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Sermon and Liturgy for The Fourth Sunday in Lent - Year A
I Samuel 16:1-13 and John 9:1-41
"The Man Born Blind"


READING:  I Samuel 16:1-13 and John 9:1-41
SERMON :  "The Man Born Blind"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-le04sm 658000
                   
     The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
     for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
     found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
     SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

     Sources: The children's story is based on one from the Whole People
     of God, 1996. For the sermon the sources included  "Believing Is 
     Seeing" by Ray C. Stedman, Catalogue No. 3857 John 9:1-34, March 18, 
     1984; Copyright 1995 Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula 
     Bible Church.

	
GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)

                     
* CALL TO WORSHIP: (based on Ephesians 5:15-20)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Be filled with the Spirit of God and speak to one another
   with psalms, hymns, 
   and spiritual songs..
P  We will sing with our lips and make melody to the Lord in our
   hearts 
   for he is good and his steadfast love endures forever.
L  Praise God the Father at all times and give thanks for
   everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
P  We will make the most of every opportunity and praise God by
   living as children of light.


* INTROIT: "Holy, Holy, Holy" (VU 315 verse 1) 


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
God of grace and of glory - as we come before you, we ask that
you grant us the knowledge that we need to solve the questions
that are in our minds.  Light thou our candles while we read, to
keep our hearts from going blind, and enlarge our vision to
behold the wonders you have wrought from of old!  We ask these
things in Jesus' name.  Amen.
                       (based on a prayer poem by Henry Van Dyke)


* HYMN:  "Teach Me God To Wonder"                       - SFGP 36


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS


INTROIT For The Word of God (please stay seated):
  Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!  (VU 371 v.2 & refrain)


A READING FROM I SAMUEL 16:1-13
   (NRSV)  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." {2} 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.' {3}
   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." {4} 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?" {5} 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. {6} When they
   came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's
   anointed is now before the LORD." {7} 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." {8} Then Jesse called
   Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither
   has the LORD chosen this one." {9} Then Jesse made Shammah
   pass by. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one."
   {10} Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and
   Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen any of these."
   {11} 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." {12} 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." {13} 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.

L  This is the Word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.


CHILDREN'S TIME: "God Works With Us"
Object:   Cut Outs For 23rd Psalm
Theme:    God Works With Our Choices
Source:   Based on the Whole People of God - 1996 for Lent 4a


   Note: the pictures for the flannelgraph include pictures
   of 1) Sheep; 2) Pool of Water;  3) Shepherd on a path;
   4)Mountains; 5) Food or a Feast; 6)a Joyful person.  The
   connections of these pictures to the 23rd Psalm should be
   obvious to you   but don't worry if they are to the kids

Good Morning...  One of books of the Bible is actually an ancient
hymn book.  The book of Psalms contains the hymns of the Hebrew
people.  Today I need six of you to help present the psalm for
today (choose six kids and invite them to pick one of the
envelopes)....  

Now we need six readers from the congregation (get kids to get
six people and bring them forward)

We have now six readers and six picture people.  Now we are going
to get each reader to read the verse of our psalm.  As the verse
is read the picture person will come up to the flannel board and
put  up their part of the picture (do not worry about perfection
here)

THANK YOU for your help.  How did you feel doing that???

I had a plan, but I didn't know exactly what was going to happen. 
I didn't know who my helpers would be.  We couldn't know for sure
how everything would go.  But you trusted that I had a plan and
would help if you got into difficulty and I trusted that you
would do your best.  And do you know what?  Everything worked
out.

Usually when we do something like this we have a practice to make
sure everything goes right.  But today I wanted to see how we
could work together without a practice.  I did that because in
life we don't get to practice each day before we live it.  We do
the best we can, trusting God to help us and trusting in God's
plan for our world.  It's something like we have experienced
together here today. 

