ENTRANCE HYMN # 421
Jesus, grant that balm and healing in your holy wounds I find.
Every hour that I am feeling pains of body and of mind.
Should some evil thought within tempt my treach’rous heart to sin,
Show the peril, and from sinning keep me from its first beginning.
Ev’ry wound that pains or grieves me by your wound, Lord, is made whole;
When I’m faint, Your cross revives me, granting new life to my soul.
Yes, Your comfort renders sweet ev’ry bitter cup I meet;
For Your all-atoning passion has procured my soul’s salvation.
O my God, my rock and tower, grant that in your death I trust,
Knowing death has lost its power since you crushed it in the dust.
Savior, let your agony ever help and comfort me;
When I die be my protection, light and life and resurrection.
CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Almighty God, our maker and redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto You that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against You by thought, word and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
O most merciful God, who has given your only-begotten Son to die for us, have mercy upon us and for His sake grant us remission of all our sins; and by Your Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of You and of Your will and true obedience to Your Word, to the end that by Your grace we may come to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins. To those who believe on His name He gives power to become the children of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. Grant this, Lord, unto us all. Amen.
THE PRAYER OF THE DAY
The Lord be with you. (And also with you) Let us pray.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
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THE LITURGY OF THE WORD
FIRST LESSON (Be seated) Isaiah 42:14–21
For a long time I have held my peace;
I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor;
I will gasp and pant.
I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.
And I will lead the blind
in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
and I do not forsake them.
They are turned back and utterly put to shame,
who trust in carved idols,
who say to metal images,
“You are our gods.”
Hear, you deaf,
and look, you blind, that you may see!
Who is blind but my servant,
or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated one,
or blind as the servant of the Lord?
He sees many things, but does not observe them;
his ears are open, but he does not hear.
The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake,
to magnify his law and make it glorious. (ESV)
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
SECOND LESSON Ephesians 5:8–14
For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (ESV)
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL READING – John 9:1-41 – Read within the sermon.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen. Dear friends in Christ:
In these recent days, as the Covid19 Coronavirus has appeared in our nation and we are trying to stop its spread, life as we know it has certainly changed. I don’t need to describe all the changes to you. You know them well.
My task today is to continue proclaiming the Word of God. God’s Word speaks powerfully in all times, and especially in times of uncertainty. No doubt there will be messages here that speak to your needs today, and others which will fortify you for the days ahead.
Our Gospel text for this Fourth Sunday in Lent is the third in a series of readings from St. John in which Jesus offers a unique word of promise amidst a lengthy conversation.
Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus tell Nicodemus that God sent his Son into the world to bring eternal life to believers. This promise came after a conversation about our need to be born again.
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus offer something he called “living water” to a woman of Samaria. This prompted conversation about the source of salvation.
Today, we hear Jesus stating that he is the light of the world. His statement becomes a word of promise as we see the kind of light he brings—through both a miraculous healing and through seven different conversations. Today’s sermon will include the reading of those seven conversations, each followed by commentary and application.
John 9:1–7 – Jesus giving sight
As he passed by, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “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 displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (ESV)
The man came back seeing! A wonderful miracle! Imagine the joy of this man who was now, for the first time in his life, able to see. What a gift Jesus gave him!
And yet the miracle is only a part of the story. The miracle is also a “sign,” as John teaches—one that points to the greater healing Jesus offers.
All of this comes about within the context of a conversation. Jesus’ disciples assumed, as did many in his day, that the blind man’s disability occurred because of someone’s sin. The disciples wanted to know what Jesus thought about this.
Jesus could have given the long answer… that every form of hurt or brokenness is a result of a collective sin of humanity, not necessarily some particular sin of an individual. He could have shared the lessons on this from the book of Job. He could have rehearsed the story of man’s fall into sin from Genesis.
But he didn’t. Instead, he simply teaches his disciples not to assign blame in cases like this.
And then, he goes on to teach about the opportunities these cases bring.
When Jesus says that the man’s blindness occurred “so that the works of God might be displayed in him,” he tells us that such disabilities are opportunities for others to do good to that person. These actions of good are “works” God does by prompting our hearts. Note that “works” is plural. God works in many ways, through many people.
Of course, the greatest works God does – and the ones highlighted here in this text – are those done through Jesus. Jesus gives sight to a man. His eyes begin to work. And more than that, Jesus gives insight. He gives details about a faith that will change this man’s life in an even greater way.
Jesus says it first like this: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Jesus allows a person to truly see… which includes understanding. He makes this sight available to the whole world. His light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
We should note, too that Jesus qualifies his statement. “As long as I am in the world,” he says.
Isn’t Jesus always in the world? Yes and no. Jesus was once here in person; now he is here in Spirit. He will return in person one day.
Likewise, his presence here now, through the Spirit, is sometimes strong among us and other times not. That’s because sometimes people hide the light under a bushel. And sometimes people even extinguish it from their lives.
The light will always be shining in the world. But are we letting it shine on us?
As we know, people question the light of Jesus. That’s what happens next in our reading.
