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The UCC, like many others, like to declare their firsts. The first woman ordained in a Congregational church in the United States was Antoinette Brown Blackwell in September 1853. She served a church or two and was often run off until she became the first Unitarian ordained in the United States. What is really hard to find, is the second woman ordained. And the third. I couldn’t find them, which made me wonder if she was held up as token that the barrier being knocked down! and someone closed the gate behind her. 35 years later, in 1889, there were only 4 women ordained on the Congregational roles.

The first woman ordained in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, one of the denominations that came together to be the UCC, was Rev. Beatrice Weaver McConnell in 1948.

The UCC was formed in 1957, last year, 66 years later, we elected our first woman, Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, to be the president and general minister of the denomination. For some portion of 170 years, we have celebrated how great we were to ordained Rev. Antoinette Brown but some access as denied.

The first gay man ordained in any protestant denomination was UCC in 1972. Rev Bill Johnson couldn’t get a call to a church.

In 1939, Rev. Harold H. Wilke was ordained in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, he would later be part of ordaining Rev. Beatrice McConnell. Rev. Wilke, born without arms, had to prove he could lead the church the same as anyone without a disability.  His work to open the door, to knock down barriers in the church and community changed the face of the UCC. He received a pen from the president when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed.

He’s an inspiration! There has been a movement, to not look at folks’ lives quite like that. There’s a book titled “My Body is not Your Prayer Request” and calls that one’s life isn’t a motivational story for you.

Clearly, I am not saying being a woman or gay is a disability. But also, having a disability doesn’t make a person incapable. But there are barriers put up, hoops that need to be jumped through, walls to get to the next thing. There is a gumption that these folks had, a resilience in the face of some folks telling them “no, you don’t belong here, you don’t belong here like that, you can’t do the things you think you are called to.”

Resiliency might be ingrained, but it’s definitely taught. There is a community that rose up around these folks and helped them push down walls, knock down barricades, open gates, go back, open them again. No one makes it on their own.

Our disabled man in this story, lame is the term the Bible uses, doesn’t give us “inspiration” vibes. His isn’t the story that motivates or encourages us to do better or shames us for not doing more. In many ways, his life is one that motivates the characters we already know and care about. Peter and John.

This man, we come to find out in the next chapter, had lived 40 years without being able to walk. He was known as the man with the messed up legs who sat outside the temple gate called Beautiful, begging for compassion and what he needed to get by.

There are, in just a couple of places, laws and commands that those who are unable to walk, maybe physically disabled in any way, could not enter the temple. So he always sat just on the outside, not let in.

He sat outside the temple of God who, through the prophets, said again and again, Your sacrifices are meaningless while the people are suffering–do justice, do mercy. He sat there as a reminder that their sacrifices should be part of caring for those in need. Here is one in need! Perhaps your sacrifices will not be received if you ignore the man at the Beautiful Gate.

Peter and John, as they walked to the temple, have had a wild couple of months. Their teacher Jesus had died, was resurrected, hung out for a while, ascended to the heavens, and they had received the promised Spirit. And while that was the previous chapter, we’re going to talk about it in a few weeks from now. But now, it came, it filled them and gave them power and courage. From the rooftop, they shouted the Good News of Jesus in languages they never learned. Thousands became followers of the way of living that Jesus presented. Thousands were baptized and brought into community and communion. Those in Jerusalem began to live life together. Their money and resources became common so that no one had more than they needed and no one went without.

But the moment of Pentecost had passed. The emotional and spiritual high of that day had settled and now Peter and John were living their lives, going about the things, the tasks, all that they would have done before. But they were different.

When they came upon the man at the Beautiful gate they did not have more than they needed, so they had no money to give. But the Spirit that gave them language and courage and passion, maybe in that moment whispered to them, stirred in them, and moved through them that Peter and the man saw each other clearly, that Peter saw in that man, not the lame man crumpled at the gate, but a beloved child of God, perhaps even the face of Christ as Peter remembered Jesus saying–whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me. Maybe the Spirit whispered to Peter–this man will walk, help him up.

