First Lesson: Isaiah 55: 1-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 63: 1-8
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
Gospel Lesson: Luke 13: 1-9
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The news was not good at all. A group of religious pilgrims had traveled from Jesus’ home in Galilee to Jerusalem. These pilgrims were upset at Pontius Pilate. They believed Pilate was a way to their way of life. They journeyed to their holy city, peacefully but angry at Roman rule. They traveled to their house of worship seeking prayer and guidance. Pontius Pilate though was not a nice man. Pilate saw these men put to death in a way that was certain to further all hatred.
The Galilean Pilgrims were not only slaughtered but endured having their blood mixed along with the animals that they intended to sacrifice on their holy ground. This act went beyond bullying. The massacre of these Galileans was outright cruel. Sacrificing their blood with animal blood was a mockery of all that Jewish people believed. It was easy to wonder why God would allow such an incident. People were starting to talk about whether God had indeed abandoned these people.
So the Disciples decide to engage Jesus upon the meaning of this incident. The Disciples I imagine knew some of these men from back home. Now here they were standing before Jesus asking for answers regarding their deaths. Was Jesus going to explain the cause of such violence? Was Jesus going to blame the victims? Was Jesus going to defend the creator?
Jesus decides to invoke another well-known story to the Disciples in the collapse of the Tower of Siloam. Jesus was going to answer the question in the Disciples’ minds once and for all as to “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Jesus begins to tell the tale of the Tower of Siloam. The Tower of Siloam was a well-known Tower in Jerusalem, that one day collapsed without any warning killing eighteen people. Jesus knew the Disciples were going to be wondering why these people suffered at the hands of such cruel luck. Had they possibly done something to deserve all this? Jesus talks about the victims in the Tower of Siloam’s collapse. He explains that there was no rhyme or reason as to why these people suffered death. They didn’t die because of any unresolved sin. They hadn’t done anything wrong to earn this punishment versus their neighbors. These people’s death certainly was not fair. In Jesus’ mind, tragedy does not equal divine punishment. Jesus says events like the Tower of Siloam instead have a different meaning. The tragedy itself had nothing to do with anything the victims had done wrong.
Some years ago, NPR’s Terry Gross was interviewing musician Rosanne Cash. Cash had to take time off from her career for several years because she needed brain surgery. Gross asks Cash if she ever wondered “Why me?”
Cash’s response is enlightening. Cash said her attitude through the whole ordeal was “Why not me?” She had health insurance, no job that she was in danger of losing along with a wonderful caregiver.
The reality of life is that no one gets a pass on hardship. No one ever lives a life without dread over what might potentially happen next. The fact of everyone’s existence is that it is always going to be a mixture of highs and lows, joy and tears. The nature of sin is such that no one ever gets off. We share this common experience.
Jesus finds the Tower of Siloam’s meaning as serving as a reminder that no one gets to choose the time of their demise. Repentance and Death serve as a reminder of one’s shortcomings and dire circumstances within the present age. These signs are why we ultimately look towards the source of all grace and mercy.
In seminary, and I’ve told this story before, one of my professors Walter Sundberg was reflecting on the ultimate question of God and Suffering in “Why did God allow my neighbor to get hit by a bus?” Everyone in this room has probably had a similar incident by which they wonder Why God didn’t act? Dr. Sundberg said only “We must admit that we do not know the answer to this bus question, all that we can say for sure that we know about God we ultimately know from a cross.”
How might God be acting in any circumstance is always going to be beyond our ability to comprehend. Last week, I was asked the following question about the Bible. “Why does God kill so many people within its pages?” You look at the Old Testament from the Exodus to the Conquest of Canaan to the collapse of Israel’s Kingdom; God seems directly responsible for all sorts of heinous killing. For many critics of Christianity will always raise this issue.
I can make a few points in response to such a difficult question.
So the Pastor begins the funeral sermon the next day by saying “My God does not push old ladies down church steps.” God is not the one who brings brokenness, death, and destruction unto this world. For God cannot be both the author of both death and resurrection at the very same time. The following story illustrates what Dr. Sundberg meant when he said that we always point people towards the cross.
The final story told by Phillip McLarty.  In 1994, Rick, Suzie, and nine-year-old daughter Kelly Harper were trimming the Christmas tree in their Texas home when Suzie had difficulty breathing. Suzie was asthmatic, but this attack seemed out of the normal. The inhaler did no good. Rick begins to drive Suzie to the Emergency room. On the way there, Suzie stopped breathing. Rick gave her mouth to mouth, but it didn’t work. By the time, she reached the Hospital, it was already too late.
Pastor McLarty spent weeks trying to make sense of the incident. Suzie’s mother sits down to meet with McLarty to plan the funeral. Suzie’s mom proceeded to give McLarty one of the most powerful sermons that he ever heard when she said “There’s nothing more we can do; Suzie’s in God’s hands. God lent her to us for forty-three years, and now, he’s taken her home. Life goes on. We can’t look back. God will be with us in the future just as he has been in the past.”
