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Being the Light: Special Coronavirus Edition

Children's sermon
For March 22, 2020:
  • Being the Light: Special Coronavirus Edition by Tom Willadsen — This Sunday, the mood you set for and in worship will be at least as important, if not more important, than the content of your sermon. Be aware of your context. Be aware of your own, personal level of anxiety. In this cauldron of context, you need to preach the Good News. In this cauldron of context, your congregation needs to hear the Good News.
  • Second Thoughts: Community Response and Community Scars by Bethany Peerbolte — Just as our world is changing, seemingly by the hour, the community in the Gospel lesson this week has been changed. There are things that will forever be different.
  • Sermon illustrations by Ron Love and Mary Austin.
  • Worship resources by Chris Keating that focus on vision/God’s call to live as children of the light. .
  • Children’s sermon: Psalm 23 by Tom Willadsen — Today’s psalm is the all-time, most familiar passage in the Bible. Even very young children have probably heard it, even though they might not know it’s from the Bible, or know what a psalm is. Here’s a teachable moment for you, them and maybe the congregation, if they’re eavesdropping.

Tom WilladsenBe the Light
by Tom Willadsen
John 9:1-41, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, Psalm 23

Context Statement
The Immediate Word seeks to bring the living word of the Bible into dialogue with current events. It is our hope that our subscribers will find TIW a resource to help worshipers think critically and faithfully about the culture and society in which they live. As this edition is being composed the world is responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The situation is fluid and changes frequently and news is, at times, conflicting. Churches are facing the possibility of cancelling worship, or having worship cancelled for them by state or local bans on public gatherings. What has been “routine worship” for years has been upended by this health crisis. The church is in a unique place to demonstrate a measured, health-based response while continuing to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, and offer the only antidote to fear known to humanity: love.

A Helpful YouTube Video
Many churches are going to stream their services over the internet, at least for the next few weeks, in an effort to reach many parishioners who are unable to, or afraid to, attend worship in real life. There may be enormous copyright issues with doing that. Chalice Press has posted a very helpful video about some things to consider before starting to effectively broadcast your Sunday services.

The church I serve has begun posting written copies of my sermons. We have also begun making video recordings of only the sermons and posting a link on the church’s website. This avoids some copyright complications.

In the News


The stakes are high this Sunday, preacher. There is a very good chance that gathering for worship will not be permitted in your community. Your people may need the Good News more today than any Sunday in the past 30 years. As I write this my congregation has two rigid, dogmatic camps: those who think we must cancel all church events for the foreseeable future; and those who think everyone is making too big a deal about coronavirus. Emotions are so high you’d think we were arguing about something really important, like the color of the new sanctuary carpet. (I lamented the day my former congregation replaced the Brady Bunch-era orange shag carpeting with something from the current decade. Suddenly they had nothing to complain about; they found the quiet unnerving.)

Your audience will likely contain the same rigidly divided camps. Those present in worship are likely to be the ones who are living in a defiantly, conspicuously blasé way, believing that they are somehow superior because they haven’t jumped onto the public health bandwagon. You have a likely group of home-based worship attenders, perhaps feeling isolated and forgotten. What do today’s texts have to say to each group? To both groups?

In the Scriptures
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Samuel has every reason to be afraid of responding to God’s call to anoint a new king. Saul was something of a hothead; he was not likely to take kindly to hearing that his chief priest is off recruiting and grooming his successor. The Lord provides Samuel with a plausible excuse, a cover story for his visit to Jesse. As we well know, the Lord does not look at outward appearances. The Lord does not select the oldest of Jesse’s sons, or the next oldest, or the next…Jesse had eight sons altogether, though we only learn the names of the oldest three and the youngest. It was David, the ruddy one with beautiful eyes whom Samuel anointed as the next king, though it was something of a “stealth anointing” and David didn’t ascend to the throne for years.

Psalm 23
Tradition has it that David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, the one who was out taking care of the sheep when Samuel came to “sacrifice to the Lord,” (nudge, nudge, wink wink) wrote Psalm 23. It is easily the most recognized passage of scripture. David also showed his musical skill when he played his lyre to soothe King Saul when he was having one of his episodes. There’s a very good reason why Psalm 23 is the most recognized and recognizable passage of scripture — it is so comforting.

The King James Version’s “the valley of the shadow of death,” packs more punch than the New Revised Standard’s “darkest valley,” still both point to God’s presence during the times of greatest peril and fear.