And Peter does. And the man does.

When I was a young person growing up in my church every year of high school we had a Youth work mission trip. This was my second year we went to the historic Pullman District of Chicago, of the Pullman Sleeper Train Cars: where we painted everything green and red, built a shed, someone fix a toilet, and hung a fan.

What would usually happen is our youth director would get in touch with whomever and we’d get a list of projects and they’d be like well here’s what we have and I know it’s a lot and then 20 of us would roll up for a week and by Wednesday we were done and they had to find new projects for us that’s the painting so much painting.

Inevitably at some point during the week, our youth director would say I keep getting asked by people where did these kids come from and why are you doing this. And the answer is Jesus. There’s also was this was the thing to do you earned your way into the mission trip by growing older.

Many things are happening in this story but these are things that are most interesting to me: Peter John didn’t go looking for someone to heal, or for someone to tell about Jesus–this wasn’t a mission trip to some far-off land like Chicago. They encountered this many in their daily living.

And, they gave this man access to one thing that had been barred from him, one thing he desired, to worship God in the temple. He was so overwhelmed and overjoyed by the ability to enter that he made that temple his dance floor. Peter and John removed the barriers that kept the man outside. The healing that came to the man was more than just his legs–He was given the fullness of the community of God.

And Peter and John knew and explained by whose power they did it. They knew the why and the how and they said it.

I wonder how often in our lives we encounter someone in need–need of compassion or hope, community or love, money or a meal, the dignity of someone looking them in the eye and seeing them as fully human, that they are not forgotten. The world, our neighborhoods, are full of people who need, who are standing out the Beautiful Gate, just outside of full and abundant life. Perhaps we are the ones who can offer what we have, community, compassion, meals, support, and hope, sometimes it is money and sometimes it is reaching a hand to help someone up, and sometimes is being seen eye to eye.

Often it is breaking down the barriers, the gates themselves that bar access to the beautiful beyond the gate. It might be what keeps someone from the church. You built this building with no stairs, with access to the tables–the holy meals here and the holy meals down the hall.

When you became an Open and Affirming Congregation, you broke down the wall that many other have put up, assuring full connection, worship, participation, and community for all people regardless of sex, sexuality, gender, race, or background.

But it doesn’t stop there. We can’t stop there. Who is missing? Who is still struggling? What are things that are still a barrier, that still make it difficult for someone to walk through the doors, to fully participate in this community’s life of faith?

Do they know they are welcome? Have you told them? Do they know there are churches that are welcoming of all people? Do they know there are churches that aren’t Nationalist? Have you told them? Do they know that they too can participate in the life and liturgy of the church? That their presence will change us?

Are we willing to change to make others more welcome, more at home? Are we willing to let the Spirit move us and through us and let us be changed? Are we willing to be uncomfortable?

Are we prepared to make sure that the world around us is accessible to others? To ensure the sidewalks have cutouts and crosswalks have lights and sounds; and bathrooms are accessible for those with disabilities and for our transgender siblings.

And can we say why we do the things we do–why we feed the hungry and clothe those without and support housing for those in need of it; why we speak up for books with representation and bathrooms that are available; why we offer a helping hand; why we move in compassion; why we do what we do?

Do we say we do it because it’s what Jesus calls us to do? Do we say this is who we are made to be and the world we want to live in? Do we give what we can, what we have, without expectation, and do it because we are called to love?

When we were young doing mission trips the answer we gave is, because Jesus loves you!

It remains the reason. I might now say: because you are beloved by Jesus, by God; but it’s all the same.

That’s the call. To heal relationships, to heal access, to heal and remove barriers, to heal the divide that we, that others have put between individuals and communities, between people and the divine. To create spaces for people to bring their whole imperfect selves, to dance and move as they can and wish to. To do so in the name and the love of Jesus.