February 27, 2022 – Jesus Light of the World
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we once again acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
We light our Christ Candle this morning to remind us that the one we sometimes call the Light of the World has promised us that whenever we gather together, his light will shine among us.
Call to Worship
Light shinning in the darkness.
Fears exposed and overcome.
Joy lighting up ever the most difficult places of our lives.
Hope reaching out to the hopeless.
Promise of a new vision, made clear by God’s light.
New purpose, new vision, new hope.
These are the things we seek as we come together this morning.
And so in the light of God’s love, we gather to worship!
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Infinite Mystery, we gather here this morning in the glow of divine light seeking to follow where that light leads us. We know that your light shines, not only for us but for all of creation. Open our eyes that we may never be blinded to the wonder of your presence with us, calling us out to follow and serve. Help us to not only continue to follow your light wherever it leads but to allow that light to fill us, so that we may reflect your light to others in all that we say and all that we do. Amen
Gift of Music
Today is the last Sunday before Lent. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Traditionally the last Sunday before Lent is Transfiguration Sunday. But the Gospel According to John, which is the Gospel we are using this year, does not have a Transfiguration story. So Nancy and I decided that we would begin this morning with a Transfiguration hymn to remind us of this traditional story.
Our opening hymn this morning is, We Have Come at Christ’s Own Bidding VU#104
Scripture Readings John 9:1-41 Contemporary English Version
This morning I have chosen to have the scripture read from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible rather than the New Revised Standard Version that we have been using throughout the Season of Epiphany. I will explain the reason for that later. But our scripture reading this morning is the entire ninth chapter of the Gospel According to John. It is one story, the story of a man who had been born blind, whose sight was restored by Jesus. It is within the context of this act of healing that Jesus is quoted by John as saying, “I am the Light of the World.”
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been blind since birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?”
“No, it wasn’t!” Jesus answered. “But because of his blindness, you will see God work a miracle for him. As long as it is day, we must do what the one who sent me wants me to do. When night comes, no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.”
After Jesus said this, he spit on the ground. He made some mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes. Then he said, “Go and wash off the mud in Siloam Pool.” The man went and washed in Siloam, which means “One Who Is Sent.” When he had washed off the mud, he could see.
The man’s neighbors and the people who had seen him begging wondered if he really could be the same man. Some of them said he was the same beggar, while others said he only looked like him. But he told them, “I am that man.”
“Then how can you see?” they asked.
He answered, “Someone named Jesus made some mud and smeared it on my eyes. He told me to go and wash it off in Siloam Pool. When I did, I could see.”
“Where is he now?” they asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
The day when Jesus made the mud and healed the man was a Sabbath. So the people took the man to the Pharisees. They asked him how he was able to see, and he answered, “Jesus made some mud and smeared it on my eyes. Then after I washed it off, I could see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus doesn’t come from God. If he did, he would not break the law of the Sabbath.”
Others asked, “How could someone who is a sinner work such a miracle?”
Since the Pharisees could not agree among themselves, they asked the man, “What do you say about this one who healed your eyes?”
“He is a prophet!” the man told them.
But the Jewish leaders would not believe that the man had once been blind. They sent for his parents and asked them, “Is this the son that you said was born blind? How can he now see?”
The man’s parents answered, “We are certain that he is our son, and we know that he was born blind. But we don’t know how he got his sight or who gave it to him. Ask him! He is old enough to speak for himself.”
The man’s parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. The leaders had already agreed that no one was to have anything to do with anyone who said Jesus was the Messiah.
The leaders called the man back and said, “Swear by God to tell the truth! We know that Jesus is a sinner.”
The man replied, “I don’t know if he is a sinner or not. All I know is that I used to be blind, but now I can see!”
“What did he do to you?” the Jewish leaders asked. “How did he heal your eyes?”
The man answered, “I have already told you once, and you refused to listen. Why do you want me to tell you again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”
The leaders insulted the man and said, “You are his follower! We are followers of Moses. We are sure that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where Jesus comes from.”
“How strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from. We know that God listens only to people who love and obey him. God doesn’t listen to sinners. And this is the first time in history that anyone has ever given sight to someone born blind. Jesus could not do anything unless he came from God.”
The leaders told the man, “You have been a sinner since the day you were born! Do you think you can teach us anything?” Then they said, “You can never come back into any of our meeting places!”
When Jesus heard what had happened, he went and found the man. Then Jesus asked, “Do you have faith in the Son of Man?”
He replied, “Sir, if you will tell me who he is, I will put my faith in him.”
