Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Third Sunday in Lent, Year A
March 15, 2020
Lessons: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people understand that blindness is part and parcel of the human condition. Real sight and faithful vision is a gift to be carefully stewarded and generously shared—especially in time of pandemic.
Key Scripture: The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he [Jesus] comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” -John 9:30
Dear colleagues and friends, I suspect for many of you worship planning and sermon prep are looking somewhat different this week. While the world around us slows down through the practice of physical distancing, many among us wait with anticipation for good news about getting on with life. Perhaps you were well equipped to move to digital ministry, but more likely you are scrambling to post Bible study videos and live stream worship services, to connect with congregants and others with whom you minister, and to care for yourself in this anxious time. Once again, the lessons for this week do not disappoint and provide many preaching and teaching approaches that fit our current global situation/pandemic. Here are some starters for each lesson. Thank you for your faithful and creative ministry in this time of high anxiety and season of shadows. My prayers and heart are with you as you continue faithfully to steward both the gospel and the ministries to which you have been called. God is with you and will see you through this season of shadows.
1 Samuel 16:1-13: 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 that Jesse’s son Eliab 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 is God 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?
Psalm 23: What a perfect song for this particular time! Surely we do walk through a season of shadows—creation in crisis, COVID-19, poverty, immigration, hunger, natural disasters, economic free fall, etc.—yet we do not walk alone. God is with us preparing a table, and abundance overflows through open hands, hearts, and minds. How might this psalm be adapted for today’s context? (See the worship idea below for a Psalm 23 Challenge.)
Ephesians 5:8-14 : Paul reminds us that we are the light of Christ and must live as children of light. 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? In what ways can the things of darkness be found through Christ’s light? How might such a transformation happen? 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: Do you see what I see? Could we really be so blind? There’s a whole lot of blindness, confusion, and restored vision in this week’s gospel lesson. 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? What does it look like today for us to embody this story in our context? What might one change about character and situation? What still embodies timeless truth? Who is blind, and who has sight?
One might also inquire as to 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?
One might also explore how we are coping with blindness and sight in our current global situation? How are we seeing anew? What are we not seeing? How have we been blind to truth and reality? What do we need to see now? How can we see in new ways through this time of physical distancing?
If your congregation’s building is closed, consider offering people a Psalm 23 challenge. Consider how you might rewrite or adapt this psalm for the present situation. If you are posting to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, invite congregants to take each section of the psalm (you can divide it several ways) and invite folks to write a response, share a short story, or share a photo that captures that element of this beloved psalm.
By now, most of us are probably experimenting with how to use social media and digital meeting platforms for worship thanks to COVID-19. May this be a time of creativity and experimentation as we all grow together in faith and hope. If you’re looking for resources to help with planning and execution of livestreaming or recording, check out these links.
Free webinar from LEAD: https://waytolead.org/digital-worship-webinar/
YouTube video from the Southeastern PA Synod, ELCA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKnlxInCjVY&fbclid=IwAR0f-oxa7CE_5if-w3mpV9IWd0wosZ3-SSCt5W2gcLbfRCGlwi4pii5e5Ck
You can also receive some help through One License through April 15: https://news.onelicense.net/2020/03/13/one-license-offers-gratis-licenses-to-help-cope-with-covid-19-challenges-valid-through-april-15/
Chances are you won’t be meeting with your youth group this week, and even if you are, you’ll be taking a lot of precautions in response to COVID-19. It might be better stewardship to move to a digital meeting this week. Consider a Psalm 23 Photo-a-day challenge. Post a verse each day, dividing verse six in half for days six and seven. Ask each youth to post a photo this verse brings to mind for their present experience. Make a photo montage set to music to share at a future worship service.
This week’s focus verse is Psalm 23:1 – The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Some things you just can’t see…like cold germs and viruses and holy shepherds. Even though you can’t see them with your eyes, they still exist and you carry them around with you. Hopefully your immune system keeps out the germs and viruses, and hopefully your faith helps you know that our 0holy shepherd, the Christ, is with you and in you even though you can’t see him with your eyes.
Yes, God is guiding all of us just as God has guided and interacted with people since the beginning of time. And, if we trust God is with us and will provide for us, we find that we begin to have fewer wants. If we all begin to want and seek less, there will be more for everyone.
This psalm tells us how God wants to care for us and keep us safe. Be sure to read the entire psalm with your adults this week. Let’s pray together.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you for loving us (thank you for loving us). Please keep us safe (Please keep us safe) and take care of medical personnel (and take care of medical personnel), as they try to help and heal (as they try to help and heal). Please lead us and guide us (Please lead us and guide us) and help us to see (and help us to see). Amen. (Amen.)
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Faithful stewardship is adaptive stewardship. Our congregation’s ministries continue and need your faithful and generous offerings to continue. We want to be ready to hear and respond to God’s call in this season of shadows. We want to be Christ’s light of hope to the world.
If you live where there are restrictions or requests for your to stay at home, try to make this a time of creativity, reflection, and connection (even if it does mean relying more on alternative means of gathering and communicating). We are not the first age to face such a serious threat. Check out this article about Martin Luther’s response to the Plague!
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/03/real-vision/
2011 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/03/a-question-of-blindness/
Images: Ken Teegartin and Harsh Patel, Creative Commons usage license. Photo © alphaspirit – Fotolia.com Thanks!
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