Jesus thief

           Understand this: if the owner of the house
           had known in what part of the night the thief was coming,
           they would have stayed awake
           and would not have let the house be broken into. 

                           —Matthew 24.43

Jesus thief, you come in the dark hours
of my broad daylight nights,
sneak through my shadows,
slip unnoticed into my inner chambers.
Thief Jesus, you rob me of what I cling to,
pilfer my excuses, my mannerly arrangements,
my weary protections and pretensions.
You lift my anxieties, help yourself to my wounds.
You spirit away my shame,
relieve me of my possessions.
Walls breached and stronghold invaded, robbed,
I am at a loss. My world can’t be the same.
Jesus thief, you have stolen my heart.
I am awake, waiting for you to come again.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Advent

           You must be ready, for the New Human
           is coming at an unexpected hour.
           Blessed is that worker who is at work
           when the householder arrives.
                           —Matthew 24. 44, 46

Holy One,
rather than guess what the future holds,
what I really want
is to honor this deep longing in me,
in all of us, yearning for something holy,
something whole, something Home.
My longing is for your presence
that is already unfolding,
a home-strangeness from within-beyond,
this world mushrooming up out of itself,
the great change already upon us,
the birth pangs.
I long for this world to be changed,
but the world you give me is this one,
for my longing to change.
This is the world you give us in which to serve,
to work in the Household of Love
until all is transformed.
God bless the hope, and bless the waiting.
O God, my longing is yours,
my hope your hope welling up in us,
your Beloved, coming
and coming.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Thanksgiving

As we sit at our table and feast
on food and love and beauty,
I am thankful for all the unseen ones
who made this possible.
For the pickers of fruits and vegetables,
and packers of meat,
and long haul truck drivers,
laboring so we may eat,
for the toll booth sitters,
the luggage handlers,
those who work so we can take the day off,
the long-shift hospital workers,
the laborers behind the scenes,
in the dark, underground—
all of them sit at this table.
All of them are blessed.
And for all of them I pray
for blessing and peace,
for beauty and joy,
that all of them may have
as much to be grateful for as we do.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

The day is near

           Salvation is nearer to us now
           than when we became believers;
           the night is far gone, the day is near.
                                      —Romans 13.11-12

Everything is different,
yet this world is not traded out for another;
the sun has simply risen.
It is we who change:
when we finally see the world
in the right light,
as when you wake up
the day after the wedding and realize
the love of your life is your spouse.
What we await is not a future but a birth,
a surrender into a greater present.
What we await is not new history
but new eyes
to see what is already upon us.
It’s not that we are yet to be swept off our feet;
only that we have yet to say
“I do.”

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Woke

           Keep awake therefore,
           for you do not know on what day
           the One is coming.

                           —Matthew 24.42

The Beloved waits just on the other side
of the thin curtain.
The emperor and his minions,
the billionaire and his servants
want you to sleep, to stay oblivious.
Don’t open your eyes to beauty,
the etchings of the frost on the pond.
Don’t see what’s going on,
don’t notice injustice,
don’t think of who suffers.
Just buy, and sleep.

But an awakening stirs in you,
an ocean tide you can’t defy.
The Teacher knows.
A hunger, the hopeful gnawing
at the cracks in the world.
Attentiveness to where it hurts.
The mystery, the migrating nudge,
the first birth pangs,
angels’ sharp desire.
“I know you’re there.”

Keep awake. Watch. Notice.
You don’t know when
the Beloved will appear,
when the world will shift—
the bird at the window,
the bum on the street,
the prison door.

The fearful court your coma,
and disparage the opening of your eyes.
Ignore them.
Stay woke.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Waking

I am all nightfulness,
not yet me,
smoke wafting up out of a dream.
I have not come to myself yet,
my arms beside me
like two warm animals,
and two legs crawling up out of blackness
to join me.
My mind has not come to me yet,
nor the room, or the light,
or the universe.
Before I think of thinking,
of troubling myself with thought

you love me.

This alone wakens me.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Seed

Hold this seed in your hand
its durable wisdom
knowing all it does

how to wait
how to endure
how to become

how to accept confining soil
winter’s abandonment
cruelty of all darkness.

Night and day
cold and thaw relentless
promising withholding.

In grip of ice or fire
time digestion and
whatever may be called suffering

nevertheless
holding within
its bare moment

(hold it in your hand
your mind
the deep soil of your Being)

what it has been given
furled infinite
irrepressible

a word    a world    a blessing
already
here

waiting

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net


Published
Categorized as Reflections

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

It does not take—although
it could—our breath away,
this warm November day
that should be dense and dark;
instead it gives.

