This Sunday TSA will not be gathering to worship because of the State of Emergency declared by the Province of Ontario. We invite you to join us for a Facebook Live stream of a special worship service at 10am. You do not need to belong to FaceBook to view this. We hope to hear you singing along.
For those who wish to read on their own, here is the full text of the service:
Trinity – St. Andrew’s United Church
Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020
Call To Worship
When the world is dark and full of fear and you cannot see God,
we will turn on the light for each other.
When we cannot find our way back to love and peace
we will turn on the light of compassion.
When our vision dims due to the darkness within
we will turn on the light of healing.
Christ opens our eyes with the gift of sight.
For the light of the world is Jesus Christ.
Come and worship the one
who brings sight to the blind.
For God is our healer, our hope and our salvation.
Gracious God, we are grateful for all that you have done for us. We praise you for all that you are doing in us. We celebrate all that you will do through us. Open our eyes to see your presence among us.
You are always with us. You move in powerful ways at all times and in all places.
Open our ears to hear familiar words in new ways so we will no longer be afraid of the dark.
May your gift of grace 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. May we learn to love you with all our heart, soul, mind,
and strength. Amen.
Hymn “The Lord’s My Shepherd” VU 747
The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want; he makes me down to lie
in pastures green; he leadeth me the quiet waters by.
My soul he doth restore again, and me to walk doth make
within the paths of righteousness, e’en for his own name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale, yet will I fear none ill,
for thou art with me; and thy rod and staff me comfort still.
My table thou hast furnished in presence of my foes;
my head thou dost with oil anoint, and my cup overflows.
Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me;
and in God’s house forevermore my dwelling place shall be.
Scripture John 9:1- 41
Solo – Joy Curry
Pastoral Prayer & Lord’s Prayer
Hymn “Your Hands O Christ” VU 622
Your hands, O Lord, in days of old, Were strong to heal and save;
They triumphed o’er disease and death, O’er darkness and the grave.
To you they went, the blind, the deaf, The palsied, and the lame,
The leper set apart and shunned, The sick and those in shame.
And then your touch brought life and health, Gave hearing, speech, and sight;
While strength renewed and health restored, Acclaimed you Lord of light;
And so, O Lord, be near to bless, With all your healing pow’r,
In troubled home, in crowded street, In sorrow’s saddest hour.
O be our mighty healer still, Great Lord of life and death;
Restore and strengthen, soothe and bless, With your almighty breath;
On hands that work and eyes that see, Your healing wisdom pour,
That whole and sick, and weak and strong, May praise you evermore.
We leave this time of worship to return to the world.
Go forward, carrying the light of Christ into the darkness!
Take with you always the gift of God’s compassion
so you might share that love and care with others!
In the days ahead, may your eyes reflect God’s light.
May your hands be open to share it!
May you walk in the light of Christ
all the days of your life!
Be not afraid, for God is with you. Amen!
Text: John 9:1-41. Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22 2020
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Trinity – St. Andrew’s United Church
This Sunday is unlike any other I have ever experienced in my lifetime. I have never had a state of emergency close a church. When we had some bad snowstorms in January, I was told that Trinity-St. Andrew’s has never been forced to close because of bad weather. Your tenacity and faithfulness is a source of pride. And then COVID-19 happened.
The last time we had to close for a public health crisis was for the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918. Today it is a different virus that is forcing us to cancel public gatherings in order to slow its deadly spread. We are at the early stages of a global pandemic that is bringing our modern civilization to a standstill. After decades of progress that we were told could never be stopped, a simple virus is bringing everything to a grinding halt. This is uncharted territory for us, as we don’t know how this disease will affect us personally, or how it will affect us as a society.
While this may be a first for us, human history is full of such pivotal moments like this. Over the centuries humanity has endured numerous epidemics of many different kinds. We have seen diseases like typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis spread like wildfire.Viruses like AIDS and the Plague have killed tens of millions of people. Such large pandemics have often changed the course of historas empires rise and fall, old economic certainties are swept away, attitudes change, and new possibilities emerge.
The Christian church has faced this kind of crisis many times over the past two thousand years.In that time we have learned how to adapt to these major world events. We have learned how to be part of the new life that emerges from such times of crisis. While the world is looking for a miracle to save us from this virus, we have already learned the way through such hard times is by trusting in the goodness of God. We learn about the goodness of God from the great stories of faith we find in the Bible. Inspirational poems like Psalm 23 give us a sense of the comfort God’s abiding presence brings.Miracle stories like Jesus giving sight to the blind man offers us a concrete example of the healing power of God’s presence. Such stories also tell us something about how we deal with our own imperfections.
For Jesus, healing the man’s blindness is the easy part of the miracle. The bigger miracle Jesus is trying to pull off is to heal our attitudes towards other people. We have often blamed or condemned those who have been affected by illnesses. Jesus demonstrates that only God’s love can unite us and heal us all. In Jesus’ world, they did not have the medical knowledge we have today. They did not know what causes illnesses and diseases. They had many theories about why some people got sick and others did not. Because of their limited knowledge, they reacted with fear, blame and panic to the things they did not understand. It is ironic that with all our advances in medical science,we still resort to fear, blame and panic in the face of the unknown. As the French writer Alphonse Karr says, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
When Jesus heals the blind man, this changes things forever. And instead of applauding this miracle, people respond by immediately questioning what he has done. People wonder out loud if it was someone’s sinful behaviour that caused the man to be born blind. Even today we argue about what causes illness and how we can possibly be spared. We all want to be protected from catching such frightening diseases. Such a quest for magical protection will always fail.For God is not in the protection business. God is in the presence business. Having faith in God is not going to protect you from this virus or any other bad thing that might happen in life.
Having faith in God will provide you with the support you needin order to face all the challenges life can throw at you. Jesus goes so far as to tell us that the purpose of this story is to reveal how God is at work in this person’s life. When someone asks whose fault it it that the man was born blind,Jesus says, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.” In this miracle moment, Jesus does much more than give physical sight to a blind man. He offers us spiritual sight, which is the ability to see God in all things. Spiritual insight helps us to see the big picture clearly.
When we are faced with difficult choices, not everyone has their eyes open to the truth. As the COVID-19 coronavirus is quickly spreading around the globe, we see many people who are acting as if it isn’t a real threat. Many choose to downplay the risk because it is difficult to look at the world as it really is, with all the dangers, the injustice, violence and hatred that is out there. It can feel like it is all too much.
We are afraid that if we alone have to carry the full weight of all the uncertainty and pain, we might fall into despair. Sometimes it can be easier if the doors of perception are never opened. And so we ignore the growing threat in hopes that it will just go away and leave us alone. Jesus is inviting us to go into a deeper relationship with each other. Instead trying to isolate ourselves from others, he invites us to embrace our imperfect humanity. He invites us to see in all the great suffering in our lives there is also a great love that shines through it all. If we are willing to go deeper,we find that underneath our brokenness there is a beauty in our own hearts and in the hearts of those we meet. There is within each of us a beautiful capacity to love, to be a source of life and hope. If our eyes of faith are open, we can see this hope is fully realized in Jesus Christ.
For the man who was born blind, the gift of physical sight is a game changer. When he is blamed and questioned repeatedly about the meaning of his miraculous healing, he starts to gain spiritual sight. He starts to identify with Jesus on a deeper level. Their questioning has pushed him to discern what he does know, and what he does believe. This man now sees Jesus for who he truly is. People who have disabilities or illnesses often endure many such disadvantages when it comes to knowledge and power.
But in matters of the heart, they may have an advantage. Blessed are those who know they need help and are not afraid to cry out for us to be present with them. Woe to those who seek influence, knowledge and wealth for themselves for they can be so focussed on being self-sufficient
that they fail to be open to God and to the need for the love of others. What a beautiful thing it is, to see God in all things. To behold God at work in every moment of our existence. To see God manifest in the arts and sciences, in culture and creativity. This is why we still need to find ways to connect with God and with one another even as we practice social distancing.
It can be frightening to see the depths of the sufferings of this world. The problems we face are great. Such troubles can make us feel small, powerless, and alone.But if we have the eyes to see, we can perceive how God’s great love is at work in even these moments of great suffering. God is always creating and doing something new. We are invited to grow with God and to create the future together. Today we are starting to witness the profound changes a simple virus can have on our lives.
We don’t know how this will affect us all. Thankfully we do know that even as our circumstances change around us,we have the assurance of God’s enduring presence which is with us always. We know God is at work in the middle of all this confusion, working to bring compassion, mercy, and healing to all who suffer.
In the days and months ahead, we will watch how our governments and society reacts to this sudden change. We will see that ideas which once seemed politically impossible are now suddenly possible.
Such a change for the better can happen because God believes a better world is possible for us all.
God is forever seeking to create a better world out of broken moments like these.
We have hope, because we can see God is our Good Shepherd. God walks with us through a valley as dark as death. We have hope, because Jesus Christ is our light Christ walks with us through these difficult days. We have hope, for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit keeps us all connected.
As the great Canadian handyman Red Green says, “We’re all in this together.”