Clearly the psalm shows parallels between the care of an attentive shepherd and the ways God provides for people. One interesting note is that shepherds in the Middle East used the term “set the table” to mean “prepare a field for grazing.” (Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year A, Abingdon Press, 1986, p. 54.) They would clear thistles and poisonous plants from the field, and clear the field of snakes and scorpions’ nests before allowing their herds to graze in them.

One thing that is often overlooked when considering Psalm 23 is that it is in the present tense. Right now “he restores my soul.” Right now “he prepares a table.” The only time the psalm leaves the present tense is when it shifts to the future tense. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me” and “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.”

Ephesians 5:8-14
This is a very concise collection of seven verses. It shows the contrast between one’s life before finding Christ and after. The wording is a little more stark than similar passages. “Once you were darkness, but now, in the Lord you are light.” Note the believer did not dwell in darkness, s/he was darkness itself. Jesus made the same point in the Sermon on the Mount, informing, or reminding his followers that they are the light of the world.

John 9:1-41
The poor blind man, whose name we never learn. He didn’t ask to have his sight restored. “Teacher, why was this man born blind?”

“Watch this!”

His standing in the community is changed forever. His parents take the Joe Friday “just the facts” approach when asked about him. They’re not Jehovah’s Witnesses; they’re Jehovah’s Bystanders — they don’t want to get involved! The leaders are divided over whether a miracle like this could even happen on the Sabbath. Jesus is absent from all the travail and only appears at the end of the story. The man sees (!) Jesus and worships him. The Pharisees do not take kindly to being called blind, yet their refusal to see condemns them, as Jesus points out at the end of the chapter.

The man who confesses Christ has been separated from his family, excommunicated from his faith community and has to find a new career. Who ever heard of a sighted beggar? If you wonder whether there are costs and consequences to following Christ, ask the formerly blind man.

In the Sermon
Fear. That’s the word of the month. The world has not faced anything like the coronavirus in the last century. The technology that is so good at passing on information is also good at passing on dis-information. It’s hard to know what news sources to trust. Where is the line between prudence and paranoia? How can the church balance faithfulness with an appropriate concern for public health and the greater good? We are public institutions. Yet we cannot forget that our call is to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

In interim pastor training I learned the Three F’s: Fear. Facts. Force. None of these lead to healthy change in churches. We do not only want to respond well in this crisis; we want to respond faithfully. We want to respond in a way that our congregations will grow, even thrive, in this moment.

This Sunday, the mood you set for and in worship will be at least as important, if not more important, than the content of your sermon. Be aware of your context. Be aware of your own, personal level of anxiety. In this cauldron of context, you need to preach the Good News. In this cauldron of context, your congregation needs to hear the Good News.

What do the readings for today have to say in this moment? What is the immediate word?

The Lord does not call and equip the most obvious people to carry out the divine will. The Lord called David, the baby of the family, the one who was minding the family business when company came to town. Perhaps the church should not heed the loudest voice, or the voice of the one who appears to be the most certain and resolute. In this crisis, let us be like God and look on the heart of the messenger, rather than its volume. Slow down, take time to discern how God is at work in this moment. And remember, the Lord wasn’t above using a little subterfuge to anoint the next king. Samuel didn’t force his way into Jesse’s household; Samuel, at the Lord’s suggestion, was crafty as he carried out the Lord’s will. Perhaps there’s a crafty, creative, indirect, non-forceful way to respond to the coronavirus.

The Lord walks with us when we walk through the darkest valley. We’re not alone; don’t forget that. The Lord is alive; restoring our souls right now, present tense. Rather than imagining the Creator as the one who made the coronavirus, imagine the Creator as the spark behind all the ideas that virologists are pursuing right now to develop a vaccine, or the source of compassion of nurses and other health professionals who are working overtime, literally, to extend the Holy Spirit’s healing touch to all those who are ill. The Lord’s presence, as described in Psalm 23, is immediate and personal. That kind of presence casts out fear.

Who is blind in the ninth chapter of John’s gospel? At the start, there’s a beggar who is blind. Forty-one verses later the beggar sees pretty clearly. Who’s blind then? The ones who refuse to think that a miracle can happen on the Sabbath. The ones who can only see God at work within the limits they have imposed on the Creator. By refusing to see something that was completely unprecedented, miraculous, they were unable to encounter the Christ, the word of God in human form right in front of their eyes!

The Ephesians lesson reminds us that Christians are different. Christians are light. The reading invites (challenges) us to live in the light, to be visible, conspicuous. Our call is not to be brazen or reckless, but faithful. Faithful enough to trust, even to witness to our trust, when it’s so tempting, seductive even, to shrink from the challenge of living our faith publically...more to come later...