Sometimes things don't go quite the way we planned or hoped they
would, or we make a bad choice.  But God can take our actions,
even our wrong choices, and transform them into something helpful
in the end.  We just need to ask for God's help and keep
following the good shepherd.  That's why the Psalmist wrote "The
Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

   LET US PRAY:   "Loving God -- we thank you for being with
   us -- for working with us -- for making things come out
   right -- and for giving us all we need.  Amen" 


* HYMN:  "Jesus, Friend of Little Children"              - VU 340


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 23 (Voices United, page 749) and Sung
Refrain #2


CHOIR ANTHEM: "Take Now My Voice"


A READING FROM JOHN 9:1-41
   (NRSV)  As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.
   {2} His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or
   his parents, that he was born blind?" {3} Jesus answered,
   "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind
   so that God's works might be revealed in him. {4} We must
   work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is
   coming when no one can work. {5} As long as I am in the
   world, I am the light of the world." {6} 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, {7} saying to him, "Go,
   wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went
   and washed and came back able to see. {8} The neighbours and
   those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is
   this not the man who used to sit and beg?" {9} Some were
   saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is
   someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." {10} But
   they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" {11}
   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." {12} They said to him,
   "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." {13} They brought to
   the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. {14} Now
   it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his
   eyes. {15} 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." {16} 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. {17} 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." {18}
   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 {19} and asked them, "Is this your
   son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?"
   {20} His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and
   that he was born blind; {21} 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." {22} 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. {23}
   Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." {24} 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." {25} He answered, "I do not know whether he
   is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind,
   now I see." {26} They said to him, "What did he do to you?
   How did he open your eyes?" {27} 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?"
   {28} Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple,
   but we are disciples of Moses. {29} We know that God has
   spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he
   comes from." {30} The man answered, "Here is an astonishing
   thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened
   my eyes. {31} We know that God does not listen to sinners,
   but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his
   will. {32} Never since the world began has it been heard that
   anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. {33} If this
   man were not from God, he could do nothing." {34} They
   answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you
   trying to teach us?" And they drove him out. {35} Jesus heard
   that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said,
   "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" {36} He answered, "And
   who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." {37}
   Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking
   with you is he." {38} He said, "Lord, I believe." And he
   worshipped him. {39} 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." {40} Some of the Pharisees near him
   heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are
   we?" {41} Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would
   not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin
   remains.

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN: "Open My Eyes That I May See"                    - VU 371


SERMON: "The Man Born Blind"

   "Gracious God - bless now the words of my lips and the
   meditations of our hearts.  Breath your Spirit into us and
   grant that we may hear and in hearing be led in the way
   you  want us to go.  Amen.

There is a story told by Laura Richards that I found in a book
called "The Moral Compass".

It concerns a meeting between "The Angel Who Tends To Things" and
a man at work - perhaps a man we have met somewhere - sometime.

   "I have come to speak to you about your work," said the
   Angel-Who-Attends-To-Things.  "It appears to be
   unsatisfactory."

    "Indeed!" said the man, "I hardly see how that can be. 
   Perhaps you will explain."

   "I will", said the Angel.  "To begin with the work is slovenly."

   "I was born heedless," said the man.  'It is a family failing
   which I have always regretted."

   "It is ill put together, too, " said the Angel.  "The parts
   do not fit."

   "I never had any eye for proportion," said the man.  "I admit
   it is unfortunate."

   "The whole thing is a botch," said the Angel.  "You have
   put neither brains nor heart into it, and the result is
   ridiculous failure.  What do you propose to do about it?"

   "I credited you with more comprehension," said the man.  
   "My faults, such as they are, were born with me.  I am
   sorry that you do not approve of me, but is the way I was
   made.  Do you see?"

   "I see!", said the Angel.  He put out a strong white hand,
   and taking the man by the collar, tumbled him neck and
   crop into the ditch (near where they were standing).

   "What is the meaning of this?", cried the man as he
   scrambled out breathless and dripping.  "I never saw such
   behaviour.  Do you not see what you have done?  You have
   ruined my clothes, and nearly drowned me besides."

   "Oh yes!" said the Angel.  "This is the way I was made."

In life some things are useful and others aren't.

Blaming one's circumstances, one's birth right, one's parents,
one's environment, or one's tools",  for what kind of work we do
- or what kinds of faults we have - as did the man in Laura
Richards" story - is astonishingly useless.

It is useless - and misleading --- indeed it is harmful - for it
takes a person in a direction where there is almost no help for
them - almost no way for them to claim the inner power and the
freedom that God has built into their very souls.

Another thing that is often equally useless - equally misleading
- equally harmful - is trying to determine who is to blame for
another person's misfortune - which is what the disciples try to
do in today's gospel reading - and what many people, believers
and unbelievers alike - do every day.

   As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from his birth.
   And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man
   or his parents, that he was born blind?" 

