Planning - Fourth Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13.
God sends Samuel to find and anoint as king one of the sons of Jesse; " . . . the LORD does not see as mortals see."
Psalm 23 (UMH 754 or 137).
"For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light."
Jesus puts mud on the eyes of a man born blind and sends him to wash in the pool at Siloam. The blind man gains his sight and immediately becomes an evangelist!
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Keeping time with Christ: This is the fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A. The church continues its series of close encounters of Jesus with the woman at the well, the man born blind (this week), and Lazarus and his two sisters (next week). Or to put it another way, these are "encounters" with our own blindness and spiritual deadness and Christ's power to make us see and live again. For a suggested plan for this whole season, see "Planning for Worship During Lent, Year A."
The One Great Hour of Sharing offering is received today, the fourth Sunday in Lent. This denominational offering underwrites the administrative costs of the United Methodist Committee on Relief so it can continue to offer worldwide emergency relief and long-term disaster support with no overhead for its direct services.
While direct giving to UMCOR was up in 2010, largely in response to the Haiti earthquake, giving to the six Special Sunday offerings (One Great Hour of Sharing is among these) was down by 9.7 percent. UMCOR can deliver only what it has the administrative support in reserve to cover, and that support comes from today's offering. So "open some blinded eyes" about this offering and the value and importance of administrative support today, and encourage generous giving!
Holy Week begins in two weeks on April 17 with Palm/Passion Sunday. If you have not already done so, plan now for a complete celebration of the week, including services for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Great Vigil. (See BOW 343-376 for resources, descriptions and service orders, and the link above for thorough instructions and suggestions for The Great Vigil.) We also have a more contemporary version of the Great Vigil, including suggestions for music, readings offered around the worship space, and a dancer. Readings for each day of Holy Week are available on the Discipleship Ministries worship website. If you do not plan to gather for daily services in your worship space, consider organizing smaller gatherings at homes throughout this week (especially Monday-Wednesday), using these texts as guides for your prayer and reflection.
The Festival of God's Creation in 2011 falls on Easter Sunday (April 24). You are encouraged always to include the earth and care for the earth in your congregation's weekly intercessions (if not, start adding that now!), and of course on this day as well. If, during Lent, you will encourage folks to reduce their energy consumption, today may also be an occasion for folks to share testimonies or simply place something in the offering plate indicating the results of their efforts to save energy. But Easter should be the primary focus of your celebration this day, regardless of any other denominational focus. So while you may include recognition of the denominational day in worship, keep the resurrection of our Lord front and center, and consider offering other commemorations for the day at a time other than the worship hour.
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Atmospherics: Be Healed of Your Blindness
Today's symbols are eyes, light, darkness and water. Today's experience is blindness (in contrast to last week's thirst and next week's death). Today's calling in the words of Jesus is "go and wash in the pool of Siloam," and the result is healing for a man blind from birth.
Worship during these Sundays of Lent in year A is primordial and basic. We are confronted with the most elemental dimensions of life and experience.
In your worship planning team, pay particular attention to the experiences of blindness in today's texts.
Those experiences come in a variety of forms.
I Samuel tells the story of the initial blindness of Jesse and the prophet Samuel as they sought to discern which of Jesse's sons to anoint as the next king. With God's direction, Samuel did finally see what God saw. When our hearts -- the seat of our values and our will, as well as our emotional intelligence -- are well formed, we can see much more clearly, too. How do people in your congregation and community confront their blindness and hear and respond to God's vision? How do people in your congregation and community form hearts centered and rooted in the will of God and way of Jesus?
Ephesians reminds us that we are accustomed and therefore often blind to the darkness around us, and it calls us to live as children of light, rousing from our spiritual sleep or torpor to expose that darkness for what it is. In our baptismal vows, we pledge to "resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." But if we have been lulled into sleep about the evil that surrounds us, how will we have the energy or will or even awareness to expose, much less resist it?
Sometimes we are so lulled and blind to our surroundings that the only way we can begin to see what is there is either to leave for a time and then return, or call upon a newcomer or an outsider to help us see what we can no longer see. Who is new enough in your congregation or community to help you see where you need to "rise from the dead so Christ can shine on you" and through you again? Consult these people as you plan for this service, calling upon their insight and the best skills of your artists and worship planners to create an evocative space as this word is read so that Christ's light may shine and blinded eyes may be healed.
The long story from John today drives home the point that not only this man, but actually all of us are born spiritually blind. But just as powerfully, it shows us God's way of healing our blindness -- and not ours only, but that of the whole world.
Jesus does not wait for this man to ask to heal him. Jesus has been sent by God to work God's works in the world (verse 4), and that is what he does. He goes to the man, makes mud from soil and his own spittle, places mud on the man's eyelids, and tells him to go wash in the pool called Sent. The man does all of these things, and finds himself not only healed but indeed sent to proclaim the truth about his healing. He does not become a disciple of Jesus per se until later in the story. For the majority of the story, he is simply bearing witness to what has happened to him. He was blind; now he sees, thanks to Jesus.
We remain blind ourselves if we stop with our own cleansing and do not also respond to where we are sent -- indeed, if we do not in our cleansing understand ourselves to be sent as witnesses to the healer of all blindness.
It is no accident that this man's blindness is healed through "washing" in a place called "Sent." This story is told by John's community precisely as another sign of what people can expect to happen in baptism into Jesus Christ and lifelong discipleship in his way.
