TITLE: Did God Ever Help You? SCRIPTURE: John 9:1-41
Has God ever helped you? Has God ever done anything really nice for you?
God's help comes in many ways. A man named Roc Bottomly tells about a dream that helped his daughter, Bethany. It wasn't Bethany who dreamed the dream, but her friend Jody. While Bethany and Jody and two other girls were on vacation, Jody dreamed one night that they were in a bad accident. In her dream, Jody was the only one wearing a seatbelt, and she was the only survivor.
She told her friends about her dream, and they responded by fastening their seatbelts. Later that day, the driver of their car dropped a wheel onto the shoulder of the road and lost control. The car rolled in the median strip, but none of the girls was seriously injured. The investigating officer made this comment. He said,
"If you hadn't had your seat belts on,
the outcome would have been a lot different."
Has God ever given you a message in a dream? I haven't had any dreams quite that dramatic, but I have often gone to bed after struggling with some sort of problem and have awakened in the middle of the night when the solution suddenly came to me clear as a bell. That doesn't happen every night, of course. I do male a mental note of those inspirations.
Where do those inspirations come from? Freud would say that it's my unconscious mind at work. He would say that my unconscious mind, working in the background, can solve problems that would prove too much for my conscious mind to solve.
That might be so. Freud might be right -- I really don't know. But I must confess that I believe that something else is at work too. I believe that God is at work. God might be solving problems through my unconscious mind or God might be inspiring me more directly, but I believe that God often does for me what I could not have done on my own -- and that includes solutions that appear to me in the dead of night.
Has God ever helped you in some other way? Is it possible that God helped you and you didn't even notice? In many instances God helps us and we call it coincidence. I looked up that word, coincidence. This is how my dictionary defines a coincidence. It says:
"The occurrence of events
that happen at the same time by accident
but seem to have some connection."
"Events that happen at the same time by accident." Did you ever experience any "events that happened at the same time by accident"? Did you ever need something and have it more-or-less fall into your lap? Coincidence! "Events that happen at the same time by accident!" But maybe it wasn't an accident! Maybe it was the hand of God working quietly in the background!
The story is told of a man who lost his wallet. You know what that would be like. He had his credit cards and his driver's license and his folding money in that wallet. If he couldn't find his wallet, he couldn't drive to work -- at least not legally. He couldn't buy lunch. If someone had stolen his wallet, no telling what the thief would do with his credit cards. Anxious about the potential consequences, the man prayed for God to help him find his wallet. A few minutes later, it dawned on him that he had worn some work clothes the evening before while working in the yard. He looked in the pants pocket of those work clothes, and there was his wallet. And so he said, "Never mind, God! I found it!"
That's one of those preacher stories that I don't like to use very often, but it reflects a serious truth -- that we are far more likely to take God seriously when we are in trouble than when we're not. We often fail to consider the possibility that God is behind the happy coincidences of our lives.
A pastor once shared this story: my wife came into my office, obviously shaken. The road between here and town is hilly and curvy. In the worst possible place, someone coming from the other direction suddenly passed the car in front of him and almost hit my wife head-on. The car being passed slowed and pulled as far to the right as possible, and my wife did the same thing. The crazy guy roared down the middle. If either my wife or the other driver -- the one who slowed and pulled to the right -- had responded less perfectly, my wife would be seriously injured now -- possibly dead. Coincidence! Hand of God! I'll let you decide.
Do you ever thank God for happy coincidences? Give that some thought. You have experienced happy coincidences in the past, and you will experience them in the future. You might even experience one this week. Most happy coincidences seem small -- like the accident that you managed to avoid. But try to notice the small coincidences in your life. The next time you experience one, take time to reflect on it. What if it hadn't happened? How would your life be diminished?
Sometimes our small blessings aren't really small. Sometimes our coincidences aren't really coincidences. Sometimes they are God working behind the scenes. Say a prayer. Thank God for helping you. Thank God for keeping an eye on you.
But in our Gospel lesson today, nobody called what happened a coincidence. They didn't know what to call it. They were puzzled confused -- bewildered. There was a blind man in town -- a man born blind -- and Jesus gave him sight. We could say that Jesus restored his sight, but the man had never had any sight to restore. Jesus gave him sight -- created sight from nothing, just as God created the world from nothing -- and then Jesus gave that newly created sight to that man.
You would think that everyone would be happy about that, but they weren't. It was the Sabbath, and Sabbath laws forbade working on the Sabbath. The Pharisees believed that healing was work and that there should be no healing on the Sabbath. As far as they were concerned, this healing was a sin. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was a clear and present danger to the established order.
So they tried to get the blind man -- the one whom Jesus had healed -- to acknowledge that Jesus was a sinner. You would think that the formerly-blind man could resist that easily -- but it wasn't easy. He had been a beggar all his life -- begging is all he knew. He was going to need help to get established -- and these Pharisees were movers and shakers -- they could make you or break you.
But the man didn't waver at all. When the Pharisees asked what he thought of Jesus, he said, "He is a prophet."
So the Pharisees questioned the man's parents. You would think that they would have been supported Jesus, but they were afraid that the Pharisees would throw them out of the synagogue. It's hard for us to imagine how devastating that would be. To be thrown out of the synagogue in that time and place would be the equivalent of being thrown out of church today -- along with being fired from your job and having your credit cards and driver's license cancelled. Faced with such a prospect, the parents said, "Our son is of age; ask him."
So the Pharisees tried the formerly-blind man once again, but he said,
"I do not know whether he is a sinner.
One thing I do know,
that though I was blind, now I see."
When they continued to press him, he said,
"If this man (meaning Jesus) were not from God,
he could do nothing."
And so they drove him out. We don't know if they just ran him off or if they threw him out of the synagogue. But when he met Jesus later, he said,
"Lord, I believe."
I can't tell you how impressed I am with that man. He was born blind and spent a lifetime begging alongside the road -- but when the going got tough, he proved even tougher. He became a man of faith when Jesus healed him, and he stayed a man of faith when people started threatening him.
I started this sermon by asking, Has God ever helped you? Has God ever done anything really nice for you? If he did, did you notice? Did you say thanks! Did you grow in faith because of it? Did being the recipient of God's favor make any difference in your life?
This week, watch for the blessings, large or small, that God sends your way. They might be something tremendous, like being healed of a terrible illness. Or they might be more subtle, like re-discovering an old friend. Or they might be something that didn't happen-- like the head-on collision that my wife narrowly avoided.
Watch for the blessings, large or small. And give thanks to God! And let the blessings help you grow in faith. Amen.
Amazing Grace (BH #330; CH #546; CO #447; CP #352; ELW #779; GC #612; JS #460; LBW #448; LSB #744; LW #509; PH #280; TH #671; TNCH #547, 548; UMH #378; VU #266; WR #422)
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (BH #206, 216; CH #5; CP #306; ELW #886; LBW #559; PH #466; TH #493; TNCH #42; UMH #57; VU #326; WR #96)
Lord of the Dance (CO #527; GC #708; JS #554; PH #302; TH #352; UMH #261; VU #352; WR #118)
Also known as I Danced in the Morning
Just as I Am, Without One Plea (BH #303 & #307; CH #339; CP #615; ELW #592; LBW #296; LSB #570; LW #359; PH #370; TH #693; TNCH #207; UMH #357; VU #508; WR #354)
Open My Eyes (BH #502; CH #586; JS #448; PH #324; TH #371; UMH #454; VU #371; WR #480)
JS #448 is a different hymn, but is appropriate for the same reasons as the other hymn.