First Lesson: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13
Responsive Reading: Psalm 23
Second Lesson: Ephesians 5: 8-14
Gospel Lesson: John 9: 1-41
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Were it not for tribulation, I would not understand the Scriptures.”- Martin Luther
Last weekend, I was watching a movie called Collateral Beauty. Collateral Beauty tells the story of a hot-shot advertising executive named Howard. Howard seemingly had it all brilliance and charisma until one day his life changes forever. Howard loses his daughter Olivia to a rare form of cancer at six years old. Howard in his grief decides to cut himself off from the world: isolating himself from his work, his friends, and ultimately bringing about an end to his marriage. Howard’s days consist of sitting alone in his apartment, and barely eating as he struggles with coming to terms with his loss. Howard in a unique reaction to his grief decides to start writing letters to love, time, and death asking why their outcomes are ultimately so unfair in life. Now picture Howard’s story how it relates to either your own or those close to you. We’ll get back to Howard’s story in a little bit.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from John the 9th Chapter. Our Gospel Lesson tells the story of Jesus and the Disciples going out for a walk when they pass a man born blind. The Disciples proceed to ask the following question:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind.”
The Disciples thought they had God all figured out. The reason that this man had been given the seeming curse of blindness is that sometime a while back either he or his parents sinned in such a way that he deserved this fate. The Disciples figured that suffering in this life can only be a byproduct of some unresolved sin.
To which Jesus answers the Disciples question “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be manifest in him.”
These words jump out at you. Jesus actually says that God is going to take this blind man’s seemingly terrible situation and use it for God’s purposes. We might know the verse from Romans 8:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
How exactly this works is really difficult to answer in things like financial difficulty, permanent ailment, or even loss of our loved ones like Howard who lost a child in Collateral Beauty.
What I want to do this morning is illustrate how even when we think this might not be possible that God brings good out of situations even in the greatest of tragedies.
First story, There once was a young man working in the cheese business in Buffalo, New York. The young man was forced out of business by his partners in 1903. The man then decided to travel to Chicago hoping to make it big in the cheese business after having already failed once. The young man decides to start selling cheese from the back of a wagon. The venture wasn’t going well at all; the man figured he would soon be broke and forced to give up. One night, the young man talking to his horse cried out “What is wrong with us?” that we’ve become such failures. The young man finally hears a voice that tells him “The problem is that you’ve taken God out of business.” In spite of your past failures, with God’s power, nothing shall be impossible. The man’s perspective was forever changed. He decided that all he could do going forward every day was believing that somehow, someway the Lord would provide. The young man’s name was James L. Kraft. Perhaps you’ve heard of his company “Kraft Cheese.” Kraft eventually realized that God’s plans can often be much different than any temporary failure or struggle.
James Kraft though just had a financial downturn, he didn’t have any physical maladies to overcome. What about blindness, you say, how can our weaknesses ultimately be used for God’s purposes like Jesus tells the Disciples. Can disadvantages like blindness actually benefit us?
Second story told by Malcolm Gladwell, David Boies grew up in rural Illinois farming country. When he was young his mother would read to him, Boies couldn’t make out the words on the page, so he would memorize what she read instead. Boies couldn’t read until 3rd grade and when he did, he struggled. The only thing, Boies could enjoy reading was comic books. Boies because of his difficulty reading can only use small words and speak in short sentences. Boies even today, can barely use a spell-check on a computer because he’s such a terrible speller. Boies graduated high school with no grand ambitions. Boies worked as a construction laborer for a while, until one day Boies decides for the sake of his family he should think about a different career. Boies then decides that he wants to go to law school. Such a decision would seem to be a terrible idea for David Boies, being a lawyer involves reading and reading and more reading. If anyone shouldn’t be a lawyer, it would be him.
Boies goes to college, gets by because he was able to avoid classes that required a lot of reading. Boies then enrolls in law school. Boies still wasn’t a very good reader. But he figured out two things. 1. Most court cases he needed to know, boiled down to a simple point. 2. What he lacked in reading ability, he more than made up for in listening ability. David Boies had become a freakishly good listener because that was the only way that he could learn in life. So whereas Boies classmates would listen to law lectures by taking notes, Boies would listen and commit these lectures to memory. When Boies became a lawyer, he would have been terrible at types of law that required a lot of reading. Instead, Boies became a litigator which requires thinking on one’s feet. Boies’ freakish listening ability made him into one of the best lawyers in the country because he always knew what questions need to be asked during cross-examination. Boies today is regarded as one of the top lawyers in the country arguing cases even before the Supreme Court. What David Boies did is take his greatest weakness (the inability to read brought about by Dyslexia) and compensated by adopting a different approach to engaging in the world. Boies was able to take what seemed to be a devasting weakness and become better off because of it.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul himself speaks of being seemingly cursed with a “thorn in his flesh.” Paul kept praying for the thorn to be removed; he kept receiving silence from God. The answer that Paul hears is “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
What God is telling Paul is like in the case of David Boies that it's often our weaknesses and tragedies that make us into who he calls us to be.
