Fourth Sunday in Lent

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Ephesians 5:8-14

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

John 9:1-41

As he [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him 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.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 
Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

Normally, this weekend would be pleasant time to come to church on a Spring Sunday and encounter an old friend. But we all know this isn’t, this weekend begins a lot of ‘not’ normal weekends in the Chruch. This feels like one of those weekends that could be a jarring experience as we honor what is being termed ‘social distance’. This weekend though God is not going to let us feel that way, through God’s Word being read we continue to be connected.  

This Fourth Sunday in Lent offers us a meeting with an old familiar friend and carries us way back into the quaint, bygone world of sheep and shepherds.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (23:1 NRSV). I cannot remember when I did not know this Psalm. Can you? Even if a person doesn’t know scripture by heart and can’t find a verse when they need it, they recognize this phrase. I can see the faded pastel picture from my third grade Perochial school class: Jesus, the Good Shepherd. It is the go-to Psalm to teach children, since it expresses a childlike trust in God’s ability to protect us, just like a shepherd.

When life makes us wonder if God is there for us—if God cared, which may be going through many people’s minds the last few weeks, it is Psalm 23 that puts comforting arms around us and reassures us of a God who makes, leads, restores, comforts, prepares, anoints; so that in darkness or light, life or death, we might dwell with God. 

But this is not the only comforting text we have on this very odd weekend for us all.

1 Samuel 16:1-13: We see even prophets occasionally have a tough time with change! Samuel is grieving over Saul, no doubt remembering how he anointed Saul in response to the people’s unrelenting desire to be like other nations and have a human ruler (i.e. a king). God tells him to get his home anointing kit and hit the road toward Bethlehem. God has made provisions for a new king, and it’s sure not the most likely candidate—not even close.

How true this story rings today! We think we know what something or someone is supposed to look like or act or appear, and yet God sees beyond our limited human vision and expectations. Samuel is certain which of Jesse’s son has the right looks and stuff for kingship, but God says “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

This period of physical distancing offers us time to really look and listen. Many of us have slowed from our usual hectic schedule. Why not take the opportunity to pay attention to what God is saying to you, to me, to the church? Where are our “-isms” getting in the way of God’s desires for us and our world? Who are we not seeing who God has anointed among us?

Ephesians 5:8-14:Paul reminds us that we are the light of Christ and must live as children of light. Which spurs me to ask questions like:

  • How can we shine now in a time of anxiety and fear? 
  • What might it look like to be “all that is good and right and true” today? 
  • What might this look like for the church, especially in these days of global pandemic? 
  • What comfort does the light bring to us during this season of shadows?

John 9:1-41: The Pharisees ask Jesus to name the sin responsible for the man’s blindness even though the way they see it the parents are to blame. Bad things happen to people who do bad things, I mean only a literal reading of Psalm 51, “Behold, I was sinner from my birth” could place the blame on a fetus sinning in utero. Jesus chooses the third way and blames God. 

I mean if we push the answer to its cynical conclusion the man’s blindness affords Jesus the opportunity to heal him so that God’s work might be revealed in him; though I bet the man would have preferred God gifted sight a little earlier in life. If we push a less cynical way to see it is that Jesus rejects sin as cause and effect for the way world works. It is what it is. People are born blind and biology is to blame. And while the physical healing appears to be the place where “God’s works are revealed in him” it is in the transformation of the man who had endured years of condemning comments whispered within earshot that the real miracle of sight takes place. 

For the first time the question, “whose fault was it?” doesn’t matter and the man sees sin for what it is. 

  • His own parents having endured the blame for his blindness all these years cannot give thanks for the miracle in front of their very eyes and abandon him for fear of losing even their back seat in the synagogue. 
  • The respectable rabbis revile him because the way he received his sight doesn’t fit their view of the world even though they know “If this man was not from God he could do nothing.” 

With nowhere else to go he finds the only one who will welcome him and seeing clearly for the first time, “Lord, I believe” is where God’s works are revealed in him.

There’s a whole lot of blindness, confusion, and restored vision in this week’s gospel lesson, and to some degree in all our readings. Of course there’s also a lovely theological disagreement about who sinned, who is at fault, and who has the authority. And yes, Jesus and some Pharisees tangle over blindness and sight. So who really sees? 

We also might wonder to ourselves and ask why humans like to have everything neatly wrapped, with no loose ends and to know everything that needs to be known? We really don’t like not being in control. Even the illusion of control can make us feel safer. When it comes to faith, we can’t micromanage the work of the Holy Spirit and the scope of the Christ. Sometimes we need to let go and fall into the uncertain certainty of God-with-us. 

The Pharisees are arguing about where Jesus comes from and that all the cool kids are disciples of Moses, when the man who once was blind says, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes” (v. 30). We, today, need to ponder these words. How do we let our need for certainty and being right blind us to reality and what God is up to in the world?

I want to close today with words that are in the beginning of a Pandemic Hope devotional that we will be using over the next 8 weeks, which like hearing the Word of God, will keep us together over the next 8 weeks.

It’s March 16, 2020. Most of us have been paying attention to the news as information about COVID-19 changes by the hour. This virus is aggressive. Our government leaders’ strong encouragement to social isolation feels extreme.

You know what? As people of God, those words also describe our hope.

  • Hope that this virus will be halted.
  • Hope that our sense of community with one another will be restored.
  • Hope that God has not left us to fend off this virus alone.

However, we have become focused inward by stockpiling supplies, making lists of all of the TV shows we want to watch and the books we want to read, making schedules for our kids so they don’t fall behind in their schoolwork, and focusing on how this virus is affecting us, as individuals. 

But this virus is affecting us, as a global community. In the waters of Baptism, we are claimed as children of God, as part of God’s family, which means we don’t live in this world seperate from one another…Let’s remember we are not a people of fear, but of hope.

We hope this virus ends quickly. We hope that soon we can be physically together again to lift or voices and give glory to God. We hope that we can see things through the eyes of God. No matter what happens we keep hoping.


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