March 19, 2023 - 4th Sunday in Lent

For the week of March 19 to 25 – 4th Sunday in Lent

Morning prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Christ’s example of what it means to carry out Your will through His life.  Thank You, Light of the world for lifting us into Your glorious kingdom of light.  As we develop our faith, give us eyes to see the truth so that we can boldly say, “Once I was blind, but now I see.”  Amen. 

Hymn #128 He Leadeth Me:  O Blessed Thought

  1. He leadeth me: O blessed thought! O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
    Whate'er I do, where'er I be, still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me.

Refrain: He leadeth me, He leadeth me, by His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be, for by His hand He leadeth me.

  1. Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom, sometimes where Eden's bowers bloom,
    by waters still, o'er troubled sea, still 'tis His hand that leadeth me. (Refrain)
  2. Lord, I would place my hand in thine, nor ever murmur nor repine;
    content, whatever lot I see, since 'tis my God that leadeth me. (Refrain)
  3. And when my task on earth is done, when by Thy grace the victory's won,
    e'en death's cold wave I will not flee, since God through Jordan leadeth me. (Refrain)

Ephesians 5:8-14

8 You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. 9 Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. 10 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, 11 and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. 12 It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. 13 But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper![a] Get up from the dead,[b] and Christ will shine on you.[c]

Children’s message Barley Ruth 1:22

So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Children’s Message 

Today we are going to talk about barley. Barley is a grain and it was one of the first to be domesticated and farmed, along with wheat. Biblically and geographically the barley harvest starts about this time of year. It is the first grain to be harvested. The first omer of barley was reaped on the Sunday after Passover, which was the Feast of the Firstfruits, marking the beginning of the spring harvest season (Leviticus 23:9-15). The end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest is associated with Shavuot- the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. Because this was a feast of offering and required pilgrimage to Jerusalem, this explains why so many were in Jerusalem to hear Peter tell of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

Barley is a staple crop. It is used to feed people and livestock. Because of its importance, it has been used as an oracle of judgment upon nations that would sell it for absurd prices causing both people and animals to starve.

Barley is also a supporting character in the book of Ruth. The barley harvest was vital to Naomi and Ruth’s existence and put them on a path of being cared for by Boaz. It was his adherence to the law about leaving edges and not double gleaning a field that lead to Ruth being able to provide for Naomi and herself. This led to a marriage between Ruth and Boaz in which they are both included in the lineage of Jesus.

Prayers of Intercession:  Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers for those dear to our hearts.  We now pray as You have taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us, not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 

Offering spotlightUMCOR partners with churches and communities to prepare for and recover from all kinds of disasters. Gifts on UMCOR Sunday allow UMCOR to maintain that legacy while covering administrative “costs of doing business" and keeping the promise that 100 percent of any gift to a specific UMCOR project will go toward that project and not administrative costs.  UMCOR responds to U.S. and international disasters, addresses diseases and poverty, assists refugees and immigrants, provides clean water and works to reduce hunger.

Offering prayer: Generous God, You tenderly care for each person You have created. You miraculously restore people to health and shine light into the lives of those who are discouraged. Guide us so that we will not regard others according to outward appearances but seek to find Your love in their hearts. We dedicate our offerings and ourselves to contribute to the work of Your kingdom on earth until Christ returns in glory. Amen. (Discipleship Ministries)

Hymn: #378 Amazing Grace

  1. Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

  1. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

  1. Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

  1. The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be, and long as life endures.

  1. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess, within the veil, a life of joy and peace.

  1. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.

Scripture John 9:1-25

9 As Jesus walked along, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”

3 Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. 4 While it’s daytime, we must do the works of Him who sent Me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After He said this, He spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. 7 Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

8 The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”

9 Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”

But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”

10 So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”

11 He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12 They asked, “Where is this man?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

13 Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. 15 So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.

The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because He breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. 17 Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about Him, since He healed your eyes?”

He replied, “He’s a prophet.”