What Jesus is seeking to illustrate to the Disciples is that perhaps it is in the blind man’s weakness that God can mold for his ultimate greater glory and purpose. What seems like a curse in one moment, can play itself out years down the line.
Earlier, I was telling about the movie Collateral Beauty which told the story of Howard trying to discern meaning from the tragedy of losing a child. Randy Hoyt was excited for the upcoming birth of his seventh child. One day, tragedy struck. Randy’s wife Kris was taken to the hospital with an emergency Caesarean section when she was five months pregnant. Kris’ bleeding was tremendous; she lost over thirty years units of blood. Randy cried out in prayer “God, what do you want? I know you can heal her; why don’t you?” Kris Hoyt would die shortly after this prayer. Randy’s daughter also would not survive.
Randy was now the single parent of six children. Randy would cry out night after night begging God for answers. Randy’s community began to rally on his behalf. Pretty soon a program was started called “Help Bring Hope to the Hoyt Kids.” The next six months, saw over 500 people send money and supplies to help Randy and his kids. Pretty soon, bills were all paid, and Randy was back at work. Randy still had to struggle every day with Kris’ loss. Randy would draw comfort every day that Kris was no longer enduring the pain of this world, but rather being comforted by the promises of resurrection that is to come. Kris’ presence would never leave his life, everyday moving forward.
Randy’s reflection upon everything he went through was this. “I asked God for the life of my wife; I received a lesson on the nature of God instead. God is good. Armed with that knowledge, I have no fear for today or the future. God will always be enough…for any situation.”
In our lesson for today, Jesus and the Disciples encounter a man born blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind,” Jesus says this man was not punished on account of any sin; rather this man could be born blind so that the work of God might be made known in his life.
James. L. Kraft seemed destined for financial ruin, yet years down the line America’s most famous cheese empire bears his name. David Boies set out with a foolish dream of being a lawyer, yet it was his great weakness not being able to read which helped him develop his greatest strength. Randy Hoyt cried out to God for the saving of his wife’s life, only for God to show him that his plans are not our plans, yet his wife’s presence shall never be forgotten, and our proof of this is the promises to be given in the resurrection which is soon to come. Amen
 Quote taken from Kent Crockett’s sermon illustrations on the topic of trials. Web. Mar.20.2017.
 John 9:2
 John 9:3
 Romans 8:28.
 “James. L. Kraft.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.25.Feb.2017. Web. Mar.20.2017.
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations:Suffering.” Hotsermons.com. Web. Mar.20.2017
 Additional material found online at Google Books for Blaine Bartel’s Thrive Teen Devotional. Harrison House, Tulsa. OK. 2003. Print. Page.232.
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations:Suffering.”
 Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath. Little, Brown and Company. New York. Print. P.107-113
 Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath. P.110.
 Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath. P.112-113.
 2 Corinthians 12:6
 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
 Found on Found on Stories for Preaching website on Mar.20.2017 under “Learning God is Good.” Taken from the source Randy Hoyt, “Seeing God,” Pentecostal Evangel, January 21, 2001, pp.14-15
 Stories for Preaching. “Learning God is Good.” Found in the section under Suffering analogies.
 Stories for Preaching. “Learning God is Good.”
First Lesson: Exodus 17: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 95
Second Lesson: Romans 5: 1-11
Gospel Lesson: John 4: 5-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Calvin Robertson was born in Montreal in 1911. At the age of 11, Calvin would be forced to deliver newspapers on Montreal’s icy streets, just to help his family of nine survive. Calvin’s life was not easy. His home didn’t contain a bathtub, running water, or heat other than the stove. The family was so poor that they could never even celebrate Christmas. His dad was an alcoholic. Calvin would spend the night hiding under his bed, fearful of what Dad was going to do to him when he got home. Calvin’s temperament was such that he was either getting into fights at school if he wasn’t skipping altogether. In 1921, Calvin’s family situation seemingly grew even more desperate with the birth of two new twin brothers Jimmy and Billy.
