Year A Lent 4 John 9 2011
Why Did God Allow That to Happen?
John 9: 1-41

Tragedy can strike so quickly and capriciously. While going about our every day lives, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, the world can be changed. Look at Japan just a few weeks ago. Look at Haiti just last year. As a nation we have been living with the awful reality since 9-11. Thousands killed for no reason by complete strangers, who assumed, somehow in their mind, they were doing some good for this world. Think about the recent spate of shootings and the effects of these acts on families and communities. Then there are natural disasters: tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes...If you have avoided tragedy at this point in your life thank God that you have been spared, but consider yourself lucky as well. Recognize it is only a matter of time.

For we all ask this question at one time or another in one form or another: why did god allow that to happen? Most of us know that God does not CAUSE tragedy. The Bible states clearly that God does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men (Lamentations 3:33) .The greater problem for most believers is this: Why does God ALLOW such awful things to happen?

Jesus' disciples asked our Lord this thorny question 2000 years ago. They met a man one day who had been born blind. In the first century, most people believed that all suffering was the result of sin. So the disciples asked Jesus, "Who sinned in this case, this blind man or his parents?"

There was even one school of thought that believed that a person could sin prior to birth, while still in the mother's womb. Imagine that! "Tell us, Jesus," they begged, "why was this man born blind?" Jesus did not respond with a neat, simple answer to the problem of human suffering. And I am not going to serve you a simplistic batch of biblical stew that will cause you to declare, "Aha, finally I have solved the mystery of evil and suffering in this world."

I am suspicious of anyone who talks too glibly about this age-old mystery. I recall a humbling episode from a British movie entitled, "Whistle in the Wind." A group of kids had experienced the death of their pet kitten. They had prayed fervently that the cat would get well, but instead it died. They couldn't understand this. So, they went in search of the local vicar or pastor. They found him in a teashop, taking a morning break, enjoying his tea and newspaper. They asked him, "Why did God let our cat die?" The good pastor was not delighted to be interrupted with the matter of a deceased cat. But out of duty he laid aside his paper and launched into a long, complex, theological response to this question. The children stood and listened intently. When he finished he wished them well and went back to his newspaper. The children walked away somewhat bewildered. One little boy, holding his older sister's hand, looked up at her and said, "He doesn't know, does he?" How perceptive children can be. Never in this world will we understand all the mystery surrounding suffering. But with God's help we can gain some helpful insights. That is my purpose this morning.

  1. Notice first that Jesus does not answer the first question: Why was this man born blind
  2. Notice second that he answers this question: What good can this tragedy produce?

Get Down and Dirty for Lent
John 9:1-41

[For this sermon, you will need aprons. Invite the matriarchs and patriarchs of your church to let you use their well-used aprons as props. Or better yet, conduct a fashion show of the aprons used by people in your church.]

Unless you have lived in a rural area, you might not know the joys of keeping that most unruly, unpredictable, but absolutely crucial-to-life "pet" known as . . . a septic tank.

There are some unbendable rules for septic tanks.

  1. They will always back up the day your daughter's wedding reception is being held in your back yard.
  2. They will overflow and need to be re-dug immediately after you've just completed re-landscaping.
  3. The septic tank alarm always goes off between 1-5 a.m.
  4. Your neighbor's septic tank alarm goes off when they have gone on vacation.

But the most important thing about a septic tank? Like any living thing, you must "feed" them regularly. Every month or so you must flush down a new packet of lovely little bacteria, a new infusion of the little critters that digest waste and keep the septic tank an organic, living system. Without a fresh batch of "germs," your "system" is doomed to fail. For a septic tank "germs" are good.

We live in an increasingly "sealed" set of systems. How many of you work in a building where the windows do not open? We have to install carbon monoxide monitors in our homes because there is no way for fresh air to enter unless we intentionally invite it in by opening a door or window. A furnace malfunction can mean death.

And as we seal out wind and weather we stamp out germs. I dare you to find a soap that is NOT marketed as "anti-bacterial." We keep hand sanitizers in our cars, on our desks, in our pockets. Ten years ago "Mr. Monk's" fussy demands for a "wipe, wipe" after shaking hands with someone was totally funny. Today it is SOP, "standard operating procedure."

Germs ARE scary: AIDS, Avian Flu, Cholera, TB. Yet with the very huge exception of AIDS/HIV, there are fewer incidents of immune system diseases - illnesses that attack and compromise or destroy our body's immune defense system--in the so-called "third world" countries than in the most technologically advanced countries. In other words, people who live in the cleanest, most sanitized conditions bear a greater risk of developing a condition that makes them MORE susceptible to "bad bugs" than those who live in what we would call "filth."

Maybe, like a septic tank system, we need to encourage a few good germs to keep us healthy and alive.

It is not just the twenty-first century that has been obsessed with "dirt" and "uncleanness." In Judaism the laws for "ritual purity" were developed over centuries, rooted in Torah prohibitions and expanded by countless midrashes. There were rules "for" and rules "against" every aspect of life. All cultures have social fences that make some things "acceptable" or "clean" while other things are "unacceptable" or "dirty."

Blow your nose in a tissue - perfectly acceptable.
Blow your nose on your sleeve - unbelievably gross!
Spit in the sink - with the water running please! - while brushing your teeth, acceptable.
Spit on the sidewalk - it used to be you could get arrested!
Spit in someone's face, and that ultimate sign of contempt will almost certainly get you punched!

Jesus had a strange sense of what was "dirty" and what was "clean." He did not accept the boundaries that had been drawn by tradition and authority... presents Leonard Sweet