October 16, 2022
Jesus told a parable to show the disciples that they should always pray. Once, there was a judge who cared about nothing and no one. And a widow.
In ancient Israel, the duty of the judge was to maintain harmony in community by settling disputes. They were charged with hearing complaints fairly and impartially. Moses gives the charge to judges in Deuteronomy 1:16-17, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.”
There were no juries in those days. What the judge says goes. They had a lot of power. Widows on the other hand were deprived the support of a husband. They could not inherit their estate which passed on to the deceased man’s sons or brothers instead. They were powerless. You couldn’t get further apart in the social strata in the first century. Yet the widow wins.
In structure and theme, this parable is just like the parable of the neighbor in need found in Luke 11:5-8. Both parables feature a person in need. Both are used to illustrate the importance of persistent prayer. Both parables feature a person in need making a request and getting a response. The moral is: If a neighbor or an unjust judge will respond to an urgent or repeated request, then God will too.
I like how philosopher Soren Kierkegaard thought about the act of praying. Praying doesn’t change God; it changes the one who prays. By naming what we need to name, by taking time and speaking to God, we are changed. Through praying, we can attune ourselves to the mind of God and our current realities. For me, prayer gives me stillness to get past my own assumptions and look at things differently. Prayer helps me be inspired by the movement of the Spirit and find a way out of no way.
I love the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. “O God, grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
There are some things I can’t change. I can’t change being tall. No amount of prayer will change that. Prayer can also wake me up to things that need changing that I’ve grown apathetic to. Have you ever wondered why we don’t have curbs everywhere? When you’re walking around our beautiful square, why do our sidewalks gently slope to the street and have those red, bumpy pads?
That answer to that for me came in the form of a documentary that church member Hannah Magrum introduced me to. The Netflix documentary Crip Camp is must watch TV. Camp Jened was a summer camp in upstate New York for people with disabilities. In the summer of 1971, teens who felt neglected by society discover a place where they fit in. That alone is a heart-warming story, but that’s only half of the documentary.
The second half of the doc is when those kids grow up. Six years later, those kids from summer camp stage the 1977 504 Sit-In, a protest that led to significant changes in the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the precursor to our Americans with Disabilities Act.
The website A Short History of the 504 Sit In stated, “At the time, discrimination existed in education, employment, housing, transportation, access to public buildings and other facilities, access to equal medical care and in many other areas.” Laws were passed, but not enforced. Or when they were enforced, they were fought in courts and there were contradictory rulings being handed out.
The disabled community decided to organize sit in protests in 8 federal buildings to get the needed regulations enforced. It was the San Francisco building that had all the Camp Jened kids there.
The camp gave the group a sense of identity and leadership. The campers demonstrated it during the sit in. They couldn’t be stopped. When the federal officials wouldn’t hear them, they started the sit in. To pass the time, they had all the songs and games they had learned from camp. When the feds cut the phone lines, that wasn’t a problem. The deaf community stepped up and used sign language to communicate from the building to the outside. The campers persisted. They were the longest sit in and went a full 26 days.
Under the leadership of Kitty Cone and Judy Heumann, the campers won out. They won out because of the networks of relationships they had built. Kitty and Judy worked with the Black Panthers who cooked and brought food in. Glide Memorial Church, the Gay Men’s Butterfly Bridge, the United Farm Workers and others showed up with supplies like soap, toothpaste, mattresses and sleeping bags. They made calls to the mayor, congressmen, and senators. Julian Bond, a Georgia senator made a visit to the occupation. They even sent a delegation to Washington in this time. They had to use U-Haul trucks because they couldn’t find accessible cars to rent.
They strove with God and humans and prevailed. Thanks to the persistence of Kitty, Judy, the Camp Jened kids, and other disability advocates, the needed legislation was passed. Because of this monumental act the groundwork was laid and is largely the reason we now have things like ramps and elevators in federal buildings. Braille on signs. Level and wide sidewalks with those lovely red pads. Van-accessible handicap parking spaces. It’s why city busses have ramps and room for wheelchairs. People are no longer as exiled, isolated, and defeated.
Judy Heumann later wrote in her memoir, “Change never happens at the pace we think it should. It happens over years of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers they possibly can. Gradually, excruciatingly slowly, things start to happen, and then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, something will tip.”
Churches are exempt from the American Disabilities Act. We don’t have to be accessible. Of all the places that should be accessible, churches often aren’t. As I look around at our building, I’m so thankful for the ramps that are built in. We have them at the tower door. We have a flat entrance and spacious elevator in our new entrance. When the late Leonard Machles tripped over the curb and requested that we paint where the curb meets the tower door staircase, Property and Grounds made it happen in less than a week.
Yet there is still work to be done. Jacob with his limp… could he worship with us? Our Chapel is cramped and has no room for wheelchairs. Chairs with arm rests are often easier to get in and out of and we don’ have those in fellowship hall. The chancel in the sanctuary is not accessible by wheelchair. I think of former Ohio Conference Minister Bob Molsberry who would not be able to preach to us from the chancel.
The A2A team, that means Accessible to All, have recently completed an audit of our building and will present to council some idea of how to become more accessible. There’s always work to be done so that all ages and all abilities are welcomed into this space. We hope to be a place that thinks of the needs of others and designs a welcome for them, for that is next level hospitality. Let’s be known for that.
Church, we live in a world that is often, at best, apathetic. We live in a society that doesn’t want anything other than perfection. Many folks just don’t want to hear what you’re really going through. Church should be the place where you tell your full story. Glennon Melton says that “Acting perfect at church is like getting dressed up for an X-ray. Church is HOME. It’s where I can breathe deep and BE MYSELF for God’s sake.”
The world is often like the unjust judge. It only wants the power and prestige. It only respects power and prestige. And we’re going to wear that down with our truth, our real stories, and our prayerful persistence.
Like the widow, we’ll keep coming and we won’t back down. Not until the beloved community of God is on earth as it is in heaven. Like Ryan preached last Sunday, “most people long for an existence in which they, along with everyone else, are not marginalized, oppressed, and forgotten and left to suffer, and long for a world in which all people can live together as one, which is the ultimate dream of God and the mission of Jesus.”
If you want a glimpse of the Dream of God, Crip Camp about Camp Jened and 504 Sit Ins show what can happen when you finally are in a room of people like yourself who share your struggles and are given the room to tell each other the truth and the freedom to dream of doing something about it. That’s what we’re doing here.
This is worship of the divine, something greater than us. It’s a recharging station. We get charged up for our week ahead. A place where we take a step back, not away, but more like a sling-shot. We take that step back to launch forward in a new and bold direction. Empowered and inspired by the stories we heard here. Friends we didn’t know we had. For the path of striving for justice is a long one.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stated that the moral arch of the universe is long and it bends towards justice. I’d like to think it bends that way thanks to folks like Judy Heumann and Kitty Cone pulling on it. Those embody and act like the persistent widow, using prayer to discern what they can change and what they can’t. And then they get to work.
As Pope Francis once said: For this is how prayer works: you pray and then you do.
 New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX: Luke and John. Page 336.
 Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist
 Disability is not a Dirty Word, by Ryan Collins: https://www.uccmedina.org/sermons/disability-is-not-a-dirty-word/