In the summer of 1922, an Aunt named Addie came for a visit. Addie was appalled at the conditions in Calvin’s home. Addie makes the suggestion that Calvin and his sister Thelma come down for a visit in Washington D.C. When Calvin arrives in Washington D.C., his first stop was to see his Uncle who he had never met a man named Clark Griffith. Clark Griffith would soon take Calvin in as his child. Clark was most well-known for owning a baseball team called the Washington Senators, who eventually became the Minnesota Twins. One encounter in Montreal had totally changed Calvin Griffith’s fortunes from struggling to survive to becoming an eventual owner of a Major League Baseball team. Now picture Calvin Griffith’s tale of rags to riches, let’s look at our Gospel lesson.
Our Gospel Lesson is one that we know of John 4:5-42. Jesus and the Woman at the Well from the town called Sychar. Our lesson for Today centers around a woman who has been married five times and is now living with another guy. Now this woman often has a reputation of possessing ill-repute.
The woman possessing such a reputation for questionable moral behavior is certainly a possibility. There are though a couple of other possibilities. The first possibility is that she was a victim of divorce laws. You see in Jesus’ day; men could get rid of spouses for nearly any reason, however, trivial. She could have been divorced for being unable to bear children. Another possibility for the woman from Sychar is that she was a repeated widow. The practice in Jesus’ day was that when one’s husband died, their brother would inherit his wife, and with husbands often much older than wives (this could explain why she was so unlucky in love).
The most relevant explanation for the woman at Sychar is that she had a troubled heart on account of her broken relationships. She had been down in the dumps whether for weeks, months, or years. She was clamoring for a different kind of life.
So this woman is going through her daily routine when she sees a man down by the well.
The man is Jewish. She is Samaritan.
Grandma was born in Lindstrom. She spent the majority of the first seventy years of her life in Lindstrom. Grandma then sold the family home for being too big to her. Grandma moved to a senior living complex about four miles away. Grandma was moving into a nice, place. The only problem with the complex is that it resided in Chisago City. Grandma’s husband and father both were mayors in Lindstrom. Grandma has used plenty of inappropriate slang to describe Chisago City over the years, where they’re supposedly not as high-brow as Lindstrom. Grandma because of this could never consider herself a resident of Chisago City, even as she’s lived in Chisago City now for nearly twenty years. Now picture Grandma and Chisago City. Picture your or your loved one’s Chisago City, the place of the stranger, the place of the other. The historic rival through whom he could show no mercy.
Jesus was going to approach the Jews historical rivals in this Samaritan woman. Samaritans were considered to be fake Jews and traitors to their religion. Jews and Samaritans had hundreds of years of animosity between them. This woman probably sees Jesus is Jewish approaching, assumes he’s going to go the other way, only he doesn’t.
You see Jesus doesn’t see her as a Samaritan. Jesus sees her as lonely, and broken longing for not well water, but living water.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.”- John 4:13-14.
Jesus approaches this woman not like she’s the worst outcast in the entire village, but rather like she’s the most important woman in the whole, wide world. Jesus is the first person that she’s encountered in her life who can move beyond her baggage, move beyond what anyone else might think, and give unto her a promise of living water instead.
This woman like Calvin Griffith in just one encounter has her life forever changed turned from the greatest of outcasts to the greatest of witnesses of the saving power of God. All because she received living water from the well of Sychar.
There are all sorts of people out in our world Today just like this woman from Sychar.
Marie Miller is a devout Roman Catholic singer. A few years ago, her best friend was in a lot of pain. His mom was suffering from bipolar disorder, and he was struggling with how to cope. You see most of his Mom’s friends had abandoned her not willing to engage with the extremes of her behavior. He felt that absolutely no one understand his loneliness just like the woman from Sychar. Marie Miller spoke to her friend words of promise, no different than Jesus speaks to the Woman at the Well on this day.
“I’m gonna roll up my sleeves. I’m gonna fight for you; I’m gonna fight till I bleed. So, listen to me now. I’m not gonna stand here, when my friend’s down and out. I’m not gonna run when, it’s hard to figure it all out. If there’s anything I’d say, I will tell you right now: you’re not alone.”
What Jesus is saying is that there might be powerful forces fighting against you, but my presence shall never leave your side, whether you’re Samaritan or any other outsider shunned by the world. Jesus doesn’t care what anybody else thinks, he will claim you as his own.
