Service Recording: March 22, 2020
After the service, we will have Fellowship Time in a Zoom video conference. Details for joining will be shared via email.
The Building is Closed and the Church is Open
While we have restricted access to the building, Peace Church is very much open to ministry—working to respond to our own congregation, as well as the needs of our neighbors and community.
We recognize that in this time, people’s financial situations may have changed. We ask you to prayerfully consider what you can give. If you use electronic giving, we thank you for your constancy of support. If you would like to give through our online form, we would be grateful. For all the contributions from our members and friends—whether financial, time, or prayer—we ask God’s blessings on those gifts that Peace Church may be healing balm in this time when we are living in our own Gilead.
March 22, 2020 ~ 10:30am
Third Sunday of Lent
The People of Peace Church
Doug Bowen-Bailey, ASL Interpreter
Jim Pospisil, Music Director
Rev. Kathryn Nelson
Prelude “13 Moons” by Emily Hysjulien
Ringing of the Peace Bells
God is Revealed as We Gather
*Responsive Call to Worship adapted from Worship Ways
God, sometimes the days are long, the nights are even longer, and we’re so tired. And then You soothe us and bring us to gentle places.
You are our shepherd and we shall not want.
Sometimes, life is moving too fast and we can’t find a moment to breathe. And then You surround us with stillness and bring an even rhythm to our breath.
You ask us to rest and lead us to still waters.
Sometimes, we’re parched and it seems nothing will quench our thirst; we’re famished and we can’t find anything to eat. And then You refresh and fill us.
You restore our souls and lead us in right paths.
Sometimes, the valley is dark and the shadows are heavy and we’re afraid. But then we feel Your strength, and we have courage.
You are with us, your presence comforts us.
We will praise You and dwell with you forever, O God.
We will worship You this day and always!
*Opening Hymn “Just As I Am” (#207)
Just as I am
but that your blood was shed for me,
and that you called inviting me,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
2 Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
3 Just as I am, you will receive,
will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because your promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
4 Just as I am, your love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
Now to be yours, and yours alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Unison Prayer of Confession from UCC Worship Ways
Holy Jesus, we confess that we fail to question our own sightlessness. Being so sure that we “see,” we miss the truths you would teach us. With the poultice of your love, cure this blindness. Open our eyes to our own misunderstandings, our own failures, and our own faults. Make our “shadow side” known to us and help us to diminish it with the light of your grace. For it is only when we see ourselves clearly that we can worship you truly.
Sung Response “Give Me a Clean Heart”
Give me a clean heart so I may serve you.
God, fix my heart so that I may be used by you.
For I’m not worthy of all these blessings.
Give me a clean heart and I’ll follow you.
Assurance of Pardon
Story For All Ages Sharon Dawson, Children’s Ministry
God is Revealed in the Word
God’s Word in the Psalms: Psalm 23
Special Music “Returning to Her” by Emily Hysjulien
God’s Word in the Gospel: John 9:1-41
Sermon “Right Before Our Eyes”
Right Before Our Eyes
Scripture — John 9: 1 – 41
Rev. Kathryn Nelson,
Peace UCC, Duluth March 22, 2020
Note: this sermon is written to be preached out loud. It is provided here for accessibility purposes.
So much has changed in the past week right before our eyes. We are learning quickly to do things in new ways. I give thanks to our technology team, (Doug, Tim and Alex) that has helped us with computers, go to meetings and virtual worship. And to our moderator Sue Isernhagen which has had to make unprecedented decisions. We will try to keep you posted on the ongoing changes that will happen. We are setting up buddy systems and finding new ways to reach out to one another without physical contact. We want physical distancing not social isolation for our people. We are working at new ways of being church together.
Yes, so much has changed. A few of us are working in the building to answer the multitude of calls that come in and to do what needs to be done without putting the community at greater health risk. We stay far apart and wash our hands often. It is so strange having the office closed to traffic. The one thing that remains is the day care center. They have been asked by Govenor Walz to stay open. I give thanks for the day care staff and for all who must continue to work in this time—for all our health care workers, grocery store staff, police and fire and others. Yes some have to go to work right now like the daycare staff. On Friday the kids from Cornerstone Daycare were in our fellowship hall riding bikes and scooters . . I loved the sound of their laughter, pure joy as they whizzed by. I couldn’t help but stop and listen and remember when our girls did the same there.
