ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH SEPTEMBER 27, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER

Call to Worship: Psalm 19: 7 – 9
The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy.
The directions of God are plain, giving light to the eyes.
God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
with a lifetime guarantee.

Music: Shine, Jesus, Shine

Prayer of Adoration and Confession:
God who brought light out of darkness and gave us your Son who is the light of the world,
We praise you. The joy of a bright sunny morning gives us a taste of the elation that is ours when we live in unity with you. We thank you for Jesus, who lived and died and lived again, so that we may be one with you.

We confess Lord, that we “love the darkness because our deeds are evil” and we want to keep them hidden, even from ourselves. We deceive ourselves that we can hide from you. Sometimes your light is brighter than we want, and we close ourselves off from your presence. Sometimes you want to shine your light through us, and we pull down the shades and refuse to do what we’re asked.

Dispel our darkness. Flood our spirits with your light so we may shine for you and be a light for others. As we worship today, open our hearts and minds to you. Overcome the darkness once again. And give us eyes to see the greatness of your radiance. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: John 1: 3 – 5
Everything was created through the Word, Jesus Christ;
nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
And the darkness could not put it out.

Prayer for Illumination:
1 Verse – “open my eyes that I might see”

Scripture Readings

Acts 9: 1 – 19

Matthew 6: 22 & 23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” NRSV

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed, in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” The Message

Message: Stained glass

A Swedish university did a study of 428 people to see if there’s a co-relation between eye colour and personality. They concluded that people with blue eyes are physically and emotionally strong; black-eyed people are leaders; grey eyes reveal a balanced personality; Hazel eyed people are free spirits; green eyes indicate patience and creativity; violet eyes signify perfectionism and brown eyed people are trustworthy and stable. (No wonder most puppies have brown eyes). I’m not sure what colour eyes emerge in people who are lazy, nervous, greedy or cruel. I’m also not sure if the eye colour shapes the personality or vice versa. While that reads like a horoscope, there is a connection between our eyes and our personalities. According to Dr. Anthony Fallon of the University of Edinburgh, “eyes contain important information about brain functions because our eyes are the only part of the brain that can see the outside world”. According to Jesus, “the eye is the lamp of the body”. It’s true that our eyes bring light into our beings. As I get older, my eyes are also aging. I need glasses to read, which is frustrating, but glasses are also a gift; without them I couldn’t read, thread a needle or give myself a pedicure. I’d be in the dark physically. And since I couldn’t read, I’d be in the dark intellectually. I suspect as I continue to age, my eyesight won’t get better. Soon, I won’t be able to see distances either. Then will come cataracts which will make things dull and grey. Macular degeneration runs on my father’s side of the family. And if all that doesn’t destroy my sight, there’s always the possibility of glaucoma. When my only source of light goes dark, “how great is the darkness!”

While Jesus may sound like an ophthalmologist, he wasn’t giving us a health lesson. This is a metaphor for a spiritual truth, “the eye is the lamp of the body”. The Message reads, “ the eyes are windows into our body”. From this we get the adage, “the eyes are the windows of the soul.” Just as the eye lets light and images into our brains to be processed, so our spiritual eyes illumine our inner being through our heart and mind. And just as a flashlight guides us through darkness, so our spiritual eyes guide us through life. Like windows, our eyes not only take in and filter the outside world, they also project and reveal what’s inside. Many years ago, I was in a waiting room when a creepy man struck up a conversation with me. He told me I reminded him of his wife; then added “she committed suicide” with a tone that implied I should do the same. I tried to ignore him but then he said to me, “Do you believe the eyes are the windows of the soul?” I said, “sure”. He then instructed me to look at his eyes and tell him if I thought he had an evil soul. I didn’t need to look into his eyes for that, but not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing he was freaking me out, I took a long steady look right into his eyes and said, “No”. At that point, I was called into the office. The doctor asked what the man had said, and I told him. He responded, “The answer is “yes”, he’s satanic.”

The encounter of Saul (later: St. Paul) with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus illustrates the connection between our eyes and our inner being. Saul was travelling on a mission to hunt down Christians and bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem for trial. Out of nowhere, he saw a brilliant light. Jesus spoke to Saul from the light, asking why Saul was persecuting him and giving him instructions. When the vision was over, Saul was blind. I always assumed it was the bright light that had blinded Saul. No where are we told Jesus struck him blind. In reality, Saul was spiritually blind before this encounter. He didn’t recognize Jesus as the light that dispels the darkness of sin. The light of Christ simply revealed the darkness that was already in Saul’s soul, and “how great was [that] darkness.” Saul’s Jewish world view, his self righteousness, and his closed attitude towards God’s new revelation in Christ created scales not only on his eyes but over his heart. They filtered out the light of Christ. Instead of being like a stained- glass window through which light shines creating great beauty, Saul was like a piece of stained, grungy, glass which the light couldn’t permeate. His blindness, which God later healed, was an outward sign of his inner darkness. If the eyes are the windows to our inner world, what are some of the things that block the light? The short answer is, of course, human depravity and sin, but those are general words which we can easily hide behind.

If Paul’s experience is any indication, pride blocks out the light. Pride emerges from a fixed image of our self. Pride is rooted in self-absorption. Conceit is one type of pride. Catherine Macdonald Maclean wrote of the publisher, John Chapman, “Handsome in the Byronic fashion and pleasant mannered, he was exceedingly attractive to women, and he thought himself even more attractive to them than he actually was.” Looks aren’t the only arena for pride. We may see ourselves as honest, intelligent, or holy, when in reality we’re blunt, narrow-minded and self-righteous. If we think we’re wise, we aren’t open to listening to the insights of others. If we aren’t receptive to considering what others may have to say, or to allowing that to change our thinking, we can’t change or grow. We remain in darkness. These days we witness this attitude in people who are so convinced they’re morally right, that they become morally wrong by shaming others or wielding power over them. (This used to be the domain of the “hypocritical church” but it’s now full blown in our secular society.) Rather than create the just world they seek, they’re creating a world just like the one they protest – a world where some are treated with kindness and others are deserving of judgement and hatred. When self-absorption clouds our eyes, it keeps us from seeing ourselves as we really are. Pride creates barriers that block the light which could otherwise shine on our spirits and enlighten our self-image and ideas. We can be blind to the flaws which darken our being.

Hot on the heals of pride is prejudice. Lately, prejudice has been a hot topic in the news. We hear of people uttering racial slurs against fellow travellers whose toddler won’t wear a mask. Things got so ugly on one flight, West Jet cancelled the whole trip. People of Asian descent have been accosted on the street, accused of causing the Corona Virus. The experiences of black and indigenous people have come to the fore, forcing us to address the deep roots of racism. But prejudice doesn’t end there – we can be prejudice against poor people or rich people, people whose life-style or life-choices we judge to be wrong, people who don’t share our political views, people who are under or over educated. We can even be prejudice towards ideas. When the astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered that the Earth is not the centre of the “universe” but that it revolved around the sun, the Church charged him with heresy. The Christians of his day were prejudice to any world view but their own and could not admit they were wrong. Galileo was pressured to recant his findings and did so to save himself a lifetime in prison and an eternity in hell, even though he was right and knew it – “and yet, it moves”. Ironically, prejudice – the propensity to judge by our pre-conceived biases, destroys our judgement. Our hearts become closed off. Our minds are locked. Our eyes are darkened. Prejudice blocks our ability to love and respect people. It keeps us from forming a clear, reasonable and logical opinion of situations. Like Saul who was prejudice against Christ and the Church, prejudice motivates us to disdain, causing us to treat others as less than we are – even less than human. “How great is [that] darkness!”.