Joseph Merrick was born in England in 1862. Merrick like Calvin Griffith was born in the slums. Merrick within the first few years of his life developed lumpy skin, enlarged lips, a bony lump on his forehead, oversized hands and feet. Merrick is better known by his nickname “Elephant Man.” At the age of 9, Merrick’s mother died. His mom was the only person who accepted him as he was in the whole wide world. His new step-mom didn’t take too kindly to Merrick. At the age of 12, Merrick’s father put him to work as a door to door salesman. People would scream at him, and slam doors in his face. One day, his father finally snapped, beating him and throwing him out of the house. Merrick’s next stop was a workhouse for the mentally ill. Merrick hated this so much; he decided to lower himself to becoming a sideshow act at the circus. Everyone in the world thought that Joseph Merrick deserved nothing but laughter and contempt. Pretty soon, Merrick meets a Dr.Fredrick Treves who takes him in.
Joseph Merrick was permanently scarred. Whenever Dr. Treves or anyone would walk into his room, he would act like a frightened child. Treves soon discovered there was much more to Merrick than what everyone else thought. Merrick was quite bright and worthy of attention. Merrick though had one great fear, ever since the loss of his mother he had experienced nothing but rejection from women. They would literally run in the other direction upon encountering his presence.
Treves then decides to track down an attractive woman in Madge Kendal to visit Merrick. Kendal was one of the best known and prettiest actress in all of London. Kendal comes into his room and doesn’t do anything extraordinary, she merely shakes his hand and gives him a smile. Merrick is so moved by her outreach that he breaks down into a ball of tears, having not experienced kindness from a woman since the death of his mother years before.
This one encounter though totally changed Joseph Merrick. Merrick began to open up in the presence of others. The years ahead would bring numerous encounters and even friendships with royalty. What the story of the Elephant Man and the Woman from Sychar show us is how powerful one simple act of grace can change lives. Joseph Merrick was not merely just a sideshow act. The Woman from Sychar was no longer just unlucky in love. Just like in the case of Calvin Griffith, one simple encounter and their lives would never be the same again. They are no longer merely going through life all alone. The point for the morning is this; Jesus doesn’t see you as the world sees you. Jesus doesn’t see you as old, young, Jew, Samaritan, rich, poor, single, divorced, widowed, healthy, sick, pretty, ugly, white, black, or yellow. Jesus sees you as his child, longing for grace to break free from the chains which afflict you.
Jesus met a woman on this day from a town called Sychar. Jesus promises unto her that her past shall no longer define her. Jesus promises unto her that the judgment of others shall no longer define her. Jesus instead says “Come and drink Living Water, which only I can provide. So you may never thirst again” Amen
 Kerr, Jon. Calvin: Baseball’s Last Dinosaur. Calumet Editions. Minneapolis. 2016. 2nd Edition. Print. P.17-21.
 Kerr, Jon. Calvin: Baseball’s Last Dinosaur. Print. P.17-21.
 Kerr, Jon. Calvin: Baseball’s Last Dinosaur. Print. P.20.
 Kerr, Jon. Calvin: Baseball’s Last Dinosaur. Print. P.21.
 Zingale, Tim. “An Encounter with the Messiah”. Sermon Central. 05. Feb. 2005. Web. Mar.13.2017.
 Zingale, Tim. “An Encounter with the Messiah”.
 McDavid, Will. “Bible Wednesdays:Jesus Met the Woman at the Well.” MBird (Mockingbird Ministries). 12. Jun.2013. Web. Mar.13.2017.
 Rebecca. “Marie Miller:You’re Not Alone.” Finding Order in the Disorder: Bipolar Disorder and Depression hosted by Blogger. 09. Oct.2013. Web. Mar.13.2017.
 Rebecca. “Marie Miller:You’re Not Alone.”
 Stories for Preaching. “The Elephant Man.” Stories for Preaching. Found in Welcoming the Vulernable section. Taken from www.elephant-house.fsnet.co.uk. Web. Mar.13.2017.
 Stories for Preaching. “The Elephant Man.”
 Stories for Preaching. “The Elephant Man.”
 “Joseph Merrick.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 06. Mar.2017. Web. Mar.13.2017.
 Kendal’s visit to Merrick is unconfirmed via historical record. The scene appeared in the 1962 Elephant Man movie.
 Stories for Preaching. “The Elephant Man.”
 Stories for Preaching. “The Elephant Man.”
