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This week, the Old Testament lessons pair off to complement the New Testament lessons: looking to God, our Shepherd, who calls us and walks with us through the darkest valley; and to God who calls us to be light so that others might see in this world.
The Gospel lesson this week in the Revised Common Lectionary is the entirety of chapter 9 of John, making it one of the longest passages in the lectionary (a few weeks ago we had most of chapter 4!). In this passage, a man who is born blind receives sight. In Jesus’ day, there is a common belief that if one was born blind, or mute, or could not walk, etc–anything that deviated from the perceived “normal”–that they were born as sinners. Either their parents or grandparents or someone in the family line must have sinned. If someone became blind, or was crippled in an accident or had a disease, then they were also considered to be possible sinners. They were cut off from society, declared unclean, and reviled by the ruling religious elite.
This man had to beg because he was blind–he could not hold a job in that day because he could not see, so he was forced to the margins of society to beg. But now that he can see, he no longer has to beg. He can no longer be declared unclean; he has been restored to society. What makes the religious leaders really ticked in this passage is that someone from outside of their religious elite leadership made this possible. Someone from outside of their group has made another outsider clean and restored to society. In John’s Gospel, we are told that these Pharisees had made it clear that anyone who followed Jesus or thought that he was the Messiah was to be put out of the synagogue. We’re not even talking about Jerusalem here, but the small town life was structured around who was “in,” who was “clean” and acceptable, and who was “out,” who was unclean and a sinner. It was not the regular people, the citizens, the members of the synagogue who declared this, but a few of the religious elite (in this case, among the Pharisees) who determined who was clean and unclean. And for them, blindness was a sign of uncleanliness. To have one’s sight restored was impossible, not only physically, but it would turn their spiritual and social understandings upside down. The miracle here is not so much that this blind man can now see, but now he can be restored to society: he no longer has to beg, but he can hold a job and be a fully participating member of their social order.
How can we live as citizens in the kingdom of God with this message? What are we called to do? Certainly we cannot restore sight or make the lame to walk, but we can bring healing and restoration in the way Christ did: we can call in the blind, the lame, the disabled, the deaf, the outcasts, the poor, the beggars–into our church lives and give everyone opportunities to fully participate. For as my husband always reminds me, we are all only temporarily-abled. We all have ways in which we can be cast out, we all have strengths and challenges. We all need to find ways of welcoming and including everyone as participants in the kingdom of God, the way Christ did when he gave sight to this blind man, restoring him fully to society.
Ephesians 5:8-14 reminds us that without Christ, we were all once in darkness–we all could not see. Our physical dis/abilities may come into play in the social structure and order of our world: our spiritual dis/abilities come into play in our participation in the kingdom of God. We are all called to live as children of the light–to welcome in the stranger and the outcast, the “other” in our lives. Ephesians calls us to expose what is done in the darkness–the persecution, the discrimination, the harmful ways we keep others out–to the light of Jesus. “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” (vs. 10).
1 Samuel 16:1-13 recalls the story of the call of David, how he was chosen neither for his height nor his strength, but for his heart. We are all called by God in our hearts to follow Christ’s ways of love, peace and reconciliation; we are call called to turn away from sin, from the brokenness of the world, the brokenness of our relationships and seek forgiveness, restoration and healing. But we know that we are human; we have flaws, we have faults, we have moments when we seek worldly pleasure and personal gain, just like David. Psalm 23, historically attributed to David, reminds us that we do not walk this journey alone. Even in the darkest valley, we know God is with us. Even when the darkness surrounds us, as shared in Ephesians, we are called to live as children of the light, to live as people of hope, and to be that hope to the world.
Call to Worship:
Leader: Where are you going, lost and lonely ones?
People: We are traveling with Christ through the darkest valley.
Leader: Where are you going, blind and in darkness?
People: We have the light of Christ, and are now children of light.
Leader: Where are you going, sinners, unclean?
People: We have been forgiven, renewed and restored.
Leader: You are outcast! You are not worthy!
People: In Christ all are a new creation! We share this new life with the world!
All: Come, let us sing the songs of the redeemed, for all are worthy, all are welcome!
Prayer of Confession:
God of Hope, we confess that at times we turn away and put our trust in the world. We look to earthly success and fortune, forgetting not only the needs of others but our own needs in You. We trust the financial planning, the market, our job security, instead of trusting in You and Your kingdom. Forgive us when we place our trust in things that will pass away instead of looking to You. Walk with us, God, and call us back to Your ways. Help us to renew our trust in You. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
We are children of the light. We are called away from the ways of darkness, and we know that Christ shines upon us. We are given new hope, and we are called to share it with the world. Go forth, knowing that you are forgiven and loved by Christ. Amen.
Gracious God, we praise You for the beautiful earth, for the coming of springtime and the beauty of this season. As we prepare for Easter, we know we must go through Good Friday. As we prepare for the Resurrection, we know we must first journey to the cross with You. Lord, help us to prepare in a new way this season: help us to reflect inwardly on our lives, to repent where we have gone wrong, to trust in Your forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Call us forth in Your love to be light in this world of darkness, to live as forgiven people, forgiving and loving others, and welcoming in all to be Your children. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.
Hymn Suggestions: today, I am reminded of that old hymn, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley.” As we walk through our own valleys of the shadow, we are reminded that Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem and walked to the Cross for the sake of the world.