August 21, 2022. Sermon Title: God’s Power Perfected in Weakness (He Had No Beauty)

First Mennonite Church

August 21, 2022

God’s Power Perfected in Weakness (He Had No Beauty)

Text: Isaiah 53:1-6

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Typically, this passage is used during Lent Season, as a reference to the passion of Jesus. The images here are seen as the prophetic visions of Jesus’ passion: his rejection, beating, humiliations, crucifixion, death, and of the one bearing the consequences of our sin.

But as you might have realized that I do every once in a while, of looking at a biblical passage from a different angle or perspective, is what I want to do today. Please pay close attention to the descriptions given in verses two, three, and four: 

 “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him

He was despised and rejected by mankind . . .

like one from whom people hide their faces,

he was despised and held him in low esteem. . .

We considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted . . ..”

Martin Oates was a Civil War veteran. He carried in his body the painful and permanent scars of the war. His diseased, mutilated, and disfigured body made obvious the tragic marks of war. In July of 1867, Oates was the first person to be arrested in San Francisco under Order No. 783. This law stated that it was an offense for any person with an unsightly look or with obvious disabilities to expose himself to public view. Despite his military service, Oates was jailed until the unfinished almshouse institutionalized him. The city of San Francisco enacted this law after complaints about the influx of poor new comers: Chinese laborers, Italian immigrants, and war amputees.[1]   

“Ugly laws,” as they were later called by disability activists, were soon enacted in many US cities. As Susan Marie Schwiek recounts in her book, The Ugly Laws (2009),[2] US authorities sought to cleanse public spaces of people judged to be subhuman in one way or another. Disabled people had to be kept out of public view and were considered unfit for society. Thus, sterilization was implemented to prevent them from reproducing a “continuation of their kind.” The last city to repeal its ugly law was Chicago in 1974.

Four years ago, the health minister of Iceland announced that Iceland had “eradicated” Down syndrome. But what Iceland truly had eradicated, was not Down syndrome, but babied being born with the syndrome. Iceland offers universal screening for chromosomal aberrations. Therefore, most mothers who find that their unborn child would be born with the syndrome opt for an abortion.

This is also true in Denmark and United Kingdom where 98 percent of unborn babies with Down syndrome are aborted. It is 67 percent here in the US.[3]

When parents are asked why they would terminate a pregnancy due to the prospects of having a baby with Down syndrome or other disabilities, they say they only want to spare their child from a life of suffering. The pressure from health professionals, as well as the financial implications the family would have in raising a child with special needs, make abortion seem to be a wise or necessary choice. This pressure is especially high for low-income parents where social safety net is either very poor or sought to be eliminated by some people.

Please understand: I am not advocating for abortion, but simply stating a fact.

(If we look closely at the situation here in the US, generally, the very people in power who want all babies to be born, regardless of their condition, are the very ones who would prefer, that most if not all, social safety net to be eliminated. And the very people who seek to provide social safety net are the very people who do not care if not all babies are born.)

Disability. What is it? What determines that a person is disabled compared to one who is not? Most often than not, is it not whether the person can be self-sufficient and to be productive? Is it not whether the person can contribute to the national GDP? People with disabilities are seen as incapable taking care of themselves or of being productive citizens. Often times they are seen as a burden. People with disabilities are avoided and are invisible. And if they have to be seen, they are often looked upon with pity. If they are hired, any concession or accommodation made for them are often considered burdensome.

The other day I told the manager of a business that I have a son whose training is in the line of business he manages. I asked if his business is hiring. He said, “Yes, we are. Yet, we are always short of staff, but knowing you, I would hire your son in a heartbeat, even if he did not have the training.” He knows that I am a pastor, but doesn’t know more about my family. So, I told him that my son is Deaf. “Oh,” he said, “That changes everything. Can you please give me a card, so I can call you?” It is more than a month I gave him my card, but have not heard since. Maybe he will call me later.

Is human life only worthy if it is materially productive? On the other hand, we all can agree that we are all dependent in one way or another in life.

As human beings and creatures of the earth our power is limited, our existence depends on others and on our Maker. I do not produce all the food I consume, for example. I depend on others for many other life necessities.

From the moment we are born we depend on our parents for nourishment, care, and guidance. Throughout lives, in one way of the other, even if at a low level, we depend on others. In early adulthood, people are their most independent and able to raise the new generation. We have young parents among us and we admire their strength, joy, and tender care they give their babies. At the end of our lives, we become less able to care for ourselves. We become more dependent on others again.

Caring for a person with disabilities is not an easy task. Life is neither easy for the person with disabilities. A mother said her family’s life was forced to slow down when their daughter was born. Penny had Down syndrome. Penny’s growth and development were slow. She never achieved any of the milestones in the standardized development chart for children. Everything was slow for Penny. Working parents experience an added burden when there is a child with special needs in their family.

Between 85-87 percent of married couples with children with special needs end in divorce here in the US.[4] In this country where there is an obsession for the “good life,” the birth of a child with disability shatters much of that hope for many families. Parents with children with disabilities live under constant stress and fear about what will happen to their child once they can no longer provide care for them or after they die. 

Going to our passage again, we find that the images in Isaiah of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh have been attributed to Jesus in his passion. He was rejected and beauty could not be found in him. He took the sins of the world and by his stripes we find healing. However, the very same descriptions of the Suffering Servant and the subsequent sight of his condition are often those of people with disabilities. There is no attractiveness in them. No one wants to look at them. In some cases, there is the believed that someone, parents or the individual who must have done something awful to have caused their birth that way or that they are cursed by God. (This is even true during Jesus’ time. Remember the blind man in John 9.)

We are a people who acknowledge that life is a gift from God and human life is the repository of God’s very image and likeness. Therefore, our hearts should go out to those who, for one reason or another, have disabilities. And there are various kinds of disabilities. Some are born having a disability and others acquire a disability as the result of injury or illness or a chronic condition. May develop with aging. There is physical, developmental, cognitive, sensory, or emotional disability.

It could be that you have a friend with disabilities. It could be that you know a family with a child with special needs. Reach out to them. At first, you might feel uncomfortable or clueless as to what to do or say. That is normal. Try to know something about them or from them. There is something amazing about people with disabilities: they are the most resilient, creative, and friendly people you can meet. They somehow find creative ways to compensate for the things they cannot do. Once they get to know your genuineness towards them, they are more likely to open themselves to you as to what gives them joy, what things they can do, or their source of inspiration.

For us, church people, relationships matter and we believe family is of utmost importance for the wellbeing of society. So, let us make everyone feel valued, included, and equal, regardless of their physical, mental, emotional condition. Let us stretch ourselves beyond the comfortable. Let us learn how to relate with people with disabilities. Let us learn how to contribute to their dignity. Let us not refer to a person by their disability, such as “the disabled man/woman or “the crippled boy,” “the deaf girl”, or “the retarded young man,” etc.

When we meet someone with disability, let us remember the words of Isaiah and of Paul:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him

He was despised and rejected by mankind . . .

like one from whom people hide their faces,

he was despised and held him in low esteem. . .

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”


[1] Peter Mommsen. Made Perfect. Plough. Winter 2022.

[2] New York University Press. 2009

[3] Peter Mommsen. Made Perfect. Plough. Winter 2022.