 Paraphase of John 4:11-13.
First Lesson: Genesis 12: 1-4a
Responsive Reading: Psalm 121
Second Lesson: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Gospel Lesson: John 3: 1-17
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There once was a man named Erik. Erik was like the type of guy that you might meet in Silver Bay. One day Erik dies and is standing in the presence of Saint Peter. Saint Peter and Erik start to discuss Erik’s potential acceptance into heaven. Saint Peter informs Erik that he’s been tested his whole life and he needs 100 points to make it in. Saint Peter then gives Erik the opportunity to plead his case. First, Erik describes how he was married to his wife for fifty years, how he never cheated on her once, how they raised three children together who all turned out alright. Saint Peter nods his head at Erik proclaiming “Ok, that’s three points.” Three points, Erik couldn’t believe it, he thought that alone should make a compelling case. Erik started brainstorming then thinking of his work at the local Saint Martin’s Lutheran. Erik describes being in church every Sunday, serving on the church council, and being a generous giver. Saint Peter says “That’s wonderful let me give you a point for that.” Erik is starting to get worried at this point. Erik then thought of something else to plead his case. Erik then says “Well every Friday night for over thirty years; I volunteered at the local homeless shelter.” A big smile gets upon Saint Peter’s face. Erik is finally hopeful. Saint Peter says “That’s great, I’ll give you two points for all that.” Erik is getting frustrated, he throws his hands in the air, and in a bout of frustration cries out “At this rate, the only way that I’ll ever get into heaven is by the grace of God.” Saint Peter starts to clap as he says “Bingo, 100 points for you!” “Erik, Welcome to Heaven!”
Now keep a picture of Erik in your head. Today’s Gospel lesson centers on a similar man in Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a respected elder in his community. Nicodemus was well-versed when it came to scripture and religious traditions. Like Erik, Nicodemus probably was a dedicated husband and father. Nicodemus had earned all his power through the noble ways of learning and character. Nicodemus would seemingly be the type to ace Heaven’s entrance exam, yet deep down he felt a little bit off.
Nicodemus hears about Jesus. Nicodemus hears about all the signs that Jesus is performing. Nicodemus wishes to meet with Jesus. Nicodemus arranges the meeting be at night, so their meeting can be in secret.
So Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus goes like this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus' words stump Nicodemus. Nicodemus says “How can one be born from above?”
Nicodemus had two problems with what Jesus is saying about “being born from above”.
Problem One: Nicodemus was probably too smart. Nicodemus probably knew too much religious ritual. Nicodemus couldn’t imagine God not working in a way that he hadn’t heard of before. “Born from Above.” Doesn’t make sense to me, so it can’t be so.
I was reading a book this week called The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Lewis described based on psychological research “Why Doctors make wrong diagnoses in medicine?” The issues have nothing to do with lack of education or even experience.
The issue has to do with Doctors like all people having a tendency to jump to the easiest and neatest conclusion.
For example, when a patient comes in with pneumonia and a normal heart rate; doctors will often ignore normal heart rate as being insignificant. The doctors focus on the pneumonia. Focusing on the pneumonia makes logical sense, just like it makes sense that a great guy like Nicodemus or Erik would be perfect applicants for the Kingdom of God.
Here’s the thing though normal heart rates can be misleading. A normal heart rate when your body is fighting an ailment such as pneumonia can be a bad thing because one’s heart should be working harder to heal one’s body. “Pneumonia kills because of its power to spread infection.” The heart rate appearing normal can mislead Doctors to fail to see below the surface of what’s going on.
Pneumonia/heart rate conundrum is an example of how too much knowledge can often lead to tunnel vision. Nicodemus could easily identify and possess the traits of a good religious person. What Nicodemus failed to account for is that God can and will work in ways beyond how we think it should be so.
Problem Two: Nicodemus probably fell into an even worse error though in that he might have been too successful in life. Nicodemus as great as he sounds seems like the type of guy who would give a boring testimony at church. Nicodemus never had any substance abuse issues. He probably rarely got in trouble at either school, home, or with the authorities. Nicodemus was probably disciplined with his tongue. Nicodemus probably didn’t have any real exciting vices. As great as this sounds this can be a problem.
I came across a quote by Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder earlier this week who described this passage well when he said “From my own experience across the years, it is much easier for those languishing in prison or those who are addicted or those prodigals who find themselves waking up in a pigpen in a far country to understand what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus than it is for those of us who have reduced life to what we can control. It’s easier for them to believe in being born anew from above than we who think we have it all together.”