Envy is also a film of dirt which blocks out the light. It causes us to wish the worst for others – to curse them. They don’t call it “the evil eye” for nothing. Interestingly, those who believe in the “evil eye” deem any illness or discomfort a symptom of envy— they assume a neighbour, colleague or acquaintance has wished them bad luck or, worse, cursed them out of resentment. “The evil eye,” has been considered the culprit behind everything from everyday ailments such as headaches and nausea to more serious life-threatening conditions. Even a wilting garden, may be blamed on “the evil eye” from a bitter neighbour. I don’t believe anyone can curse someone’s vegetables or bring on an illness with incantations, a nasty look or an angry heart – we’re just not that powerful. But wishing other ill, does have the power to harm oneself. Envy darkens our relationships, our world and our souls. At best, envy leaks out in unkind digs, at worst it can lead us into dark places – to hatred, theft, and even murder – and not just of vegetables.

So, if the eyes are the windows of the soul what makes them sparkle? What lets in the light and allows it to flow out of us? What keeps us “opened wide in wonder and belief”? Life is an invitation to play a game like “Where’s Waldo”, only we aren’t seeking a guy in a stripped shirt, we’re seeking God, who is the source of all wonder. Faith alone gives us eyes to find him – to marvel at the structure and beauty of creation, to see the Spirit’s presence in our day to day lives, to appreciate the depths of Christ’s suffering for our freedom. Faith opens our hearts to wonder – the wonder of everyday miracles, the wonder of love, the wonder of friendship. Faith brings in the light so we can see things as God does. We can weep for the world and reach out to heal. We can be joyful and celebrate what’s good. Faith gives us deep appreciation for God’s love and grace, knowing it’s not what we deserve, but what he chooses to give us. With faith we’re able to see ourselves as works in progress, rejoice in our growth when it happens and be at peace. Faith gives us the compassion to see the needs of others, to open ourselves to others and wish them the best. Faith humbles us, allowing us to turn to Christ who washes away the layers of dirt and removes the stains from our proud, prejudiced, envious souls. Because Jesus is the light of the world, it’s only as we trust and follow him that the windows of our souls allow the light to pass through. As Christ’s light comes into our inner beings and fills us with love and joy, so we are able to open the eyes of our heart and let the light of Christ stream out of us to others. In Christ’s light we go from being stained glass to being stained glass. When the light of Christ is in us – how great is that light! What a bright life we’ll have!.

Offertory: Holy God, every week we offer you our money, our gifts, our life, and our self. We seem very open, but there are things we keep in the shadows, hidden even from ourselves. Shine your light so that what is hidden in darkness may be brought to light. May our light shine to bring you glory. Amen.

Hymn: Christ be our Light

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession:
Thank you, Jesus for your light, which is a liberating force in our lives.
Thank you for being “the Light of the World” shining the truth into areas of falsehood and ignorance.
Thank you for the brightness of your love that shines in us and in our world, casting out the shadows of hatred and bigotry.
Thank you for your call to each of us to glow with your presence, to bring light to those in darkness and to participate in the light of new life.

Make us, your Church, a beacon of light in our world, in our neighbourhood and in our homes.
In a world ruled by prejudice, envy and pride, where poverty, hunger and injustice are still rampant, and where chaos abounds, bring your light once again.

We give you thanks for those who have come before us, passing the light they received. We know Lord, that the new light of your love needs to be reborn in every generation. We pray for our children and families, that they may come to faith and walk in the light that is you. We pray for our neighbours and friends, for all you might bring to our church, that we may greet them with light and show them your Way.

We remember those whose lives are filled with darkness and who see no ray of light or hope.

We remember those who are trapped and imprisoned in situations that darken their existence.

We remember those who are blinded by anger and fear.

We pray for those whose are ill with CoVid, and for all who work in service to others. We pray for those who are financially strained because of it. We pray for those who are isolated and lonely. We are tired of this lifestyle. We pray that by your power, this virus will come to an end.

We pray for those we love remembering Linda and Donna and their family as they grieve for Bob.
We pray for

And we pray for those we name before you now….

Lord Jesus, at the beginning of creation you were the Word, spoken into the dark void, from which all life sprang.
Speak you Word again, that we may be re-created in your image and live in your light. Amen.

Invitation to Mission:
We go from here with fresh eyes,
which see the light of Christ
and shine the light of Christ,
so others may see and find the Way.

May the Triune God, bless and keep you.