I received a Blum’s Farmer and Planter Almanac from my sister-in-law this week. She thought I’d be interested in reading the section on church bulletin mistakes. In the Almanac I found more than that, I found an illustration that can be used for Thanksgiving and Disability Awareness!
American Indian Legend
There is a legend that tells of an Indian Medicine Woman with three feuding daughters. She asked the Creator for help. That night in a dream she saw her daughters as each being a different seed and planted in a mound together. From this story was born the “Three Sisters” – the Indian way of planting corn, beans and squash together in a mound. The corn provided the ladder for the beans to grow and the beans returned nitrogen to the soil. The squash plants provided the shade that held the precious moisture in the ground. It is this technique that the Wampanoag Indians taught the starving settlers in Plymouth. It saved the colony. It was this that was celebrated on the the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621. Now, let’s look back to the legend. The story continues that the Medicine Woman made each of her three daughters’ eggs the next morning for breakfast. She made one a boiled egg, one a sunny-side up egg and one a scrambled egg. She told her daughters that they were as different as each egg but that they were loved the same. The daughters began to celebrate their differences and the feuding stopped. This last is exactly the message we are trying to get all Methodists to understand – all people have differences, but they are all loved the same by God. We need to recognize and celebrate our differences.
1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” 2 Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. 3 The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4 Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5 “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.” 6 Then the LORD said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous[a]—it had become as white as snow. 7 “Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh. 8 Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. 9 But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” 10 Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” 11 The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
We are all familiar with the story of the burning bush and Moses. I, myself, have preached on it several times. As you know, Moses was born to a Hebrew slave woman who in order to protect him from Pharaoh’s order to kill the Hebrew male babies, hid him in a basket in the bulrushes. You know the story of how Pharaoh’s daughter found him there in the Nile and adopted him. Moses received an Egyptian education and became a member of the royal family. You remember how one day Moses saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave and Moses killed him. After learning this Pharaoh tried to kill Moses and Moses had to flee from Egypt. Fast forward several years and you arrive at the burning bush incident. The usual message here is that God told Moses to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to set God’s people free; Moses offers excuses and, God answers every excuse. Moses then along with his brother returns to Egypt.
Scripture in a Different Light
This morning, I want us to look at this Scripture in a different light. One of Moses’ excuses was that he had problems speaking. He describes himself as being “slow of speech and tongue” – some translations say, “thicked tongue.” God answers by saying to Moses, “Who made your mouth?” Do you think for one minute that I, God, do not know what your abilities are? I know what you can do and I will be with you.
So exactly what was Moses’ “slowness” of speech? The Talmud is the central text of mainstream Judism today. It contains the first written form of Jewish Oral Laws and Rabbinic discussions on their meanings and also contains Jewish history. In the Talmud it gives an explanation for Moses’ slowness of speech. Pharaoh was sitting on his throne one day with Moses on his lap when the child took off the king’s crown and put it on his own head. The so called “wise men” tried to persuade the king that this was treason, for which the child ought to be put to death. Jethro, priest of Midian, however, replied, “It is the act of a child who knows no better. Let two plates be set before him, one containing gold and the other red-hot coals and you will readily see he will prefer the latter to the former.” The experiment was set up and the baby set between the two plates – one of gold and one of red-hot coals. The little boy snatched up the live coal, put it into his mouth and burnt his tongue so severely that he was ever afer “heavy or slow of speech.”
Obviously, I cannot prove it this story is accurate or not, but if the Jewish Oral History is true than the Common English Bible’s translation – “I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue” would make perfect sense. It would mean that Moses had a Speech Disorder that Special Education Teachers, like myself, would recognize as being Dysarthria. Dysarthria is caused by damage to the nerves that control the mouth and tongue—-much like a red-hot coal might do! The result would be that you would be slow to speak – it would take some time to form words – you could communicate but it would be laborious and you might have problems making certain letter sounds—–SO, Moses had a disability!!!
I believe this passage has something significant to teach us about disabilities. First of all, just as the medicine woman who had the three daughters said she loved them the same even though they had differences, so God loves us all the same – regardless of our abilities or disabilities!
God’s view of People with Disabilities
God sees persons with disabilities as just that – persons. I wonder if we do? Too many people make fun of people’s disabilities or use hurtful language in describing them. Folks, we need to use people first language – I am not the wheelchair bound lady – I am a PERSON who uses a wheelchair; my friend, Eric, is not a “blind man” – he is a MAN who is blind; and Moses was not a “slow speaking idiot” – he was MOSES, a MAN with a speech disability.
Call to Action
We also need to make a place for those with disabilities in our churches BEFORE they come – after they come is too late. Look around our Sanctuary right now – what is missing? Where are the spaces for wheelchairs? Where are the cut-off or short pews that leave room for wheelchairs? That’s right – we don’t have any. While it is true, people could do as I have done and park in the aisle or transfer from the chair to a pew, the point is that they shouldn’t have to do so. For one thing, it would be a fire safety violation. What if there were a fire and we had people who had transferred from wheelchairs to the pews – even 3 people? It would be very hectic if a fire broke out and was spreading rapidly, yet someone would have to get their chairs, help them transfer and get them to safety. What if their chairs were in the aisles and the aisles were blocked? On the other hand, what if you came to church next Sunday morning and there were no pews, no chairs, nothing to sit on. Would you enjoy having to stand through the entire service? I doubt it. Don’t you see that we wouldn’t dream of inconveniencing people that way – yet we think nothing at all about making it hard and often downright impossible for people with disabilities to get into our churches to worship.