Our daughter Hannah is home now and for this I give thanks . . when she was 5 she learned to ride a two wheeler in the church basement. I still remember watching her mount a small pink bike helmet in place, with a push from her teacher Rene she would take off. She was so proud, but braking was not mastered very quickly so her ride would end with the front wheel meeting wall. As we were riding home the day of mastery she announced from the back seat, “ You know Mom in order to ride a bike all you have to do is Look Forward and Go Fast.”
Look forward and Go Fast. Yes, Look forward and go fast was how many of were living our lives pre- pandemic. We almost don’t know what to do now when we are called to sit still in place . . .
The man born blind had to live that way . .sitting in one place, there was no looking forward and going fast for him. The blind one sat on the sidelines, unseen by those rushing by. He sat listening to the passer bys—he could distinguish between those many who would hurry by and those few who might pause and help by throwing a coin into his lap. He could stay up on current events by listening to the conversations swirling around him—conversations that rarely included him.
A small crowd approaches and slows- and he hears a question he has often asked himself, “ Rabbi, Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” He must have listened closely for the answer. . The beautiful voice that answers claims him; It is a voice of authority, “ Neither this man nor his parent’s sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Who sinned? For many people dealing with illness, unexpected changes, heartbreak. This is a question we ask ourselves– I know I did back when I had cancer—who sinned? Answer one—I did, the questions asked infer some of this– did you use birth control, how old were you when your first child was born—too old, did you drink wine, stress in your life? There is a part of me, even though I knew it isn’ t rational, that thinks that perhaps I did something. Who sinned? Answer two- our parents– toxic foods, toxic waters, toxic air—we have polluted the environment over the generations and now we are experiencing the havoc of past choices. This too is part of the answer.
The disciples then and today still ask– Who sinned—this man or his parents? It may be a question we quietly ask in this pandemic – especially given that some continue to call this a Chinese virus.. . In this time Jesus answer breaks over us like a wave of good news– neither. No one sinned. And that is not all—God is working through this, God is working through the havoc and the chaos. God’s handiwork is revealed if we slow down enough to look around, open our hearts to the healing that comes. We are learning new ways to connect and to care . This has forced us to slow down and look around. Who sinned has never been a helpful question. How healing comes is.
In our gospel story the actual healing miracle takes place simply and quickly. , Jesus creates a mud mask for the blind man’s eyes with spit and dirt. Jesus heals using clay, the substance from which God created all that is in the creation story in Genesis 2. In this healing story Jesus recreates. Jesus then commands the blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. The man immediately came home seeing.
But then the story turns ugly— He came home, but then the neighbors have their own set of questions. They drill the once blind man. How were your eyes opened? Where is the man who did it? How could he do that? What did he do to you? Who did he open your eyes? What do you say about him, since he opened your eyes? As Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in Christian Century, “Not one living soul says Alleluia or Thank God! No one asks him what it is like to see for the first time or whether the light hurts his eyes. All they want to know is how, who, where and what.”
Quizzed by his neighbors the man retells the story of his cure. He does not know where the man is who healed him. He only knows that his name is Jesus.
The people then bring the formerly blind man before the Pharisees for further examination of his condition. More questions but first they add, “We are told know that the healing took place on the sabbath.” The Pharisees checked their rule book under sinners and found the symptoms: blindness and healing on the Sabbath. So this means that Jesus was a sinner too. The Pharisees jump on this Torah infringement. Making clay which required kneading the dust and spit together was a forbidden act of work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees grill the cured man about his healing and are divided on their responses. Some are convinced that Jesus is a dangerous fraud. Others are still not sure. They ask, “How can a sinner do such miraculos signs?” So they were divided.
They turn again to the once blind man. What does he think? He calls him a prophet. Not a good enough answer. So they call on the man’s parents to make sure this man really had been blind. The parents cautiously answer the Pharisee questions, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him.” This conversation reveals how that at the time that John wrote his Gospel the relationship between the synagogue and those confession Jesus as the Messiah had deteriorated. To claim Jesus as healer or Christ was to be threatened with expulsion from the synagogue which truly would have meant social isolation.