“You have already seen him,” Jesus answered, “and right now he is talking with you.”
The man said, “Lord, I put my faith in you!” Then he worshiped Jesus.
Jesus told him, “I came to judge the people of this world. I am here to give sight to the blind and to make blind everyone who can see.”
When the Pharisees heard Jesus say this, they asked, “Are we blind?”
Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty. But now that you claim to see, you will keep on being guilty.”
Blinded By The Light
It seems appropriate that, without a Transfiguration story, our scripture this morning should focus on light. The image of Jesus shinning with a heavenly radiance found in the Transfiguration story, seems to reflect Jesus’ words in the Gospel According to John, I am the Light of the World.
Like the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, this story encompasses an entire chapter in John, making these two scriptures the longest single stories that we have of Jesus’ encounters with individuals. And like the story of the Samaritan woman, this story is also unique to John.
It begins with Jesus and his disciples meeting a man who, we are told, has been blind since birth. His disciples turn to Jesus and ask, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because he sinned or because his parents sinned?”
And this is why I chose to have this story read from the Contemporary English Version this morning. In the New Revised Standard Version, which we have been using throughout Epiphany, there are four words added to the text that are apparently not in the original Greek. Those four words are, he was born blind.
In the Contemporary English Version, when the disciples ask if it was because of his sin or his parent’s sin that the man was born blind, Jesus’ answer reads this way, “No, it wasn’t!” “But because of his blindness, you will see God work a miracle for him.”
In the NRSV, Jesus says, “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”. This wording completely changes the entire meaning of the passage. If those four little words are eliminated, the passage reads, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. So that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me.”
The disciples question reflects a commonly held belief of the time that if someone was suffering it was a punishment for sin. Although we claim this is not a reality today, in many ways it is. It is a concept known as retributive justice. The punishment must fit the crime. In Jesus time this was also interpreted as meaning that the crime must also fit the punishment, so if someone was being punished, they must have committed a crime.
But Jesus is saying “No”. He is not blaming the man or his parents, but neither is he blaming God. The man is born blind. That is simply a fact. Jesus does not offer an explanation as to why. But he does promise that even here, God’s wonders may be seen.
Like those first disciples, we want explanations as to why bad things happen, sometimes to good people. We want a cause-and-effect correlation between everything that happens. We want consequences. We want the punishment to fit the crime. But the truth is that sometime, there is no correlation. Jesus does not try to explain why this man was born blind. Instead, in love and compassion, he simply heals him.
And it is within this story of healing that Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World”. The image of light shining in darkness is a beautiful image of hope and reassurance, especially in a time when you couldn’t just flip a switch and light up a dark room. The image of light shining in the darkness was extremely powerful.
But there is another aspect of light that we don’t always remember when we read this passage. Light can allow us to see, but light can also cause blindness. Anyone who has ever stepped out of a darken building into a snow-covered landscape with bright sunlight reflecting off the snow, know this blinding effect. Arctic explorers soon learned that if they didn’t protect their eyes, they risked losing their sight permanently.
We also know that sometimes, when we are exposed to an extremely bright light, our eyes need time to adjust. In the story of the man born blind, we see this gradual adjustment, this gradual insight, in the way in which this man responds to his encounter with Jesus.
When some of his neighbours recognized the man as the one who had been blind, they asked him how it was that he had come to see. He responded to their questions by saying, “Someone named Jesus made some mud and smeared it on my eyes. He told me to go and wash it off in Siloam Pool. When I did, I could see.”
The man appears to have no idea who Jesus is. And he does not know where Jesus went after healing him, but the one thing he does know is that he has been healed. He shows no hesitation in telling people this, even though the healing happened on the Sabbath.
But the Pharisees aren’t so forgiving. They question the man, insisting that this Jesus cannot possibly be from God since he had broken the Sabbath laws by healing the man on the Sabbath. Pointing this out to him, they ask the man again about the person who healed him. His response is not exactly what they had hoped for. “He is a prophet!”
That answer simply wouldn’t do. They had to discredit Jesus. They had to prove that since he had broken the Sabbath laws, he must be evil. So, the Pharisees approached the man’s parents hoping to get them to condemn Jesus. But they refused to answer. “He is old enough to speak for himself. Ask him!”
So once again they return to the man, this time confronting him by saying, if he healed you on the Sabbath then, “We know that Jesus is a sinner.”
The man is not swayed by their argument. “God doesn’t listen to sinners. Jesus could not do anything unless he came from God.”
