Luke 4: 16-30
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
On Saturday mornings there was a radio show on NPR called Car Talk.
They would take calls from people with car trouble and give advice on what the problem was and what would fix it.
A recurring feature was “Stump the Chumps”, in which they revisited a caller from a previous show where they were particularly unsure of or disagreed about the problem with the car.
They had been stumped, basically guessed and wanted to see if either one of them had guessed right.
Usually one was right, which stands to reason because they are the experts.
But it was always entertaining to hear experts truly baffled.
I have “Stump the Chump” experiences often.
I had one this week.
I had someone in my office who was distraught about the terrible state of the world.
Houston, Florida, Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, and now Louisiana and the Gulf Coast … again. …
Can you guess what’s coming?
Where is God?
Did the people who were affected by these events deserve this?
If not, why does God let these things happen?
These of course are the events we hear about in the news.
There are many others we never hear about which are even worse.
Plus, there are the systemic catastrophes.
Almost all completely unknown to us.
But no less catastrophic in effect and in nature.
And then there is us.
Our jobs are intolerable.
Our children worry us.
Our parents need us.
We are sick.
We get lonely.
We have no joy.
We are overwhelmed.
And we do not know why it is happening.
And we ask that same question.
Where is God?
Why does God not protect us?
Some folks get miracles!
Why not me?
Why are there not enough miracles?
These are not new questions.
There is even a theological term for them.
Why do bad things happen in a supposedly redeemed world?
This question is older than the Bible itself.
The Greek epicureans asked this question:
If God is all good and God is all powerful, why is there pain? If God is all good, he would eliminate pain. If God is all powerful he could eliminate pain. Because there is pain, God is either not all good, or not all powerful, or neither all good nor all powerful, or does not exist at all.
The Bible itself raises this question many times.
It never backs away from it.
If you read through the Psalms, you will find the Psalmist asking God over and over:
“Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper?”
Read Job, if you dare, which is the story if a man who suffers just so God can prove the man’s faithfulness.
So the epicureans ask a really good question.
Which brings us to today’s scripture.
Jesus announced that he came to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
This was messianic talk.
He was here to change everything.
He was healing the sick and feeding the hungry all over Capernaum.
And his Nazareth audience wanted to know what miracles he was going to do for them.
And Jesus gave them a bit of bad news.
Not everyone was going to get a miracle from him.
Jesus was not going to heal all the sick, lift up all the poor, free all the prisoners in a way all could see or experience.
He would choose some and not others.
And he points out that God has always acted this way.
Elijah was a great prophet who could work miracles but he saved only a particular widow.
Elisha was a great prophet who could work miracles but cured only a particular leper.
And worst of all neither the widow nor the leper were Jews!
God chose to work those miracles to make a point.
To demonstrate God’s power and mercy.
Jesus would be no different.
Jesus used his miracles to do the same.
To demonstrate the power of God and God’s mercy.
So, it comes down to this.
Not everyone gets a miracle.
Not everyone gets physically, emotionally, financially, healed.
Some, perhaps virtually all, have to wait to see the grand miracle in person.
The one where they find themselves in the presence of God.
The place Jesus calls paradise.
But that does not really answer the question.
If God is good and powerful and merciful and sovereign, why does God let these things happen at all?
Simply put, God does not.
God is not the cause of catastrophes.
Catastrophes were not part of God’s plan for creation.
In God’s plan all creation was “good”.
Humanity was good as well.
But God also gave humanity a choice.
The choice was a simple one.
Love God or go your own way.
If you love God and do what he says, you will experience perfect harmony.
If you go your own way, you will live hard lives and then die.
Humanity chose to go its own way.
And still does.
And the harmony of creation is broken!
Order has become chaos.
Life is hard and then we die.
Catastrophes happen and people’s lives are destroyed.
Not because anyone deserved it, but because creation has become a dangerous place.
Lives are destroyed in natural disasters.
Others at the hands of other humans.
Others from disease.
Others by accident.
Kind of random.
Just like God predicted.
Sometimes God will intervene with a miracle, but only when it serves God’s purpose.
And that does not happen often.
But God does act.
He sends us.
A couple of years ago, Wayne Fast, Nancy Page, Emilee Little and I went to Andrews, South Carolina to rebuild homes damaged in the floods from a 22-inch-in-one-day rainfall.
These were people whose lives had been catastrophically disrupted.
I expected to hear that question:
Why us, God?
But we didn’t.
What we heard was this:
We needed a miracle.
And God sent you.
Lives were being rebuilt by many who came with tools, money or just themselves.
We were the miracles.
These damaged lives become opportunities for people to love each other by lending a hand at times of need.
Jesus taught us about that.
Jesus came across a man born blind.
Here was a man who was the victim of a catastrophe.
In those days his only hope was the generosity of others.
The disciples, like good humans, wanted to assign blame.
Whose fault was this?
Jesus says no one’s.
This man did not deserve this tragedy.
But … his blindness gave Jesus the opportunity to show him compassion and empathy by giving him his sight.
Something Jesus did to teach the disciples about compassion and empathy.
And Jesus directs his disciples to go and do likewise.
Not give sight to the blind, but to show compassion to those whose lives have been broken in a broken world.
If there were no broken lives, there would be no opportunity for compassion and empathy and assistance.
No opportunity to live the Jesus way.
So this man born blind, these victims of all these disasters, are used by God for good.
And we learn about God – God’s power and God’s mercy.
There it is.
Undeserved misfortune is a means for God’s love to be demonstrated.
If we are to be like Jesus, we must be compassionate on those in need, from any misfortune, whether catastrophic or individual, regardless of fault.
When we do this, God’s love erupts out of nowhere.
We become the helpers.
We tell God’s stories.
And everyone is touched.
The kingdom is very close.
But we can be paralyzed by the thought that we cannot “save” everyone.
But there was another thing we saw.
People who were not getting a rebuilt life.
There were not enough miracles for those folks.
We are overwhelmed.
So many people.
So much need.
But we should remember that even Jesus did not give everyone a miracle.
He does not expect that from us either!
In the story of the sheep and goats, Jesus tells us what we are to do.
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family [the ones who are sick, hungry, thirsty, oppressed, captive, poor, blind, used up} you did it to me.
Jesus describes acts of individual charity, not global reconstruction.
We are called to do what we can.
Jesus seems to say that when we demonstrate compassion to just one person in need we are living the Jesus way.
And when we act like him, we glorify God.
The people of Texas, Florida, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas and all victims of catastrophe, are like the man born blind.
It is not their fault that catastrophe struck.
They are just the victims of a dangerous and broken world where bad things happen to everyone.
Even good folks.
So how does God respond?
Most often, he sends us.