August 8, 2021 – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Helen Smith
All going well, we will be holding in person worship in a couple of weeks. And in a couple of weeks after that, we will be welcoming the Rev. Chuck Moon as our minister. As my Cameroonian friends say, in call and response mode: “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.”
Rev. Helen Smith
Call to Worship
You can listen to the audio recording of the Call to Worship with Rev. Helen Smith while consulting the text below (the audio is part of the Welcome message recording above); or just use the text below.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Let us worship God.
Book of Praise – 500 “Open my eyes that I may see”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to those in the hymnbook.
- Words and music completed in 1895 by American composer and hymn-writer Clara H. Scott (1841–1897); both in the public domain.
- This recording by the Joslin Grove Choral Society.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Almighty, everlasting God, Light of the world, as we travel by your leading and by your light, we give to you all glory and praise.
O God, in Jesus Christ you have come as the light of the world. We confess that we have preferred darkness. We see headlines and statistics, not individual people. Or we are blind to change because it makes us uneasy. Or fear of public opinion determines what we see and what we don’t see. Self-interest and lust for power leave us short-sighted. Light of the world forgive us. Heal our blindness, our myopia and help us to walk in your light until our traveling days are done.
We pray in Jesus’ name and continue to pray as he taught, saying:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.
Assurance of Pardon
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. For the light that shows us the way when we are lost, thanks be to God.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
How do you see things these days? The 9th chapter of John’s gospel presents us with many sets of eyes, each of them with different degrees of vision.
Jesus is in Jerusalem. We observe an encounter between Jesus and a man blind from birth, our little person for today. He shows us a new way of seeing.
The first set of eyes we come upon are those of the disciples. What do they see? They see a case study. They fail to see the man. “Aha”, they say, “Now we’ll get to the heart of the scripture’s notion about suffering being the result of sin. Now we’ll get that figured out. Here’s our chance.”
Their eyes are impersonal, and limiting, pre-judging, prejudiced. They approach the blind man with a set of assumptions which in itself is understandable, but they appear to have difficulty going beyond those assumptions. They seem to have difficulty in allowing the blind man to speak for himself, to help them understand something about him. There’s a problem, a theological question here and, in the deliberating, the person that this man is, gets lost. There is little interest in whether he is in pain, suffering, capable of being healed. He’s a case history, a social insurance number, exhibit A.
As we look at the disciples, we may recall times when we have approached others in a similar way, seen them in terms of problems or cases, given them labels, objectified them. They become impersonal things, reduced to less than human by our eyes. We take away their freedom to be in charge of their existence. The story calls us to revise and re-evaluate the direction and assumptions of our caring in order to be assured that the light in us is not mainly darkness.
The second set of eyes that emerge in the story are very similar, except that they do not see a theological problem. In fact, they do not all see the same thing. Some say: “He’s the blind man.” Others say: “He only looks like him.” These eyes are the eyes of the everyday. They see what they expect to see and don’t quite believe anything that challenges that vision. They are conditioned eyes. Things must be the way they always were. Surprises are not expected or indeed welcomed. These eyes are limited and restraining. These are the eyes of the neighbours. These eyes are easily activated whenever security is threatened. These anxious eyes begin to twitch a little when the new and unknown enters, when we anticipate the worst in any given situation and hand ourselves over to the anxiety and fear that is their way. They limit possibilities, narrow horizons, and call us back in caution from the challenges of the moment. They prefer the initial barrier of distance to the risk of intimacy. They are filled with an anxious watchfulness, and, if left to their own devices, they can intoxicate and contaminate our vision.
What about the eyes of the parents? These eyes are ambiguous. On the one hand the eyes see what has happened to their son. They cannot and do not deny that he has been healed. They do not deny either that he was blind. “We know that he is our son. We know that he was born blind. But we do not know how it is that he can now see. Ask him. He is old enough.”