John 9:8–12 – Community reaction
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
People were skeptical. They figured there must be some other explanation. Maybe there were two different people. And why wasn’t the supposed healer there to defend his work?
We know about skepticism. There are plenty of skeptics in our world. There always have been. And we ourselves sometimes get skeptical too.
How does the message of Jesus play out in our neighborhood? Well, it definitely takes a back seat to science. Our world wants to see evidence and explanation. We’re not so much into faith and mystery. Mud on the eyes and washing in a pool… that kind of fix is quickly eliminated in our world of logic and research.
But of course, it’s not about the mud and the water. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the light he brings.
Jesus doesn’t cure all physical blindness in our world, just as he doesn’t cure all our ailments and problems. At least not now. But he will cure them someday. Today he prompts us to do good works in caring for ailments and problems, as pointed out earlier.
Jesus will, however, cure our spiritual blindness – and do it today – when we allow him. As long as he is in our world, he will give us light.
Let’s keep going with the text.
John 9:13–17 – Initial reaction from the Pharisees
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
More skepticism. And this time from the leaders, not just the neighbors.
Leaders have knowledge and experience. They know to “drill down” when faced with a question. The Pharisees considered this possible miracle through the lens of Scripture. And tradition.
Some of the Pharisees reasoned that Jesus, even if he did the miracle, was not from God, since he supposedly broke God’s Law by healing on the Sabbath. But was this really a breaking of God’s Law? Or just their tradition? Jesus, as we know from other occasions, felt that healing on the Sabbath was not against God’s Law. Jesus’ teaching on this matter was in fact a part of the insight he came to give.
Other Pharisees considered that any man who could do such things would have to be from God. These leaders weren’t caught up in the Sabbath debate. They were focused on the miracle. If it really happened, Jesus must be sent from God in some way.
So, they asked the supposedly healed man himself: “What do you say about him?” The man said: “He is a prophet.”
This was a reasonable answer. And much safer than saying Jesus was the promised “Christ,” as others had said. Prophets were definitely “from God.” And prophets were known from the scriptures – even though rare in recent days.
But again, this answer assumed that the man truly was healed. And the Pharisees weren’t ready to concede this just yet. They needed more evidence… as we often demand too.
So, more conversation.
John 9:18-23 – Family reaction
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 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
Now they had evidence! The man’s parents confirm that he was born blind. And it’s obvious he can see.
In light of this new information, the Jews who were pursuing all this (probably a combination of the Pharisees and other neighbors who were interested in the healing) go back to the question of “how.” And they ask the parents, saying: “How then does he now see?”
His parents don’t want to be involved. They’re too afraid. They don’t want to risk being put out of the Synagogue. They deflect the question, putting it back on their son.
In some ways we can’t blame them. They didn’t see the actual healing themselves. And why put themselves at risk?
Still, shouldn’t they allow themselves to be moved by this healing? Why can’t they acknowledge the new power among them? Why aren’t they willing to stand up?
The parent’s response here reflects the reality of many people in our world. God may be moving among them, but they just don’t want to be changed by it. Nor do they want to make any kind of commitment. They prefer to remain agnostic, saying “who can know? Ask someone else.”
People act out of calculation rather than faith. They do what is safe. Self-preservation seems to be their guiding principle. They can’t see a bigger vision. They’re suspicious of the light Jesus brings.
“Go ask him,” said the parents. The people did.
And what would happen? What would the man say? Would he remain a child of his parents? Or would he now be a child of the light? Let’s read on…
John 9:24-34 – Conflict with the Pharisees
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 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?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
Jesus had opened the eyes of the man born blind. What’s more, he had given him something greater. He had given him faith.
The man’s faith was in its early stages. There were still teachings to receive. But the man knew he had met someone special—someone sent from God. And he had committed to be his disciple.
Jesus gave the man another gift too. Not only were his eyes opened, but also his voice. Notice how the man speaks up boldly to those who questioned him and his new faith. He doesn’t meekly dodge questions. He doesn’t push them off to others. He answers them directly… and even asks questions of his own.
Jesus gives his people a voice. That means us. We are to use that voice—to defend the healing we have experienced through Jesus and share with others the light of Christ.
But we need to be careful with our voice as well. Note how the healed man becomes a preacher here… one who says something which is only partially true, because he doesn’t yet know the full story of Jesus.
The topic of discussion was whether Jesus was a sinner. To this, the healed man says: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”
Yes, on the one hand he’s right – God does not listen to sinners. Sinners have forfeited their right to be heard, because their sin frustrates God’s work in the world and hurts his people. Their sin has created a gulf between them and God—one that results in death.
However, on the other hand, the man’s statement is not correct. At least not now. Things have changed… because Jesus has done something about sin.
For the sake of our need to be reconciled to God, and for the salvation of our souls, Jesus went to the cross. There he died as a sacrifice for the sin of humanity. He paid its price. On our behalf.
And then – as the greatest of signs – he was raised to life. His resurrection shows the world that he achieved victory over sin and death.
These actions of redemption show that Jesus is indeed the light of the world. Through him we have the forgiveness of sins. Through him, God listens to sinners, because their sin is no longer counted against them.
