do hurt others; but we can often look away and not see the consequences, labeling others as lazy or criticizing them for making “bad choices”. Here’s the thing; sometimes there are no choices, and desperate people do desperate things… Systems and governmental empire do not help the weakest and poorest among us. The direct care staff that work with Danny right now make 8.50 to 9.00 dollars an hour… that is not a living wage. So it means less staff to do an already difficult job, there aren’t enough houses and spots for the growing client population ( in Texas it’s over 16 years to get to the top of the medicare list that provides the kind of housing Danny has), and there aren’t enough services to go around. And that’s just that population.
The kingdom of God has come near to us in the life of Jesus. He has given us a vision of what that kingdom looks like. I don’t think it looks like the society we have created; his words must have been incredibly comforting to an occupied population that experienced death and poverty all the time. These words of Jesus and the proclamation of Paul that the weak shall shame the strong, are words that we need to live by; it is up to us here today to bring the kingdom of God even closer, so that the poor and weak among us can have the lives that God wants them to have. And in the process, you and I will learn lessons we didn’t know we needed; the weak will show us just how strong they really are; the poor will show us their riches; God’s wisdom, the wisdom of the cross of Jesus will show us what the world is, and what the world can become if we follow God’s foolishness to where it leads.
My son has taught me and many others what love looks like, and what strength looks like. I am grateful to a farmer doing his physical therapy in his overalls for showing me just how much my little blonde boy could teach someone just by being himself. It was a good lesson for me to stop looking inward all the time at my own pain and discomfort with my life, and to look toward the kingdom that was promised and is so very near; a kingdom where farmers and little boys with Down Syndrome play with trains and grow stronger together so that the can both be witnesses to the absolute foolishness of God where the weak are made strong and the meek inherit the earth.