Sermon: Blessings the Wrong Way

March 26, 2017: Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 9:1-41

Last week’s alternate ending to the story of Jesus and the woman at the well went so…


(Get it?)

…That I thought I’d try another Alternative Story of Jesus. So here goes.

Oh, let me know how I’m doing with these, OK?

The disciples observed the blind man, and they asked Jesus: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Unless…

“Wait a moment. Let me check his insurance policy.”

After a moment, Jesus said, “No, let’s move along. He’s not covered for a pre-existing condition.”

The End.

I keep trying, but I don’t think I’m doing as well with these as John did.

Both for John and for Jesus, the pre-existing condition didn’t matter. For that matter, the currently existing conditions didn’t matter, either. It was the Sabbath, and on the Sabbath faithful people didn’t do work. Jesus, however, picked up dirt from the ground. He mixed it with his own saliva (and thanks to the children’s story that’s not the grossest thing in worship this morning), and applied it to the man’s unseeing eyes.

He wasn’t supposed to do that. Not on the Sabbath.

Nobody denied that the result was a wonderful thing. The most resolute of Jesus’ opponents had to admit that the healing of a man born blind was a sign of God’s great grace and power.

But it happened the wrong way, at the wrong time, by the wrong person.

The group of Pharisees wasn’t united. Some objected. Others asked that critical question: What does it mean that this amazing sign occurred even though it should have been the wrong way? That this astonishing thing happened in apparent violation of the Law of God?

The others, however, stirred themselves up. They fed their sense of importance, and they stoked their sense of authority, and they multiplied their sense of resentment at this transgression of How The World Should Be. They decided that God’s blessing meant less than their own understanding of God’s Word.

Let me say that again: Through study, and reflection, and discussion, they had come to an understanding, their own understanding, of God’s will and way, of God’s Word. They had the choice between that and this unexpected manifestation of God’s grace.

They chose their own understanding over this clear sign of God’s blessing.

As Frederick Niedner put it: “The Pharisees in this story, like the Pharisee in each of us, prove stubbornly blind to the reckless dispensing of mercy that takes place. It has come on the wrong day, to an unworthy recipient, from a maverick agent whom the Pharisees can’t see for dust.”

I love his phrase, “the reckless dispensing of mercy,” which is so true. A casual glance at Creation reveals that God’s grace is so extravagant as to be stunning. What we see, what we feel, what we hear, what we scent, what we taste – what an accumulation of extravagant glory!

And I’m sadly, painfully, intimately familiar with that inner voice that says, “Eh. It’s not so great.”

That’s the voice that says, “He doesn’t deserve what he got.”

That’s the voice that says, “She’s luckier than she should be.”

That’s the voice that says, “They’ve been blessed the wrong way.”

That’s the voice that says, “But you – now you (meaning me) – you deserve your success.”

Has anyone else here heard a similar voice, perhaps? Yes?

I thought we probably did.

It crops up in some odd ways, this voice that says that some people deserve things, and others don’t, doesn’t it?

Minimum wage in Hawai’i is $8.50 an hour (Preacher’s Note: It turns out that it was increased to $9.25 an hour on January 1st; my apologies for using the out-of-date figure in the sermon). That seems like a lot to me; when I graduated high school minimum wage was $3.35 an hour, so better than doubling sounds pretty good.

Unfortunately, price inflation in the United States has risen faster than the minimum wage. Purchasing power is actually lower today than it was when I graduated high school. And rents here in Hawai’i are… high.

For a family to afford a two-bedroom apartment here, they would have to work 108 hours a week at (Preacher’s note: the former) minimum wage, spending one-third of their income on rent (I was taught not to spend more than a quarter, by the way). That’s a horrible burden for a two-parent household.

What if there’s only one of you?

A minimum wage which is not a living wage – and that’s what we’ve got – tells those who earn it that they don’t deserve to live. Not just live well – live at all. It doesn’t matter how hard you work at $8.50 an hour. Your work isn’t rewarded with the necessities of life.

(Preacher’s note: And I’m afraid that remains true at $9.25 an hour. The hourly wage required to rent a 2-bedroom apartment at 2016 prices is $22.96 an hour.)

I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again. This is a country that values work right up until it comes time to pay for it.

Malu Debus of Hope Services laid these facts out for us at Senior Ministry this past Thursday, and I’m sure she’ll lay them out for you again when she fills this pulpit in May. It’s a primary reason that people become homeless: when earnings and rents are so out of kilter, any new stressor – illness, layoffs, an expensive crisis, legal problems, the birth of a child, a rent increase – any of these and countless others could easily be enough to make that rent payment unmanageable.

Who sinned, that this family – 42% of Hawai’i Island’s homeless are families – who sinned, that this family lost their home?


We say we see, so our sin remains, doesn’t it?


Jesus, however, is not interested in our relative states of sin. He’s interested in bringing healing. He’s interested in bringing blessing. He’s interested in giving us sight, or insight. He’s interested in bringing us to confidence and to faith.

John the gospel writer did not end this story here; it goes on. Because for John, the crucial question is not who sinned or who didn’t sin. It isn’t even whether it’s sinful or not sinful to heal on the Sabbath. For John, the question is, “Who is Jesus?”

And the answer, which comes in the next chapter, is: “Jesus is the Good Shepherd.”

That’s what we see throughout this story of healing and argument and rejection and blessings the wrong way: Jesus found one of his flock who is in need. He responded to that need.

When that person was mistreated and rejected, he returned, to make sure he found a welcome and a home for his spirit. Jesus made sure that the man found healing not just for his eyes but for his wounded soul.

That’s what makes him the Good Shepherd.

What makes us his followers is our efforts, halting and uncertain, to be like him. To find homes for the houseless. To find food for the hungry. To bring justice to the oppressed. To foster peace for the disturbed.

Time after time, God will bring blessings the wrong way, to the wrong people, at the wrong time, and God won’t ask us even once whether it’s OK to do so. That’s how God works.

If we’re to be true to our calling as Christians, we’ll make ourselves into conduits for those blessings the wrong way. We’ll be the ones speaking with, and healing with, and working with the wrong people. We’ll be the ones standing before the places of power at the wrong time. We’ll be at the bedsides and the gravesides; we’ll be with the housed and the homeless.

Blessings the wrong way? So they say.

For us, for us as followers of Jesus, for us as God’s people: there is no wrong way to bless.

For us as Christ’s disciples: Let blessing be the only way.


Photo Credit: Painting is by Andrey Mironov, 2009 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , , , | Posted on March 26, 2017

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