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Sunday Service, 6th June 2021

Welcome

Call to Worship

In the book of Psalms a Hebrew poet cries out with a question from the heart: “I look to the mountains, where will my help come from?” A question that he promptly answers himself: “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” Let us worship the Lord together as we use the words of the metrical version of that Psalm.

Hymn 81 – I to the hills will lift mine eyes

Prayer

It has been said that worship is the doorstep of heaven. It’s where children speak to their father and the poor sit at table alongside their Saviour, it’s where the weak are empowered by God’s Spirit, it’s where love and mercy meet, where love and obedience hold hands, where love bids us welcome, for this is the doorstep of heaven. Lord may it be this and more for all of us this morning.

Lord you have invited us to meet with you and you have created this opportunity for us to meet together as part of your great worldwide family. May this hour in your presence affect our thinking, our planning, our activities, in fact every aspect of our lives in the hours and days of this week.

Lord you have called us to know you and to love you. You have called us to serve you. May we be worthy of that calling. May we proclaim your power and your peace. May we rejoice in your light and in your love.

Loving God, the Scriptures declare you to be faithful and forgiving. Hear our prayer as we now make our confession and seek your forgiveness. Where we have failed to love and have loved to hurt, forgive us and heal us.

Where we have scorned anything different from what we believe and anyone who acts or thinks differently from us, where we have been indifferent to those who have cried out to us in their need, forgive us and heal us.

Where we have spoken harsh words to others and yet have been quick to take offence ourselves, forgive us and heal us.

Where we have talked and sung and prayed about injustice and yet have ignored the signs and reality of injustice around us, forgive us and heal us.

Merciful God, unlike us, you are true to your word. When we cry to you in sorrow and repentance, you hear our cry and are swift to forgive. For your faithful love and your forgiving spirit, we praise you.

Lord God, you are our rock, a very present help in times of trouble, strengthen us as we seek to serve you. Help us to build our lives around the sure foundation which is Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen

And now let us join together in the words of the prayer that Jesus taught those first disciples: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

Children’s talk

The language of the Bible can be quite strange and although, as slight spoiler alert, today’s story is about Jesus healing a blind man, we often talk about being blind in the Bible as meaning something totally different.

Have you ever heard about the eyes of your heart? It’s not a special valve or biological part of your body but rather something that’s symbolic.

It’s strange when you’re thinking about seeing but not seeing in pictures.

And looking but not actually trying to physically look at things.

We talked about what this might mean this morning, and Kids at Wardie highlighted that it’s about seeing love and kindness, things that can’t normally or always be seen just on their own.

We also discussed that it works in two ways, both seeing God’s love and kindness around us and also seeing where to put God’s love and kindness too.

Seeing with your heart is about being open to so much more than just the people who are closest to you, about trying to see all people and see what God would like you to do in these situations.

So seeing with your heart is really trying to see God in the world and where God is needed in the world – no easy task.

But it was no easy task for Jesus to help a physically blind man to see, and today we hear about that miracle.

Scripture readings (NRSV)

John 9:1–34

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 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, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 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.”

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

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.

Hymn 466 – Before the throne of God above

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: But this I know

This morning’s Scripture reading provides us with an incident that brought a number of interesting issues to the fore, both for the followers of Jesus and those who opposed him.

As far as the disciples were concerned the man’s blindness presented them with a theological problem: “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?”

Jesus quickly ruled out both suggestions, focusing on the man as a challenge, an opportunity for the glorification of God. The disciples questioned the reason for the man’s blindness – Jesus was more concerned about what could be done to meet his needs.

Enter centre stage Jesus, a man of action, but on this occasion a man whose methods seemed at least questionable, almost bizarre and unhygienic. Why a spittle, why mud? Over the years a number of equally bizarre and unconvincing suggestions have appeared; for example, that this method would make use of the healing qualities of saliva and mud, while others have suggested that the method would add to the man’s blindness resulting in him appreciating the cure even more deeply, while others again have suggested that in acting in the way he did Jesus was reminding folks that their origin was in the dust of the earth.

Mud, or the command to the man to wash his face in the waters of the pool of Siloam, had as little to do with the cure as did the waters of the River Jordan in the curing of Naaman’s leprosy when he was commanded by Elisha to plunge in the waters of the river seven times. In both cases the command was a test of obedience.