The park is washed: a tide of light
leaves the day’s bright spine
exposed, the clear sun beached
upon the evening’s shore,
reposed where children each
reflect it, young and pure.
How is this day not old
and grey, but yet a bride,
lap full of wedding gifts,

all tied with gold, with light?
It lifts our hearts, too cold,
and too soon winterized,
to watch our children run
in ribbons through the gold,
the bright gift

wrapping strewn, untidy sheets of light,
across the afternoon,
not innocently laughing
jewels into our laps
until our arms collapse,
and we are warm. How can
this laying on of hands
of light, so late, be right?
What are we to remember
of this gilded not-november
miracle of days?
The oracle of praise
this day of Magi lays
abiding at our feet,
the reason given

for tidings of light,
light piled against the trees and benches,
against our legs and feet,
against our thoughts of sleet:
God has no oughts, but gifts.

This is our tithe: let light
be more than interlude,
life little more than this—
delight and gratitude.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Lent 5

March 25, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Ezekiel 37.1-14. The prophet is sent in a vision to a valley of dry bones, symbolic of his people who are lifeless and despairing in exile. God tells him to speak hope to the bones, and then to speak hope to the wind (breath) that will give the bones life. In this image Ezekiel brings God’s promise of restoration to the people of Israel.

Psalm 130 is a cry from the depths of despair, especially the despair of our own sin and brokenness.

Romans 8.6-11 Paul speaks of the difference between life “in the flesh,” and “in the spirit.” The Spirit that raised Christ from death is in us and will raise us to new life, too. In

John 11.1-44 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

Preaching Thoughts

Today’s texts explore not only God’s gift of new life, but especially the death that must precede it.

Ezekiel
The vision of dry bones is announced to people in exile: a vision of God bringing life and hope into a situation of death, loss, defeat and despair. It’s not a promise that things will be OK. It’s an acknowledgment that things already are awful—and that out of that God can make something new. Death will come first—then revival.

Psalm.
A woman was doing a “fill-in-the-blank” Bible study that asked “With what are we to come before the Lord?” The answer, I bet, was supposed to have been “with joy and thanksgiving” or something like that. But what I saw she had scrawled in the blank (and into the margin) was “With every human emotion imaginable, just like David did!!” Yep. The Psalms cover it all, including “the depths.” This psalm is an invitation to take our depths seriously, to befriend our “shadow” side: to be honest about our guilt, fears, wounds, rage, doubts, sorrows, evil fantasies—they’re all there in the depths. It’s out of this honest self-awareness that the Psalm can wait in hope for God, who loves us, the whole of us, including our shadows, including our depths. Redemption is nothing less than that.

Romans
Paul does not mean that the flesh is bad. (After all, God chose for the Word to become flesh.) What Paul means by “being in the flesh” is the illusion that we are contained and confined to our flesh, our physical bodies, as if each of us is a separate, discreet object. In fact, Paul, says, we’re not separate objects at all: we’re all members of one living Being, the Body of Christ, united in one Spirit. Like your fingers, which may look like separate things but they’re all part of one hand, guided by one mind. We’re like different parts of one body, (Paul develops this more in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.) Living in the flesh we’re guided mostly (and mostly unconsciously) by our ego. Living in the Spirit we’re guided by the Spirit. Living in the Spirit is being mindful of our holy oneness in God, our belonging to God, with the Spirit of God uniting and guiding us.
         “To set the mind on the flesh is death” because it’s like amputation: when we think of ourselves as separate from God we cut ourselves off from our true source, our true life. Living in the Spirit, we connect with the Life that flows through us from God. We are part of the risen Body of Christ, included in Christ’s resurrection. Hence “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit that dwells in you”—because your mortal life belongs to Christ’s eternal body.