Bethany PeerbolteSECOND THOUGHTS
Community Response and Community Scars
by Bethany Peerbolte
John 9:1-41

There are very few moments in a lifetime when we realize something historically significate is happening. Usually this results in a memory of “where we were when” that we retell as we compare reactions from those first moments. When people talk about September 11, 2001, we still share where we were and our initial thoughts. The COVID-19 outbreak and resulting safety measures Americans are experiencing feels like another history making event. There is a clear sense that the world is now different. Instead of having a “where were you when” story, I think we will come out of this with a completely different lens, a much cleaner lens, through which to view the world. Things we saw as totally normal will suddenly reveal themselves for the virus spreading potential they have always been. Systems we have ignored or written off as impossible will suddenly become a matter of public safety.

Saturday I went out to my normal brunch spot with friends. This was before my state closed restaurants. If I had known it would be a “last meal” of sorts, I would have ordered something more elaborate. When we came in the door there was a hand sanitation station waiting for us. The table we were used to sitting at with ketchup, hot sauce, salt and pepper shakers, napkin dispenser, advertisement table sign, and wrapped utensils was bare. I was suddenly aware how dirty all those things sitting on the table had always been. When the waitress came, in gloves, she first asked if we needed to see a menu. When we said “yes” she gave us a disposable take out menu. I suddenly became aware of how dirty menus have always been. Nothing was given to us unless we asked for it. Everything came in individually packaged containers. Everything stayed at the table until we left, upon which I am sure it was sanitized. It was the most bizarre eating experience I have ever had.

While I appreciated the efforts, it felt cold and distant. It affected the conversation we had. We had promised each other to not talk about the virus but there was no way around it in the restaurant. Concern of getting sick was making every decision of that establishment. Now, in this moment, that is how it should be. I am left wondering though, when we make it past this moment of history, what scars will remain. I think of the security measures we still put up with in airports that started in 2001. I can’t remember if we thought those screenings would be forever, but they are now. This moment of history will change our community — we have yet to see how.

The community in the Gospel lesson this week has been changed. It used to be a town with a blind beggar man. Between the townspeople they would give him money and food and check in on his family. They understood their relationship to him. He was a beggar from a family that somehow had incited the wrath of God through their sin. It is unclear if the community treated him well or not. They might have done what they could to be generous to him when they had extra. There is evidence of communities in this time truly wrapping around one or two needy “celebrities.” It is also possible that they reluctantly gave to him because they thought he deserved the punishment God had given him. Either way the community had gotten comfortable in their roles in relation to the local blind beggar man.

Then Jesus comes along and changes their world. He takes some dirt, mixes it with his spit, the DNA of God and humanity in one, and heals the man’s eyes. The social structure completely shifts. The man can suddenly see the people who have been passing him by and the people who have giving to him. He can see if they are giving reluctantly, or if they have love behind their eyes. Some in the community refuse to believe it is the same person. They would rather reintroduce themselves to a stranger than accept him as one of their own. Some in the community recognize him as their neighbor, but when it comes down to it no one sticks up for him and he is driven out of the community.

The community has no idea how to respond to the changes this miracle causes. No one wants to get caught in the middle of an angry mob or speak against the most powerful among them. Even the man’s parents push off the responsibility they felt for him and send all the blame to the man who has been healed. He, however, can literally and figuratively see the potential in this new world. Unfortunately, the community is not ready to change with him.

We are seeing several responses to the changes our communities face. Taiwan learned its lesson after the SARS outbreak and had community response plans ready to go the minute they heard about a new “pneumonia” in China. Even their banks were ready to begin screening the public with heat sensors to alert them if someone with a fever entered the bank. Singapore’s leaders were also ready to quickly implement big protocols and their action is paying off. Italy is making the news for the opposite. One reason being that the community saw the virus as a foreign problem for too long. They ignored the possibility of their friends and co-workers having it and did not take precautions. It will be important to assess what went wrong and what worked across the globe so that communities have a better response the next time history is made and our world changes.

We know, though, that we do not want to cast out the people who use to be a neighbor. We do not want to be a community that fearfully avoids making changes. Our flexibility will be key to maintain our communities and the values we share. There are things that will forever be different. I hope the difference will be that we have learned we are only as healthy as our most vulnerable populations and we get things like health care and paid leave. Hopefully our fear will not cause us to completely cast out a comfortable and warm dining experience. In our churches, I pray there is a day we share communion and pass the peace again without fear, and that we gain the benefits of a creative online church experience. I wonder what your community hopes will stay and what it hopes we will go back to in “normal life.”


Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

The central themes in today’s lectionary readings are discipleship and pastoral care (ministry).

* * *

In Tom Wilson’s cartoon, Ziggy, the character always seems to be struggling with his place in life. Ziggy is a nondescript cartoon character, with a round face and oversized nose. He is drawn purposely bland to be the caricature of every man and woman who is perplexed by life. In one-episode Ziggy is looking at the reader with both elbows on a table and his chin resting in the palms of both of his hands. He has a very sad look on his face. We then read his thoughts that are always printed in that cartoon bubble, “…Sometimes, I think the world may be out to get me!...But other times…I’m sure of it!!”

* * *

Meredith Vieira, who was born in 1953, is probably best known to us as the co-host of the Today show from 2006 to 2011. She spoke at the 2015 commencement ceremony for Boston University. She used Katy Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX half-time performance, the game being played on February 1, 2015, as an inspiration for the graduates to follow their own path in life.

During Perry's performance of “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls,” she was accompanied by several dancers in various beach-themed costumes, including two dressed as sharks. Left Shark, on the audiences’ left, received significant fan and media attention during and after the halftime performance because of its distinct dance moves, which were both offbeat and out of sync to the “Right Shark.” Left Shark quickly became an internet sensation.

In her public address to the students Vieira said, “The shark on your right knew every dance move…But it was the left shark, the one who went rogue and danced to his own crazy beat, who stole the show. So, don’t ever be a conformist for convenience sake.”

* * *

Felicity Huffman, is probably best known to us for her role as Lynette Scavo on the comedy-drama series Desperate Housewives, which ran for eight seasons from 2004 to 2012. On September 13, 2019 she was sentenced to 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service, and supervised release for a full year, for paying a SAT private test administrator $15,000 to change the test scores for her daughter Sophia, so she could gain admittance into the University of Southern California. At her sentencing she told Judge Indira Talwani that she knew what she was doing was wrong. Huffman said as she was driving her 19-year-old daughter to the testing center she kept saying to herself, “Turn around, turn around,” She then said to the judge, “To my eternal shame I didn’t.”

* * *

Felicity Huffman, is probably best known to us for her role as Lynette Scavo on the comedy-drama series Desperate Housewives, which ran for eight seasons from 2004 to 2012. On September 13, 2019 she was sentenced to 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service, and supervised release for a full year, for paying a SAT private test administrator $15,000 to change the test scores for her 19-year-old daughter Sophia, so she could gain admittance into the University of Southern California. In a letter she wrote to Judge Indira Talwani before her sentencing she said, “I have a deep and abiding shame over what I have done. Shame and regret that I will carry for the rest of my life. It is right that I should carry this burden and use it as fuel for change in my own life and hopefully it will be a cautionary tale for my daughters and the community.”

* * *

Meredith Vieira, who was born in 1953, is probably best known to us as the co-host of the Today show from 2006 to 2011. At the age of 65, she shared some of her thoughts on life in an interview that was published in September of 2019. She spoke of how she placed her career on hold while she was raising her three children. She shared the difficulties of caring for her husband, Richard Cohen, a journalist, who has multiple sclerosis. At the end of the interview Vieira said, “If I look back over the landscape so far, I feel satisfaction in the choices I’ve made. It’s been a constant search to navigate and find my own way. But at the end of the day, you just have to pick your path and be happy.”

* * *

Brad Pitt was born in 1963. He is an actor whose breakout movie was Thelma & Louise, which was released in 1991. Perhaps he is best known to us for his 2016 separation from actress Angelina Jolie, and their 2019 divorce. The reason for this divorce form Jolie and their six children was his violent temper that resulted from his abuse of alcohol. After their separation Pitt spent a year and a half in an all-male Alcoholics Anonymous group. He gave as the reason for joining AA, “I had taken things as far as I could take it, so I removed my drinking privilege.”   

* * *

Lester Holt is best known to us as the anchor for NBC Nightly News. He is also the host for Dateline. The producers thought a good educational Dateline program would be for Holt to spend two days in a cell at a state penitentiary. Holt was hesitant until his safety concerns were addressed. He then spent two days at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In a September of 2019 he shared what was his most profound impact from that reporting adventure. Holt said, “The hospice ward. When you see people dying after being in prison for decades, you come to understand the term ‘life without parole.’ ”

* * *

Linda Ronstadt was 72 when she shared this view of her life in a September 2019 interview. The singer, who was an icon of the 70s and 80s, with such songs as “You’re No Good” and “Blue Bayou,” lost her voice due to Parkinson’s Disease. Of that tragedy she said, “I sang for so many years of my life — not being able to is like not having a leg or an arm.” But then she went on to say, “There’s no point in dwelling on it. Besides, in my mind — in my imagination — I can still sing.”