In passing, it is interesting to note that the blind man, unlike Naaman, didn’t hesitate to obey our Lord’s command. He went and washed and came back seeing for the first time in his life.

The middle portion of our narrative presents us with two ways the power of fear can take control of our lives, as both the Pharisees and then the parents of the man born blind try to come to terms with what has just happened.

One commentator suggests that the Pharisees were more afraid of something new bursting out within Judaism that they were of any attack from outside – inner conflict they were used to, but when people arose from within the Jewish world claiming to act in the name of the one true God, and started doing things that cracked their system from top to bottom, they couldn’t take it. It had to be challenged. It had to be stopped.

John in his gospel helps us to understand their feelings by his placing of story of Jesus in the Temple early in his gospel in chapter 2. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had realised from then on that Jesus presented a threat, and once he had healed the cripple on the Sabbath, as recorded in chapter 5 of the gospel, they knew more exactly what kind of threat he was. Now, we discover that they had decided that if anyone declared Jesus to be the Messiah, that person would be put out of the synagogue. The synagogue in those days was the focus of the whole community and if you were barred from the synagogue, you would probably be better off leaving the area altogether.

This kind of reaction is born out of a classic type of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of something outside the system. The man’s parents are also afraid, because they would be aware of the threat against anyone saying that Jesus is the Messiah. They are anxious for their own social standing, their livelihood, perhaps even their lives; so anxious, in fact, that they are prepared to let their son face the full brunt of the Pharisees’ questioning. “He’s grown up; he can speak for himself.” True maybe, but hardly the statement you would be expecting to hear from loving parents.

But: “Perfect love”, says John in one of his letters, “casts out fear.” The gospel story is all about the different ways in which this happens – and also the ways in which it doesn’t happen when we resist the perfect love which comes to us in Jesus, coming with God’s healing and light.

The angry, fearful reaction of the Pharisees and the anxiety of the parents come together in the midst of this sorry tale. Where we would expect to see faith and acceptance and hope, we see the opposite. This story speaks of the many dark places within our lives where fear, resentment, shock and anxiety can, unchecked, cripple our understanding, restrict our faith and stifle our love. One way through the dilemma is for us to follow the small signpost we find in the middle of the passage. The man who had been blind, at this early stage was at least prepared to say that Jesus was a prophet. By the end of the story, of course, he’s moved on to a fuller confession of Jesus as Messiah, but this at least is a start. When we are surrounded by fear and anger, the only way through is to glimpse whatever we see and understand of Jesus, and to follow him out of the dark and into the light.

As the war of words between Jesus and the Pharisees heats up, the question at issue becomes clear: where is God in all that has happened? Our passage is about healing, about blindness, about Jesus, but most of all about God.

The Pharisees want to drive a solid wedge between Jesus and God. In their minds, if anything good has happened, it’s God’s work alone and Jesus can have nothing to do with it. The man born blind, no doubt puzzled and afraid and by now almost abandoned by his parents, insists on the reality of his healing, and that Jesus was at the very centre of the healing process – and hence the fact that God is indeed at work, in and through Jesus.

One commentator suggests that at this point the whole narrative “crackles with irony, as the Pharisees unwittingly say all sorts of things which, from John’s point of view, tell against them.”

“GIVE GOD THE GLORY”, they say to the man, no doubt meaning: “if you have indeed been healed, it must have been God’s doing alone, and nothing to do with Jesus”. But JOHN wants us to see that the man is giving God the glory, by sticking to his story and insisting that Jesus had healed him. God must have been working through Jesus. No other explanation seems possible or logical.

“WE KNOW HE’S A SINNER”, they say. In their understanding Jesus has broken the Sabbath, and if Jesus is a Sabbath breaker and therefore a sinner he can have nothing to do with God. But JOHN wants us to see that Jesus’ action in healing the man is the clearest indication that this view of the Sabbath is itself wrong. God is doing a new thing, opening up his new world of healing and hope. The Pharisees’ insistence on staying within their own self-imposed interpretation of the law only shows how drastically they are themselves out of tune with God’s plan.

