Today in the Spirit: Lent 4A

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Lent is a season the church employs to teach that, by the light of the Son of God coming into the world, darkness opposed to the One God is exposed. In these middle weeks of Lent Year A the church assigns long Gospel readings from the Book of John in which there is significant dialogue between Jesus and individuals, and some colorful side conversations, revealing the juxtaposition between light and darkness, faith and opposition, that exists in every human heart. In the assigned Gospel reading out of John 9:1-13, 28-41 we hear the account of Jesus healing a man blind from birth in Jerusalem, then that man’s testimony before Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus, and then a follow-up conversation between the man and Jesus after the faith of the man has been tested. The light and darkness motif stands out. The OT reading from 1 Samuel 16:1-13 introduces David as one who is anointed king and given the Holy Spirit (foreshadowing events at the baptism of Jesus), even though the flourishing of his kingdom will not happen until years later. In that reading David is described as one having a heart for the LORD (16:7). Saying or singing Psalm 23 this Sunday, after the OT reading, we might imagine ourselves to be David singing Shepherd song on the way from the fields to meet Samuel. Fittingly, with the Gospel reading about blindness and sight, darkness and light, the NT reading out of Ephesians 5:1-14 has the apostle Paul exhorting the saints who have the light of Christ to walk as children of the light

The Collect

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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I Have Provided for Myself a King (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” (1).

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah (13).

We all know and love the promise from Jeremiah: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you (29:11-12). Here in this account of the anointing of David we see the spiritual principle of God’s future “planning” at work. Our text in 1 Samuel clearly relates YHWH’s intention to anoint David a king among his sons. But just by flipping ahead to the end of the book and then into 2 Samuel, we realize it is decades before David actually becomes king over Judah and Israel (2 Samuel 5). The prophet Samuel all but leaves the narrative altogether at this point; David’s father Jesse and his brothers act afterward as if Samuel was never there. Even David himself seems unaffected–until the time is ripe. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. We need to realize, first, that God’s final, heavenly plans for us are never fulfilled in this lifetime. What we experience here is mere preparation. And, second, God’s plans for us here and now are most often revealed only a morsel at a time. We may well lose track of the progression of God’s working in us in this world, but he never does. Even if we are unaware or have forgotten, and even if nobody else recognizes what is happening, our Lord keeps track. Today, Holy Spirit, encouraged by David’s example in 1 Samuel, let me rest in the knowledge that you have plans for me, and that you foresee how those plans will be fulfilled.   

The LORD Is My Shepherd (Psalm 23)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
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 have to get it out of our heads that “David” could ever sing such words on his own account. This psalm, like many others, are songs of the Spirit, extraordinary jubilation and trust arising in the heart and out of the mouth of a person full of the Spirit. In the power of God, we too sing like this. When the Holy Spirit is permitted to have his way with anyone who has received Christ, there is the same casting aside of all doubt to declare, I shall not want. When the Holy Spirit is permitted to give voice to the believer, terror is rebuked with authority rising from the gut to proclaim, I will fear no evil. And when the Holy Spirit supplies the person of faith with vision for the future, the outlandish claim careens out, I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. What’s needed for us, brothers and sisters, is no improvement of our outlook or any self-generated determination to be more “like David,” but a complete divine takeover–an alien invasion that is as radical and complete as any we might see in a good sci-fi movie. Just so Paul writes: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). Today, hearing this beloved psalm on Sunday, Holy Spirit, fill my heart and soul and mind with every faithful conviction you worked into and out of King David.

Instead Expose Them (Ephesians 5:1-14)

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you” (8-14).

What can Paul possibly mean by the command expose [the works of darkness]? Is he proposing an Inquisition-like atmosphere in the life of the church with members accusing each other and running to the authorities to tattle? That would, it seems, be taking us far away from the exhortation at the beginning of the passage: Since you are God’s dear children, you must try to be like him. Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us… (GNT). Yes, there are times when church leaders need to impose discipline and expose (Greek elegko: “expose,” “rebuke,” “refute”) sin in the Christian community–but that is not the regular course is prescribing here with expose darkness. So what does Paul have in mind? Well, admitting that he does not say here exactly, one thing we might put forward from other NT testimony is the practice of voluntary confessional repentance and healing. How healthy would our church communities be if members were regularly coming forward to reveal wounds and confess evil habits before one another, and if the community was well prepared to handle these confessions with both compassion and skill? Darkness would be put away, and the entire body would be set free to emerge out of a stifling half-light into the transforming brightness of the kingdom of Christ. The culture of secrecy and distrust that we maintain in our churches is a dimming force. There are excellent programs like Encounter Culture and Living Waters out there to help us as Christians change our patterns of living together as a church. Today, in the Spirit, let us consider how we can change our church cultures to take seriously the apostolic command to expose darkness.    

Siloam Which Means Sent (John 9:1-13, 28-38 (39-41))

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed 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.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (1-7).

The Greek synonyms pempo and apostello, normally translated “send” in the English NT, appear some sixty times in the Gospel of John. In the stories we have been contemplating in our Gospel readings over the last few weeks–stories of Jesus interacting with interesting characters like Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman or here the man born blind–these terms figure prominently (see 3:17, 4:34-38 and above). Most often we find the word send or sent or sending used in the course of commentary–John’s or Jesus’–about the mission of the Son of God who has been sent by the Father into the world. What shall we conclude about this? Among other things, we learn from this feature of John’s writing that Jesus’ patient and compassionate dealing with people transcends mere sympathy for them. Nicodemus may be confused and the blind man needy, but in John we learn that Jesus understands his reaching out to them to be for the sake of the Good News, the kingdom mission of salvation the Father God has sent the Son to undertake. Now looking ahead to the end of John, we find Jesus saying, As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you (20:21). Are we not sent with the same compulsion our Lord has to do the will of the Father? Holy Spirit, grant us the perspective of Jesus of having been sent, that all our interactions with the interesting people you place before us might be colored and salted with the Good News.   

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Published on

March 13, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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