* * *

Demi Moore is an actress who was born in 1962. She is best known for her films Ghost, Indecent Proposal and G.I Jane. She is also known for popularizing the word “cougar.” The word cougar is defined as an older woman who is primarily attracted to younger men, often involving a sexual relationship. This was the case when she was 41-years-old and began a relationship in 2003 with Ashton Kutcher, an actor who was 15 years younger. In her memoir Inside Out, which was published in September of 2019, Moore explains why she became involved with a younger man. She wrote that the romance was a “do-over, like I could just go back in time and experience what it was like to be young with him.”

* * *

Lurline Jones has been a basketball coach in Philadelphia since 1966. The 77-year-old has spent most of those years at Martin Luther King High School. In those years, 300 of her student athletes received scholarships and four have earned coveted spots in the WNBA. When one of her former students, who once lived with her, had just bought a new home, Jones, in a September 2019 interview, shared why she continues to coach, “There’s no greater satisfaction than knowing I helped her get to this big milestone.”

* * * * * *

Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Seeing What God Sees
From the outside, Biscuitville looks like an ordinary restaurant. On the inside, though, things are different. The restaurant takes its role as a community hub seriously.  “At Biscuitville’s Winston-Salem location, a cross section of the American South gathers. A mature African American man in a sharp tan suit and snakeskin boots is propped up against the counter, waiting on his order. A group of Latino construction workers stand in line in their paint-spattered gear and work boots, watching as a young Black man behind a glass partition rolls out fresh, soft dough. In the back of the restaurant, an older White couple joins hands to pray over their biscuits and gravy. It’s Sunday morning at Biscuitville, a beloved regional chain…Looking around, it’s clear that the quaint eatery cuts across racial and socioeconomic lines…Biscuitville is one of the few fast food chains in the state that acknowledges Black History Month, and for the past five years, has highlighted influential African Americans by choosing a person to feature on a bookmark. This year it is the late writer and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, along with Rhiannon Giddens, singer and founding member of the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Last year, it was Jaki Shelton Green, the state’s poet laureate, on the Black History bookmark.”

Jaki Shelton Green became the first African American poet laureate for the state of North Carolina in 2019. “As someone who has conducted poetry workshops during lunch breaks at a factory and advocated for conducting poetry outreach efforts at the State Fair, Green knew she wanted to be a poet laureate — an ambassador for the people of North Carolina, meeting them where they are. This has meant engaging audiences in rural towns across the state, sometimes in places where Green and her husband are the only Black people in sight. It has meant live readings of James Baldwin each month at a Raleigh bookstore and doing poetry readings at community colleges, public libraries, community centers, and yes, even Biscuitville.” Green says, “My reading at Biscuitville was me walking my talk. If I’m going to talk endlessly about how poetry is everywhere and about the importance of finding poetry in unusual places, Biscuitville was a great opportunity.”

At her reading, there were four white men wearing Make America Great Again hats.  “When realizing Green was the woman on their bookmarks, the men walked over to her and asked her where she’s from.  “I said, ‘Oh, I’m just a country girl.’” She continues sharing that one of the men responded, “Just like us. I like when good things happen to ordinary people like us.”

Then they asked her to take a selfie with them.

“All of them took off their red hats and encircled me to take the photo,” she says. 

As the men were leaving, they all gave Green hugs and told her to keep making them proud. 

Some folks were taken aback — unsettled even, she says. Students from historically Black North Carolina A&T State University, who attended the reading, “dropped their jaws.” 

Green says she had to remind all who were present that she’s the poet laureate of North Carolina and that means she’s everyone’s poet, including men who wear MAGA hats, whether they like it or not. “In that moment, four men stepped out of their hats and everything they represent; it was just a moment of five humans having a pleasant exchange. That is what walking your talk looks like,” Green says.

As Samuel discovers, there’s so much more to all of us, just beneath the surface.

* * *

John 9:1-41
Learning to See

The man who meets Jesus has to learn to see the world in a different way, after his blindness is healed. His family and neighbors, along with the religious leaders, see him differently, and some of them are not even sure who he really is. As he regains his sight, the people around him become more and more blind to who he is.

