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.