March 19, 2023

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

1The 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.” 2Samuel 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.’ 3Invite 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.” 4Samuel 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?” 5He 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.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But 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.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel 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.” 12He 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.” 13Then 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

1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not | be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
  and leads me be- | side still waters.
3You restore my | soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me. 
5You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever. 

Ephesians 5:8-14

8Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for 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

1As [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.”

Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam  —  James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, New York City

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

We turn the pages in the gospel and go from Jesus’ longest conversation recorded, his conversation with the woman at the well to his longest absence, while the man born blind talks with everyone about Jesus. 

When Jesus and his disciples first encountered the man, the disciples assumed the man’s blindness was some kind of punishment for sin. If we think this mindset went away after Jesus’ resurrection or after the Holocaust, when 10s of thousands of people with disabilities were executed, we are sorely mistaken. Disability and sin are still linked together in weird ways.

Jesus clearly rejected this idea in John 9:3, saying “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Some people interpret this to mean the man was born blind so that Jesus could come along and perform a miracle for all to see. But this interpretation robs the man of his humanity, reducing him to a mere prop in the story.

 Even the use of the word “healing” to describe this miracle implies that there was originally something “wrong” or “broken” about this man’s blindness, which seems the opposite of what Jesus was saying in verse three. A bind pastor  [Duane Steele] commenting on this text, wrote, “I have to admit I don’t like being blind sometimes, especially when it prevents me from doing useful things like driving a car, but Jesus made it clear that blindness does not prevent us from doing God’s will.”

Healing today does not look like the ancient practice of mixing saliva and mud and rubbing it on people. True healing happens when those of us accompanying people living with disability learn to truly love and welcome them; when we realize what they think and say and do matters; when we quit assuming people living with disabilities need to be fixed to contribute to the inbreaking reign of God.

Back to our story. The religious authorities were especially suspicious because Jesus had done this sign on a Sabbath day, which they considered a violation of religious law. Some of them said, “This man is not from God.” But the man born blind said, “He is a prophet.”

The man’s own parents cowered before these powerful religious leaders, fearing the consequences of questioning the status quo, but the man born blind responded more and more boldly to each question the authorities asked. He claimed his right to connect with the leadership of his community, but they rejected him and his belief in Jesus.

The man born blind was driven out of his community as punishment for his witness. When Jesus heard about this, he welcomed him as one of the many disciples who were spreading the Good News. Once again, Jesus chose a person whom society had rejected. 

For those of us gathered here today, the story of John 9 is about paying attention to the perspectives of people who have often been ignored, including people who have been marginalized under the label “disability,” but I don’t want us to focus only there, important as it is. 

For me this story does two things at once. It help us examine the ableism so prevalent in our culture and interrogate it through our faith in a loving Jesus who welcomed all, commissioned all, brought all into the fold. This story is also about each of us who has heard the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Our Bibles have a big chapter break after Jesus says “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” But if you look at the text, Jesus simple takes a breath and continues, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” On he continues with his good shepherd analogy. 

Instead of having us read the gospel of John chapters 9 and 10 today, those who crafted our pairings of scripture passages gave us Psalm 23. The man born blind is going to be part of this flock, with the shepherd, and all the comfort and assurance that such belonging holds. What exactly does this particular shepherd do? 

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 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. 

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.

Another author [Brueggemann] writes that “it is God’s companionship that transforms every situation. It does not mean there are no deathly valleys, no enemies.” 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. Psalm 23 knows the isolation and shame and loneliness of the man born blind. 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. 

One scholar claimed, and I think he is right, that this psalm is essential for daily life, for how we can be faithful for life Monday-Saturday. We might think of what this psalm began to mean for the man born blind after he really knew who Jesus was and Jesus said he was the good shepherd. How did Psalm 23 speak to the man? How does it speak to us today?

In some moments, we might cling to the main 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 are you? I meant, how are you really?” 

On another day you might ponder the “paths of righteousness.” Despite all the things happening in our community and the world, you might read about acts of love and mercy in Nampa and beyond, and you are able to breathe easier. 

There are other times when I rest on my 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, like the man born blind, will never be alone. 

Prayers of Intercession

Sustained by God’s abundant mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.

Eternal God, you seal us by the Holy Spirit and mark us with the cross of Christ forever in baptism. Inspire us by your love as together we strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Creating God, by your word you have made all things, and you hate nothing you have made. Teach us to perceive the beauty of the breadth of your creation, from the grandest mountain range to the smallest springtime bud. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Powerful God, you anoint kings and establish rulers. Guide the work of heads of state and elected officials (specific leaders may be named). Encourage them to lead with justice and to remove barriers that impede the well-being of all. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Shepherding God, you lead us beside still waters and restore our souls. Keep watch over those who weep; tend all who are sick and comfort those who grieve (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

God our host, you fill us at your table with more than we could ever ask. Feed us with hunger for justice. Equip the feeding ministries of this congregation and community (especially). Nourish us so we can nourish our neighbors. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

God of history, with thanksgiving we remember our ancestors in faith who cared for your people (especially Joseph, Guardian of Jesus). We praise you for the ways they formed the faith of others and continue to inspire us. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your steadfast love and your promise to renew your whole creation; through Jesus Christ our Savior.


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