Lazarus
Why did Jesus wait to go to Bethany? Hm. Maybe he knew he couldn’t protect even his best friends from death and suffering.
       When Jesus decides to go to Bethany, he’s getting pretty close to the people who want to kill him. Thomas gets it. “Then let us go die with him.” Maybe Thomas understands that death has to come before resurrection, which is why later when he’s told Jesus has risen, he wants to see Jesus’ wounds: not because he doubts his friend has risen, but because he wants to make sure it was the crucified Christ who has risen.
       Both Mary and Martha scold Jesus: “If you’d been here this wouldn’t have happened.” But maybe it would have. Everybody dies. Jesus can’t heal everybody. It’s a little dangerous to think that Jesus intentionally let Lazarus die just so he could perform a miracle. God doesn’t use us as disposable stage props. God doesn’t cause us suffering just to make a point. Nevertheless, God can bring blessing out of suffering, life out of death, and something real out of impossibility. Because of God, in your life and in our world, a hopeless cause is not without hope.
      Jesus wept. Out of the depths. Part of the mystery of the cross is that God suffers our pain. Even if Jesus knows he’s going to raise Lazarus, the pain is still real. He weeps for his own loss, for Lazarus’ suffering, for Mary and Martha. Of course grown men cry, unafraid to feel their own pain and the pain of others. That’s true strength. The capacity to feel pain is the capacity to love; the courage to feel it is the courage to love.
       “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus calls to life what has died in us. Nothing, not even death, is as powerful as God’s love. No shame or failure, no suffering or evildoing, no past or present can hold us from living in God. No power can stop God from setting us free. “Unbind him, and let him go.”
       I wonder: what was Lazarus like after that? A changed man, I bet. When we’re raised from death it changes us. Whatever form our raising takes—surviving a crisis, receiving forgiveness, restoration of a relationship, revival of one’s spirit, release from addiction, recovery from trauma—we don’t just go back to life as it was. We’re raised to new life. We’re invited to let our old life die. And, yes, it can feel like death. The Lazarus story isn’t just about God’s miraculous rescue of a terrible situation. It’s about how God raises us up out of old, deadened, deadly ways of living, out of the illusion that we’re confined to the life of our mortal bodies, into new lives, new ways of living, living “in the Spirit,” living as members of the crucified and risen Body of Christ.
       The rest of the story in John 11, beyond the lectionary selection, is that after this some powerful people wanted Jesus killed. God’s life-affirming grace is a threat to human hierarchies and systems of privilege and exclusion. The powers that be will always oppose resurrection. Of course Jesus carried on. To paraphrase, “Nevertheless, he persisted.”

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Spirit of life, light of life, breath of life,
All: breathe new life into us.
Christ of love, Christ of sorrow, Christ of hope,
breathe new life into us.
Wind of God, breath of God, spirit of God,
breathe new life into us.
We worship you, open to your grace.
Raise us to new life in your spirit. Amen.


2.
Leader: I see a valley of dry bones.
All: All that is dead and ruined. All that is hopeless and despairing.
And yet, I hear a Word to the bones, a wind among the bones.
Where there was death, life!
Out of the depths comes a cry.
The song of sorrow, the voice of shame.
And yet, there is grace, forgiveness and redemption.
We wait for God, more than those who watch for the morning.
Out of old lives and the ways of death, the voice of grace calls us.
Out of the tomb of our hearts, we come,
made new, alive in Christ, and grateful.
With open hearts we worship. Amen.

3. [Ps. 130]
Leader: Out of the depths we cry to you, O God.
Holy One, hear our voice! Let your ears be attentive to our cry.
If you, O God, kept account of our sins, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore we worship you.
We wait for the Holy One; in God’s word we hope.
Our soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the dawn.
O people, hope in God! For with God there is steadfast love;
with God there is great power to redeem.
It is you, God, who redeems us! We thank you, and we worship.

4.
Leader: God is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
All: God does not deal with us according to our sins,
but forgives us and receives us as God’s beloved.
Come, let us walk in the light of God,
that God may teach us God’s ways,
and lead us in God’s paths.
Create a new heart in us, O God,
and put within us a new and right spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of grace, into the dry bones of our hearts breathe your Word. Into the deep place of our sorrow speak your hope. Into what that is dead in us breathe your life. Into our trembling, fearful hands place your new life, pulsing with grace. Speak, Lord, for we are listening. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, like Lazarus in the tomb, our hearts are still and waiting for your call. Speak to us now. May your Word call us out of our death, out of old lives, into the light of your grace and your presence, and the loving companionship of Christ. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, Christ is the light of the World, and so we come to walk in his light. Christ is the resurrection and the life, and so we come to enter into his life. Christ raises us to new life, and so we come to surrender our lives to you, and be raised anew. Speak to us now, that we may hear the words of life. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, we confess all that is in us that is not of life.
Receive our death, forgive our sin, and breathe new life into us,
that we may perfectly embody your love. Amen
[…Silent prayer … The word of grace]

2.

Life-giving God, we confess that we have separated ourselves from you,
and so from life: we have died in our sin.
We confess the death that is in us.
Forgive us, and call us back to life.
In your grace, we listen for your life-giving word.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Dry bones of my heart,
listen.
Breath of God,
enter.
Jesus, at the tomb,
call my name.


Response / Creed / Affirmation

       We love you and trust you, God, creator of the universe, who brings light out off darkness, who creates anew every day.
      We love you and trust you, Jesus, the Christ of God, crucified and risen, who healed the sick and fed the hungry, who gave hope to the despairing and raised the dead. You save and redeem us, and raise us to new life.
      We love you and trust you, Holy Spirit, in whom we live not as separate beings but members of one Body; in whom our mortal lives are given infinite life. By your grace we die and rise daily, released from old ways and called out into new lives, in love and service for the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Poetry


          For Lazarus to Rise

When Lazarus heard his name
he took a sudden breath.
With visceral trembling blood resurged.
But then, as when awakening some days,
he lay a moment, mired,
reluctant to rise from the familiar
swaddling of his death.
Rising, even more than dying,
there could be no return:
for if he chose to stand,
all he knew would then be lost

And still now every morning,
each momentary wish for healing
is a risk, a wakening call
to change, to choose,
to leave so much behind,
and be again made new.


