Worship Service for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 4th Sunday in Lent, landing on March 19, 2023!

The bulletin for this worship service can be found here. No surprises here, the bulletin will just have the order and words of worship with your responses in bold, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the whole sermon manuscript. The words you need to know will be on your screen and the sermon is included on this page after the worship video.

For an enhanced online worship experience, you are invited to have a lit candle in your space from the beginning of the service until after the sending hymn when the altar candles are extinguished. You are also welcome to participate in communion by having something small to eat and drink prepared to consume, and further instructions on timing will be given during the service.

May the light of God’s love shine in and around you and your lives, this day and always!

Gracious God, shine your love into our hearts that our eyes be opened to the power of your Spirit leading us to what is good and right and true, by the glory of your name, through Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

This past week we saw the 3rd anniversary of the start of the pandemic, or at least the start of us having to move worship online because of the pandemic.  I know, 3 years doesn’t seem significant as that isn’t exactly a milestone number or anything, but I think it’s significant for us in the church, or at least us churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary.  And in case you don’t know what the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is, it’s the schedule of the 4 readings that we get each Sunday for worship which pretty much maps out the whole bible centering around themes and stories from the gospels.  The reason why this is matters is because the Revised Common Lectionary spans over three years. 

So now, as of last Sunday actually, every text and theme that we get from the RCL has been preached on under the lens of the pandemic.  Not by me myself, mind you, but collectively with all who follow this scripture reading schedule.  Yes, I get that even after that explanation, it still doesn’t seem all that significant or at least sermon-worthy.  However, I wanted to bring it up because of how this global phenomenon has seemingly changed us.  I wanted to highlight on this 4th Sunday in Lent how this world-wide situation has affected us all.  I wanted to talk about how this daggone pandemic has, over the last 3 years, so drastically divided us: nations, citizens, human beings.  So much so it feels like we may never be able to reconcile with each other again.

And in light of today’s themes of reconciling, healing, and opening our eyes to see the world as God sees it, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about these things.  Because really, it feels like our eyes have been covered and we’ve been so blinded by our own self-righteousness and arrogance that we tend to blame our problems on pretty much everything but us and that which we hold dear.  I mean, let’s be honest, how many of us nodded our heads in agreement when I said that it was the pandemic that divided us?  How many of us shook our heads at those on the different side of the coin from us and pointed our fingers in their general direction thinking that it’s them and their fault?  How many of us when faced with a problem of any kind do not, can not, and absolutely will not even consider our own responsibility in instigating or at very least perpetuating that problem?

I’m not pointing my finger at any of you by the way, but rather I’m trying to see how that finger should appropriately be pointed at myself.  Because I know I’m like this.  I blame others when it’s totally not their fault.  I often think that I know better and therefore perhaps am considered as better than others.  I have been blinded by my own arrogance.

This is human nature, I know.  We see it in each other, those we don’t even know, and even ourselves if we try hard enough.  And of course, we see it in today’s gospel lesson, right from the get go the disciples ask Jesus whose fault it is that this blind guy was born blind.  Upon whom can the blame for this man’s plight be pinned?  Where can we squarely point our fingers directly at and maybe give them a good mansplaning on what they did wrong and how they can improve for next time? 

The disciples couldn’t see how God’s love and justice can be found even in this man.  The disciples were blinded by their misguided understanding of sin and condemnation, crime and punishment, cause and effect.  Their paradigms of the world and God led them to believe that anything bad that happens is at the fault of someone, likely those that just don’t know as good as us.

And it wasn’t just the disciples that did this, but the Pharisees as well.  They wanted to get to the bottom of this healing business but to them, their inability to understand had nothing to do with their own arrogance and closed-mindedness, but everything to do with the blind man’s poor attitude and his uncooperative parents.  They couldn’t see how this man that they’ve unjustly chastised because of his ailment could actually have value and worth given to him by God.  They were blinded by their own power and prestige that they thought they were the ones who had the authority to declare who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is bad, who is in and who is out.  They couldn’t grasp how this formerly blind man could ever be part of their community, so they drove him out every chance they got.

And if we want to be brutally picky, the parents displayed this fear of blame as well when they deflected the questions raised and weren’t even able to rejoice in their son’s healing but decided to play it safe and play it down instead.  They couldn’t see that they were trapped in this endless cycle of blame shifting and finger pointing.  They were blinded by the societal rules and controlling systems in place that excluded people more and more.  They were stuck in the understanding that these rules were unbreakable, their roles and positions unchangeable, and the perceived and threatened shame irreversible because of the standards that have been set for us all.

And maybe, just maybe, we might share in these attitudes of arrogance and blame shifting as well.  Maybe we are blinded by our assumptions and presuppositions too.  Maybe we also erroneously point our fingers at others, like who’s to blame for our problems, who do we not like enough to justify us crucifying them, who can we exclude and exile because of the pandemic and any other reason that suits us.

What a mess.  A real big mess.  A spit in the dirt and make mud and smear it on the face of a stranger mess.

And there is good news.  In that messiness, in that blindness, in that saliva-induced mud, there is healing, restoration, and the light of God’s love.  I know, we don’t always see it.  We might not always understand it.  We might not even want it at times.  But it is there, opening our eyes to the truth of God’s grace, shining light into our lives with boundless love and blessing, and restoring us all into a community of sinful but forgiven saints of God.

My friends, in all this messiness of life, God appears to us with a hand of healing mercy.  In the darkness and deep corners of life, God shines light into our souls and illumines the truth of God’s promises of welcome and community.  In the blaming and arrogant finger pointing, God opens our eyes to see that God isn’t concerned with outward appearance, but God looks at the heart, where God resides, gives life, and brings in value and worth.

I know, it’s a lot easier on our arrogance to just blame others.  It gives our pride a break when we put others down instead of ourselves.  It’s maybe more comfortable and familiar to reside in the darkness where we could perhaps get away with a lot more than we could in the light.  But it’s in the light that we might see others as God does with eyes of compassion and forgiveness.  It’s in the healing in which we can understand how we’re all equally sinful and at the same time all equally made to be saints.  It’s in this community in which we are all invited and welcomed where we can see how each and every one of us are loved, lifted up, and made to be children of God.

This pandemic hasn’t been easy.  Even though it’s pretty much wound up we are still affected by it in so many ways.  But the divisions and disagreements didn’t start with the pandemic.  It might have exasperated them but it didn’t start them.  It’s been a part of us since the beginning of time.  But it is in God’s love and grace where we can end the division.  It’s in understanding our connection to God and each other where we can see our unique giftings and how we can work together as the body of Christ in the world.  It’s in the healing power of the Spirit where we can see the light of God shining in and through us, bringing us together in spite of difference and showing us how to live in peace, joy, and hope.

As we near the end of Lent, may we look forward to the shining light of the resurrection, bringing forth God’s glory into our lives and in the world, revealing to all the endless love, grace, and mercy of Jesus our Saviour, through the power of the Spirit.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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