No doubt they delight in their son’s newfound ability to see. Yet, when asked how this has happened, they direct the questioners to their son, not out of respect for their son’s independence, but because they were afraid of the authorities who had already agreed that anyone who professed Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. There is a restriction to their ability to delight in their son’s sight. They are frightened eyes as well, and they are caught between fear and delight. They are continually aware of who is watching them, listening to them, paying attention to them.
These eyes are self-conscious eyes. Someone else’s eyes are watching you, judging, criticizing, and you always fail to come up to the standard of the watcher. Who is watching you? Your spouse? Friends? Children? Parent? Neighbour? Society? How frequently we act, and in the very moment of acting discover that we are, subtly or otherwise, watching to discover what others think. To be is to be seen. It prevents true spontaneous play, the real laughter in the eyes, the little madness that Zorba the Greek tells the boss man he lacks. One exists as a reflection of others around us, to whom we have given the authority. Their fears and anxieties we permit to limit our freedom, their opinions and thoughts condition our judgement, their prisons and limitations condition our existence.
Then there are the eyes of the Pharisees. Their eyes are controlled by power. These eyes try to impose their own vision on reality. They make statements of certainty, dogmatic statements, “the man who did this cannot be from God”, “we know this man is a sinner”, “we know God spoke to Moses. You were born and raised in sin.”. They are able to ignore any and all evidence, if necessary, in pursuit of their own goal.
In the story, imprisoned by habit, tradition, defensiveness, they move deeper and deeper into darkness until they can no longer see reality at all.
Initially it appears they accept the healing of the blind man. Then they assert, “you say he opened your eyes.” There appears to be some doubt. In V. 24 they discredit the miracle worker. Jesus is a sinner, incapable of divine favour and blessing. In V. 29, we don’t even know where Jesus comes from. They deny the cure, the miracle, the Christ. These eyes, controlled in one way by the desire for power, are controlled in another way by fear. Their eyes see the blind man’s cure as a threat to their power and therefore their existence. Their eyes perceive Jesus as the power source of this threat. And so, they throw out the healed blind man to get rid of Jesus, the threat to their power.
These are the eyes of dogmatism, of certainty, rigidity, so certain they are blind to any evolution, any change. They are the least willing to compromise. They are the eyes of our habitual way of being and seeing that operate in the persistency of routine and become ingrained in our characters. They are the eyes of “we never did it that way before.” These eyes are the most obstinate within us, the hardest to move. They can’t cope with a God who says, “Behold I am doing a new thing” and goes on “Can you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19) They can’t.
So, they deny it and throw the man out of the temple. To become aware of the existence of these eyes in us, is already for us to begin to turn away from the blindness they cause and turn again to sight.
In contrast, the eyes of the man born blind are eyes of uncertainty, of struggle, and out of that struggle emerges sight. What is it that these eyes see? When he was physically blind, the man was unable to see. Now, however, he sees someone loving him, caring for him, nurturing him to freedom. He sees in a light that does not judge him and does not limit him. He sees in a light that does not condemn him to his past but seeks his future. He sees in a light that accepts him, that envelopes him and points the direction to wholeness.
These eyes of the blind man tell a story. They are open. They do not understand everything. These eyes confess what they do not know. ‘I don’t know where Jesus is, if he is a sinner or not, who he is.” These eyes are the eyes of simplicity and wonder. They are receptive and they are humble. “I don’t know if he is a sinner or not. One thing I do know: I was blind and now I see.” There is much they cannot comprehend in terms of how and why, but they are open to further discovery. “Tell me who he is sir, so that I can believe in him.” These eyes begin to make connections that are credible.
As the Pharisees move further into blindness, the man moves into sight. — He talks of the man Jesus, then Jesus is a prophet, then someone sent from God, then the Son of Man which is biblical talk for Messiah, Saviour.
These eyes see Christ, even if they do not recognize him in his totality right off the bat. They sense that the person who addresses them is from God, and in the knowledge of that they can endure questioning, ridicule, embarrassment and even excommunication from the synagogue if necessary. Ultimately these eyes see Jesus as the Saviour. He says, “Lord, I believe”, and worships him. These eyes are at last connected and know that the connection can be trusted.