“WE FOLLOW MOSES”, they say, while you are simply this fellow’s disciple. But JOHN wants as to see that Moses spoke of Jesus himself – as recorded in Ch5: 45–47. God did indeed speak through Moses. John wouldn’t have denied that for a moment. But when you understand Moses aright, you will see that his law points forward to the ‘grace and truth’ which comes through Jesus the Messiah. Yes, Moses was the great lawgiver, but he did far more than merely issue a code of law. He told the story of God and Israel, a story with a beginning and a continuation, but as yet, no ending. John wants us to see that Jesus is himself the climax of that story.

“YOU WERE BORN IN SIN”, scoff the Pharisees. They had already made their mind up on that issue. Verse 34 can’t simply mean that all human beings are ‘born in sin’, for that would have meant that the Pharisees were as well. The point they are making is that the man’s original physical state was a clear indication of his spiritual state. JOHN, on the other hand, wants us to see that not only had his original blindness nothing to do with his own or his parents’ sin, but that Jesus presence and healing delivers us from sin, physically, mentally and spiritually.

What we have in front of us today is a narrative that suggests that it isn’t just the man born blind who can now see, it is also JOHN’s readers, and all the saints down through the centuries of time till our present day and ourselves. When blind eyes are opened there is only one conclusion to be drawn. Just as Moses shocked the magicians of Egypt by doing things they couldn’t copy, Jesus shocked the world of his day, and continues to shock the world of today, by doing things for which there is only one explanation and that is that God is powerfully at work through him and through the work of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us bringing glory to God.

Being a Christian and living the Christian life can often be confusing. People try and interpret our experience for us, they try to categorise us, place us in various pigeonholes, label us. What we need to do is to stick to what we know: “But this I know, I was blind but now I can see.” I find echoes of the man’s testimony in Fullerton’s hymn set to the Londonderry Air;

I cannot tell why He whom angels worship
should set his love upon the sons of men
or why as Shepherd he should seek the wanderers,
to bring them back they know not how or when.
But this I know, that he was born of Mary,
that Bethlehem’s manger was his only home,
and that he lived at Nazareth and laboured
and so the Saviour, Saviour of the world is come.

While we probably wouldn’t verbalise our feelings using the same kind of language as Fullerton, we no doubt would identify with the approach he takes. For example, how often have we struggled as to why certain things have happened to us or to loved ones close to us. Perhaps there are areas of theology that we find difficult to accept, or we struggle to equate the killing fields of the Old Testament with a loving compassionate God. In other words, there is so much that we don’t understand, can’t take in. In the sentiment of the hymn, we cannot tell why, but this we know – our lives have been transformed by God through Jesus Christ. Praise be to God.

Intercessory prayer by Paul Mitchell

God of all majesty, You have given us a wonderful world, and have also given us the ability to explore and understand it. We praise You for the majesty and beauty of creation,
and for the opportunities which we have to enjoy and appreciate all that You give to us.

As stewards of creation, we have the responsibility to care for the world You have given. We can manipulate our environment – for good or for ill, to the benefit or the detriment of our fellow creatures.

We acknowledge afresh the huge impact that we humans as a species have and the huge impact on the planet – and repent of the ways in which this has often been contrary to Your will.

We pray that You will give guidance and discernment to all who seek to discern between helpful and harmful applications of human advances and innovations.

We pray for those in positions of power and influence. May they be guided by what is right, not what is most profitable. May they be guided by compassion and not ruled by self-interest.

Loving Lord, as we as a church seek to wrestle not only with significant issues but also with the shape of the Church here in Scotland in the 21st century, we pray for wisdom and discernment.

Lord, for all the times we use our knowledge for good we give thanks. We continue to pray for all those working hard to battle Covid19 – to help people feel safe again and remove fear from the simple everyday activities of a handshake or a hug or a gathering to meet and enjoy each other’s company.

Lord Jesus, Light of the world – open our eyes to recognise your hand at work in the miraculous and the mundane. Give us the discernment to recognise opportunities to join your work. Lord, open our eyes to the needs of people in our community. And Lord, help us make the most of these opportunities to love them and honour you.

As Christ called on His followers to be salt and light, to have an impact on the communities in which we live, we pray that, as we seek to witness for God in the world, we will always do so in a loving and gentle way, remembering that we need to be faithful to our calling.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Hymn from Mission Praise – I cannot tell

Blessing

As you lift your eyes to the quiet hills may you experience the Lord’s presence and strength accompanying you along all of life’s perplexing paths. And now may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest on you and remain with you and with all whom you love, now and always. Amen.