Service for In-Home Morning Prayer on 22 March 2020

The household gathers together. If you have a candle, light a candle to signify the God’s presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to join you during this time of prayer.

GATHERING
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my thoughts.

HYMN—Be Thou My Vision
(sing along with a YouTube version of the song – https://youtu.be/jIMhshpf0Y4)

1 Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art–
thou my best thought by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

2 Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father, I thy true son;
thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

3 Be thou my battle shield, sword for my fight;
be thou my dignity, thou my delight,
thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tow’r:
raise thou me heav’n-ward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

4 Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
thou mine inheritance, now and always:
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

5 High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

PRAYER by Sharon McCart
Gracious God, who created us in God’s own image, we are grateful for all that you have done for us, for all that you are doing in us, and for all that you will do through us. Open our eyes to see your presence among us, moving in powerful ways at all times and in all places. Open our ears to hear familiar words in new ways—ways that will change us and challenge us to become the people you created us to be. Grant us the power and the courage to come out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus Christ, that we may serve you by serving others. We love you with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.

PSALM 23 (KJV)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Moment for silent reflection

SCRIPTURE LESSON—John 9:1-41 (NRSV)
1 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 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?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?[f] Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

REFLECTION by the Reverend Matthew A. Laferty

Jesus said, “….I am the light of the world.”

Friday (20 March) was a difficult day for me. Nearly a week into government-imposed isolation, I am adjusting to a different routine and work environment. I must admit that I do not love the new routine, but I am adapting. Then came news from the Austrian government. In their message to the general public, the government confirmed what many of us already suspected: our government-imposed isolation was going to last a lot longer than one week. Our days at home will last until 13 April (Easter Monday). When I read the news, my heart sank. Though I had guessed that the government restrictions would last longer than one week, the news was still hard to take. And facing three more weeks of isolation, many questions flooded my mind. What about my life? And my family over 8,000 km away? How will I manage without being with friends? And living alone, three weeks by myself can feel like an eternity. How will I cope being alone for three more weeks? Of course, the questions did not stop with concerns about my life, family, and friends. They continued to questions about vocation, faith, and God. How can I be a pastor to a congregation which is unable to gather in our building for worship? What is God doing? Where is God in the midst of the pandemic?

Jesus said, “….I am the light of the world.”

The lectionary—the schedule of readings—assigns two familiar Scripture passages—Psalm 23 and John 9—for the fourth Sunday in Lent. As a gift from God in these anxious times, Psalm 23 reminds us that God is our Shepherd who watches over us, cares for us, protects us, and comforts us. Particularly meaningful to me today is v. 4, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil : for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (KJV). Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message translates v. 4 as “even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.” I am not exactly sure what the valley of the shadow of death looks like, but it feels like we are walking in a dark valley as we are confronted every day with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Even in the darkest valley, the psalmist reminds us, God is with us, protecting and comforting us. We are not alone. And God will see us through this pandemic.

Jesus said, “….I am the light of the world.”

In the John text, Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival or Festival of Booths. While in Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a man who was blind from birth. During the time of Jesus, it was common to think that medical afflictions were directly caused by the individual’s sin. The assumption would have been that the blind man or his parents were great sinners and caused him to be blind. So when Jesus meets the man who was blind from birth, the onlookers have one simple but pungent question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v.2 NRSV).

To be honest, a similar question came to my mind on Friday: what sin had I committed to deserve isolation, massive life disruptions, and alienation from my community?

But Jesus quickly rebuffs this belief, saying “neither this man nor his parents sinned” (v.3 NRSV). Jesus upends this way of thinking that our medical conditions, pain, and suffering are directly correlated to the sin in our lives. God did not intend for this man to be blind. God did not make the blind man this way. Neither the man’s nor his parents’ sin are the direct source of the blindness. Rather, we live in an imperfect world where blindness and virus exist and affect our lives. It means that we must dismiss from our minds all notions that the coronavirus is God’s punishment on our lives and our world. God in Christ is at work in our world as the Healer and not the Punisher.

Jesus said, “….I am the light of the world.”

Jesus also plays with the motif of light and darkness. He says in v. 8, “I am the light of the world.” It is an ironic statement, telling a blind man that you are the light of the world. Yet, this ironic statement takes on new meaning after the blind man visits the pool of Siloam. With his new ability to see, Jesus becomes the literal light of the world for the healed man. But there is more at play in the text than healing of the eyes. With his new ability to see, the healed man undergoes a spiritual healing or restoration. Jesus drives out the spiritual darkness in the healed man’s life and the healed man can clearly see who Jesus is. Jesus—the light of the world—is God’s anointed one who comes into our world to extend God’s forgiveness and love and grant everlasting life.