After an accident, photographer David Ulrich had surgery to remove one of his eyes. He was feeling panicked about whether he would be able to work again, and in despair about what his life would like if he couldn’t see the world through photography. Then, he had a moment of transformation in the hospital chapel before the surgery, and realized “the entire experience of having the eye removed, of learning to see again, and going through the inevitable psychic transformation, became my personal creative quest. A quest that, more or less, I welcomed, and of which I tried to make the best possible use. Something had changed in me. I felt less under the dominion of my ego, and more open to life, to people, and to the changes inherent in our lives. I learned much about myself from questioning why such a massive injury had been the necessary catalyst to deliver me to the threshold of this new state of being.

The first step was to relearn how to do ordinary things, like “driving a car, pouring liquids into a glass, avoiding collisions with doorways or people on my right side, safely crossing streets, discovering where I needed to sit at a table or in a restaurant in order to see my companions and not just the wall, and acquiring a different sort of respect for my one and only good eye. It gave me the opportunity to prune my life down to the essentials.”

He adds that he learned what, perhaps, the man born blind already knew: “We do not see through our eyes alone… When I am attentive, I can sense, especially on my right side, when something or someone is there, and can sense the amount of space separating me from the object or person. I am surprised while driving to realize that I do not always need to look on my right side. I simply seem to know or feel when something is there. But this requires great care; it happens only when I am attentive. Otherwise, my lack of finely tuned depth perception causes clumsiness and errors of visual judgment. Attention is the key. I can sometimes sense the character or thoughts of another person by loosely resting my gaze on them, and staying within my own body, which provides insights and empathetic realizations.”

There are many ways to see, and many ways to be blind, as we learn from the encounter of Jesus and man who received his sight.

* * *

John 9:1-41
Learning from Blindness
The experience of going blind taught Madeleine Lewis some interesting lessons, starting with a need for healing. She tells her story this way:

“I started my adult life young in today’s terms — I was a nurse at 18, had my first child at 21 and divorced at 28. I adored my career 100%, but it was difficult to pay the bills with a nurse’s salary, so I was lured into the pharmaceutical industry to sell products. I had a company car and subsidised mortgage, so I was able to take care of my children, but I became more and more miserable. Then one night I was driving home from a sales conference and I went blind — I later learned it was stress blindness. I managed to pull over to the hard shoulder of the motorway. All the while I was thinking, ‘My life is over; I will never see my kids again.’ I promised myself then that if my sight came back, I would find my purpose. I knew I’d gone completely off my path and become a really depressed and irritable person.” She needed healing in the same way the man born blind does, when he meets Jesus.

After she regained her sight, she wanted to use her experience to help other people become whole, too. “Nursing made my heart sing, especially the emergency side, and I had a lot of other life and business skills as well. I realised that I wanted to help people living under dire stress in the hell holes of the world — people who didn’t have a safety net. But it was only when my daughter went to university and my son into the Army that it became possible for me to follow this dream. I sat my children down and asked, ‘Can I leave home now?’ and so I started my humanitarian career when I was 40 years old.”

She worked in refugee camps, and then in Asia following the tsunami in 2004. Her unique blend of skills led to all kinds of healing. “I remember the sights, sounds, smells, going to the cliff edge and seeing bodies in the trees. But my old nursing matron came into my ear and I heard her say to me, just like she had in training, ‘It’s not about you, nurse. You’re here to serve other people, so pull yourself together.’ I slept in communal tents and heard people crying, their stories and their pain. I remember this one little girl pulling on my skirt. She had lost 21 people — all the pillars of her life — and she wouldn’t talk to anyone. They had to keep all the children together because the sex traffickers arrived very quickly. Volunteers were doing art therapy with them and their grief was coming out in their paintings, which were all black.” Small steps led to bigger ones. “My grandfather, father and I are all magicians and I realised that that’s what we needed here, to bring laughter and healing in a language that doesn’t need translation. So my father gave me the number of the Magic Circle. Six weeks later a magician turned up — resplendent in bow tie and jacket, and complete with balloon animals. He went everywhere, entertaining the kids, the volunteers, went into schools, and he started to bring the lightness back.”

Then deeper healing was needed. “After I’d been in camp for a few weeks I started to get a sense of what actually needed to happen for long-term recovery. Most of the people in the camps weren’t well educated and had been working in hotels which were now destroyed. I called a bunch of business leaders together and asked them if they’d like to help…It wasn’t long before they realised that prior to tourism, the local communities had harvested rubber for a living. It only required simple tools and techniques. Within three months, those harvesting rubber were earning four times what they earned in the hotel industry.”

Her episode of blindness led to new vision that spread out from her own life in wider and wider circles.

* * *

Ephesians 5:8-14
Live in the Light
In the letter to the churches in Ephesus, Paul reminds us all to make sure our daily lives match our faith. “Live as children of the light,” he urges, which is always easier said than done. Mirka Knaster recalls a time she was called back to a better way of acting. “A few years ago, I went through an estrangement with a close friend because of the words I used to refer to her partner's behavior. Although he did not hear what she and I said in our phone conversation, by "chance" he saw my e-mail that followed it. I meant no harm. I thought I was being supportive of my friend. But it was careless speech on my part, and it has cost me dearly. The painful repercussions of my experience awoke me to a simple fact. While I had been careful in watching the movement of breath in meditation, I had not been as attentive in watching the words coming out of my mouth. I'd neglected an essential aspect of spiritual practice — "guarding the tongue."…

As Zen teacher Robert Aitken has said, "More people get hurt by gossip than by guns."

Generally, we think slander affects only the object of it. In fact, it hurts at least three people: “the slanderer, the person being slandered, and the person listening to the slander.”

She adds a parable: “Rabbi Joseph Telushkin relates a memorable story about the unrecognized power of words and the irrevocable damage they can wreck. There was a man in a small Eastern European community who went about maligning the town's rabbi. When he was suddenly filled with remorse, he pleaded with the rabbi to forgive him. He was willing to endure whatever penance necessary to atone his wrong. The rabbi instructed him to take a down pillow from his home, slash it open, and scatter the contents to the wind. He did this and went back to the rabbi to ask whether he was forgiven. The rabbi said, "Not yet." There was one more thing the man had to do: Gather all the scattered feathers. Aghast, the man said, "How can I possibly do that? The wind has already blown them away in every direction." The rabbi replied, "Exactly. Though you sincerely want to erase the transgression you've committed, it's as impossible to fix the harm you've done as it is to recover those feathers."

Trying deliberately to live in the light is often easier than trying to recover from our mis-steps.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingWORSHIP
by Chris Keating

Call to Worship
One: God calls us to live in the promises of Christ’s light!
All: Give glory to God! The Light of the world shines on us!
One: The fruit of the light is found in doing what is good, right and true.
All: Because our eyes are opened, we believe in God’s promises.
One: Trust in these promises, for God listens to those who worship and obey. Let us worship God.


One: God is our shepherd, the one who guides and protects.
All: God leads us beside still waters and renews our lives.
One:    Even when we are stuck in places of darkness and terror,
All: We will not fear, for God is with us.
One: We shall live with God forever!
All: And shall praise God our whole life long.

Hymns and songs:
“Shepherd Me, O God,” (Marty Haugen)
“God Has Chosen Me” (Bernadette Farrell)
“My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”
“The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
“Be Thou My Vision”
“Open My Eyes”
“All People that on Earth Do Dwell”
“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed”
“Open the Eyes of My Heart”
“Come, Live in the Light!”
“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound”
“We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight”
“We are Marching in the Light of
“Christ, Be Our Light!”
“I Will Come to You” (“You are mine”)
“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”

Prayer for the Day/Collect
Gracious God, giver of light and mercy,
Open our eyes to the splendor of your holiness and love,
and cause us to live as children of your light,
so that we might rise into the glory you offer us in Jesus Christ, Amen.


Ever shepherding God,
Protect us from the dark valleys of fear and worry, and
enable us to walk faithfully with you and each other.
Guide us to places of abundance and grace,
in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Call to Confession
God calls us to live as children of the Light, trusting in the grace provided by us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us draw near to the throne of grace, and offer our confession together.

(Unison) Ever gracious God: In these Lenten days, when so much around us is confusing and filled with fear, remind us of your constant love and presence. Forgive our inability to trust, and our selfish desire to save ourselves while others struggle. You have promised to guide us through the dark valleys and twisting paths of life, but we have ignored your promises. We run scared instead of trusting your leading hand. We refuse to see the gifts others might offer, and instead pursue our own agendas of greed and fear. Forgive us, O Lord, and open our eyes so that we may believe in Jesus Christ, our Savior, redeemer, friend and companion, Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
Hear the good news! Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. By Christ’s intercession, our eyes are opened, and we will be called children of the light. Be at peace, and know that your sins are forgiven. Amen.

Prayers of the People (incorporating “Christ, Be Our Light,” by Bernadette Farrell)
For today’s prayer, allow the musician and choir to introduce the hymn by Bernadette Farrel by playing or singing the first verse and refrain. After the refrain, the musician continues to play the verses at a low level while the leader begins the prayer. The congregation will join in singing the refrain following each petition. This will take a bit of coordination and practice with the musician ahead of time, but can be a powerful way of incorporating this much beloved contemporary hymn into your worship. Allow the musician to repeat the sotto voce verses as needed.)