Notice that God called Moses – He knew that Moses had this speech disorder, after all “Who made Moses’ mouth?” God did. Yet, God still called Moses. You see, God sees persons with disabilities as people of value….as He sees all of us. We are all His children – regardless of the condition of our physical bodies. It also shows us that we, too, should recognize the value that people with disabilities can bring to our church. Many people with disabilities have great talents that can add much to a congregation. Yet, over 50% of people with disabilities do not attend church because they do not feel welcomed! They don’t attend because we aren’t ready for them.
Great Works Accomplished by People with Disabilities
This Scripture also shows us that just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean he is to be written off – many great works were accomplished by people with disabilities:
- George Washington had a learning disability. He could barely write and had terrible spelling and grammar skills. It was recommended by his own relative that he would only be good for surveying land. What if George had listened? I’m glad he didn’t – he went on to become our great General of the American Revolution and the Father of our Country – serving as our first President.
- Samuel Johnson had Tourette’s Syndrome yet he wrote A DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE in 1747
- John Milton was a poet and a writer who suddenly became blind in 1651 at the age of 43. Seven years AFTER he became blind, he wrote his greatest work by dictating his words to his three daughters. John Milton is the famed author of PARADISE LOST
- Pythagoras had epilepsy and lived around 569 to 475 BC. He came up with an important mathematical formula that is still being used today – it refers to the legs of a triangle where “c” is the hypoteneuse and “a” and “b” are the other two legs. He discovered at if you add a-squared to b-squared it will equal c-squared – his formula is of course, the Pythagorean Theorem
There are many more examples I could give but I have chosen these because they all lived from the 500 BC’s to 1799 when Washington died. In other words, they lived in a different time – the world was a different place. It is amazing to me – knowing how little medical knowledge there was at the times these people lived to understand the disabilities – and knowing how people with disabilities were treated – or rather mis-treated – it is amazing that they were able to accomplish so much. You see, just because someone has a disability diagnosis does not mean that person is to be written off as worthless or no more value to society.
Hope for Alzheimers
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month so I want to focus on this disability today. Let me share some numbers with you: As many as 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s today and they are supported by nearly 15 million unpaid caregivers.
- By mid-century, as many as 16 million Americans could have the disease.
- The annual cost of Alzheimer’s today is $183 billion, up $11 billion over last
- year. By mid-century, Alzheimer’s could cost this country over a trillion dollars per year — in today’s dollars.
- To make it even clearer, 1 in 8 people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s Disease. Almost half of those aged 85 and older have the disease.
- Someone new develops Alzheimer’s every 69 seconds.
Despite the number of people affected, many Americans still know very little about this disease. It still too often remains in the shadows, discussed in whispers if at all. We must bring Alzheimer’s fully into the open, explain the warning signs, address misplaced anxieties, correct misconceptions and overcome the stigma that too often makes a terrible disease even more of a hardship.
Did you know that Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States? More people die each year from this disease than from breast cancer and prostate cancer COMBINED! Out of the top 10 leading causes of death in the USA, Alzheimer’s is the ONLY ONE without an identified way to prevent, cure or stop its progression.
I want to tell you about three Congressional Acts. First is the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) Implementation – It is Public Law 111-375. I am happy to say that this Act has been signed into law now by President Obama. It passed the Senate and the House with unanimous votes! It represents a major victory for the Alzheimer’s Association and advocates – as well as for our nation. BUT the Act is not enough we must make sure that it is thoroughly and quickly implemented.
Next is the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act – The Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act would make Alzheimer’s research a priority at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), create public-private partnerships to discover treatments and a cure, and ensure that the NIH requests the funding necessary to get the job done. Finally is the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act –The Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act would increase diagnosis and expand access to information on medical and non-medical services for newly-diagnosed patients and their families.
While I’m not going to put you on the spot and ask for a show of hands, I am going to encourage you, as professing Christians, to please do this: to call, write or email our two US Senators and our Representative in the next WEEK about the Hope for Alzheimer’s Act and the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act and to encourage them not to drag around on the one signed into law (NAPA)– we need to do this for several reasons:
- It is the right thing to do – Jesus had an active disability ministry; we know all people are of value to God; He loves all people – I am confident this would be pleasing in His sight
- We need to get outside our comfort zones and do something other than complain about what goes in Washington – this is important – let’s do it
- We aren’t getting any younger and according to statistics, any of us could be the next to be diagnosed with this disease – it needs research – needs ways to prevent, cure and stop the progression
If you are tempted to say that you can’t press the phone numbers – who made your hands?
If you are tempted to say that you don’t have time to use the webform even though you have internet – who gave you the time you have?
If you say you can’t call because you aren’t good at talking and doing this kind of thing – who made YOUR mouths?
I think we all know the answer to that — God did —- and God knows exactly what we can and cannot do. God loves all of us and He uses those who are willing – He used Moses despite his speech disability; I believe He is still using me despite disabilities and diseases; I believe God is still continuing to use countless others; and, I believe He can use each of you, if you’ll let Him —- God knows us better than we know ourselves – after all “Who made your mouth?”
by Reverend Deb Wade 2006 rev 2012