Back to Erik in the Heaven Entrance Exam, Erik thought he had the right approach to the test. Erik would be able to point to all his accomplishments as a way of procuring God’s favor. “Being born from above” is about something else though entirely. It’s a reminder that our God isn’t about extending this life with all its foibles a little longer, our God is rather about creating new life and bringing hope from the deepest of darkness.
Now let’s talk about a guy at the opposite end of the spectrum from Nicodemus in President Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon left the White House in shame. Nixon being the only President ever voluntarily to step down from the Oval Office. Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976 because people were outraged that President Gerald Ford had pardoned Richard Nixon.
Nixon had spent the next few years of his life away from the public eye, because of his actions. In 1978, Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey died. Richard Nixon decides to attend Humphrey’s funeral. Humphrey’s funeral is a big deal with every political dignitary in the world seemingly attending. What happens when these people see Richard Nixon is that they shun him, they look away, they walk the other direction. Any conversations Richard Nixon has on this day are brief. Richard Nixon’s place in the world had been made abundantly clear on this day.
Into the room though walks President Jimmy Carter. Carter would seem to be the last guy to ever reach out to Nixon. Carter was a Democrat and Nixon was a Republican. Jimmy Carter goes to find a seat when he notices standing off in the corner by himself Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter approaches Richard Nixon sticks out his hand, cracks a big smile and says: “Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!”
This simple gesture of kindness would come to be a turning point in Richard Nixon’s life; his time spent living in the wilderness.
Plenty of people weren’t going to get the gesture. Jimmy Carter had everything to lose for daring to reach out to Richard Nixon. Everyone in the room believed Richard Nixon had done nothing to earn such grace. What Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus today is that is exactly the point.
Grace is the great equalizer for both the greatest saint and great sinner in the eyes of the world. Grace can change all our lives.
The story of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter though was not over on this day. In 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter ride over on a plane together to attend the funeral. There was tension on the plane between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter over the 1976 Election. There was one man on the plane though that believed “new birth” was possible in any relationship in Richard Nixon. By 1981, the previous dour Richard Nixon had become quite jovial in the presence of others. Nixon sought to bring Carter and Ford together. By the time the three men left the plane, the ice was melted and all these former Presidents had become friends! So even in Washington D.C. is anything possible.
Back to the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, John 19 tells the end of Nicodemus’ story. Jesus goes to the cross. Jesus is being buried by two men Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Nicodemus brought seventy-five pounds of spices to help bury Jesus’ body. Nicodemus had come to realize that just like Erik at the gates of Heaven that his life wasn’t as together as he thought that it would only be the Grace of God not any of accomplishments that would bring extended arms at the great beyond.
Here’s the thing about being born from above, we don’t do it. We are never born on our terms. We don’t choose when to be born. We certainly can’t control it. Nicodemus and Richard Nixon would seem to have nothing in common in the eyes of the world. Both men needed to encounter a whole new world of grace, hope, and forgiveness. Amen
 The following is a retelling of an analogy given by Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Grace”.Hotsermons.com. Mar.6.2017.
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Grace
 Descriptions of Nicodemus influenced by Markquart, Edward. “Born Again”. SermonsfromSeattle.com. Web. Mar.6.2017.
 John 3:2
 John 3:3.
 John 3:4.
 The research of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman
 Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project. W.W. Norton Companies. New York. Print. Chapter 8 (212-237).
 Lewis, Micheal. The Undoing Project. P.221.
 Lewis, Micheal. The Undoing Project. P.221-222.
 Carder, Kenneth. L. “Seeing, believing, and the new birth from above.” Faith&Leadership.com. 4.July.2011. Web. Mar.6.2017.
 Carder, Kenneth. L. “Seeing, believing, and the new birth from above.”
 Weems, Rev. Dr. Cynthia. “A Complete Makeover.” Day 1.org. 31.May.2015. Web. Mar.6.2017
 Found on Stories for Preaching website on Mar.6.2017 under “Welcome Home Mr.President taken from Maxie Dunnam, The Workbook on Living as a Christian, pp.112-113
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President”
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President.”
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President.”
 Stories for Preaching. “Welcome Home Mr.President
 CBS News Staff. “Ford and Carter: An Odd Couple?”CBSNEWS.com. 18.Feb.2000. Web. Mar.6.2017
 CBS News Staff. “Ford and Carter: An Odd Couple?”
 John 19:38-42.