          Psalm 130

This cry crawls up from somewhere deep,
from deep beneath all words or feelings,
deep where only you can hear, O God.
         Hear with your deepest heart
         the unheard voice of my trembling soul.

If you let our sins keep us from you
you’d be alone in this universe.
But you do not.
         I praise this miracle:
         you forgive.

I wait for you. My soul hangs on you.
To the lungs of my soul your word is air.
I wait for you,
         more than those who ache for the dawn,
         more than those who ache for the dawn.

O people, hope in God!
God is pure, steadfast love,
and the power to re-create.
         From our ruined ways
         it is God who will save us.



              Psalm 130

Out of my sea depths
         a cry, a wordless noise.
You hear, like a sound through the earth,
         Like my spine hears me.

If you measured, I would disappear.
         All of us would be too small.
But you allow us to fill you.
         So we fill you.

I hold open a space for you,
         emptiness in me that widens
like sky waiting for dawn,
         like the whole sky waiting,
and the dawn, rising,
filling the whole sky.

We, your people, of your making,
         even, even in our clutter,
we are your open space
         where your light appears.
In your spaciousness
          we become new.



Lazarus, come out!

There is no birth without pain.
There is no life without suffering.
There is no love without surrender.
There is no struggle without hope.
Though we would cry out to God
to save us from all hurt—
“Lord, if you had been here
this wouldn’t have happened”—
God won’t shield us
from the blessed demands of our own lives,
from the living that is given to us
enfolded in what is required of us,
the birth pangs wrapped in pain.
Each new gift or challenge invites us
to become new, to be born again.
The Beloved walks our boundaries;

when we meet, it opens something new,
a spring in us gushing up with life itself.
People may ask, “Is this the same person?”
and we will insist, “I am the one!”
But we will be changed, and leave behind
what once we had clung to.
Our grave wrappings are swaddling cloths,
in our travails the voice of the Beloved,
crying out to us in our tombs,
“Lazarus, come out!”



             “Come out!”

Under the roaring silence of your death,
Tunneling under the the world yelling at you,
a bird song that pierces iron walls,
a strong hand, unflinching, a voice
reaches into the dark mountain,
reaches through the cages and sewers,
the vast abandoned valleys,
into the shark’s mouth of fear,
into the cave of your death, and its own,
and finds the skeleton,
finds the bones made of stone and despair,
gathers your bones from trash piles,
and speaks to your fragments,
wraps its flesh around your bones,
gives them its blood, its breath, its life.
Only the voice of a love that fierce
can call your name
and you come out,
out of your old death
into the quiet morning,
a squinting newborn,
stunned, beloved, swaddled,
ready to be set free,
knowing nothing
but the sound of that voice.


                 Come out

Come out, you who have been entombed
in silence, in fear, in condemnation,
come out!
Come out to the one who loves you.
You who are afraid for your life,
who are afraid of your life,
you who are ashamed,
you who have been bound,
come out into your own life!
You who have been told you’re unworthy,
you who are afraid of failing,
come out into your whole life.
You who are wounded and grieving,
who are hopeless or depressed,
you who wonder if you’ll ever live deeply,
come out into life’s fullness.
You who are well defended in your fortresses,
in armor, in costumes, come out.
Gays and abuse victims, transgender and shy,
gifted and doubtful, queer and other,
you can come out.
Come out of your closets, out of hiding,
out of exile, out of the wilderness.
Ou who dwell in darkness and shadow,
you who are in prison, come out!
You have a place, and the tomb is not it.
The One Who Weeps for You
calls to you.
You are wanted. You are mourned.
Come out.
And keep coming; every day, coming out
into this bewildering, wonderful world.
And you who are hiding in lies and deception,
come out, come out in to the light.
And you who have rolled the great stones
over other people’s lives,
roll them back. Stand aside.
Never mind the stench.
Call to them. Open your arms.
Unbind them.
Let them go.



Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you God, for you create all things,
bringing light out of darkness.
Out of despair, hope!
Out of shame, forgiveness!

Out of death, life!
In your Spirit we are one, given life beyond our lives.
We thank you, and with all Creation we sing your praise.

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who healed the broken, fed the hungry, and raised the dead.

He wept with our sorrow; he shared in our death.
Crucified for love, he was raised in love,
and calls us into new lives
as members of his Body and partakers of his Covenant.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
dead to old lives and raised to new life,
in the name and the love of Christ,
for the sake of the healing of the world.