18 The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. 19 The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”

20 His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. 21 But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”

24 Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”

25 The man answered, “I don’t know whether He’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”

Message  I Once Was Blind                 Rev. Ron French

When William Montague Dyke was ten years old, he was blinded in an accident. Despite his disability, William graduated from a university in England with high honors. While he was in school, he fell in love with the daughter of a high-ranking British naval officer, and they became engaged. Not long before the wedding, William had eye surgery in the hope that the operation would restore his sight. If it failed, he would remain blind for the rest of his life. William insisted on keeping the bandages on his eyes until his wedding day. If the surgery was successful, he wanted the first person he saw to be his new bride. The wedding day arrived. The many guests – including royalty, cabinet members and distinguished men and women of society – assembled together to witness the exchange of vows. William’s father and the surgeon who performed the operation stood next to the groom, whose eyes were still covered with bandages. The organ trumpeted the wedding march, and the bride slowly walked down the aisle to the front of the church. As soon as the bride arrived at the altar, the surgeon took a pair of scissors out of his pocket and cut the bandages from William’s eyes. Tension filled the room. The guests held their breath as they waited to find out if William would see the woman standing before him. As he stood face-to-face with his bride-to-be, William’s words echoed throughout the cathedral: “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined!”

Author Kent Crockett, who tells this story in his book, Making Today Count for Eternity, writes, “One day the bandages that cover our eyes will be removed. When we stand face-to-face with Jesus Christ and see His face for the very first time, His glory will be far more splendid than anything we have ever imagined in this life.”

Our lesson this morning from the Gospel of John is about a man who was healed from blindness, but it is much more than that. It is about people who are not actually physically blind, but those who are spiritually and morally blind. The key to understanding the healing of the man born blind is to examine one of our most beloved hymns: “Amazing Grace”. This hymn was written by an English cleric named John Newton who had experienced a dramatic conversion. In his early adult years, Newton had been a slave trader, involved in the selling of other human beings. It’s an insight into sin to note that while he was involved in slave trading, he saw nothing wrong with the practice. But, when Jesus became a reality in his life, John Newton was convicted of his own sinfulness and turned his life around.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” is Newton’s life story. As he read the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel, Newton saw himself reflected in the experience of the man whose eyes were opened. When the formerly blind man was asked the source of his healing, he responded with words Newton used in his hymn, “I was blind and now I see.” (25) Though John Newton was not physically blind, he was morally and spiritually blind. This is the key to understanding this story – for Jesus teaches us that there are many ways that we can be blind.

Beside the blind man, others who were blind in this story are the disciples of Jesus. As they walk with Jesus through Jerusalem they come upon a blind man, and they proceed to talk about him as if he wasn’t even there. They reflect the insensitive mind-set people have toward those with limitations and disabilities.

We have seen an amazing change take place in our society with regard to people with handicapping conditions – and I thank God for those changes. Finally those who are physically challenged are able to be in the mainstream of society.

Much of what we now take for granted: ramps, curb breaks, chair lifts, lightweight braces, leaps in medical science, broader special education classes, closed captioning on our televisions, assistance for the hearing impaired and designated parking spaces, are all recent developments that acknowledge the place of persons in our society who once were relegated to the fringes of society.

The disciples speak of this blind man as if he wasn’t even there and then have the audacity to speculate as to the cause of his blindness. They wonder, “Is he blind because of something he did, or because of something his parents did?”

In biblical times, conventional wisdom held that if you had any manner of disability, it was the result of sin. This man, blind from birth, presented a perplexing problem for the disciples:  How could he have sinned before he was born or, had his parents done something so awful that the result would be a child born blind?

At a conscience level, we may no longer buy into the opinion which says that every problem or disability is a result of sin. But when we are caught in a perplexing problem for which there is not apparent cause, then we begin to speculate, “What could I have done to deserve such a fate?” I do acknowledge that many of our problems, if not most of our problems, have a cause to which they can be traced back. As it has been said, “We can’t go against the grain of the way the world works and not expect to pick up a few splinters.” However, there are situations, like that of the man born blind, for which there are no apparent answers. I take comfort in noting that Jesus refuses to enter the debate as to the cause of the man’s blindness. Speculation about the cause is fruitless, especially when there is opportunity to make the situation better. Jesus understood the man’s blindness to be an opportunity for healing and teaching. It is at this point that Jesus introduces the theme of light coming into the darkness into the story.

This story now has a new dimension. The man blind from birth has lived in total darkness and Jesus uses his coming to sight, coming to light, as a metaphor for what Jesus is doing in the world. Recall that in the first chapter of Genesis, God’s initial creative venture is to say, “Let there be light,” (1:3) and there was light. The darkness and the void had been invaded. And now, in this miraculous story of healing, Jesus is ready to show that he is the Light of the World.

