March 22, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Ephesians 5:8-14

8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

John 9:1-41

1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The 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?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He 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.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then 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.” 16 Some 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. 17 So 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.” 18 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 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but 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.” 22 His 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. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So 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.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 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?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus 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.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.

Sermon by Meggan Manlove on Psalm 23

Our Wednesday morning study group has been reading Rachel Held Evan’s work Inspired, her book about learning to love scripture again. She finishes one chapter recalling Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Evans writes, “It’s a cry straight from Psalm 22, the God to whom these words were first spoken, speaking them back in human form. Three days later, Jesus would rise from the dead, but in that moment, when all hope was lost and the darkness overwhelmed, only poetry would do.”

I’m not equating the Coronavirus to Jesus crucifixion, far from it. And, when it comes to looking for information about the virus itself, I am confident in my sources: the CDC and the World Health Organization. I have chosen to trust the scientists.  We can simultaneously trust scientists and also have moments when we feel completely overwhelmed by what could happen.  I want to claim this as a time that can seem void of hope and full of uncertainty.

When faced only with my own emotions, which have ranged from fear, anger, and uncertainty, often in the same hour, science is not as helpful. When I begin to worry about the isolation of some of our church members, or the long days of parents trying to work at home with several young kids, or when I consider people experiencing homelessness, the world gets pretty dark very quickly. In those moments, I agree with Rachel Held Evans and I turn to poetry.

It might seem like in these days of a pandemic, we should turn to a Psalms of Lament. Praying through the Lament psalms is a great spiritual practice, one I commend to you. But the lectionary, the series of readings our congregation follows, did not include a Psalm of Lament today. Instead we have a Psalm of Thanksgiving. Walter Brueggemann categorizes this as a song of confidence under the umbrella of psalms of reorientation.

What all of that means is that we, who feel the like the earth beneath us has shaken, are presented with a psalm written by someone who has had some specific experience of difficulty and has learned to trust God. It offers us a glimpse of faith and a life that come to a joyous trusting resolution. The relationship with the Lord has been tested and the Lord has been shown to be profoundly reliable and powerful. That, it turns out, is something to be celebrated.

The psalm begins with a metaphor, “The Lord is my shepherd.” It’s not a simile, “The Lord is like a shepherd.” It’s a metaphor. James Mays writes that “a metaphor used for theological purposes is very serious business.” In other words, we better pay attention.

When I think about shepherds and sheep in Idaho, I recall all of the images I have seen of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival held in Sun Valley each October. Now, the photos are usually pretty cute, and I love seeing everyone dote over the sheep. And I will watch a video of baby lambs when it comes across my feed, but Sun Valley does not have a festival because of how smart sheep are. Sheep need shepherds—no doubt about it.

The primary duties of the shepherd are to provide and protect the flock. The shepherd pastures the flock, leads them in the right way when they moved, fends off predators. The sheep are his responsibility, and he is accountable for their welfare and safety.

But there is even more going on in this beautiful psalm. There is much more to the metaphor, “the Lord is my shepherd.” In the ancient Near East, the role and title of shepherd were used for leaders, as a designation of their relationship to the people in their charge. And as a title, “shepherd” came to have specific royal connotations. Gods and kings were called the shepherd of their people. In stories and songs and prophecies, the Lord is called the shepherd of Israel. The people Israel are the flock. The Lord made King David his under shepherd. In the prophetic books of Jeremiah and Micah, the kings of Israel were judged as shepherds.

And so, to say “The Lord is my shepherd” draws all of this imagery to mind. Mays says, “The metaphor is not restricted to associations with what actual shepherds did; it is informed by what the Lord has done and what kings were supposed to do.”

What exactly does this particular shepherd do? What kind of leadership is exhibited? I confess that I am currently steeped in the language of best pracices. This is due to spending the week learning best practices for Zoom Meetings, Youtube Channels, Facebook Live, and all things in the digital age. So, I cannot help but look for the best practices of The Good Shepherd.

Most important seems to be the fact that “I shall not be in want.” There is also restoration of life and continued companionship. The psalmist also uses imagery which reminds people of The Good Shepherd, the Lord, has healed and saved the entire community in the past.

It is true that The Good Shepherd cares for the entire flock, but let’s be honest. What makes this metaphor so powerful is the focus of the shepherd’s care on one person; it’s intimate. The individual dimensions of trust and grace are lifted up. Our congregation, which cares a great deal about communal identity, might wonder if this intimacy is okay. It is more than okay.

I liken it to what happens in the waters of Holy Baptism. That Sacrament takes place in the assembly. There is nothing private about it. The community even has roles. But the sacrament of Hoy Baptism is also incredibly personal. One child, teenager, or adult hears the promises made specifically to him or her. Water is poured on her head. The sign of the cross is made on her forehead. Likewise, in Psalm 23, the psalmist makes claims that God’s accompaniment and comfort are for her, not her alone, but for her with certainty.

