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.”