First Lesson: Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22
Second Lesson: Romans 5: 12-19
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 4: 1-11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling you the story of a guy named Bill. Bill was like a lot of guys getting up there in years and trying to drop a little bit of weight. Bill figured that to drop his extra weight, he would need to make a few lifestyle changes. The first lifestyle change that he needed to do was avoid his favorite donut shop in Bernie’s Bakery. Bill passed Bernie’s every day on his way to work. Bill could never say no to chocolate custard stuffed long johns. Bill always had to get two or three of them which would be scarfed down before arriving at the office every morning.
Bill’s weight loss journey had been going pretty good. He had been on the straight and narrow for the last few weeks dropping a few pounds in the process. Bill had been taking a different, slightly longer route to work as a way of avoiding Bernie’s Bakery. Bill one day, via force of habit, got back on his old route to work. Bill immediately got nervous about passing Bernie’s Bakery. Bill quickly discerned that driving this way must be a sign from God to stop in. Perhaps if there is an empty parking spot, I’ll know it's God’s will for me to buy chocolate custard long johns. A parking spot wasn’t immediately open, but perhaps God was trying to teach Bill patience. Bill starts driving around the block, and around the block. And finally, on Bill’s eight-time around the block, the parking spot that God wanted for Bill at Bernie’s Bakery finally opened up!
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”-Matthew 6:13.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from Matthew 4. It tells the story of Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness for forty days. The Devil makes Jesus the most dramatic of offers to give into temptation during these days in material possessions, glory, and power. Jesus resists these temptations with more willpower than we can seemingly ever muster in the presence of our chocolate custard long johns. Today’s lesson describes a boxing match between Jesus and the Devil that goes forty rounds that were able to leave Jesus standing in the end.
What’s really interesting in Today’s Gospel lesson is how it points to ways that the Devil seeks to get us to give into temptation. How the Devil makes his ways so attractive, pleasurable and bringing about all sorts of temporary joy. How exactly does the Devil strike us???
One of the most influential books that I’ve ever read is Robert Cialdini’s Influence . Influence is widely considered to be the greatest book ever on the psychology of persuasion. Influence describes six modes of influence to get people to change their minds. These modes are on display in not only the Devil’s attacks on Jesus but also on us.
First Attack Mode: Consistency and Commitment:
Kent Crockett tells the following story. Andrew Golota was one of the best boxers in the world with a record of 38-5 with 31 knockouts. Golota had an upcoming match with Lamon Brewster for the WBO heavyweight title. Brewster starts preparing for the fight by studying tape of Golota’s fighting, looking for an advantage. Brewster saw that Andrew Golota’s fighting style left him continually vulnerable to a left hook.
Fight starts! First round, Brewster sees an opening and throws a left hook, Golota goes down. Golota gets up; Brewster lands another left hook, the same story. After Golota gets back on his feet a second time, Brewster kept attacking Andrew Golota’s weak spot with a left hook.
A much anticipated Heavyweight boxing match ends in the first round because Andrew Golota’s weaknesses left him perpetually vulnerable.
Andrew Golota had spent years developing all sorts of strengths as a fighter leading him to a championship fight, but it was his own, unique weaknesses that was his downfall.
Like Andrew Golota, we all have our weaknesses that the Devil exploits. Bill had a weakness for chocolate custard long johns. Bill had eaten so many of them throughout the course of his lifetime; one stop wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Consistency can lead to the greatest of spiritual struggles: “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
The first temptation that the Devil seeks to exploit in Jesus is his momentary weakness brought about by deviation from consistency. Jesus is sitting in the desert without having eaten for forty days. “Turn these stones into bread.”
I can barely write a sermon or read a book after not having eaten for a few hours. I cannot imagine, saying no to the simplest of material possessions after forty days. Jesus had eaten bread all sorts of times before for his benefit. Here this first temptation describes what makes the Devil’s attacks so enticing, something is presented as life-giving when in reality it will lead to nothing but death just as the Devil tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Second Attack Mode: Social Proof. When I was in junior high, there was a hierarchy of jeans. Girbauds were at the top, followed by Guess, followed by Levis then Lees and lastly Wranglers which weren’t real popular among suburban kids. One’s cool quotient was often determined by where they fell on this scale.
My middle school classmates failed to ask was an important question “Is there any proof that Girbauds are higher quality jeans than Wranglers especially for active seventh/eighth graders?” My classmates did actually hit on a trend in advertising.