     [Spoken or sung]
Amen
.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have entered our death, and fed us with the food of eternal life. Send us into the world as new people, alive in your Spirit, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have called us out of old lives, out of the death of our souls, into new life, life in your Spirit, in your love. Send us into the world in the name and the love of Christ. Amen.

[Rom. 8.6-17][Rom. 8.6-17]3.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You are our light, and our life. By your grace at work in Christ, and by your Spirit alive in us, you raise us to new life. Send us into the world to live in the spirit of prayer, to walk in your light, and to proclaim your word, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Live by the Spirit [Rom. 8.6-17] (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God has now done what the law could not do:
God set you free and God reconciled you.
Live by the Spirit that God freely gives,
Spirit of Christ, by which each of us lives

Setting your mind on the Spirit is peace:
rooted in grace, from our sin we’re released.
Live, then, by the Spirit that raised Christ from death,
Spirit that raises us in every new breath

Go in God’s peace. Go in Christ’s gentle light.
Go in the Spirit that leads us aright.
Children of God, go in love as you do,
Dying with Christ and arising anew.


Out of the Deepest Depths (Psalm 130; Original song)

Out of the deepest depths I cry to you, O God.
O listen with your heart, and hear my pleading voice.
If you counted sins, then no one could stand with you;
but God, you forgive.

I wait for you, O God, for in your word I hope.
I wait for you, Love, more than those who wait for dawn,
yes, more than those who watch for the morning light
I wait for you.

O Hope, O Israel, O hope in the Lord.
For with our God is love, God’s steadfast, faithful love,
and power to redeem; for God is the one
who will redeem us from sin.

Lent 4

March 19, 2023

Lectionary Texts

1 Samuel 16.1-13. God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the next king of Israel.

Psalm 23
celebrates God’s gentle hospitality, guiding us through deadly places.

Ephesians 5.8-14. In Christ we are light, and we are to live as children of light, so that God’s love is visible. The writer quotes an early baptismal pronouncement: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you.”

In John 9.1-41 Jesus heals a man who was born blind. An extended comedy follows the healing, as the Pharisees, blinded by their fear of Jesus, try to figure out a way to deny the power of what Jesus has done, but remain “in the dark” about it all.
         Note: Consider presenting this story (and others in this season)as a dramatic reading with several roles. You can break the story up into scenes, with a brief reflection, music or prayer between scenes. (Click here for a script.)

Preaching Thoughts

Seen and unseen
Today’s texts explore the themes of light and dark, seen and unseen, sight and blindness. God leads Samuel to anoint David according to unseen qualities, not physical appearance. That part is easy to get. Most of us don’t vote for candidates according to who’s cutest. But go deeper: what qualities do we value that are not only character traits that are not physical appearance, but often entirely unnoticed? God sees something in David that people don’t see. When we look at ourselves, and others, what are we missing? What about forgiveness, gentleness, patience, trust, prayerfulness, good listening, humble service? For that matter, what are bad qualities we often overlook, like unresolved anger, untruthfulness, manipulativeness, denial? What are qualities we don’t usually see that really do matter?

Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is usually thought of as all light and loveliness, not engaging the light/dark, seen/unseen theme of the other readings. But the psalm does walk from the light of green meadows at the beginning through the shadows of the dark valley in the middle to the light again of the welcome, safety and shared meal at the end. In this way it leads us in embracing our shadow (see “Light and dark” below.). The shepherd walks us safely through the dark places in our lives, and in our own psyches. The darkness is not to be feared, but faithfully traversed. Consider reciting the psalm in a way that highlights this journey from light to dark to light: maybe accompanied by music in a major key in vv. 1-3, a minor key in v. 4 and again to major in v.v. 5-6. (Here is a version with handbells that does this.) If the room you worship in accommodates it, you could also do it with lighting (though find a way to let people know it’s intentional, not just that you’ve lost power…).

Light and dark
Ephesians tells us once you were darkness, but now in Christ you are light. “Light” is often equated with “good,” and “dark” with “evil.” Be careful with this. It easily lends itself to racist ways of thinking related to skin color. Further, even aside from skin color, sometimes darkness is actually good. It doesn’t denote something that’s necessarily bad, just unseen. The Mystery. In fact as Mystery, darkness is holy. Darkness is where stars shine, seeds sprout, babies are conceived and grow. When the ark is moved into the Temple in 1 Kings 8.12 Solomon remembers that “God would dwell in thick darkness.” Faith includes a healthy embrace of the darkness of life, the unknowable stuff in which there is grace even though we can’t see it or understand it. And Jungians remind us how important it is to acknowledge, integrate and appropriately express the “shadow” side of ourselves—all that stuff that’s unseen, unconscious, even repressed—even though some of it is actually very good. How do we live in the light of God and also trust the dark mystery of God? How do we “shine the light” and also embrace our shadow?

John 9.1-41A Dramatic Reading
The gospel readings for Lent in Year A are all long stories of Jesus’ ministry. They certainly deserve to be told as they are written. But you might also explore breaking them up into separate scenes, with a brief reflection, music or prayer between scenes. They can also be presented as dramatic readings. Here is a script for a dramatic reading of John 9 in four scenes, for seven or nine readers.

Blind and seeing
The gospel story isn’t just about a miraculous healing: it’s about our willingness to look and see. As we are wary of the racist danger in how we think of the black/white, good/evil binary, as well as the denial of our shadow in the light/dark binary, we should also be wary of the danger of ableism in treating sightedness as good and blindness as somehow deficient.

The gospel story is full of humorous irony about seeing and unseeing, which makes it clear: there’s nothing “wrong” with being blind, but there is something wrong about choosing to be oblivious. The blind man sees quite well: he’s the one who sees who Jesus is. But those whose eyes work seem to be blind to what is going on: they can’t recognize the man, or behold God’s grace, or witness the miracle, or focus on the issue, or see themselves clearly. They keep asking the one who was blind to describe something that they themselves saw. Their eyes work but their hearts are blind. Jesus has told them, “I am the light of the world,” but blinded by their expectations and their fear of Jesus, they are still “in the dark.” Blindness is a physical state, but denial is a moral one. What makes racism, (and all the ways we discriminate) so powerful is our refusal to see what’s going on. Cancel culture, and a whole ethos of denial and whitewashing are practices of unseeing. “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (Jn.9.41). How do we unsee our neighbors? Who do we not see? Whose suffering do we choose to not see? What wounds and injustices, and what gifts and wonders, do we overlook?

How we see
The gospel story really isn’t about seeing with our eyes, but seeing with our hearts. Do we see with the eyes of distrust, or the eyes of faith? Eyes of cynicism or eyes of wonder? Eyes of judgment or eyes of love? “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  (Mt. 6.22-23). It’s not about whether we see, but how we see. Eyes of of love fill us with light. Eyes of judgment fill us with darkness. How do we see? How do we fail to see people? How do we fail to really see them? Jesus asks us to really see people, see them for who they are, see them as God sees them, not just through the filter of our own habits, assumptions, expectations and fears. (Remember in Luke 7 when the woman anoints Jesus at Simon’s house he says, “Do you see this woman?”) How do you see your neighbor?


Ah, I see
When we understand something we say, “I see.” This story is about “seeing” as understanding. Which we actually don’t. We think we’re so damn smart. But our smug worldly wisdom is not as clever as we think. Conventional wisdom doesn’t actually see God’s truth, which is beyond our rational understanding. We see only what fits our preconceived notions. Believing is seeing. So God has to subvert our “seeing” and confound us smartypants to get us to see that we don’t see everything. John 9.39: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Isaiah 6.9-10: “Say this to the people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” 1 Cor. 1.19, 25: “It is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’… God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” In the ancient Wisdom tradition, Jesus thwarts Conventional wisdom and opens our eyes to the wonder of God’s grace. How good do you think your spiritual eyesight is? Will you confess you’re in the dark? It’s there, in the unknowable, that God takes our hand and shows us what we can’t see.

Healing the blind
We may not be given the gift to do miracles with people’s eyes, but we are sent to open the eyes of people’s hearts. We are sent to open people’s eyes to the world around them—to the suffering and injustice, and also the glory and beauty. To help people really see each other is a wondrous gift. To open people’s eyes to racism is a prophetic calling. It’s a miracle of healing to empower people to see themselves as God’s beloved, to enable those who despair to see hope, to help those who have been shamed to see their own beauty and dignity, to help those who struggle in life to see themselves with mercy and gratitude. Sometimes it’s a miracle just to get people to notice the beauty that’s around the.m.. and within them.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Creator God, your glory surrounds us.
All: Help us to see with eyes of gratitude and wonder.
Loving Christ, you come to us in the humble and needy.
Help us to see with eyes of compassion and mercy.
Holy Spirit, you work among us with power and grace.
Help us to see with eyes of faith.
We worship you with praise and thanksgiving. Amen.

2.
Leader: God of all creation, out of darkness, light!
All: We worship you.
Christ, in our blindness, healing!
We thank you.
Holy Spirit, from our old ways, new lives!
We praise you. We give ourselves to you.
Fill us with your light, that your love may be revealed in us. Amen.