But this doesn’t mean that God no longer has no requirements of us. Note what is said next in the reading, as Jesus appears again on the scene.
John 9:35-39 – Further revelation from Jesus
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
Jesus had fixed the man’s eyes and given him faith. But he wanted that faith to know more. And he wanted that faith to be a commitment. So, he asks him if he believes in the Son of Man.
The man says that he does. More than that, he shows his belief by worshiping him.
Through this exchange, Jesus is revealing more about himself. He is the Son of Man—a title which speaks to his special nature, without yet revealing all that he came to do. Jesus’ full revelation of himself would be given in a short time.
Jesus also reveals that he has come to bring judgment upon the world. This judgment will be what we sometimes call his “great reversal” – found also in texts such as: “the last shall be first, and the first last.”
Here it means that those who acknowledge their disability—their sin and their lack of a means to save themselves—will be healed by Jesus who is full of grace. And those who think they see just fine—meaning those who feel they have no need for a Savior—will be lost in their blindness.
This understanding is made clear in the text’s last exchange.
John 9:40-41 – A last challenge
Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
These exchanges make clear that Jesus is calling people to both repentance and faith. Our sins are forgiven, yes. But now we are to go and sin no more. We are to believe not only in God’s forgiveness, but also his will for his people.
Living the life of faith is not easy. There will be continual challenge.
Sometimes the challenge will come through our neighbors, our leaders or even our families. Sometimes the challenge will come from something new and threatening – like a virus. Sometimes the challenge will come from our disabilities, weakness or weariness.
When challenges come, we turn to the light of the world – Jesus Christ. Jesus reminds us of our forgiveness. He assures us that the light will not be overcome. He promises us that there is a life beyond this world—one where there will be no more sorrow or pain.
Jesus’ light shines especially bright when times get tough. When clarity and direction are needed, the light of Christ leads the way.
Jesus once gave sight to a man born blind, and through this healing the works of God were displayed. His glory in Christ was made known to the world!
May God also open our eyes as we have need.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.
HYMN OF THE DAY # 744
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!
The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
His grace has brought me safe thus far, His grace will lead me home.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen
PRAYERS OF THE CHURCH
P: Blessed Lord, You give sight to the blind, You open the ears of the deaf, and You make the lame to walk. Hear the prayers of Your people on behalf of all people as they have need.
In the darkness of sin and its death, we cry to You, O Lord. Open our eyes by Your Word, our minds by Your Spirit and our hearts by Your grace, that we may know and be thankful for all the blessings You have given to us in Christ, our Lord, especially the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. Strengthen us in faith, that we may serve You with all our body, mind, soul and strength. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Bidden by Your Word, we pray to You, O Lord, on behalf of Your Church and all Your people in every place. Give to us good pastors and servants of Your Word who will preach the full counsel of Your Word and serve us with Your Sacraments. Raise up many more to serve as church workers, and bless those who are now preparing for full-time church work. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Defended by Your grace, we ask You, O Lord, to provide us with good and faithful leaders who will honor the cause of justice in our land, preserve the precious gift of liberty, and protect the lives of those least able to defend themselves. Bless the members of our armed forces and protect them as they defend us, and grant Your blessing to all emergency workers who come to our aid in time of need. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Enjoying the riches of Your grace, we ask You, O Lord, to give us generous hearts, that we may share with the poor what You have provided and work for the common good of all. Be with those who are unemployed and in search of honest labor, the underemployed in pursuit of better jobs, and the homeless seeking basic shelter for themselves and those in their families. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Knowing Your healing will and gifts, we pray You, O Lord, to remember the sick in their afflictions, to calm those troubled in mind, and to keep steadfast the dying. [Hear us especially for __________.] Show us Your gracious will, O Lord, and sustain those who are afflicted in body or mind until that day when You will bestow upon us new bodies fit for the eternal life You have prepared for us in Christ. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Trusting in your power, O Lord, we ask you to protect us from all which threatens our good health. Keep us safe, keep us strong, and most especially keep us in good faith. Do not let the hearts of your people despair nor our faith fail us, but sustain and comfort us. Direct all efforts to attend to the ill, console the bereaved, and protect the helpless. Bring hope and healing, that we may find relief and restoration. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Mindful of Your promise, we ask You, O Lord, to comfort those who grieve and to build up those who mourn with hope for the resurrection. Remembering the faithful who have died in Christ, we pray You to bring us at last to be with them in Your nearer presence, looking forward to that day when we shall join in the marriage supper of the Lamb in His Kingdom without end. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
All these things, O Lord, we pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, asking You to grant our prayers not for our sake but for the sake of Him alone. Teach our hearts to be content with Your will and to trust that You will answer us with what is best for us and at the right time for our need. So do we pray, giving testimony of our confidence in Your gracious favor in Christ by answering with one voice. Amen.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
SENDING HYMN #420
Christ, the life of all the living, Christ the death of death our foe,
Who thyself for me once giving to the darkest depths of woe:
Through thy suff’rings death and merit I eternal life inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus unto thee.