David Lose tells of watching a PBS documentary several years back called “The Persuaders.” “The Persuaders” was dedicated to the evolution of modern advertising. Now some years back, advertising would focus on the quality of the product. Recent years though have seen a change in advertising trends to focus not so much on a product’s quality but rather its social status. New cars are not evaluated on things such as safety, reliability, nor gas mileage as much as the type of lifestyle it conveys to the world around you.
Now as Lose points out such appeals on the surface probably sound silly. Why would TVs or computers matter so much? Still, advertisers have been able to determine that people are often so starved for meaning or purpose in life that they seek wholeness by their social proof.
This week I was reading a book by a phycologist named Scott Sonenshein who spoke of all the ways that human beings run into trouble chasing non-essential things they don’t have to the detriment of the resources around them. For many of us, the worst thing we can do lose is our cool factor!
The second temptation that Jesus deals with is an offer for all Earthly glory. Throw yourself off the top of the Temple and save yourself for the world’s amazement. Perform a miracle on demand. Have everyone worship you for your greatness!
Here’s the thing about social proof, while it seems great at the moment there is often something much deeper we are after.
Third Attack Mode: Liking. When I was in third grade, I got into a fight that caused me to spend recess time in detention. Now I’m not going to stand up and say I was fighting for a noble cause; my cause was being well-liked by my classmates. We had a kid in our grade that I’ll call Jimmy. Jimmy was like a lot of third-graders in that he had a big mouth. Jimmy liked to brag about being the best at stuff when he clearly wasn’t. So one day at recess a group of kids was picking on Jimmy. I was by no means the leader of the operation, but like most third-graders was a willing follower. I didn’t have any problem with Jimmy, but I wanted to be liked by more people than just Jimmy. So one day on the playground, Jimmy was being picked on. Another kid got behind Jimmy in the form of a bridge and I pushed Jimmy. The playground monitor saw this and I was in trouble. Now as the years went by, Jimmy was a really good guy. I went to Jimmy’s high school graduation party even though we graduated from different schools. I was willing to push Jimmy for the sake of more power regardless of any reason to do so.
Peer pressure is powerful because we want people to like us. Think how many times in life, we’ve acted to failed to act a certain way so someone would like us.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”-Romans 7:18
The final offer that the Devil makes unto Jesus has everything to do with popularity.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Now there is nothing wrong with being well-liked! Being liked can have its downsides. How many people have bought something from a friend out of pressure, only to eventually regret it? How many people have been swayed by beauty only to regret it later? How many kids pushed Jimmy on the playground out of a desire to be popular? There are limits to popularity’s benefits. Jesus saw something much more important than just being the most well-liked person in the world.
Jesus saw his temptation as having a higher purpose. Those forty days in the desert would not be the only times that Jesus experienced temptation in his life, Jesus could have later given in by running away when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus could have advocated for his life before Pontius Pilate before going to the Cross. Popularity might come and go, but God’s promises shall surely endure forever!
Our conclusion for this morning is this: there once was a man tempted to go into a donut shop, chocolate custard long johns were the vice. The man found every reason under the sun to give into temptation. Satan as in the case of boxer Andrew Golota will always be able to spot our weaknesses. There once was a kid growing up wanting to be popular, so he got involved in a fight for no good reason, he could not see how all the allures of this world are merely temporary. Jesus went out into the desert for forty days and forty nights. Forty rounds of boxing with Satan without a drop of food in his stomach. The Devil gave Jesus all sorts of chances to choose an easier world for himself, yet Jesus vowed to keep going even beyond these forty days. Even to the point of death. Our lesson for Today is no matter how things seem on this day, Our Lord, in the end, is more powerful than anything Satan can throw at him. Amen
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Temptation”. Hotsermons.com. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 I really liked chocolate custards as a child, so that’s why I use this example.
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Temptation”. My version is an expanded telling of Llewellyn’s analogy.
 Matthew 4:1-11
 Cialdini’s book was published by Harper Collins (Collins Business) originally in 1984.
 Crockett, Kent. “Open for a Left Hook.” Kentcrockett.com. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 Crockett, Kent. “Open for a Left Hook.”
 John 8:34.
 Lose, David. “Into Temptation”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 07.Mar.2011. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 Lose, David. “Into Temptation”.
 Sonenshein’s book is titled Stretch published by Harper Business in 2017.
 The following examples come from Cialdini’s chapter on Liking titled “The Friendly Theif” found on pages 167-207 of the 2007 third edition of Influence.