Now the authorities were really mad. Basically, they ex-communicate the man, kicking him out of the synagogue and telling him never to return. And this is where Jesus steps back into the picture. He asks the man if he believes in “the Son of Man.” The man replies, if I knew who he was, I would believe. Jesus says, ‘I am he’, and the man bows down and worships him.
This man, who was born blind, can now see. But it is not only his physical sight that has been returned to him. He can also see through the eyes of faith. But this sight did not come all at once. It came to him gradually.
At first, he knew Jesus only as a name, the one who had healed him. But when questioned by the temple authorities he was forced to examine for himself who this man named Jesus was. The authorities insist he is a sinner, but the man cannot accept this. First, he comes to the realization that Jesus must be a great prophet, then to a belief that Jesus was sent by God, and finally to a faith in Jesus that causes him to bow down to worship.
As this man bows down in worship, we hear Jesus say, “I am here to give sight to the blind and to make blind everyone who can see.”
The Pharisees scoff at this ridiculous idea. How can you say that you’re going to make everyone who can see blind? We’re right here and we’re not blind.
Jesus’ response is not straight forward or easy to understand. “If you were blind, you would not be guilty. But now that you claim to see, you will keep on being guilty.”
If you were to stare directly at the sun, you would be blinded by its light. If you were lucky, your eyes might recover with proper care and treatment. But you would have to face your blindness and seek help. If you refused to admit that you were blind and simply carried on as if nothing had happened, your blindness would most likely become permanent.
I believe that this is what Jesus was saying. He was not threatening to blind the entire population. Rather he was warning them that if they truly looked directly at the message that he was bringing them, it would be overwhelming. If they ignored it, they would be blind to its meaning
But if, like that man who was born blind, the man who was willing to open his eyes to the message and seek to understand it, if they were willing to accept that they did not understand, they too could begin the process of seeking answers and eventually they could come to see.
There are times we are all blinded by the light. There are times we all struggle to understand things that happen to us and around us. There are times we all wonder what the meaning is, and where God is present in situations that may be difficult and uncertain. But when we are willing to admit our uncertainty and our lack of understanding, when we are willing to ask questions and to keep searching, we can hold tight to the promise that we too can eventually truly see. Amen
Gift of Music I Am the Light of the World VU#87
We Offer Our Gifts
As we offer God our thanks for all that God offers us, let us take a moment to offer back to God our gifts as well as our thanks. These gifts may be the financial contributions we make to our church through envelopes, through PAR or through online donations, or they may be the gifts of our time and our talent, given in service to others. Whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God to bless it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, we thank you for the many gifts and blessings that we have received and we ask that your spirit to bless the gifts we offer today. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
Each week we take time to offer our own silent prayers, prayers for the people in our lives that we are concerned about or that are particularly close to our thoughts. We also offer our prayers for the situation both personal and global, that cause us concern. There is much in our world right now that is troubling especially the ongoing situation in Ukraine. There is also much unrest and division in our own country. So as we take a moment of silence now, let us remember not only our own personal worries and concerns but the concerns and wellbeing of all God’s creation.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Light, shine into our lives and brighten our souls with your love. Remind us of all the amazing ways your love has touched our lives, even when we have turned away and refused to recognize you.
Open our hearts to receive your inspiring spirit.
Open our minds to receive your divine wisdom.
Open our hands to show others your loving compassion.
Divine Light, we hold in our hearts those around us who feel unloved. We bring them to you knowing that you challenge us to shine your love into their lives. We hold in our minds those who are overwhelmed by their needs and difficulties. We hold in our hands your loving compassion reaching out to help them.
Divine Light, there are people and places in our lives and in our world that are dark. Shine your light and love in the darkness. Shine in our own lives so that we can shine out for others.
Divine Light, there are people, places and situations in our lives and in our world that seem to have closed their minds to your light, to the needs and desires of others and to new and fresh ideas and possibilities. Shine your light and your love into our world to open minds and hearts to you, to others, and to the possibilities that only you can offer.
Divine Light, as you continue to shine your light, your love, your hope and your vision into our lives, inspire us to continue to reach out with hands willing to serve, with hearts filled with loving compassion, and with faith that trusts that your light will never fail. Amen
Closing Hymn Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies VU#336
It may be grey and a little snowy out there, but remember that wherever you go, whatever you do, God’s Light continues to shine all around you and within. Go, that that light with you into the world, knowing that you are not alone. God’s love is with you, Christ’s light shows you the path, and the Spirit with you to share that love and that light wherever you go. Go with God.