Lent 4 Year A
Sunday 22nd of March 2020
Rev Dr John McCulloch
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5: 8-14
St John 3:14-21
Walking as light through the valley of shadows
On this 4th Sunday of Lent, the lectionary takes us to Psalm 23.
A Psalm of David.
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.
In this psalm of David, we are reminded that God does not only lead us by still waters, but is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Our world is walking through a valley where the shadow of death is casting its long shadow. Many are suffering, many are in fear about the situation all around us, and what the future may bring.
History is a reminder that death and fear are never far away. As human beings we are not exempted from them. But we worship a God who is with us in our suffering, and who himself came into our world of suffering. Note in verse 5 that God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, and it is there that our heads are anointed with oil and our cup overflows. God is not with us only when we are by still waters, he is with us when the forces of death and fear encircle us.
The lectionary psalms are chosen to link to the OT readings, and Psalm 23 is no exception. In today’s OT reading (1 Samuel 16:1-13), David is anointed as King of Israel. King Saul’s reign had ended in disaster. He had been rejected by God for disobedience, and had consulted with mediums and witches. Yet the prophet Samuel does not wait for Saul’s death before he anoints the shepherd boy David as king, but it is ‘within the presence of his enemies’ that he is anointed. This is a risky and subversive act by Samuel. He boldly enacts a new beginning, whilst the old regime is still holding on to power.
At first sight David seems like a surprising choice; he is after all, the youngest of Jesse’s sons. When one of Jesse’s oldest sons is brought before the prophet, God says to Samuel in verse 7: ‘do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’. Samuel sees with different eyes. He sees through the eyes of faith.
Our gospel reading from John chapter 9 is also about seeing, for Jesus heals a blind man from birth. The physical blindness of the man mirrors the spiritual blindness of the disciples, for in verse 2 they ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind”?. Jesus corrects them, saying that it is not because anyone has sinned that he was born blind, and then he engages in an act of healing, removing also the blindness in the disciples hearts. Later in the passage, we are reminded that it is possible to remain in blindness, even when we have witnessed first hand the healing acts of our saviour; for blindness is not just a matter of the eyes, but a matter of the heart.
There are times when we have all lived as those who are blinded to the healing love of God. Blindness happens when the light is unable to enter. When we obstruct the light and love of God in our hearts, we cannot see as God sees.
That is why our epistle reading from Ephesians 5 instructs us to ‘live as children of the light’.
May we, at the beginning of this new this week, walk through the valleys of the shadow of death that encroach upon our world, with the light of Christ. May we see each other as God sees us, through the eyes of grace, through the eyes of compassion, through the eyes of love.
And as we walk closely with our saviour through this Lenten season to Jerusalem and to the cross, may we know that God is with us, bringing hope and peace into our troubled hearts and world.
Let us pray
Eternal God, who opens the eyes of the blind, whose glory shone in Jesus, piercing the darkness of our world…, transform us we pray…, help us to reflect your glory… raise up your church that she may be an instrument of your peace in our world…, and renew us in hope and healing love…
And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, be with you and remain with you, this day forth and forever more.