With no real answer from the parents, the Pharisees once again pester the man who was born blind. They say to him, “Give glory to God, we know this man, Jesus, is a sinner.” The man could not answer their theological badgering and so he says. “One thing I know, I was blind but now I see. The Pharisees continue to question him, How did he open your eyes? Frustrated he puts the religious leaders on the defensive by saying that they too must want to become Jesus’ disciples. While this suggestion makes the Pharisees furious, their anger moves the formerly blind man to edge even closer to the truth about Jesus’ identity, “he must be a man from God. For if this man were not from God, he could do nothing”.
As Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in an article for Christian Century, The formerly blind man has come a long way. At the beginning of the story he claimed Jesus a man, then a prophet, now a man come from God. It is almost as if his vision has kept on improving, so that he sees more and more clearly who has given him his sight. Meanwhile those who ask the questions keep colliding in the dark. As far as they are concerned, what has happened to the man is nothing compared to what it might mean, and that is their job: to decide whether or not this healing constitutes an authentic act of God “
The man can see but the community remains blind. They are blind to the truth of those on the sidelines, blind to the works of God that is happening all around them. They are too busy getting it right, that they are unopen to the new truths, the miracles that God is working all around them. The community remains unchanged and closed.
We need in this time to see what is right before us. The coronavirus has changed us . .we need new ways of being community . .Who sinned? That is the wrong question. How is God working in this and through us? Better question to wrestle with in this time. Let us strive to see all that is right before our eyes.
I close with a poem by Rabbi Brant Rosen, Psalm 14: Lines in the Sand.
In my weaker moments I imagine
that you sent this plague
as punishment for our iniquity,
but deep down in my heart I know
that’s not your way.
In fleeting moments of clarity,
I picture you gazing out at us
and ruefully asking out loud:
Don’t you know that I really don’t need
to inflict punishments on you?
Can’t you see you’re doing a pretty good job
inflicting punishments on yourselves?
Even now I’m astonished that
this terrible moment still hasn’t taught you
that no matter how hard you try
you cannot hide from one another.
Even now you cannot see
that the lines you’ve drawn
will not protect you,
that viruses care nothing for national borders,
that pandemics do not stop at walls
checkpoints and security fences.
I look on in wonder as the powerful,
your so-called leaders,
close the gates even tighter,
warning citizens not to congregate
even as they increasingly herd humanity
into prisons, detention centers
and refugee camps.
Even now I’m astonished
by the rampant ignorance of those
who still believe the absurd lines
they’ve drawn in the sand will
somehow keep them safe.
And now it has come to this:
you must sit closed up in your homes
keeping your distance from one another
that your communities might survive.
I can only hope that
in this moment of separation,
you will finally come to see
how connected you truly are –
for this may well be your final chance
to grasp the most basic of lessons:
that in the end,
you only have each other.
Hymn “Amazing Grace” (#547)
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.
2 ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed!
3 Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
4 My God has promised good to me,
whose word my hope secures;
God will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.
5 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.
We Respond to God’s Presence
Mission Moment One Great Hour of Sharing
Sharing Our Prayer Concerns, Silent Prayer, Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, and Choral Amen
Sharing our Offerings & our Gifts for One Great Hour of Sharing
Offertory “Holy” by Jamila Woods
*The Thanksgiving (Doxology)
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God, all creatures here below;
Praise God for all that love has done;
Creator, Christ and Spirit, One.
*Prayer of Dedication
*Closing Song “Be Now My Vision” (#451)
Be Now My Vision
1 Be now my vision, O God of my heart;
nothing surpasses the love you impart–
You my best thought by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, your presence my light.
2 Be now my wisdom, and be my true word;
ever within me, my soul is assured;
Mother and Father, you are both to me;
now and forever your child I will be.
3 Riches I heed not, nor life’s empty praise,
You my inheritance, now and always:
You and You only are first in my heart,
great God, my treasure, may we never part.
4 Sovereign of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.