How often we have seen someone on the news - or perhaps even a
neighbour - enduring one hardship after another - and then heard
others talking about the situation and saying things like:

   "Well, it is very unfortunate, but if the family only knew
   how to budget better they wouldn't be in that mess" -- or
   --  "it's sad, but what can they expect, they never look
   after themselves properly - and they certainly don't take
   care of each other" -- or --  "they never had a chance -
   their parents were just the same".

Assigning blame for one's own misfortune - or for the misfortune
of others - is virtually a national sport.  

Assigning blame is in fact so popular that it has even become
politically correct -
   - the misfortunes of women are caused by men
   - poverty is the fault of capitalism - if you are in North
   America - and the fault of communism if you live in the
   former Eastern Block.
   - Welfare fraud and common thievery is caused by poor living
   conditions or poor upbringing 
   - and our own aggression and rudeness and anxiety and fear
   and lack of forgiveness - our own lack of what Christ call's
   abundant life - is the result of  how we were treated by
   uncaring teachers or abusive parents.

Along this line - when a group of teenagers rioted at the Blue
Water Facility in Ontario some three ago, we discovered in
interviews held with some of the social workers who work in the
Young Offenders system that the kids destroyed thousands of
dollars worth of property, not because of their own sin, or even
because of how they were raised by their parents, but  because
they were pawns in the dispute between the Guard's Union and the
Ontario Government that was occurring at that time..

Who sinned?
Who is at fault?
What caused the problem?

These can be good questions.
Diagnosis is a very important thing - as anyone who has gone to a
doctor knows.

But diagnosis by itself accomplishes nothing.

It is what we do afterward that matters -
what we do afterward, and, just as importantly, what we do during
diagnosis and what we do even before diagnosis is attempted.

There is a blindness that is greater than that blindness that
Jesus encountered one day as he was going along the road and came
across the man who was born blind - and it is this far greater
blindness - for more tragic blindness - of which the entire ninth
chapter of the Gospel According To John speaks.

In today's reading we are privileged to see the disciples floundering
about for causes for a congenital defect as if this would somehow make
a difference to them or to him.
   We see the neighbours of the man born blind - who now sees -
   being unable to recognize him because he is no longer sitting
   and begging by the side of the road
   And we see the Pharisees unable to believe first that the man had
   been really healed despite the evidence of their eyes and
   their ears, and then being unable to believe that Jesus had a
   hand in the healing because they see him as a sinner rather
   than as prophet of the Living God.

We see folk who are either half-blind, or who cannot see at all.

We see folk who are more interested in blame; 
   more interested in knowing the who, what, when, where, and
   why of the situation, 
than they are in the helping and the healing and the
hoping that Christ brings.
And because of that we also see fear and anger and intolerance.

And through it all - we see the man born blind - receive not only
sight in his eyes - but sight in his soul - as first he is
questioned - then attacked - and finally excommunicated for
daring to speak the truth as he knew it - for daring to say that
Jesus had healed him - a man born blind....

The disciples had been taught through the Law and the Prophets
that sin and hurt, injury, and handicap are linked together; that
human hurt is the result of human sin.  Jesus does not deny that. 
In fact he clearly affirms the principle that one reaps what one
sows.
 
But Jesus makes clear that suffering is not always directly
traceable to personal sin. 

And even where it is -- where sin has led directly to suffering 
-- Jesus makes clear that our response to it should be like his:
one of compassion and of love.

"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born
blind?" 

   Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his
   parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest
   in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the work of him
   who sent me.  Night is coming, when no one can work."

The work of God is the work of liberation and of healing and of
compassion and of forgiveness.
It is the work of love filled living and giving - the work of
bringing salvation.

Today we are surrounded by people who live in worlds of blame and 
bitterness.
   Everywhere we go there is so much blindness - so much that
   binds people and prevents them from living in the freedom
   that God has bestowed upon us all in the very act of creating
   us.

The good news is that all this blindness - this blame - this
bitterness - this bondage can be overcome.

Fanny Crosby, that dear saint of the last century who wrote
"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! " was blind from her earliest
babyhood as a result of an accident. When she was only eight
years old she wrote this little rhyme,

   Oh, what a happy child I am, 
   Although I can not see. 
   I am resolved that in this world, 
   Contented I will be. 
   How many blessings I enjoy 
   That other people don't. 
   To weep and sigh 
   Because I'm blind, 
   I cannot and I won't!

She lived to be over 90, and that beautiful, rejoicing spirit
characterized her all her days.

