A lot of people love Whitney Houston’s song, The Greatest Love of All:
I believe the children are our future
teach them well and let them lead the way
show them all the beauty they possess inside…
I always thought it was just a little on the cheesy side.
Until one Sunday.
I was sitting the First Baptist Church of Oberlin, my church during my college days,
when Mrs. Phillips brought up her choir to sing the offeratory.
Mrs. Phillips worked in the group home down the street—
kids with mental and physical disabilities who needed special care.
At least that’s how I thought of them.
Actually, that’s how I was trained to think of them.
I was raised at a time when kids who had learning differences or physical differences
were all placed in a separate school.
We called them the “LD” kids—learning disabled.
Sometimes we saw them over the fence walking by the school
but we never played together.
And so I hadn’t had the chance to learn about the special qualities those kids had—
talents and gifts and personalities unique to each one of them.
So when Mrs. Phillips brought up her LD kids to sing, I was skeptical:
I was a music major, studying in a reputable conservatory of music, and I knew quality when I heard it,
and I knew this was not going to be quality.
Sure enough, when these kids started to sing, it wasn’t with great vocal finesse.
It was loud, it was a little off key, it was a little corny.
But their faces.
These kids’ faces were so full of joy when they sing:
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.
They sang it like they meant it—and they did.
I could see the love in their faces—
not just for themselves, but for Mrs. Philips, for the opportunity to sing,
for all of us who were listening.
These kids, who were so often known for what they weren’t good at, or what they couldn’t do,
suddenly seemed like wizards to me.
They had learned a secret I was still struggling to unravel.
Somehow they had learned to accept themselves as they were,
and now they unabashedly shared themselves with others, without censorship or critique.
They really did know how to love themselves, and in doing so, they could love others, too.
Sometimes we think we’ve got it all sewn up,
that we know who’s blessed or gifted or successful or worthy of our attention.
But God opens our eyes to the way God sees things:
in our scriptures today
God sees a future for a 100 year old man
God sees pregnancy in an old barren woman
God sees blessing in a harsh landscape,
a future for a people who didn’t even yet exist.
Now when I hear the song, The Greatest Love of All, I no longer cringe.
I smile and give thanks for Mrs. Phillips and the kids who changed me.
They helped me see with God eyes, and to begin to accept myself and others without adjustment.
As we learn to welcome people of all abilities, we start to see people with God’s eyes
and appreciate the unique beauty they bring into our lives and community.
We begin to notice that all people have a range of capabilities, strengths and weaknesses,
and that the whole package, not just what society thinks of a strength or success,
the whole package is from God.
In fact, sometimes what we would see as weakness, like the singing of Mrs. Phillip’s kids,
is actually God’s way of teaching us and gifting us.
The crazy thing is, Mrs. Phillip’s kids were the first of at least three times that this same message
has come to me through someone singing off key.
It’s like I have needed the message repeated, and perhaps I still don’t fully get it.
God loves each us as we are;
God created each of us, including the things that put us in our glory and into the gutter.
God wants to use us in our entirety, in our humanity.
Some of us just need more reminders than others.
So though we at Our Savior’s finish our series, Spotlight on Inclusion, our learning is not finished;
our growing in accepting ourselves and others is not finished.
It is a new beginning, a repetition of God’s promise of blessing,
as we learn to truly welcome others, learn from each other, and celebrate what makes each us unique.