3.
Leader: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
We gather in the power of the Spirit, as the Body of Christ.
We were blind, and now we see, so we come to praise our God.
We were dead, but now we are alive, and we come to worship.
But still we are blind, and still we are dead in our sins.
So we come to be healed, that we may see by God’s grace.
We come to be raised to new life, by the mercy of God.
4.
Leader: The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
All: God does not deal with us according to our sins,
but forgives us and receives us as God’s beloved.
Come, let us walk in the light of God.
Holy One, teach us your ways,
and lead us in your paths.
Create a new heart in us, O God,
and put within us a new and right spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Amen.

5.
Leader: Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine upon you.
All: Once we were darkness,
but in Christ we are light.
May we live as children of light.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of mystery, you saw something in David that others did not see, and anointed him king. So you see things in us that we do not see. Open our eyes to see ourselves and one another as you see us: beloved and worthy. Open our eyes, God, and help us to see.

2.
Gracious God, you have given us Christ as our light, and given us as light for the world. As Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, open our eyes so that we might see; and open our hearts so that we might truly serve you and set free those who sit in prisons of darkness. God, come to us, speak to us, heal us, and make us your servants. We pray in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

3.
God of light, we come to you in need of healing, for the eyes of our hearts are clouded. Embrace us in your love, touch us with your Word, and transform us by your Spirit. Make us whole, so that we might live new lives. Bless us in our worship, that we may become children of light. Amen.

4.
God of truth, as Jesus healed the blind man, we ask you to heal us. Open our eyes to see ourselves honestly, to see you clearly, to see your world as you would have us see it. Open our hearts, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see all that is in us that is loving,
and all that is not loving.

God of love, with your eyes
we look on those times we have been in harmony with you,
and we give thanks. [Silent reflection…]
God of love, with your eyes
we look on those times we have been out of harmony with you,
and we receive your grace. [Silent reflection…]God of grace, we give thanks that you look upon is with love and mercy.
By the grace you show us in Christ,
forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
[Silent prayer … the word of grace]

2.
God of love, create in me a clean heart,
and put within me a new and holy spirit.
Where there is falseness, give me your truth.
Where there is denial, give me vision.
Where there is fear, kindle your love.
Where there is guilt or shame,
let me see myself with your eyes of love.
I release all the ill I have suffered,
and repent of the harm I have done.
Forgive me, and create me anew.

3.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned
and that we are blind to our sin.
We have failed to see our neighbors in need,
and failed to hear your calling.
We have been blind to your grace,
and have sat in prisons of darkness.
Forgive us, God, heal us, and set us free;
fill our hearts with light, so that we may be light to the world,
in the spirit of Christ, who is our light.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
1.
Leader: Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine upon you.
All: Once we were darkness,
but in Christ we are light.
May we live as children of light.

2.
Generous God,
you prepare a feast for me, even
in the presence of my fear and self-centeredness.
My cup overflows.
I hold it out to you.
Shepherd me, O God.

3.
Leader: Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned;
he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
All: God, help me to trust
that with you there is no deserving,
no punishment,
no imprisonment in the past;
only grace,
and the the opportunity to receive it.
Open the eyes of my heart,
that whatever my circumstances
I may see your grace,
trust your unfinished work in me,
and know that I was born that your love
might be revealed in me,
and that, unseen,
you stand beside me
ready to heal.

Readings

1.
Click here for a script for a dramatic reading of John 9, Jesus healing the blind man and the controversy afterward. In four scenes. For seven or nine readers.

2.
                    Psalm 23

Gentle Shepherd,
         you have freed me from my desires.
         All that I need is at hand.
You rest me.
         In the green pasture of your grace I lie down.
         I surrender all.
You lead me beside clear, deep waters.
         You are my dawn, my spring, my birth.
You are my path.
         I follow you, and the way is good.
         You walk before me, and within me.
Even when the way is dark and impassable—
         the canyons of death—
your Presence is my path,
         and a way through,
         and I am not afraid.
You make of this life a feast for me,
         and everything a gift,
         and even my enemies companions.
You have marked me with your joy;
         I cannot contain your blessing.
         What I receive and what I give are beyond me.
You’ve given me to goodness;
         you’ve married me to mercy for the rest of my life.
Each moment is my own house;
         and you are my dwelling, my home,
         forever.

3.
There are plenty in this world who sneak about in darkness, hidden, relying on lies and misperceptions. Most of them do not know it. There are those who thrive in the spotlight, but only in costume, enclosing their true selves in lightless biers that are impervious even to their own seeing. Afraid to know themselves, they avert their lives. Their defenses are thick walls that protect their frightened souls, and seal them against the light. They waste away in tombs of delusion.

But it is not so with you. You are light. You pay attention, looking to see clearly both what is before you and what is within you. You do not rush past yourself, but live deliberately enough to be able to see everything. You welcome the truth, even when it challenges you. You are transparent to the light of God shining through you. You gladly bear the beams of grace into this world. You do not lurk past anyone, but beholding all as your sisters and brothers, you humbly serve them in the ways God has given you, and draw them into the day, surrounding them with light.

