WORSHIP ON THE THIRD SUNDAY THAT WE ARE NOT GATHERING IN OUR SANCTUARY DUE TO THE THREAT OF THE SPREAD OF THE CORONAVIRUS THAT IS TRAVELING AROUND THE GLOBE
North Congregational Church
New Hartford, Connecticut
March 29, 2020
FOR YOUR REFLECTION
“We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has.” ― Milan Kundera, Czech writer (1929- ), Laughable Loves
“Open the Eyes of My Heart”. Michael W. Smith
CALL TO WORSHIP
Because it is considerate and responsible of us not to be in the same room together, we worship this day through the printed word and music experienced electronically. When we cannot physically share the Peace of Christ with one another, may we feel Christ’s presence and extend it to one another in spirit. As we gather, may we open our hearts to receive God’s love, our minds to receive new insight and our Spirits to find renewal and hope in these challenging times.
As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He 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.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then 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.” 16Some 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. 17So 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.” 18The 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 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but 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.” 22His 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. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So 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.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He 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?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
39Jesus 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.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
“Opening Our Eyes” The Rev. Marcia Lynn Cox
Like most of you I’m spending more time than usual on social media. Some might say I’m spending more time than is healthy but it, along with phone conversations, is the only way that I am able to stay in touch with people. Doing so is absolutely necessary to my mental health. But it has an added benefit: I am learning new things. It serves as an antidote to the constant barrage of anxiety-provoking conversation on the news.
Since Lent, the liturgical season that we have been…and remain… in calls us to confession and repentance, my plan for preaching was to offer reflections on the Seven Deadly Sins and their corresponding virtues on seven Sundays during the period following Epiphany. Before we were sequestered, I had the opportunity to offer my thoughts on Lust and Love, Sloth and Diligence, Gluttony and Moderation, and Greed and Generosity. The other (3) sins and virtues were going to be Envy and Encouragement (bulletins printed), Vanity and Humility and Anger and Calm. But when the appearance and spread of the coronavirus came to dominate the news, our consciousness changed along with our lives as we knew them and the Seven Deadly Sins seemed less relevant, so I have not completed my sermon series. I simply have not been of a mind to preach on sin and repentance in light of the new concerns this pandemic has raised. Preaching about sin seemed a bit like scolding and it feels like the role of the church at this time should be to offer support and comfort. I hope that my last two worship services have provided some.
So this week, I have turned to the lectionary for inspiration from scripture. I found myself drawn to the reading from John for last Sunday about Jesus healing a blind man. Those of you who have joined me for Adult Study classes on Wednesday mornings or have experienced my preaching, will know that I am not a biblical literalist. That is to say, what I appreciate most about scripture is its use of metaphor. So in the case of our scripture of the day, I interpret “sight” and “seeing” as “insight” and “enlightenment.”
It has been my experience that challenges, disappointments and even suffering can teach us new things by improving our characters, making us more sensitive and in general, giving us greater insights into the human condition and the ways in which God is calling us to live. So during this difficult time, if possible, might we ask what we are learning. What will we do differently when this pandemic passes….and I only hope and trust that the scientific community will indeed find a cure as well as a way to prevent this now mysterious, frightening and deadly coronavirus.
As it happens, coincidentally, I came upon a post on the Internet on March 24 attributed to Bill Gates, founder of the Microsoft Corporation. The Gates Foundation quickly denied that it came from its founder. No one has yet claimed responsibility for it, but I found it to be interesting.
It was an open letter entitled “What can we learn from the spread of the new Coronavirus.” Here are some excerpts. The author or authors wrote:
It reminds us:
- that we are all equal regardless of culture, religion, profession, wealth or reputation.
- that we all have a deep connection. Individuals also have an impact on everyone.
- that health is invaluable, but our lifestyle lags behind, eating unprocessed processed foods and drinking contaminated water.
- that life is short, and that mutual help is truly meaningful.
- of how materialistic our society is. Food, water, and medicine are what we really need and tens of thousands of luxury goods can’t help us.
- of the importance of being with family members and our need to strengthen family ties.
- that we need to support each other, protect each other, share and cooperate and not take advantage of each other.
- that after the dark the dawn will rise.
What do you think of this list? What would you add? I would certainly add gratitude… for so many things that I have taken for granted. And appreciation and admiration for medical professionals, public servants and everyone in the world who offers us services that make our lives safer and easier.
What new skills, qualities of character, have you acquired…or have become aware of that you need to acquire? What long-neglected tasks have you accomplished? What kindnesses have you shown and what kindnesses have been shown to you?
We might not yet be fully able to articulate the wisdom we are acquiring, but in the midst of the energy we are spending adapting to new ways of living, I am hoping that we can all take a little time to reflect on the insights we are gaining as we seek to each day become more loving disciples of Jesus. I encourage you to do this, even record them in a journal, so that we might share them… now and when we return to church to engage with one another in person once again. In the meantime, stay safe. Amen.
“Be Thou My Vision” The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Spirit of All Creation, May our faith in you and one another guide us as we cannot yet see our way through this time of crisis.
May our hope in you and the goodness of our neighbors strengthen us as we endure our discomforts and fears.
Bless all who are suffering from racism, Anti-Asian sentiment, xenophobia and hatred at this time.
Give comfort to all who are emotionally, physically and spiritually distressed.
Bless our health care providers and all who are taking care of those who are ill.
Grant wisdom and discernment to those who are researching and searching for medicines to combat our diseases, the corona virus and other illnesses.
Help us to reassure and comfort our children and protect them from harm and danger.
Grant, O God, those who lead our governments, institutions, hospitals, our schools and local organizations, safety and emergency services and us, wisdom beyond our own wisdom to contain the corona virus; faith beyond our own faith to help us to fight our fears and strength beyond our own strength to be resilient and sustain all of our vital institutions through this time of turmoil.
Although we are physically separated from one another help us, Eternal One, to maintain our social connection to one another by our creatively and ethically using social media.
Help each of us to know that there is something in us stronger than fear. Birth in us a new sense of hope that will help us to rise above the clouds of despair.
Grant, Eternal Love that we emerge from this time of crisis a more loving people who are more committed to the welfare of all and the earth that sustains us.
Amen. (A Prayer for Our Time, The Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Streets, Senior Pastor, Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church, New Haven, Connecticut)
In our own community of faith we have a number of joys and concerns, and so we lift them up to you now….
All these things we offer, using the words of the prayer that Jesus taught us,
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 debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
Although we are not gathering in the sanctuary for worship on Sundays for the time being, the church continues to have expenses. So it would be most appreciated if pledges and offerings could be mailed to the church. Thank you for your generosity.
OUR COMMON COMMISSION
Let us now forth into the world in peace.
Being of good courage.
Holding fast to that which is good.
Rendering to no one evil for evil.
Strengthening the fainthearted.
Supporting the weak.
Helping the afflicted.
Honoring all persons.
Loving and serving the Lord,
And rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
May we depart knowing the invitation of God, to move
– from what we know to what we have yet to discover
– from where we have been to where we have yet to go
Go in the example of the saints before you,
the Israelites in the wilderness,
Paul blinded in Damascus.
Go in the name of Jesus Christ,
who said ‘follow me’ without saying where he was going,
just promising transformation and relationship
with the God of love and wisdom along the way.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen. (Paul Piano, adapted)
“Open My Eyes That I May See” The London Fox Choir