EPISTLE LESSON Ephesians 5:8-14
GOSPEL LESSON John 9:1-41
SERMON: “What Kind of God Does That?”
Do you ever wonder what people are thinking when they say some of the things they say? I recently read about a woman who has been struggling with multiple sclerosis for 20 years. Some friends and relatives have said some pretty bizarre things to her – well, perhaps just thoughtless would be a better term. One relative, who never sent her a get-well or “thinking of you” card said, “You must really like to be sick; you bring so much of it on yourself.” A friend said, “I know just how you feel about being crippled; I had a bad case of tennis elbow last month.” Her pastor accused her of faking her limp in order to get attention. The one I found most incomprehensible was the person who commented to her, “God must cherish you to trust you with this burden.” What kind of God does that?
To put the best spin on it we might imagine the person was thinking about the part of the letter to the Hebrews that says,
“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him;
6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
We nearly always get into trouble when we take things out of context. First, as every parent knows, there are times when we must discipline children, especially if we love them. But that doesn’t mean that everything we suffer in life is some form of punishment. We drum some necessary no’s into our kids’ heads while we still have them at home, hoping that our lessons will stick with them through their lives.
Second, those verses come in the context of a letter to the Hebrews strongly warning against refusing God. Those who like to hear about God’s goodness and never exert themselves become a root of bitterness (Deut. 29:18), a source of contention, which then infects an entire community with bickering and jealousy. It has nothing to do with the person afflicted with a chronic disease or disability.
Jesus and his disciples passed a man blind from birth. “Who sinned,” asked Jesus’ disciples, “this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” What kind of God did these disciples have? Did they think that God looks down from heaven and says, “All right fellow. I know that you’ve been cheating on your taxes and cheating on your wife and I am going to take that precious little baby in your wife’s womb and I’m going to strike it blind to punish you? That’ll show you. Zap!” What kind of God does that?
For you biblical scholars, yes, there is some of that kind of theology in the Old Testament. In Exodus 20:4-5 in the gifting of the Ten Commandments we read:
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,
If you ever have any question, however, about your sin being visited on someone you love, or if you wonder if your suffering is the result of a parent or grandparent’s sin, check out Jeremiah 31: 29-30 where Jeremiah is speaking of the coming Kingdom that will come with the arrival of the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus the Christ. Jeremiah wrote: “In those days they shall no longer say: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”
There are two sources of suffering in this world. One source is sin. We break God’s laws or nature’s laws and we suffer. That is built into the very fabric of life. I cannot expect to step out of a third story window and not hit the ground with a splat. There is the law of gravity. Sometimes we suffer because other people break laws. Terrorist bombings, school shootings, and drunk drivers bring a great deal of unnecessary suffering into people’s lives. The other source of suffering is the natural order. Mud slides like the one in Washington State, blizzards, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes.
What grabs our attention next is that the religious leaders pester the healed man with questions, refuse to believe he was ever blind, question his parents, throw the poor man out of the synagogue. What kind of God do these men have that they refuse to acknowledge the healing and restoration of this man’s sight? There is an old saying that “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
Jesus tells the man he has healed, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
He is not speaking of physical blindness, but of the refusal to see in Jesus Christ the Savior of the world. This is the theme throughout the Gospel of John – belief vs. unbelief.
I’ve never quite understood why anyone would choose to stick with a god that requires perfect adherence to the Law when they meet the Son of God who loves them and freely offers them absolution and life.
16-18 ”This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. (The Message)
What kind of God does that? What kind of God goes to the cross taking your sin and mine, the sin of the whole world? What kind of God sheds his own blood for your soul? What kind of God does that? A God who loves his children unconditionally, unwaveringly, determined to watch over them and protect and enjoy them, like the grandfather who found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.”
It was only natural for Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.”
The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehavior must not be taken lightly. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way.
The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him. What kind of God does that?
God did not spare Paul and Silas suffering and imprisonment, but He did come down into the prison with them.
God did not keep the three Hebrew children out of the fiery furnace, but He went into the furnace with them. 1
The God who sent his only begotten Son so that we might know the blessings of forgiveness and the promise of everlasting life.
1Fred W. Parsons, These Times, March 1969.