Jesus mixes saliva and dirt to form mud which He places on the man’s eyes.

He tells the man to go to the Pool of Siloam, (which means “sent”) just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. After washing off the mud the man can see. This further emphasizes that Jesus is the light of God sent into the world.

Jesus gave the man born blind his sight and there should have been nothing but joy. But the Pharisees threw a wet blanket over the celebration. The healing had taken place on the Sabbath, the day of rest, and some of the Pharisees were bent out of shape that Jesus had worked on the Sabbath, making mud. The Pharisees decide that further investigation is necessary. They visit the parents of the formerly blind man to find out if had really been blind since birth. The parents refuse to give an answer for fear if they answer that Jesus had healed him, they will be cut off from the life of the community. The Pharisees had that kind of power, so the parents advised them to speak to the young man himself.

“Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.’ The man answered. ‘I don’t know whether He’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know; I was blind and now I see.’” (9:24-25) He may not know much, but he knows that only a man sent by God could open the eyes of a man born blind. This wasn’t the answer the Pharisees had been looking for, so they drove the man out of the community.

Now comes the moment when the whole story comes together. The formerly blind man has been driven out of the city because he told the truth about his healing. How sad it is that on the day which should have been the happiest day in his life, he’s kicked out of town. He once was isolated by blindness, now he is just isolated, period. It is at this low moment that Jesus comes to him and asks this question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, ‘Who is he sir? I want to believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.’” (9:35-37) With these words, the young man worships Jesus and tells Him that he does believe. The young man is now whole in both body and spirit.

In verse 39 Jesus adds these words, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”

What Jesus is getting at is that when we think we have all the answers, when we think we know what is right for ourselves as well as for others, that’s when we are truly blind. Sight has to do with the mind and the heart as well as the eyes.

Tony Campolo, in his book Carpe Diem, tells a story from the life of a man whom many consider to be one of the truly creative minds of the 20th century, R. Buckminister Fuller. Fuller’s inventiveness seems to have known no bounds. So numerous are his achievements that a list of his inventions would fill a good size book. Fuller explained that the source of his creativity was a painful misfortune that occurred during his childhood. He described how, as a small child, he lost his eyesight. He went to bed one night able to see and awoke the next morning blind.

Medical experts were not able to explain the cause of his horrific and sudden blindness. There was no medical reason for it. It just happened. And for several years young Fuller remained blind.

Then, just as suddenly and as unexplainably as he had lost his sight, he regained it. Without any indication as to what was coming, one morning he awoke able to see again. In retrospect, Fuller explained, that the tragic time proved to be a blessing in disguise. When he regained his sight, he claimed that he saw everything entirely differently than he would have if his temporary blindness had not happened. He contended that society had trained him to view the world in a take-it-for-granted fashion. But that the hold that society had on him had been broken by his blindness. Upon regaining his sight the world proved miraculously new and strangely wonderful to him.

Along with his renewed vision, he put to use the creative imagination developed during his years of blindness. Fuller’s visual re-engagement with the world was accompanied by a sense of awe and a new passion for discovery that others seldom knew. He claimed his excitement for life was intensified beyond anything that would have been possible had he always been able to see.

Don’t you imagine that this man that Jesus healed had the same excitement about life? That’s what happens to us when the scales fall from our eyes – when we swap our eyes for the eyes of Christ. We get excited!

Have you ever met a new convert to the faith? They are invariably far more enthusiastic about their faith than those of us who have been believers most of our lives. And this is because they are seeing the world in a whole new way. How about you? Would you like Jesus to help you see the world through new eyes? Invite him into your heart afresh.  Then you, like John Newton, can sing, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Hymn #548 In Christ There Is No East or West

  1. In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north;
    but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.
  2. In Christ shall true hearts everywhere their high communion find;
    His service is the golden cord close binding humankind.
  3. In Christ is neither Jew nor Greek, and neither slave nor free;

Both make and female heirs are made, and all are kin to me.

  1. In Christ now meet both east and west, in Him meet south and north;
    all Christly souls are one in Him throughout the whole wide earth.

Go into your week with the blessings of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit.