Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Spiritual Blindness: “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord”
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
— 1 Samuel 16:1-13, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
— John 9, New International Version (NIV)
Message on Spiritual Blindness: “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord”
I first heard the song “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” when I was in college. I was exploring my Christianity in my college’s Christian fellowship and its lyrics “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you” gave me words to describe to others in the group the core experience of my Quaker faith. The song became my prayer in waiting worship, as I centered down and turned my attention to God’s presence within.
When I was a child, one day my family was going out to eat and as we walked into the restaurant, there was a sign on the window that read, “Help wanted, inquire within.” I turned to my father and asked, “Dad, are they Quaker?”
The Scripture this week speaks of spiritual blindness—not the kind of blindness that is physical but a blindness to what Quakers term “that of God within.” It is a blindness that can’t see the Spirit of God in others, a blindness that can not see the presence of God in our own hearts, a blindness that can not see the work of the living Christ in the world.
In 1 Samuel, the Lord speaks to Samuel and says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In God’s choosing of the next king, there is a lesson taught to look inward, to look for the light within, to open the eyes of our hearts to what God is looking for in each of us. While God choose David in the story of 1 Samuel 16, there is a sense that God chooses each of us, not by our outward appearance, not by our deeds and not by our social or economic status, but rather by what is in our heart.
In the Gospel of John, chapter nine, Jesus considers more closely God’s lesson to value the heart. In the story of the man blind from birth, it is illustrated three times that the story is not about a blind man gaining sight, but rather about how the people asking the questions are blind in their own hearts.
First, the disciples ask Jesus who sinned to make this man blind. Jesus dismisses them by dismissing the premise of the question. It is not their role to judge who can see and who cannot, or whether or not someone should continue to suffer when the cure is at hand. Jesus rebukes them saying, as long we can heal, we should, because it is the work of God—it is the work of the heart.
Second, after the man is healed, the Pharisees, with their hearts blind to the kindness and mercy of the miracle before them, begin creating a false dichotomy. They say, Jesus can’t be from God if he doesn’t keep the Sabbath, but he can’t not be from God since he performed the miracle. The Pharisees are blinded by their laws and by their fear that change will take away from them power. In this blindness, they completely miss the opportunity for their hearts to be opened and they miss the opportunity to join in God’s work.
Finally, the Pharisees lay down the ultimatum. If the man born blind and his parents acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah they will be thrown from the synagogue, yet the man born blind and this parents know that if they deny Jesus as the Messiah they will be sinning by lying. The risk of speaking Truth to power is akin to the risk that Samuel felt enacting God’s anointing: “Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.’”
These are the parts of the stories that Quakers historically love, because they are opportunities to publicly display Truth and publicly be punished for it, thus getting a lot of attention and spreading the message of the Truth further. It is like George Fox standing up in his father’s church and challenging the status quo. It is like Friends being thrown in jain for not addressing the upper class properly and it is like Friends refusing to pay taxes in public witness to war resistance. As Randall K. Bush wrote in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A, “prophetic acts are never private acts,” and thus public acts of witness have become part of the fabric of Quaker experience. So much so that “speaking truth to power” was as much a Quaker catchphrase in my Quaker upbringing as “inquire within.”
So thrice blindness is shown in the hearts of those who are asking the wrong questions or persecuting for power’s sake. Even in 1 Samuel, the elders of the town who question Samuel’s entrance into the city have hearts that are blind with fear that their power will be taken from them—that this prophet of the Lord will bring ill tidings to their lives.
Connecting the stories back to the present day, I wonder what our hearts are blinded with… are our hearts blinded by fear? by apathy? by social expectation? by laws and legislation? by business? by exhaustion?
I see blinded hearts in our Meetings for Business, hearts blinded by fear of change and blinded by need to hold fast to tradition. I see a blinded heart in myself as I read the news, as I try to make sense of what is happening in the world, and also in the business of my own life—blinded by fear, blinded by apathy, and blinded by exhaustion. And I see blinded hearts in our politicians, our government, and in so much that is happening in the world—hearts that are missing the opportunity to engage with God’s justice, mercy and love.
Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, we want to see you.
And when those eyes are opened and when the world hurls insults at you like the Pharisees onto the man who was born blind, do you then dare stand up for Truth and risk being thrown out? Do you witness to the presence and work the the Living Christ in the world even when it is risky and uncomfortable and hard?
When the man who was born blind is approached by Jesus after his faithfulness gets him ejected from the synagogue; after he speaks Truth to power, the man says “Lord, I believe” and these simple words link him to the Samaritan woman that we read about last week and to other people described in the Gospel whom Jesus categorizes as “the least of these.” Jesus says to the man, “For to judge men I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” It is a turning of the structure of power on its head, to show that all of us who think we see salvation in something tangible like money, wealth, and power are missing seeing the Spirit of God in others, are missing seeing the presence of God in our own hearts and are missing seeing the work of the living Christ in the world.
Where will you look for God today?
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, as I sit still and seek you out within, open the eyes of my heart, help me keep the eyes of my heart open as I live out your witness to the world. Heal that which blinds me from your love, your compassion and your mercy. Illuminate the world around me with your Light.”