For me at times, the coronavirus pandemic has brought darkness in my life and in the world. In darkness stoked by fear and anxiety, it is impossible to see God and God’s love. Yet, Christ who is with us during these difficult times is the light of the world. The light of Christ shines brightly through our actions—big and small—as we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. I experienced Christ’s light in my life this past week in my calls and messages with many of you. I experienced Christ’s light in reconnecting with friends who live far away and offered words of encouragement. I experienced Christ’s light this past week in our Wednesday night Bible study where we reflected together on John 9. And I experienced Christ’s light in silent prayer this week in our church building, feeling the assurance of God’s love and light in my life.

I leave you with the words of “Christ, Be Our Light,” a hymn written by Bernadette Farrel:

Longing for light, we wait in darkness
Longing for truth, we turn to You.
Make us Your own, Your holy people
Light for the world to see.

Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  • Have you experienced healing in your life, especially after a major illness? How did it make you feel? Did the healing bring you closer to or farther from God?
  • What is the darkness in your life? What makes your unable to see the light of Christ?
  • As you receive the light of Christ in your life, how have you shared it with others? How might you share the light of Christ during the COVID-19 pandemic?

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (read aloud)
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (silently or aloud)
God of light, we come to you in a time of darkness. As we shelter in our homes, our fears and anxiety grow and we feel increasing isolation. Our lives are disrupted, no longer able to go to work and school, visit friends, and go to church. The demands of our new confinement and schedules are crushing and we are struggling to cope with the emerging situation. Darkness is closing in around us and we wonder where you are in the midst of this pandemic.

Help us Lord! Through your Holy Spirit, may the light of Christ dwell deep within our hearts. Light our paths this day. Reveal your presence in our world. Heal our spiritual blindness, so we may glimpse your radiant glory in our lives.  

Today, we pray

  • for those affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus— for those diagnosed with the virus, for medical professionals who care for affected patients, for those in quarantine and unable to be with family and friends, and for those who feel isolated and distressed;
  • for all the nations of the world, that God bring healing and restore normal life;
  • for those grieving the deaths of loved ones and unable to bury them due to government restrictions;
  • for those who are working in essential shops and services that God grant them protection and good health;
  • for our leaders in Austria—President Van der Bellen, Chancellor Kurz, government ministers, justices
  • of the courts, members of parliament—and all the leaders of the world that God grant them wisdom, prudence, and foresight to make good decisions;
  • for those who suffer from other medical ailments and must delay treatments; and
  • for the pastors of The United Methodist Church in Austria that God sustain them in their ministries.

We also pray for (add your personal prayers)……

Gathering the prayers of our lips and the prayers of our hearts, we pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

BLESSING (read aloud)
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

______________________________________

Other hymn suggestions:

“We Are Called” by David Haas
(sing along with a YouTube version of the song – https://youtu.be/5DCzqHV-Xns)

1. Come! live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom,
to live in the freedom of the city of God!

Refrain: We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

2. Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless,
so all hatred and blindness will be no more!

3. Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign and we’ll walk with each other as sisters
and brothers united in love!

“Christ, Be Our Light” by Bernadette Farrell
(sing along with a YouTube version of the song – https://youtu.be/ZJq3bhdgQoc)

1. Longing for light, we wait in darkness
Longing for truth, we turn to You.
Make us Your own, Your holy people
Light for the world to see.

Refrain: Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

2. Longing for peace, our world is troubled
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has pow’r to save us.
Make us your living voice.

3. Longing for food, many are hungry
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us Your bread, broken for others
Shared until all are fed.

4. Longing for shelter, many are homeless
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us Your building, sheltering others
Walls made of living stone.

5. Many the gift, many the people
Many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another
Making Your kingdom come.

“O Christ, the Healer” by Fred Pratt Green
(sing along with a YouTube version of the song –https://youtu.be/OiFqe4deGGU)

1 O Christ, the healer, we have come
to pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored,
when reached by love that never ends?

2 From every ailment flesh endures
our bodies clamor to be freed;
yet in our hearts we would confess
that wholeness is our deepest need.

3 How strong, O Lord, are our desires,
how weak our knowledge of ourselves!
Release in us those healing truths
unconscious pride resists or shelves.

4 In conflicts that destroy our health,
we diagnose the world’s disease;
our common life declares our ills:
is there no cure, O Christ, for these?

5 Grant that we all, made one in faith,
in your community may find
the wholeness that, enriching us,
shall reach the whole of humankind.