THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
21st Sunday after Pentecost / All Saints Sunday
Isaiah 40: 12-15, 21-22
2 Peter 3: 8-14
John 9: 1-12
“Blessed and Broken”
Why do bad things happen to good people?
What kind of God would allow bad things to happen to good people?
Why would God cause some people to be born deaf, some to be born blind, and some into illness?
What kind of God would allow that?
And if such a God does exist, who would want to praise Him?
Friends, the question of “theodicy” (of “why do bad things happen to good people”) has been around since the beginning of humankind’s relationship with God, but lately it has been taken up by those who want to disregard God altogether and to discredit all those who walk in the mystery of life in Christ:
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Humankind has been asking this question for thousands of years, it is Job’s question, it is Jonah’s question, it is the disciples’ question this morning, it is a question we will ALL ask at one time or another, and if we are fortunate, we will have the prayers of our friends in Christ around us so that the question does not leave us lost, disillusioned, or abandoned.
Unfortunately though, this question, which has existed within communities of faith for thousands of years has recently been taken up by the vocal enemies of faith as a way to disregard these thousands of years of thought and question and prayer.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
It was Job’s question, it was Augustine’s question, it was Kierkegaard’s question, and now it is Dawkin’s question.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“If God is so good why is their suffering in the world? If God is so great why doesn’t He do something about all this”
These are the questions asked by cynics and skeptics, the downhearted and the broken hearted, they are the questions asked by sarcastic science teachers of their Christian students, they are the questions asked on message boards, on Facebook, on twitter, on reddit, on a million electronic pages, by a million electronic voices, all determined to stamp out those who “foolishly” cling to the hope of Jesus Christ.
This SPY weekend, I was eager to learn from the young people we have heard from this morning; people with unique perspectives and unique experiences, people whose testimony will be unlike any of ours, people who rather than supposing what young people are thinking or feeling actually know because it is what they are thinking and feeling.
I was eager to learn from these people the answer to questions that I (and we) simply cannot answer:
What is it like out there?
What is it like out there? What is it like to go to school in a time when people say “we just don’t talk about God here”? What is it like to carry the cross and live into your ministry as young witnesses in 2019?
And what I heard from my young Christian friends from across Saskatchewan this SPY weekend was a maturity of faith far beyond their years; what I heard was testimony, and rather than stand here and tell you second-hand, I want to encourage you all to find out for yourselves from these young people.
What is it like to be a young disciple in this day and in this age?
What is it like to know the Lord Jesus Christ; to know both the facts of “science” and the Truth of the Gospel and to wrestle each day in a world that demands we leave the Scriptures at home?
What is it like to have such courage as so few of us can ever fully understand and to walk humbly with their God, to hear the Great Commission to love God and neighbour, even when that neighbour is scornful, and to go on being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?
What is it like out there?
What it IS like out there, for these young people, and for all of us who witness to faith in Christ, what it IS like is to go along in a world that asks that old question,
“Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”, to ask that old question and have it be the end of the conversation.
But, as we have heard, Christ Himself (the designer and perfecter of our faith) heard a very similar question from his followers in this morning’s Gospel reading:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Lord, somebody must be to blame for this man’s condition, was it him? Was it his parents (or… was it God)?”
Jesus answers them plainly:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in Him.”
“Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
Well, in the case of the blind man in John’s Gospel, it was so that God’s works might be revealed in Him.
Just think about that for a moment.
Imagine yourself in the place of the disciples.
You are walking along with your friends and your master and you see a man, poor, blind, hungry, begging by the street.
The sight of this man moves your heart with both pity and the sense that someone MUST HAVE done something wrong here, and so you ask:
Rabbi. Who sinned? This man or his parents? That he was born blind?
The reasoning that these disciples used is a bit like a reverse “watch maker” argument.
The “watch maker” argument goes that if you were walking along in the desert and stumbled upon a perfect and well-functioning watch you would obviously arrive at only one conclusion: someone must have made it so
The “watch maker” argument is meant to increase our confidence in the existence of God by causing us to see “the world,” this perfect and well-functioning thing and to decided: well, someone must have made it so.
However, here in the Gospel we have (as I have said) sort of a reversal: the disciples see a man who is NOT altogether perfect and well-functioning and so they decide someone must have done something wrong. Someone must have made it so.
This reverse “watch-maker” technique finds a lot of use by today’s atheists and critics of faith: looking out at a world in which famine exists, in which earthquakes exist, in which war exists, they decide that “well, even if there was someone making it so, it’s not someone I should like to associate with, so I won’t”
That is the end of the issue for the Stephen Frys and Richard Dawkins of the world but it is not so for the disciples, and thanks be to God for that!
For a moment, though, the disciples do stand near Fry and Dawkins, they do ask “what went wrong?” and “what sort of God would allow this?” That is, until Christ begins to speak:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”
“This man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”
What an amazing and humanizing response to such a cynical question.
“Who broke this man?”
“Whose sin made this man ill-functioning?”
“What kind of God would allow people to go around being blind?”
And to all of these voices, to the faithful disciples of his time, and to the cynics of today Jesus gives the same answer: “This man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”
Christ sees him not as a “blind man” but as a man. Christ sees the dignity within him. Christ sees the spark of his own divinity shining forth within the blind man, and He teaches the disciples (and us) the truth that this man is not some poorly functioning thing, he is not evidence of someone’s sin, he is not evidence of God’s poor work, rather this man is a man, made in the image of God, for the purpose of revealing God’s works in him!
