Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA March 26, 2017
Pastor Robert McCarty
Making sense of how God works is not the same as trusting God.
God does not always work in ways that makes sense to you or me. Actually Samuel seems somewhat confused in today’s first lesson. Here you have a prophet, an esteemed prophet, confused. He recognizes, wrongly, Eliab, son of Jesse and brother to David, as the Lord’s anointed and future King. Again I say wrongly. I am not sure what Samuel started to do in the selection of Eliab, but God instructs him “do not look on his appearance or height or stature.” God does not select Eliab one of seven sons of Jesse, despite his height or good looks.
A different pattern repeats in the Gospel when the disciples ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind.” The disciples confuse a physical limitation as a punishment from God. And the disciples seek to justify God by saying this man deserved it because of his parents, or because God knew ahead of time a sin this man would commit later in life. For some reason we think all of this should make sense. Of course, if we think clearly about miracles, what makes them amazing is that they do not make sense.
God does not always work in ways that make sense to you or me. Making sense of how God works is not the same as trusting God. Samuel judges David’s brother based on outward appearances. We know a favorable outward appearance has benefits. We also know that good looking is not exactly the most important quality for a king to have. The disciples judge the blind man on his lack of sight. We know that those who are blind, face challenges, but we have learned from Jesus to look for God in the strength to overcome those challenges. We learn from Jesus the man was born blind so that the glory of God could shine in him and through him. And this glory shines in the healing, but even more so does the glory shine in the man’s confession of Jesus as the “Son of Man,” especially against the opposition of these Pharisees.
The Pharisees have every advantage, position in the community, typically wealth, and definitely the knowledge of scripture. And yet the Pharisees are the ones who stumble. The Pharisees learn of something they cannot explain, a man born blind now sees. And their scripture gives no account of this happening before. They know the signs God has laid out in the past to reveal his activity and show his presence. No where is scripture does God give sight to a blind man. A new sign has happened and they need to decide what it means. The activity of God does not make sense to them either. It did not make sense to Samuel, it did not make sense to the disciples, it does not make sense to the Pharisees.
All of this confusion still exists today. Some people believe God dislikes them. They look at the moments of misery and suffering in their life and they wonder what in the world have I done to deserve this. They blame cancer, or poverty, or the misfortune of the day as an act of God. The same thing use to happen with natural disasters. We have stopped calling hurricanes and tornados “acts of God,” but still people wonder. That is like the disciples confusing sin for the reason why the man cannot see.
The reverse is true as well. Often people see good fortune as a sign of God’s favor. To be born in the United States, or to be born rich, to be born with athletic ability or musical talent, or to be born to loving parents means that you have or perhaps will do something good to earn the favor from God. And it is not just these accidents of birth, but success later in life. You have a good job, good family, good investments, community standing. Depending on how you want to look at it, we all deserve success, or no one deserves success. Some give credit to hard work, but I know people who work their tails off only to fall short of just breaking even. You know people like this too. I also know people who make success look easy.
Of course that is like Samuel mistaking Eliab for the chosen of God based on his good looks. I give thanks to God for my good fortune, but I do not confuse myself into believing that I have somehow deserved this. Such a prayer should be more than just thanks, thank you God, but also keep me from messing this up.
And in the midst of whatever misfortune we can pray, help me God. I trust that you are with me. I believe. Or maybe, in our more honest moments, I believe, help my unbelief. That is actually a biblical prayer. “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (cf. Mark 9: 23-24)
Samuel trusts God. Samuel thought wrong. God corrected him. Life moves on.
Some of you have probably had those types of moments. When you think you know what God is up to, and you think it makes sense, and then it doesn’t. You learn that you are pregnant and then just as suddenly, you are not. You think you have a job lined up and then if falls through. This does not always make sense. Then again, making sense of what God is doing is not the same as trusting God.
Trusting God, learning to trust God. It happens in ways that catch us by surprise. (True Story) Jacob, in another southern state, receives a cancer diagnosis. He and even more so his wife remain adamant. They will fight this. They will fight cancer with everything they have got. They are adamant and persistent and aggressive. Knowing full well how the aggressive treatment will eat away at his body, they are adamant and persistent, and they fight. Their pastor is faithful in the journey with them. Which becomes more important when the treatment proves ineffective. His pastor comes to visit Jacob, lying in his bed, facing the reality of dying. He shares with his pastor, “I give thanks for my cancer. It is through my cancer that I have truly gotten to know God.”
Maybe that makes sense to some of you. Maybe not to everyone. Making sense again, though is not the same as trusting God, having faith. That God can take something broken and do something new.
The Pharisees fail to trust God, and I guess we all fail to do that one time or another. Samuel even in his wisdom fails to make sense of what God is doing, but he moves forward with the will of God as it is revealed to him and the young boy is anointed to be the future king.
And the man born blind. He sees clearly that God has done something new in him through Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed Chosen one to save us from not just our sin, but our doubt of God, and our confusion of things not making sense. Even as the young man gets tossed out, driven out of the temple and the Jewish faith, and pronounced a sinner and a heretic of false teaching. He believes clearly in what God does through Jesus Christ. That Jesus is the Son of Man and worthy of our worship. The man who now sees, sees clearly and worships Jesus openly.
Miracles amaze us. Maybe faith should amaze us as well, that kind of faith that even when things do not make sense, people trust God and believe in God. Such faith stands as a miracle in its own right. You gather each week in such faith. You trust God. Each week you stand in the midst of this amazement.