How do you live this story with those you prepare for washing, for baptism? Do you prepare them for the washing only, or also to be sent as witnesses to Jesus Christ and his kingdom alive and active in the world? Do you practice baptism in ways that portray it primarily as a palliative for a sinsick soul or as a cleansing that cures spiritual blindness. Do you see and portray your font or baptismal pool as a destination, or as a launching pad? Do you treat baptism as if it means those baptized have arrived, or as if they are now expected and ready to be sent? Do you prepare people primarily to assume their seats in the sanctuary or the classroom or the committee, or for their role in ministry and witness in all the places where God now sends them?
For guidance on thinking through ways of preparing all the baptized for their ministry in all the contexts they find themselves, read through the many resources on the MemberMission website.
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In the ancient church, the Sundays of Lent were days for "exorcism" of what was contrary to Christ in those who were to be baptized at Easter. In present day churches, preparing men and women for baptism, the congregation prays with the candidates for baptism (catechumens/candidates in the ancient church), so they confront their own thirst, blindness, and death.
Healing ministry. This is a good day to include an opportunity for people to receive healing prayer. See "Service of Healing I," The United Methodist Book of Worship, 613-621. Dan Benedict has included a specific prayer for candidates for this day in his book, Come to the Waters (p. 119). Consider offering this as a response to the word today, and offer this with hands extending toward or over the candidates, inviting sponsors and the congregation to extend their hands in prayer as well.
Lord Jesus, you know our blindness. Open the hearts and minds of (Name/s) to see and to yield to you anything that stands in the way of their saying Yes to you. Amen.
Healing ministry. This is also a good day to include an opportunity for people to receive healing prayer. See "Service of Healing I," The United Methodist Book of Worship, 613-621.
Embodying the Word: The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A
I Samuel calls out for a dialogical telling, with a narrator, a voice of God and voice of Samuel (which could, in fact, be the same voice to emphasize the inner struggle that Samuel is facing from the outset -- paralyzed by grief and fear and unable to find any way forward). Let the congregation take the voice of Jesse.
Sing Psalm 23 today, or if not, recite it from memory in the translation most familiar to your congregation. A recent musical setting that has gained some popularity, the first part of which could be used as a choral or congregational refrain, may be found at www.classicalwedding.co.uk/sample3.html and one source for the choral sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com.
Ephesians can be effectively offered by one strong reader and, if this can work in your worship space, lighting effects in sync with the text. The reading could begin in darkness (or the lack of additional lighting, if entire darkness is not possible), then full light/lights at the words "but now in the Lord you are light." At verse 11, a more muted darkness could return, then be shifted to full light at the end of the verse "but instead expose them." Consider playing "Wake, Awake, wake, for Night is Flying" (UMH 720) quietly in the background beginning at verse 13, becoming rousing at the end, then inviting the choir and/or congregation to stand and join in singing, full voice, the entire hymn or at least the last verse. As the congregation stands, singing, bring the gospel into the midst of the people.
John brings us another long text. Again, fend off temptation to cut it; the congregation needs to experience the whole, especially during this season of baptismal preparation. Gather a team of readers to take the parts of the narrator, Jesus, the man born blind, his parents, and so on. Rehearse the text so that it comes alive. This will be even more engaging if the congregation sings a refrain at points throughout the reading. The last half of the first verse of "Amazing Grace" (UMH 378) or "Open My Eyes, Lord" (TFWS 2006) would work quite well for this purpose.
One excellent resource for this particular reading is Who Calls You by Name: Gospel Proclamation for the Scrutinies by Victoria Tufano and David Haas (GIA, 1992, item number G-3662; Cost: $9.00. To order, call 800-442-1358 or click the item number).
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- BOW 306 (Ephesians)
- BOW 326 (Ephesians)
- Season of Ash and Fire, page 35.
- UMH 456
- Season of Ash and Fire, page 35.
Act of Praise: "Thanksgiving for the Light Dramatic Reading," Season of Ash and Fire, pages 36-37.
Prayer for Illumination
- UMH 6
- Season of Ash and Fire, page 38
Response: BOW 205, "Shine on Me" (Ephesians)
Prayer of Confession and Pardon:
- BOW 476 (Ephesians)
- Season of Ash and Fire, pages 35-36.
Unison Reading of Psalm 23: BOW 145 (Psalm)
- Season of Ash and Fire, page 39.
- BOW 397 (Ephesians)
- BOW 546, "For Those Who Suffer" (John)
- UMH 460, "In Time of Illness (Psalm, John)
- BOW 399, Week 4 (Psalm)
- UMH 877 (Musical setting in The Faith We Sing, 2201)
- BOW 505 (1 Samuel, John)
- BOW 516 (1 Samuel, John)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: East Timor, Indonesia, Philippines. Pray especially for the healing of the significant leadership conflicts in the United Methodist Church in the Philippines.
- UMH 8-10
- BOW 60-61 (Seasonal) or 618-619 (Healing)
Dismissal with Blessing:
- BOW 560 (Ephesians)
- BOW 529 Use the sign of the cross and indicate in the bulletin or onscreen that each person may sign himself or herself on the last line of the prayer. If you started this practice on the first week of Lent, continue until Easter.
- Season of Ash and Fire, page 40.
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