Suddenly we might find that we are not so cynical about God after all.
We are not so cynical about the world.
And actually, we are beginning to understand our own foolishness in demanding that God satisfy us and our own incomplete understanding of what this world and its people are.
Each of us, regardless of our wealth or poverty, regardless of our age or infirmity, regardless of our health or our illness, each of us is a human being made in God’s image.
One of the things that our SPY youth participated in yesterday was a field trip to Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry.
SNCM is a mission here on 20th Street in Saskatoon, it is a place that serves people of great need, it is a place where someone without money can get a free meal and a place to be warm and gather in community, it is a place where they can receive prayers and participate in worship. It is the frontline of the church’s mission in this part of the world.
It is, according to Executive Director Dylon Nippi, a very real place. It is a place on the margin of poverty, it is a place of Christian outreach in a beloved yet broken part of the city.
After hearing Dylon’s amazing testimony he took us (SPY youth and volunteers) for a prayer walk around the community; we saw the different agencies that are at work on 20th street and we prayed for them, we saw the different people who live and work on 20th street and we prayed for them too.
But I think the most impactful thing that we did was to follow Dylon’s instructions on how to interact with the people we met. He told us that these people, these people who rely on the shelters and the agencies and the missions of 20th Street, these people don’t need one more person saying “Jesus Loves You.” He said they have heard that far too often. He said what would really make a difference in their lives is for us to show that “we” love them through Christ.
As we walked we said “hi” to every single person that we saw. And you know what? Almost all of them said “hi” back. In each of those moments of interaction we saw each other, we participated in community together, we took an interest in each other’s lives.
Because that is the work of Christ in a beloved yet broken world.
In Jesus’ interaction with the blind man, after Jesus called the disciples to again look at the man, to again consider the meaning of his blindness, to again look at ourselves and see there too a broken and beloved child of God, He set to work healing the man of his blindness.
Taking mud and putting his saliva in it, he put the mud over the man’s eyes and told him to go down and to wash in the pool of Siloam, the man did as he was instructed and when he came out, he was able to see.
This transformation was so miraculous, so unexpected, so otherworldly that when the man came back to his neighbours, they did not recognize him:
“You look like the blind man who used to beg here!”
“Yes, it is I! Isn’t it wonderful! Jesus has made me to see”
“No, you must not be him, just someone like him”
It is a strange kind of rebellion against God that causes us to at-once criticize His work and then to balk at those who witness to his miracles.
It is a strange kind of rebellion that causes us to mock faith on the grounds that “God doesn’t do enough good in the world” and then to continue mocking the faith of those who testify to the good that God has done in their own lives.
It is a rebellion made out of fear.
It is a rebellion made out of misplaced need to be right.
It is a rebellion that hides from God at all costs: calling him cruel, calling him absent, and meeting everyone who swears to his goodness with the cruelty and absence of the God that they don’t believe in.
Being a Christian in 2019 means living in this world of rebellion.
Being a young person in the church in 2019 means living in this world of rebellion.
It means living in a world where people ask the millennia-old question of suffering while disregarding the faith that is necessary to answer it.
It means living in a world where people see the work that Jesus is up to in the world and conclude “no, you are just someone like the man I saw…”
Following Christ in 2019 means seeing the world through Kingdom eyes, through eyes that see the faithfulness of the one who saves us, even when very few people seem to see it with us
This week I was describing this sermon (the one I was working on, the one you are now hearing) to my now-fiancé Heather, whom most of you know, as I was picking up steam and getting excited about this collection of apologetics and Gospel and ideas that had gotten my mind and my faith racing, I realized that I should find an ending.
What is the ending to such a message?
What is the “big reveal” that convinces us of the Good News?
Well friends, the reveal at the end of this lesson is that through our shared humanity, (all of us, from the disciples to Richard Dawkins), through our shared awe and fear of God, from our shared (though misplaced) need to be right about the world, through our shared limitations, through our shared sins, through our shared scorn of Christ that He took all the way to the cross to save us from this sin itself, the reveal at the end is that we are all the Blind Man. We are the Blind Man and we are the Disciples.
We are the Disciples, the Richard Dawkins, looking out at an imperfect world and questioning why it is so broken.
But we too are the Blind Man, the ones who might consider ourselves just as broken and irredeemable as the world if not for the personal salvation of Jesus Christ that our saved lives witness to.
We do live in a world that is both blessed and broken. We do live in a world in which we see pain and brokenness and ask “Why has this happened?” “Whose sin made this to be the case” “Why would God allow bad things to happen to Good People?”
The answer given in John 9 is that such brokenness allows God’s works to be shown. In answer to the disciples’ question, Jesus not only assures them that the man’s sinfulness has not caused him to be blind. But Jesus also works to help the man. Jesus shows that he is personally involved in the Blind Man’s life and salvation just as He is personally involved in all of the lives and all of the salvations of all who call on His name.
In Jesus Christ, we are shown that God is not some far off idea. He is not some cruel or absent father. But rather, he is as near to us as our site is to our eyes. He is in our world, redeeming what is broken, showing the works of God, calling others to see and to believe even when they have made up their minds not to.
Christ is working within our very lives, to free us from our limitations and to show Himself through the Good Works he is performing.
In Christ, we see that God is not “allowing bad things to happen” rather, He is redeeming the world and transforming it into the Kingdom of Heaven. He is redeeming us, giving us ears to hear and eyes to see, that God is personally at work in the world.