Suzie’s story is why we always look towards the cross. We always look towards this reminder that God does not desire human suffering. God desires the day when human suffering comes to an end. Our God is not a God of judgment but rather a God of mercy and grace. No matter what ups and downs that we encounter in this life, our God is continually working towards the day of our resurrection. Amen
 Skinner, Matthew. “Luke 13:1-9 Commentary”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 28.Feb.2016. Web. Feb.23.2016.
 Bernhard, Toni J.D. “The Better Way to Face Setbacks and Sorrows: Inspiration from an Unlikely Source.”Physcology Today. 17.Oct.2013. Web. Feb.23.2016.
 Bernhard, Toni J.D. “The Better Way to Face Setbacks and Sorrows: Inspiration from an Unlikely Source.”
 Bernhard, Toni J.D. “The Better Way to Face Setbacks and Sorrows: Inspiration from an Unlikely Source.”
 Joshua 6:17-25.
 Capon, Robert F. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Pg.248.
 Job 38.
 Zingale, Tim. “Why God”. Sermon Central. 2007.Mar. Web. Feb.23.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “Why God”.
 McLarty, Phillip. “When Bad Things Happen”. Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Feb.23.2016.
 McLarty, Phillip. “When Bad Things Happen”.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was in 7th Grade, 8th Grade, and the 9th Grade, the majority of my summer days were spent playing basketball down at the local Methodist church court. I spent plenty of time after this shooting hoops in my parents’ driveway. I watched plenty of basketball on TV hoping it would lead to me becoming a better player. I had some decent skills on the court; I was an unselfish passer, a decent shooter, and had a wide enough base to get position for rebounds. Yet I had certain physical traits that prevented me from being a great basketball player. Junior Varsity games were spent sitting on the bench, although to be fair, I wasn’t that effective when I was in there. I had a few pesky little things that held me back as a basketball player. I’m 5 foot 8 in shoes and that’s probably being generous. 5 foot 8 and flat footed is a bad combo as a basketball player. So as I sat on the bench or in the stands watching games, I kept wondering why I had to be so physically ungifted?
I figured if I was 6 feet tall, then I would have played quite a bit on the varsity. But what would have been even better if I was 6 foot 4. I figured no one could touch me on the low-blocks, I had all sorts of moves that I’d be able to use once I overcame my vertical challenge. I figured if I was 6 foot 4 that I would be the best player in the conference.
If I was 6 foot 4 then I would have a more striking presence whenever I walked into a room. Yet, as I await my 35th birthday in October, my potential growth spurt is looking ever less likely. I’ve heard the sad truth is that I’m more likely to grow shorter in the future. Yet perhaps there is a reason why I’m only 5 foot 8 other than to disturb my own sense of personal vanity.
Second story, when I was in seminary, I had a classmate named Brian. Brian had Cerebral Palsy. Whereas other students would just glide to class casually carrying on conversations, Brian struggled with every step that he needed to take. Brian’s speech was such that he could be difficult to understand. Tasks such as using his hands to eat which are routine for us, were quite difficult for Brian. Yet Brian had a passion as he confessed his faith that was second to none amongst the students at Luther Seminary. The thing about Brian is he could have very easily seen the world in a totally different way. He could go through his days angry at God for his burden, yet Brian found a sense of purpose in his affliction. Today, Brian is a Pastor at a church in Nebraska helping his synod with issues relating to disability. This all leads us to ask the question “Could God have a purpose in Brian’s Cerebral Palsy?”
Today’s Gospel lesson from John 9 provides insight to this issue. This is one of my favorite gospel stories as it speaks to the reality of God’s role in human suffering.
The Disciples encounter a man who had been born blind. The Disciples then proceed to ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This type of thinking wasn’t really new associating individual sin with human suffering. In the Book of Job as Job loses his possessions, his children, and ultimately his health. Job reflected to his friends by asking “How could God act in such a way towards me?” All Job’s friends could fathom about Job’s situation was that Job’s afflictions must have been the result of some sin that Job had failed to confess.
As the Disciples ask Jesus “Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?” The question is very interesting because it is naturally assumed that someone’s sin produced their suffering, the Disciples don’t even fathom asking Jesus whether this way of looking at the world is right. Nor, do the Disciples dare to ask whether one’s suffering is a permanent condition.
Jesus’ response to the Disciples most important of religious questions as to why this man was born blind was both simple and direct as he proclaimed “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed within him.”
This answer was quite interesting. An interesting thing about this Gospel story is unlike Jesus’ other famous healings such as the blind man Bartimeaus, or the Woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.
The Blind Man’s eventual healing is not associated with the Blind Man’s faith in the Blind Man doesn’t become a believer until the end of the story. As for the Blind Man’s Parents they were afraid of associating Jesus with their son’s healing for fear of being dismissed by their own neighbors.