In an indirect way, the psalm prepares us for the story of the shepherd who does leave the flock to go on a search for one lost sheep. The earliest Christian said, “The Lord is my shepherd” and understood Lord to also be the title of Jesus. In John 10:11, Jesus says directly, “I am the good shepherd.”

In our rereading of the psalm, Jesus, as the shepherd is the one who restores our souls, leads us in the paths of righteousness, accompanies us through danger, spreads the holy supper before us in the presence of sin and death, and pursues us in his gracious love all the days of our lives.

Brueggemann writes that “it is God’s companionship that transforms every situation. It does not mean there are no deathly valleys, no enemies, [no COVID-19].” But we are not alone. We are still the Lord’s beloved. Our relationship with the Lord is transformative. Psalm 23 knows that evil and illness and brokenness are present in the world, but they are not feared. Confidence in God is the source of new orientation.

This does not mean that we can do whatever we want, and God will take care of us. It means that when we are on the other side, we will be able to see, that the Lord was The Good Shepherd even as we walked through this dark valley.  This week I started thinking and talking about this distinction using the language of stewardship.  That is, God has gifted each of us with abilities, relationships, and information. Putting all of those together, hopefully we can glean some collective wisdom.

We are meant to steward those resources to the best of our abilities. I believe that our collective wisdom, which is so much larger than the latest data I have grabbed off the internet, will actually become the rod and staff the psalmist speaks of. That is the posture I take when I am trying to faithfully do my work. Put another way, by the brilliant character Anna from Disney’s Frozen II, “You are lost, hope is gone but you must go on and do the next right thing.” I trust that God has given us everything we need to do the next right thing each day. And breaking it down in that way actually makes it seem achievable.

That’s how I have been operating when talking to parishioners, convening meetings online, working on communication with our office administrator. In other moments, truth be told, I feel overwhelmed. There were times this last week when I even began to have anticipatory grief for whoever in my life will become sick and perhaps die. I have experienced waves of sadness when I read about the people who have no home to shelter in or for people who are losing their jobs.

It is in those moments that I have clung to the metaphor, “The Lord is my shepherd.” On one day the green pastures and still waters give me rest; they come tangibly through the voice of a friend in the middle of the country who asks, “How is to be alone in your house?”

On another day I ponder the “paths of righteousness.” I read about acts of love and mercy in Nampa—people being fed, neighbors taking care of neighbors, and I am able to breath easier.

There are other times when I just sit on my most comfortable sofa and hear the words, “thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” from my grandmother Jenny’s King James Bible, and I am somehow able to trust that God’s love is bigger than everything else. It is abundant and every flowing and life-giving. The love of The Good Shepherd does not get divided into pieces as though there is a finite amount. There is more than enough of this love for all the sheep, every single one. I remain a beloved child of God and so do each of you. It is true that we will face dark valleys, but it is also true that we will never be alone.

Prayers of Intercession (adapted from Sundays and Seasons by Trinity member David Sheriff)

Turning our hearts to God, who is gracious and merciful, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence. 

God of insight, strengthen and encourage us in this time of pestilence.  Rein in the virulence of this virus.  Grant us stamina and patience to endure the loneliness of isolation, quarantine and physical distancing.   Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of insight, Ease suffering as this disease works its way through our midst.  Take those who will not survive swiftly into your arms.  Comfort us through our anguish and lamentation yet to come.   Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of insight, Inspire leaders at every level to act wisely and effectively to mitigate the medical and economic consequences of this pandemic. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of insight, empower physicians, nurses and all healthcare workers.  Speed the work of scientists and researchers, guide them to develop effective treatments.   Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of insight, We are denied the comfort of physical association and assembly in your name.  We hunger for your body and blood through the Lord’s Supper.  Help all of us use technology so that we may at least hear the gospel together.  Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of insight, help this virtual assembly lift up the unique gifts of each person who participates, no matter their physical capacity, cognitive ability, or sensory deficit. Help us to be creative and brave in making our facilities and our ministries accessible to all. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of insight, empower us to care for the land and all living things that dwell in it and beneath it. Provide rich soil for crops to grow. Bring rain to lands suffering drought. Protect hills and shorelines from damage caused by erosion and rising sea level. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of insight, bring peace to all people and nations. Anoint leaders who seek goodness, righteousness, and truth on behalf of all. Frustrate the efforts of those who would seek to cause violence or terror. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great. 

God of insight, you care for our needs even before we ask. Come quickly to all who seek prayer this day (especially). Accomplish healing through the work of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, and all who tend to human bodies. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of insight, you call out to those who are asleep and awaken them to new life with you. We give thanks for your saints (especially). Join us together with them as your children in this world and the next. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

For your listening pleasure: The King of Love, My Shepherd Is

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