On Saturday, I attended L'Arche's Gather our Gifts event (the above video is from the closing act of the talent show — recognize any familiar faces?). L'Arche is an inclusive community of people with and without intellectual disabilities. And to Incarnation, L'Arche is also a local outreach partner; a neighbor (we have two L'Arche communities right here in South Arlington); and a vital part of our church, as several Incarnation members belong to the L'Arche community.
Every time I attend a L'Arche event, I am deeply moved by the picture of the kingdom of God that this community offers to our world. Every person, with and without disabilities, has a gift to bring that enriches the life of the entire community. And every person makes space for the unfolding of those gifts, practicing patient encouragement and Christlike humility.
L'Arche reminds me that we cannot follow Jesus in isolation and independence. We need one another to remind us of what is true, to love us, forgive us, encourage us, help us, and share in our joy and sorrow. And L'Arche reminds me that people's value resides in their being made, loved, gifted, and called by God as his witnesses in the world; not in their particular level of cognitive development or their ability to perform certain tasks according to the disordered standards of a disordered world.
As I reflected on the ways L'Arche demonstrates the upside-down kingdom, I was moved to pray that our church would do the same. I pray that when people visit Incarnation, they will be surprised by the unexpected people and gifts that our community values. I pray they will encounter God's grace, mercy, patience, and kindness in the ways we treat one another. I pray they will see Christ exalted in human limitation and vulnerability. And I pray that they will notice a community of people that joyfully embodies the kind of counter-cultural humility that Kaitlin read in our New Testament lesson on Sunday:
"If, then, there is any comfort in Christ, any consolation from love, any partnership in the Spirit, any tender affection and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:1-8)
Today is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, someone whose life conforms pretty well to this Philippians passage. Francis renounced earthly wealth, cared for God's creation, tended to the sick and outcast, crossed enemy lines during the Crusades to dialogue with Muslim leaders, and lived his adult life as an itinerant preacher of the gospel.
We'll observe Saint Francis Day today from 3-5pm on the lawn outside Greenbrier Baptist (5401 7th Rd S) with a short liturgy followed by a blessing of the animals. We are praying that we'll have an opportunity to meet and pray with our neighbors as well.
While I used to find animal blessings weird, I've come to appreciate them over the years (ok, I still think they're weird, but in a good way). They remind us that there is simply no inch of God's creation that he does not intend to bless and redeem. I've quoted this line from a Wendell Berry poem more than once: "There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places." In our world of so many desecrated places, this strange practice of animal blessing is a way of remembering the sacredness of God's created world and our place within it, as stewards of the old creation and heralds of the new. A fellow priest and friend has written a thoughtful little post about this practice if you'd like to read more.
Finally, this weekend offers another wonderful chance to appreciate God's creation — the fall retreat! We still have a few spots available, and you can come just for the day Saturday, or even just for Sunday's pancakes and church service. The retreat schedule is here; lots of information is here; and you can register here!
There is NO church service at Drew Elementary on Sunday! Come join us at the Oak Lodge at Camp Highroad (the service begins at 10am) or consider worshiping at another local church. Maybe you want to check out Corpus Christi Anglican in Springfield, planted by one of Incarnation's original co-planters, Morgan Reed.
I hope to see many of you today, this weekend, and then back at Drew on October 15 (when we have a .... PARISH MEETING!!!). And in the meantime, I'm praying for you!