So unlike Brian, who would give great testimonials regarding God’s work in his life because of his suffering, the Blind Man hadn’t gone through life in any sort of similar experience, the Blind Man would have previously viewed his blindness as nothing more than a curse brought forth by an unjust God.
So what was this work of God that Jesus proclaimed would be displayed within the Man born blind? This leads us to a big question this morning to consider in “How could God work a man’s blindness for good as Jesus proclaims happens here?”
Dr. Peter Kreeft who is a Catholic Philosopher summed it up thusly “Life without suffering would produce nothing but Spoiled Brats or Tyrants?” For example, when I was in college, I spent summers selling carpet at Menards on the East side of Saint Paul. For any of you that have ever worked with the public, especially in retail, you tend to encounter some difficult people. Yet what I remember from working those summers at Menards is the one group of people that I liked dealing with more than any others were the Hmongs.
For the Hmong’s history has been defined by suffering. As soon as the United States pulled out of Vietnam, the Hmong who had fought alongside the United States in the War saw enemy communist governments take over in their homelands of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The Hmong spent the resulting years being heavily persecuted as a result of their previous resistance. The Hmong were forced from their land and into refugee camps with barely a roof over their head and no possessions to their name. The Hmong, then immigrated to this country in large numbers. Some of my co-workers at Menards didn’t like dealing with the Hmong because of the difficulty they would have communicating in their non-native language. But in all my dealings with the Hmong from college summers to Seminary Cross-Cultural experiences to Substitute Teaching, I always had a tremendous respect for the way that the Hmong treated others. Many of the Hmong have experienced things in their lifetime that we couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Perhaps this explains why so many Hmong have converted to Christianity upon immigrating to the United States because they precisely understand the afflictions that from which we must be resurrected.
Yet as we consider these topics today we must remember the words from the Book of James that “God is not the author of evil”. God looked over all his creation and declared it to be “good”. So what brings forth such hardship?
Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the church’s most significant thinkers described evil as coming into the world in one of two forms. The first form being Moral Evil, which is evil caused by human beings against each other, for Moral Evil would be the Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler types of evil. This would be the type of evil that I would describe as being unable to take place apart from dark spiritual forces influencing it.
The second type of evil would be Natural Evil. Natural Evil strikes at us with no root cause in the form of cancer, birth defects such as blindness, Cerebral Palsy along with all sorts of undesired outcomes that affect our lives. Augustine and Luther believe that Natural Evil was not caused by the sins of any specific person such as the man born blind or his parents, but rather Natural Evil is caused by the entire human condition. Such evil cannot be blamed for the sins of one man, but rather must be blamed on the Sin of which we’re all guilty.
Yet we’re left to wonder if God is not the cause of all this, then why doesn’t he stop it?
For the question about “Why does God bestow upon us afflictions from the trivial of me not being 6 foot 4 to the important such as why this man was born blind for God’s own purposes were asked by Job as he pondered the loss of his possessions, his children, and his health.
Job is the only person in human history to ask God directly “Why did you allow me to suffer?” The interesting thing about God’s answer to Job is that Job is never given a direct answer to Job’s question. The reason for this is because Job couldn’t quite possibly have comprehended a direct answer. Job’s understanding along with our own of how the universe might work together, pales in comparison to God’s understanding of the same topic.
For it’s easy to look at situations like the Malaysian Plane Crash and wonder how a loving God can allow such tragedy. Yet it’s worth pointing out that this could be the means by which God chooses to bring his children into his presence. This could also be the means which serves as a reminder for many of the frailty of life and the need for answers that lie outside of us.
When God seeks to answer Job’s questions all he does is point him towards his care for all of creation, God seeks to remind Job that he was chosen as his child before even the foundation of the world. We will go through life with plenty of open questions. Yet we point towards the one thing that we do know about God with certainty was made known in the Resurrection. The Resurrection is where God assures Man that the grave has been triumphed over, things are promised to remain not the way that they have always been.
Those who encountered the man who had been born blind after receiving his sight, did not know what to make of him, they didn’t want to believe it was truly him! People couldn’t grasp the possibility of such a miracle. The Pharisees (the Religious Authorities) were most skeptical of all refusing to believe that if someone was really of God that they would heal on the Sabbath. The Blind Man came not to care that other folks considered him to be a liar because of his claims of sight. The Blind Man had received something far more important, he came to see the truth of God revealed before his very eyes. He had received the gift of faith and salvation. Amen
 John 9:2
 John 9:2
 Sloyan, Gerald S. John. John Knox Press. Atlanta.1988 taken from Robert Hoch in a March 30,2014 Commentary on Working Preacher.com
 John 9:3
 Kreeft, Peter and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Intervarsity Press. Downer’s Grove, Il, 2003.
 James 1:15
 Genesis 1:31
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.