Why did the childhood accident blind Fanny Crosby??  
Who was at fault?
These questions matter not in light of how she chose to lead her
life afterwards.

Nor in the end did the disciples' question about the man born
blind really matter in light of how Jesus responded to that man;
and what he himself subsequently did as he first defended Jesus
as the source of his healing - and then confessed Jesus as his
Lord and worshipped him.

Why, was he born blind? 
"That the works of God might be made manifest in him," is Jesus'
response. 

And then he turns from his path - he stops - and he kneels down
near the man - and spits on the ground and makes some mud with
saliva and puts it on the man's eyes - and then instructs him to
wash in the Pool of Siloam; and, in following these instructions
- the man goes as he is sent - and he is healed.

This week this world has been full of the news of two senseless
tragedies:  the slaughter of the American and British tourists in
Africa and the murder of a young Canadian man in Florida.

Fault and blame can easily be assigned -  but that is not what is
needed.

What is needed is that we progress from this - that we go forward
- that we follow the master's instructions and do all that we can
do to allow the work of God to be made manifest: manifest in us -
and manifest through us.

What is needed is that we pray to God for a blessing upon all the
parents, and all the friends - and that we work and we witness
and show the complete love of God to everyone we meet.

There is blame.   There is blindness.   And there is blessing.

Jesus calls us, for the most part,  to overcome the first by
showing forgiveness towards the blameworthy - as he himself did
upon the cross -
   to overcome the second by accepting his ministry to us and
   doing as he asks 
       and to give the third - by doing those things he himself
       did, by showing love and mercy and compassion and care to
       those around us.

The only thing that can hold us back from experiencing the
healing power of God in our lives
and moving on from that to showing that power to others - is our
own attachment to blame - our own fondness for bitterness - our
own belief that no-one and no-thing can help us or our world.

No one - not the madmen in Africa nor the teenage gangs in
Florida nor our parents, nor our environment, is more powerful
than God as we meet him in Jesus Christ of Galilee.

His love can overcome blindness, his love can bring salvation --
even to a man born blind.

Blessed be God, day by day.  Amen.


----  Check out George Hartwell's Creative Closings - Lent 4 - Year A 
for a prayer meditation with which to conclude the sermon and/or 
lead into the prayer time below.


* HYMN: "Blessed Assurance"                              - VU 337


   PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER:  Prayers Based on
   David Adam's "Power Lines: Celtic Prayers About Work" pp 4,

Lord, open our eyes to your glory, open our ears to your story,
   open our hearts to your fire, open our wills to your desire.  
   Waken us, O Lord, to your risen power, to your presence every
   hour, to your never ending love, to your coming from above.  
   Bring us Lord, to your peace here today; to your meeting in the
   way; to your speaking in a friend; to your guiding to the
   end... Lord hear our prayer..

Grant, O Lord, that we may bless instead of blame, that we may
   care instead of curse, that we may lift up instead of put
   down, that we may hope rather than despair, that we may help
   rather than hinder....  Lord hear our prayer...

Grace O God, those who suffer this day 
   the blind and the lame and those who are lost on the way.
Bless those who grieve and mourn,
   the afflicted, the despairing and the forlorn.
Aid too those who are in need,
   the poor and the sick and those who have no creed.
Be with them and in them.  Be above them and below them.  Be
before them and behind them.  Be to the left and to the right of
them...   Lord hear our prayer...

We ask all these things through Jesus - who taught us to call up
you, saying... OUR FATHER


MINUTE FOR MISSION: OUR LIFE TOGETHER AND IN THE WORLD


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  As the Offering is presented all
stand for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow -
VU 541) and Prayer of Dedication

   Most loving God - as you have given yourself to us in
   Christ Jesus, now let us give ourselves to you.  We give
   you our bodies that they may be vessels for your Spirit;
   we give you our souls that they may be made pure by your
   grace; we give you our hearts that we may always love you
   and we give you our minds that they may be always be full
   of your wisdom.  Receive all that we offer and use it for
   your honour and glory.  Amen


* HYMN: "Be Thou My Vision"                              - VU 642


* COMMISSIONING (Unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now
   go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people
   of God, the body of Christ.
                                 
                      
* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace
Go in peace, and may God be in your head and in your
understanding, in your eyes and in your looking, in your mouth
and in your speaking, in your heart and in your thinking - now
and forevermore.  Amen


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                    - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons


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