Children of light, keep shining.

Poetry


Sleeper, awake!

The healing of blindness is not a correction
         but an opening.

Repentance is not improving
but opening your eyes.

Seeing is not judging
         but letting the light in.

In the dark chaos of the deep
         let there be light.

Whether or not your eyes see it
          your very being is the light of Love.

You are the lamp;
          the Beloved is the flame.

You don’t need to birth fire,
          just become transparent.

Awake; open your eyes.
          The dawn has come.



You are light

You don’t need to seek the light.
You are light,
light of God’s Word,
light of Gods love,
shining in your being.

Meditate on this light,
glowing from within.
Trust this light,
given, not made.

Don’t worry to shine the light;
it already shines.
Simply be mindful.
Open the shutters of your heart,
and let the divine light radiate.

You are light.



Today

         We must work the works of the One who sent me
                  while it is day;
         night is coming when no one can work.
         As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

                           —John 9.4-5

This is your day, your life.
Night will come, when you are no more.
Now you are God’s light in the world.
This is the time to shine,
to love, to forgive and ask forgiveness,
to speak for justice, to give yourself
to the mending of the world.
This day.


My mommy (Ps. 23)

God is my mommy.
         She’s all I need.

She gives me a soft place for naps;
         she takes me to safe places.
When I’m upset she holds me
         ’till I become myself again.
She leads me by the hand.
         Quite the pair, my mommy and I!

When I am scared to death
         you are right there. No worry.
Your strong hand and firm voice save me.

You set the table for me and
         for the siblings I’ve been fighting with.
You wash me up with that gleam in your eye.
         My plate is full.

Your motherly love stays with me every day.
         I will be your beloved kid forever.

Sweet.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you God, for you create us in the image of your love.
You have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the realm of your light.
Each of us shines with the light of your glory.
We are being transformed into your image,
from one degree of glory to another.
In love you sent us Jesus, the light of the world.
He is the light on our path and the life in our hearts.

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
in whom we see your mercy and love.
As he gave sight to the blind, he opened the eyes of our hearts.
He showed us the miracle of your grace,
and enabled us to see your presence.
In him the powers saw only threat and untamable mystery,
so they crucified him.
But you raised him from the dead,
bearing your everliving covenant to be with us in love.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
May we see with eyes of love,
and by your presence in us be light for the world,
in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

     [Spoken or sung]
Amen
.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Your love has opened our eyes. Send us into the world to see your beauty, to witness your miracles, to behold your light in each person, to trust your grace in every moment. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In your light we are given new vision; in your grace we are given new life. Send us into the world in faith, that your love may be revealed in us, in the name of Christ. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) As this food enters us and becomes part of us, may your light fill us, so that we radiate your grace. Send us out as light for the world, to open the eyes of the blind and release the prisoners, in the name of Christ. Amen.

4.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) May our eyes be opened to see your presence and your grace in our lives. May we continually open our hearts to your healing, and bear your healing to this hurting world. Send us into the world now to bless and to heal, to proclaim your good news, in the name of Christ, and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

5.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) May our eyes be opened to see your presence and your grace in our lives. May we continually open our hearts to your healing, and bear your healing to this hurting world. Send us into the world now to bless and to heal, to proclaim your good news, in the name of Christ, and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)


Communion Song (Tune: Just As I Am)

O God, you call us to life anew,
and so we bring our lives to you.
Forgiven, free and blessed, we give
our gifts that in us Christ may live.

With joy we set the table here
with gifts of Jesus’ presence dear.
God, in our feast may Christ be near,
and in our lives his love shine clear.


Grant Me Your Vision (Tune: Be Thou My Vision )

Grant me your vision, O God of pure light.
May your deep wisdom and love give me sight.
Help me to see who I am as you see:
lovely and wounded and worth setting free.

Take my illusions, my fear and my lies;
shedding my veil, Lord, I open my eyes,
seeing my beauty, my wounds and my sin,
past all pretending, in truth deep within.

Give me the eyes of your mercy and grace;
help me to see you in each time and place.
God, you who know me, please guide me, I pray,
following Jesus in his loving way.



Psalm 23 (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God is my shepherd; I have all I need. God
Makes me lie down in green pastures to feed.
By the still waters God gently will lead.
Love, you’re my shepherd. I have all I need.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I
fear not, for you are as close as my breath.
For you are with me, your staff and your rod
they are my comfort, my shepherd, my God.

You set my table before all my foes. You
pour out your blessing; my cup overflows.
Goodness stays with with me wherever I roam,
and I will live in you, my Heart, my Home.


Sleeper Awake (Original song)

Sleeper, awake, come rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine upon you.