Sunday, April 6, 2014

“Not By Chance Did God Pass By Us Today—But We Might Have Missed It” (John 9:1-41)

Sometimes life is terribly tragic.

In one report of the missing airplane from Malaysia, journalists were focusing on the feelings of the victim’s loved ones as they heard the news.  As much as they all longed for an end to the wondering, none of them wanted to hear that there was no hope. 

As they heard the news that that the effort being made was no longer a search and rescue but a recovery, those who had entertained the possibility that their loved one was still alive truly struggled to switch gears.  They were angry. 
The rest of the world can only wonder what life has been like for these persons related to the victims.  So many feelings and so much pain packed into a hotel room.


Many years ago I pastured a church family in which a young couple sought to draw strength and support for their heartache—they were childless.  They had conceived and birthed one child, but the child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  There had been no more.
The couple and I talked often.  We talked about their fears.  We talked about their sorrow.  We talked about ALL of their options, including adoption. “We’re on the list,” they told me.
A couple of years later they received THE CALL from the adoption agency.  They called the church, “We’re getting a daughter” they exclaimed, “We’ll have her in worship on Sunday.”  And they did.  Right after that John and I moved to serve new congregations.

When I ran into the mother several years later she said to me, “You need to know, Dana, that our adopted daughter died three months after the baby dedication of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.”

Not one baby lost, but two.


Its experiences like these that lead persons to truly think that God is either distant or nonexistent.  When human beings are pushed to great limits due to separation and loss it’s difficult to believe that we are loved.  Surely love would protect us from suffering.

If we still believe that the earth is supported by a loving Creator, we often move in the other direction---the one that says, “Good things are God things, and painful things are from somewhere else---we know not where.”
Since you and I are monotheistic, meaning we believe in only one true source of all life---the truth is as best we can know it—is that  joy and suffering all come from the same place.

I don’t know about YOU, but when I figured that out—it was quite a shocker.  IT ALL COMES FROM THE SAME PLACE.  “The weed and the wheat grow up together in the kingdom, in the cosmos we call life together,” teaches Jesus us in the 13th chapter of Matthew, “and God sorts it out.” 

In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes the author takes a few minutes to jot down the many experiences a person will encounter over a lifetime.  It’s his “weeds and wheat” list.  The author writes….

There’s a Right Time for Everything 

3 There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
2-8 A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.
9-13 But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going.

To sum up the author of Ecclesiastes, “It’s all good, even if we don’t understand it.”  The Apostle Paul approaches the same understanding when he writes to the church at Rome, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” The author of Genesis lauds, “In the beginning God created light and darkness…and it was good.”

The point is this:  Whether it’s wheat or whether it’s weeds, whether its gain or whether its loss, whether its birth or whether its death, whether its feast or whether its famine, God builds God’s home beside us.  There is always the relationship—there is always this great love for us—there is always a connection and a conversation and an effort---and we don’t want to miss it.

We do not travel the journey called life alone, and this should be the constant thought of our faith.  God’s love and companionship should prompt us to ask, “In what very practical way is God showing up today?”  We stand on tiptoe , looking with great anticipation for God next’s step, like a small child  stretching her chin above the wall  at the zoo, wanting to see what the bears are doing.

As author Anne Lamott says, “When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. ”
Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Our God, who never separates God’s self from us, is always DOING—“Look and see what God can do,” Jesus says at the beginning of the story of the Man Born Blind.  Instead of asking why bad things happen, follow the resolution—that’s where we find faith in God—in the resolution. 

In our story from John’s gospel, God is doing healing in the life of the man born blind.  His instrument of healing is Jesus. Jesus encounters the man born blind.  Jesus has compassion for the man.  Jesus rubes paste on the blind man’s eyes and the man sees.  The man is amazed, joyful, and thankful.   However, the reaction of the crowd around him is the exact opposite—they are critical, unpleasant, and skeptical.  The blind man is found guilty of fraud and excommunicated from the faith community and thrown out on the street.

For the crowd, pain exists in the world because people sin. 
For the crowd, the remedy for sin is to keep the commandments.

For the crowd, the Pharisees get to decide what is and who is sinful; they are God’s  authority in the world.
For Jesus, pain exists in the world to see the activity of God.  Another way to think about this is understand that we can’t see light against light, only light against dark.  How would we experience God’s love if we did not need to cry out for it?

For Jesus, the question isn’t “what did this man do wrong?”  Jesus is wondering, “If human beings are caught up in the mystery of God’s grace and love which we have a hard time detecting (we’re spiritually blind) why do we judge one another?”  

For Jesus, when it comes to the spiritual activity of God, there are no walls—the loving, healing heart of God is very, very BIG and very, very WIDE.

So wide that God shows up as three persons at the tent of Abraham beside the oaks of Mamre in chapter 18 of Genesis.  Abraham is sting at the entrance of the tent when he looks up and sees three men standing there.  He and his wife Sarah treat them very well—a wonderful meal.  Afterwards one of the guests say to Abraham, “I’m coming back next year.  When I arrive, your wife Sarah will have a son.”  And she did.  A poem was written about that and it reads: 

“It was hot that day

When Abraham was sitting

At the door of his tent.

He raised his eyes and looked

And saw three men

Standing in front of him…

As soon  as he saw them

He bowed to the earth and said:

O my Lord, I pray you,

Do not pass by without stopping.

I shall bring you water

And I shall wash your feet

And then you will pass on…

And I shall bring you something to eat

And you will refresh yourselves

And then you will pass on…

Not by chance…not for nothing did you pass by me today…”

Every event in our lives is a gift from God’s hands—each suffering, each joy—nothing by chance—always for something—even if we can’t see it. 

As we move closer to Holy Week, what you and I are beginning to understand is that Jesus is confronting what people believe to be true about God and their life with God—and they are scared by the with-God life Jesus is offering.

*We cannot prevent tragedies—we can only be prepared inwardly to let go.  Gerald May writes in his book Will and Spirit, “You learn to love lightly.”  God will give to us, and God will ask for things BACK.

*We cannot obtain spiritual growth through resistance—what we say NO to; God is found through generosity—what we say YES to. (the Parable of the Prodigal Son.)

*We cannot put God in a box; a church, a denomination, a nation, a universe.  As Jesus says, “I have no place to lay my head.” 

And yet Jesus says the Kingdom of God that he offers is GOOD NEWS.  What can we count on?  “God with us,” says the life of Christ---“loving us.” We cannot escape God’s love.
Oh that we would notice, and respond.  The story is told in the 8th Chapter of Genesis about God visiting Abraham I the
As Carlo Carretto writes in his book, Desert in the City, “If we do not succeed in falling in love with God in the course of our life we are lost.”

I encountered the woman and her husband who had endured the death of two children several years after our chance encounter when I learned about the babies’ deaths.  “How are you?” I asked.  “I’m good,” she said.  “You’ll never believe this--we became pregnant.  We have son.” 

The question Jesus asks us through the man born blind is this:  Can God approach us any way God wants to?

  Prayer:  Gracious God, give us spiritual eyes to see you by—that we might love you more.  Amen.This sermon

(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener, Central Christian Church, Billings, March 30, 2014)

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