To begin in the darkness, in the stillness, no longer self-conscious about blindness, though certainly self-aware of your blindness, no longer particularly concerned about others’ views, no longer trying to figure out the power possibilities in every moment, or feeling your position threatened, holding on for dear life, but to begin in the darkness, and the light comes, and maybe you’re disoriented and squinting a bit, but only in order to be reoriented, to a new way of thinking, feeling, and yes, a new way of seeing, a way of wholeness.
Just before this incident of the encounter with the man born blind, Jesus says to a crowd and to you and to me: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8: 12)
- Arrangement of “I heard the voice of Jesus say” and the tune “Simple Gifts”, used in the hymn “Lord of the Dance”.
- Music of “I heard the voice of Jesus say” (tune: “Kingsfold”) is a traditional English tune collected and published in 1893 by English folksong collector and researcher Lucy Etheldred Broadwood (1858–1929) and English music critic and scholar John Alexander Fuller Maitland (1856–1936). Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) heard the tune in Kingsfold, Sussex, England (hence the name of the tune), and arranged it for the hymn “I heard the voice of Jesus say”, the text of which had been written by Scottish clergyman and hymnwriter Horatius Bonar (1808–1889) in 1846. Traditional tune and the Vaughan Williams arrangement in the public domain.
- Tune “Simple Gifts” (1848) is a traditional Shaker tune attributed to American Shaker poet and elder Joseph Brackett (1797–1882). The tune was adapted by English poet and songwriter Sydney Carter (1915–2004) in 1963 for his hymn “Lord of the Dance”. Original tune in the public domain.
- This arrangement of the two tunes copyright © 2021 Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
- Performed on the keyboard by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- Audio recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayers of Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
Great, giving God, with thankful hearts we bring our gifts. Use these gifts to shine your light into places of darkness in our world.
With thankful hearts, we think of your many blessings in our lives. We think of the church and of how it has helped us over the years. We pray o Lord for your church. May it continue to reflect your light. Keep it true to its high calling of preaching, teaching and serving in your name. We are the church, O God, and we ask for your help, that each one of us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will celebrate and share your life-giving love with everyone we meet.
With thankful hearts, we think of the freedom we enjoy in Canada, the stability of our nation. We pray for those in positions of leadership, people in government, leaders in commerce. May they be open to the movement of your spirit among them, and guided by your light.
With thankful hearts we think of our support systems in healthcare, in education, in social services. We pray for those who are leading the work on the pandemic, and those who are essential workers, putting themselves at risk in order that we be safe. We pray for the confused, for those encompassed with problems, for whom no solution comes without pain and no alternative without risk. Stabilize those who come from marriages where divorce becomes the most healthful way to survive. Undergird those who face necessary surgery, terminal illness, or both. We pray for those who taste life’s bitter edge and struggle to cope; for those who are hungry, for families divided, for those numbed by depression, those afraid of change, clinging to the past. O God, you enter our darkness with the light of creativity and the strength of acceptance. Shine into our lives that we might find light from above, strength from within, and support from around us.
Now to you, O God, our everlasting light, to you, Lord Jesus Christ, the Dayspring from on high, to you, Holy Spirit, the power of light in our lives, be all glory and praise today and forever. AMEN
Book of Praise – 670 “Amazing Grace”
- Video with on-screen words with some differences from those, and a different verse 5 than that in the hymnbook. Follow along on screen.
- Words (1772) by English composer and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807). Music (1835; tune “New Britain”) by American composer William Walker (1809–1875). Words and music in the public domain.
- Audio recorded by the St. Michael’s Singers (now called the Coventry Cathedral Chorus) in Coventry Cathedral; video created by the Chet Valley Churches, in south Norfolk, England.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Romans 15:13)
- “Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed by Rachelle Risling (keyboard) and the GCPC Senior Choir. Audio and video production by Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-08-07 15:45 – Added choral amen link