Let us pray:
Christ, be the light in our world today. Shine into our world, and bring the promise of your healing to those who are overwhelmed by illness, who are suffering, tired, or alone. Christ, be our light:

REFRAIN: Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts…

Holy One: you are always guiding your people. Remain with us in these days where anxieties are high, and fears are many. Let us know your shepherding presence, for you are our light:


You lead us to still waters and refresh our souls. Your light fills our lives with goodness and joy. In hope and faith, we hold before you our world, our leaders, our friends and families. Bring us peace, for you are our light…


By your voice, O God, you call us to proclaim justice. You summon us to walk in the ways of light. Teach us compassion, and open our eyes to the suffering of our neighbors. Christ, be our light…


Thankful for all your gifts, your love, peace and grace, we give you all praise and glory. Help us to follow Christ faithfully in his pilgrimage to the cross, and sustain us with your love. Christ, be our Light!


The Lord’s Prayer

A Children’s Sermon Starter
Ask the children if they have ever been on a trust walk. It’s a fun experiment that can teach a bit about the experiences of those who are blind or vision impaired. One volunteer is blindfolded. Another person leads the blindfolded person around. It takes a great deal of faith! When Jesus encountered the blindman, he restored his sight — it was as if a blindfold had been taken away. What was interesting, however, is that there are people in the story whose eyesight is fine — but they are unable to see who Jesus is. How can we reflect God’s light in our lives, so that we would be like the man whose sight is restored and praises God?

* * * * * *

Psalm 23
by Tom Willadsen

Props: You might want to get a shepherd’s crook from the Sunday school supply closet. Lots of words, so you might want to find some pictures you can use if your church has the technology.

Today’s psalm is the all-time, most familiar passage in the Bible. Even very young children have probably heard it, even though they might not know it’s from the Bible, or know what a psalm is. Here’s a teachable moment for you, them and maybe the congregation, if they’re eavesdropping. Walk the little ones through the psalm a phrase at a time.

Ask if they know why sheep were important in the Bible.
  1. They provided wool for clothing;
  2. They provided meat; and
  3. Their milk could be used to make cheese.
Sheep are not especially bright. They need dogs and shepherds to keep them safe. More than anything else, a shepherd’s job is to keep the herd safe.

I’m using the NRSV. You may want to use KJV because its wording is so familiar.

When we say, “The Lord is my shepherd,” we’re saying that God keeps us safe, protects us and looks after us.

When we say, “I shall not want” we’re saying that because God protects us as a shepherd protects her sheep, the Lord provides us with everything we need to live.

When we say, “He makes me lie down in green pastures;” we’re saying that when we trust the Lord to lead us, the Lord leads us to good places.

When we say, “He leads me beside still waters.” That’s really important. Sheep are afraid of moving water. They need to drink from a pond or a lake or a slow-flowing river. The sheep will die of thirst if they cannot be led to still water. A good shepherd knows that.

When we say “He restores my soul.” We mean that God’s love is real and God loves us right now. We don’t have to wait for God to restore us, God’s love is new every day, all the time.

When we say “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” We mean that God wants us to be safe and for everyone to know that God’s love makes us safe.

I want you to imagine when you have been really, really afraid. I am afraid of tornadoes. As long as I can remember when I hear the civil defense siren I have been super scared and gone to the basement so I could be safe. When we say, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” We mean that God will keep us safe when we are in the scariest place or situation we can imagine. God loves and protects us that much.

When we say, “for your rod and your staff — they comfort me.” We’re saying that God is like a shepherd who uses the tools of a shepherd to keep us together with the other sheep, but also God will use a stick to protect us from a wild animal that might want to eat a sheep.

When we say “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” we’re saying that God is doing something to keep us safe. In Bible times, a shepherd would go through a field before he would let the sheep graze there. He would remove thistles and other plants that might hurt them. He would remove scorpion nests and snakes. Getting the field safe for the sheep was called “setting the table.” A good shepherd goes ahead of the sheep and gets a place ready for them where they will be safe. (Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year A, Abingdon Press, 1986, p. 54.)

Do you know who wrote this psalm? David, the guy who killed the giant goliath with a rock from his sling; the guy who had oil poured onto his head when Samuel the priest announced that he would be the next king. When David writes “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” He’s saying that God blessed him so much when he was king that it was as though the blessings were too large for the cup that held them!

When we say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” We’re saying that God loves us our whole lives. God will love us our whole lives. God’s love even surrounds us after we have died.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, March 22, 2020 issue.

Copyright 2020 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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