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Fourth Sunday in Lent, Cycle A

In the Older Testament texts of Psalm 23 and of 1 Samuel 16:1-13 the Lord God overcomes the darkness of the “valley of the shadow of death” and provides hope for all of our days. In the Newer Testament texts of Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-42 the Lord Jesus overcomes basically the same “darkness” and provides the same “hope.”

Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is certainly for us an effective psalm of hope. When we are confronted by the death of loved ones or by the reality of our own impending death, we turn individually and as the Church corporately to this Israelite song of trust. It may even be accurate to state that Psalm 23 is one of the few texts within the Israelite Scriptures that has greater use among Christians than it has among Jews. For us, of course, the Lord is not only the Lord God as perceived by the ancient Israelites, but also the Lord Jesus, who for us is the “Good Shepherd,” and “all the days of our life” are perceived to include not only life in this time and space, but also eternal life beyond the limits of this time and space.

1 Samuel 16:1-13
According to this text, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily over David” from the moment Samuel anointed him. The shepherd boy became the chosen one of the shepherd God, the designated king over Israel, the People of God. From grief and despair over the old, disappointing king Saul, the prophet Samuel turns with hope and gladness to the new destined-to-be king, the shepherd lad David. Even so, we also are called to turn from grief and despair to hope and gladness repeatedly during this Lenten season and always.

Ephesians 5:8-14
The non-Jewish background followers of Jesus addressed by the Pauline writer of Ephesians 5:8-14 are told that although they were once blind and in darkness, they now can see with the light of their Lord Jesus the Christ. A source that probably came from some gnosticizing Christian document unknown to us is quoted in Ephesians 5:14 as an indication of how the Christ will shine on these non-Jewish followers of Jesus. They, and we, are admonished to honorable conduct, as is appropriate for children of light.

John 9:1-41
When we are not so heavily distracted by the unnecessary anti-Jewish polemic of this Johannine mini-drama, we see also how we who are “blind” from the day of our birth are to be led by stages into full sight. Like the man in this text, we also are expected to look up, to recognize in Jesus first a prophet, then the Son of man, and finally in the Johannine Jesus fully revealed to us, the divine figure of the Risen Christ to be worshiped. There is no necessity, however, for Jews or for anyone else to be blinded while we do this.

For additional comments on this most elaborate success story of all of the Four Gospel accounts, see Norman A. Beck. Mature Christianity in the 21st Century: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish Polemic of the New Testament (Expanded and revised edition, New York: Crossroad, 1994), pp. 302-303.

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  • Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!: Cycle A Gospel Sermons for Lent and Easter
    Beth Herrinton-Hodge
    See the Light, Live the Light, Shine the Light

    John 9:1-41; Ephesians 5:8-14
    We are not strangers to dichotomies. The world seems easier to get our head around as we construct dichotomies: male and female; voters and non-voters; old and young; haves and have-nots.
         We can align ourselves with one side or another. We find kinship among those who are on “our” side.
         What implications do these dichotomies have for God’s people, for Christ’s followers, for us?
         The writer of Ephesians has an answer: Live as children of light. Fully embrace it. Let the light that is yours in Christ shine -- try to find what is pleasing to God, what is good and right and true...more
    A Man Born Blind

    This is the story of a miracle that is important mostly as the beginning of the real action of the story. Most often the miracle itself is the centerpiece of the story, but in this instance the focus is on people's reaction to the man who was healed, not the healing itself.
         This can make the lesson easier as a subject for a sermon by providing an alternative to a miraculous healing which can easily be dismissed. A focus on the reactions of the audience can translate quite easily into a contemporary view of modern reactions to Jesus and the stories we hear of his actions....more
    David Kalas
    And there was light
    The significance of light and darkness is evident from the very beginning of scripture. Indeed, from the very beginning, period. “Let there be light” is, famously, the first thing we have a record of God saying. It is the essential first act of creation. And as we continue to read, we discover that it is just the first blow in God’s ongoing combat against darkness.
         Later, the gospel writer picked up on what God did at creation and built upon it. John saw yet another divine victory over darkness in the person and work of Christ. “In him was life,” John wrote, “and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4 NRSV)....more
    C. David McKirachan
    Your Staff Comforts Me
    Psalm 23
    There were four of us, American teen aged boys, living in an Ethiopian Orthodox monastery near Addis Ababa. We were there for three months helping to build a school for the local children. There were a dozen or so Ethiopian young men, around our age living with us. It was called an ecumenical encounter....more
    Janice Scott
    How to wake up to a life of radiance
    Anyone who lives in the country will know that there's a particular quality to the darkness of night in the country. For those who live in the town, total darkness is rarely if ever experienced, but in the country the quality of blackness during night hours can be almost absolute. Country people who go out during evening hours in the winter soon get into the habit of carrying a torch, for without some source of light they would be utterly blind....more
    Mary Kay Eichelman
    Mean Lies
    Object: small pieces of poster board that say "Stupid," "Ugly," "Can't do anything right!," "Cheater"
    Let's imagine that there is a new student that comes to your school. They don't have any friends so you invite them to play with you at recess.  But when your other friends see you do that they say things like what are on my cards.  Can you read them with me.  (Read off the cards together.)  It could really be painful hearing these words and you may feel like giving up doing the kind deed....more

Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen