By Jane Gardner, presiding evangelist
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. —Luke 17:15–16 NRSV
For me, one of the most significant and powerful worship experiences in the Temple sanctuary took place when the church gave the 10th Community of Christ International Peace Award to Jean Vanier. Vanier felt called by God to do something about the plight of institutionalized people who have developmental disabilities. His vision guided L’Arche communities (more than 120 of them) to become places where these brothers and sisters have family environments, places of belonging, and dignity to live, grow, and experience the good news of Jesus.
Vanier spent years developing himself intellectually, but it was after living with intellectually disabled people, whom he describes as “gifted in relationships,” that he learned to be more open and vulnerable with those who are different.
Jean Vanier is a tall man with a gentle, loving spirit. He is an especially compassionate minister and witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. The evening he received the peace award, the sanctuary was in twilight, lit by candles placed all around the room. Near the beginning of the service, Jean Vanier sat in a chair placed at the center of the rostrum. As he looked out at the congregation, the procession started from the back and sides of the room. It was unlike any other procession I have ever witnessed.
People carrying lit candles started singing “This Little Light of Mine” and moving toward the rostrum from the perimeter of the sanctuary. This movement was not easy—most people in the processional had difficulty walking or could not walk at all. Caregivers accompanied the participants who live with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, ALS, and many other physical and developmental challenges.
They wanted to say “Thank you” to Jean Vanier by surrounding him. They moved onto the rostrum with their candles, singing passionately.
I will never forget the image of this humble minister surrounded by those whom he had blessed through his life’s work. I looked at the tears streaming down his cheeks. As I looked at the faces of those around him—faces of people many consider disabled—I saw their heartfelt love for this gentle giant. Jean Vanier personified the compassionate ministries of Jesus Christ through generously giving and receiving. Thanks be to God!
Prayer for Peace
We are grateful, God, for disciples who honor you with their giftedness, for their recognition of the gifts of others. May we use our gifts wisely to share the peace of Christ.
Spiritual Practice: Honoring God’s Call in Others
Reflect on how you sense God’s calling reflected in the gifts and actions of others. Begin by prayerfully asking to recall particular moments when the gifts of others were a blessing to you. When has God revealed grace to you through the life of another? When have you felt resistant to the gifts offered by another? Reflect on how you came to honor that person’s call. Write in your journal or reflect on how you can help another person develop and share his or her gifts.
Today, God, I will turn back and make an extra effort to express thanks.